International adoption is complex and can be expensive, stressful and tedious. Many steps are involved so before you start, gather as much information as you can about the process. This will help keep your adoption as straightforward and as pleasant as possible.
Helpful Tips Before You Begin
There are several tasks to accomplish and documents to gather before you begin the process:
- Do your research so you understand the laws, forms and process.
- Select an adoption agency.
- Gather all the information and forms and supporting documents you will need.
- Make a chart of the forms required and deadlines to keep organized.
- Keep two or three certified/notarized copies of all required forms and approval letters as a back-up
- Follow each part of the process (federal, state, foreign country) carefully to ensure that one part does not lag and cause delay.
The United States (U. S.) Department of State's guide on intercountry adoption is a great resource for details on the international and U. S. laws that govern international adoptions and the steps involved. There are three sets of laws that govern the process and your adoption agency should be familiar with them.
If you are a U. S. citizen adopting abroad, which steps you follow depends on whether the country you are adopting from follows the Hague Convention Adoption laws.
The Hague Convention Process
The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Adoption Convention) protects the rights and safety of children adopted internationally.
If you are in the U. S. adopting from another Hague Convention country, both countries must follow a specific procedure. Children in Hague Convention countries must meet the definition of a Convention Adoptee.
The non-Hague Convention Process
Adoptions to the U. S. from a non-Hague Convention (orphan) country follows a similar procedure as adoptions from Hague Convention countries. A key difference is that the adopting parents do not have the same international law protection. Children in these countries must meet the definition of an orphan.
United States Laws
There are U. S. federal requirements that every adopting U. S. citizen must follow. You must also follow your home state adoption laws.
Foreign Country Laws
Each country has its particular set of adoption regulations that you will need to understand and follow precisely. In addition to qualifying for adoption under U. S. law, the child must qualify for adoption by the laws of his country.
United States Adoption Process
U.S. adopting parents must be older than 25 years and the child must be younger than 16 years. You cannot proceed with an international adoption in the United States without getting approval from the federal government. The U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes the forms that allow you to adopt and bring a foreign child into the U. S.
Each country has its specific procedures but the following is a general overview of the steps involved in adopting and bringing a child into the U. S. from a Hague Convention country. Steps may vary for a non-Hague Convention country.
Select an Adoption Agency
- Select an adoption agency experienced in international adoptions.
- The agency must be licenced and accredited in the U. S.
- Some countries, such as China and Vietnam, approve only certain agencies in the U. S. to process their adoptions. (The agency will tell you where it is approved to handle adoptions.)
Complete Your Home Study
- Before submitting other forms to USCIS, you have to complete your home study. It documents your physical, psychological, medical and financial ability to provide a home for a child.
- If you are adopting from a Hague country you must choose the country before doing your home study.
- The home study must be completed by a licenced adoption agency, public authority, tribal agency, or other person, according to the laws of your state.
- The agency, authority or person must be accredited to conduct Hague Convention home studies if you are adopting from a Convention country.
- For USCIS purposes it is valid for six months.
Apply to USCIS for Eligibility to Adopt
USCIS must determine that you are eligible and suitable to adopt an international child. Complete and submit one of two forms to apply:
- Form I-800A: If you are adopting from a Hague Convention country, follow these instructions to complete this form.
- Form I-600A: If you are adopting from a non-Hague Convention countries, follow these instructions to complete this form.
In addition, you need to submit the following with the form:
- The home study
- Supporting documents as outlined in the forms
- USCIS fees - send money order or check written to "U. S. Department of Homeland Security"
Mail forms "certified mail, return receipt requested." After your forms are received and processed, USCIS sends you a date, time and location for federal fingerprinting. Be sure to keep the appointment in order not to delay your process.
This initial eligibility step takes 60-90 days.
Receive Your Eligibility Approval
- Once your application is approved you will get a certificate of approval from USCIS so you can proceed with your adoption.
- USCIS also forwards your forms to the U. S. embassy in the country you are adopting from.
- Approval and fingerprints are valid for 15 months.
Apply to Your Country of Choice
If you've identified a child already, proceed to the child USCIS eligibility step. If not apply to your chosen country to be matched with a child.
The country reviews your application, home study, your U. S. approval and other documents to determine your eligibility to adopt under their law. If you meet that country's eligibility you will be matched with a child.
Apply to USCIS for Eligibility of Your Child
Once you are matched with and accept a child for adoption, apply to USCIS for approval for your child to be adopted so you can proceed with the adoption.
- Complete one of two forms for child's eligibility for adoption and immigration to the U. S.:
- Once approved:
- USCIS assigns your case to the U. S. embassy or consulate in your child's country.
- The U. S. embassy/consulate in that country notifies you what to do next.
- You can proceed with the adoption and initiate the petition for a U. S.immigrant visa for your child.
Note that if your child is in a Non-Hague country, you can adopt or gain legal custody before you apply to the USCIS for your child's eligibility to enter the U. S. However, approval of your child to enter the U.S. is not guaranteed.
Petition for U. S. Immigrant Visa for Your Child
To complete the adoption, you will need to apply for a U. S. immigrant visa which will allow your child to enter the U. S.
- Apply to the U. S. embassy or consulate in your child's country of origin (form DS-260) and schedule an interview. You can access the form after you have a USCIS case number for your child.
- Documents reviewed at the interview by the U. S. embassy or consulate for visa include:
- Approved I-800A or I-600A and I-800 or I-600 forms
- Supporting documents as requested for international adoptions.
- Once a provisional approval is given:
- Your child is eligible to immigrate to the U. S. and you can proceed to the next step.
- The U. S. embassy sends an approval letter ("Article 5/17 Letter" for Hague countries) to the country's adoption authorities confirming that you are suitable and the child is eligible to enter the U. S.
Important: Do not apply for final adoption or legal custody of your child in a Hague Convention country of origin until you received the "Article 5/17 Letter."
Finalize the Adoption
- Finalize the Adoption: Each country has its own procedure for finalizing the adoption and giving you your child.
- Obtain Adoption or Guardianship Order: This is given by the country's governing body.
Finalize the U.S.Visa
After your child's adoption is final, take the following steps to finalize his immigrant visa application so he can enter the U. S. To do this, you'll need to obtain the following:
- Birth Certificate: You'll need the original or reissued birth certificate of your child before you can apply for a passport for the final U. S. visa interview.
- Child's Passport: Apply for a passport from the country of residence. Because your child is not yet a U. S. citizen, he needs a passport from his country to enter the U. S.
- Final U. S. visa approval: After getting the child's adoption documents and passport, schedule an interview for final approval for his visa from the U. S. embassy in the foreign country. You will also receive a Hague Adoption Certificate or a Hague Custody certificate if your child is from a Hague Convention country (form DS-5509)
Return to U.S.
After you return to the U.S., there still may be a few things you need to do to finish the adoption process:
- Citizenship: If your your child's adoption was "full and final," he will be a U. S. citizen as soon as he enters the U. S. and you will automatically get a Citizen Certificate from USCIS.
- Permanent Residency: Some countries give guardianship only and final adoption happens in the U. S. If so, your child will automatically become a permanent U. S. resident (green card). Finalize the adoption process as soon as possible once you're back in the U. S. and apply for citizenship (form N-600).
- Post adoption reports: Some countries require post-adoption report(s) of your child. It is the responsibility of the adoption agency to ensure this happens.
Other documents you will need at various stages in the process include:
- Proof of U. S. citizenship
- Proof of marriage (if applicable)
- Proof of divorce (if applicable)
- Medical report of adoptive parents
- Medical report on the child
- Proof of parents identity
- Photos of adoptive parents
- Proof of child's identity
- Proof of child's age
- Proof of orphan status as defined by the USCIS
- Photos of child
- Child's original or reissued birth certificate
- Proof of child's parental status
- Proof of legal custody
The cost of your adoption is variable and includes USCIS and adoption agency fees, the foreign adoption costs, as well as the costs of traveling abroad to bring your child to the U. S.
The International Adoption help website says the average cost is anywhere from $17,000 to $35,000. The cost includes:
- USCIS Filing fees: I-800A: $720 +85 for fingerprints; the same fees apply to the I-600A form
- Immigrant Visa application: $230
- Immigrant Visa insurance: $60
- Agency fees: variable
- Child's passport fee: variable
- Application for citizenship: $550
- Legal fees if applicable: variable
- Country of origin application and processing fees: variable
- Country of origin adoption fees: variable
- Notarization and/or translation of documents in the child's country: variable
- Airline tickets to visit and bring your child home
- Hotel and food while abroad
- Clothes and supplies for your child
- Medical expenses accrued for your child if applicable
- International phone calls
Procedures for Specific Countries
Each country has its rules and requirements but must adhere to the Hague Convention rules if they are a Hague country. When traveling abroad to visit or collect your child, the U. S. Department of State suggests registering online to ensure that the embassy in that country can contact you.
Details of adoption procedures in each country are available on the U. S. Department of State's (DOS) website. Generally speaking, all countries require that you:
- Have an agency that is at least accredited by the U.S.
- Demonstrate an adequate income
- Be physically and mentally fit
- Have no significant criminal record
- Have a valid U.S. passport and Visa for travel to the other country
Once you are approved eligible by USCIS to adopt a foreign child your adoption agency submits your adoption application to the Chinese authorities. Other details to note about China include:
- China is a Hague Convention Country.
- The governing body for adoptions is the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCCWA).
- Your US Adoption agency must be accredited in the U. S. and by the CCCWA.
- Fees are variable but include $750 application fee, $300 translation fee and a $5000 child care fee for some adoptions.
- You must be between 30 and 50 years unless you are adoption a special needs child. Then you can be between 30 and 55 years old.
- You must be married for at least two years before adoption from China. If either adoptive parents have been previously divorced, you must be married for at least five years.
- Adoptive parents must have at least high school graduate or vocational training equivalent.
- Your annual income must equal at least $10,000 per member of household, including the adoptee.
- Your assets must total at least $80,000.
- You must have fewer than five under 18 years and your youngest must be at least one year old.
- China does not require pre-adoption residency in the country
- Requires at least one adoptive parent to travel to China to execute documents before Chinese authorities
- If only one adoptive parent goes to China he must have a notarized power of attorney from the other parent executed and notarized by either the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC. or other Chinese consulates in the U. S.
Belize is a Hague Convention Country and the governing body for adoptions is the Belizean Court. Other details to note about adopting from Belize include:
- Fees are variable but typically include $1500-$5000 Belizean in legal fees.
- Adoptive parents must be 25 years or older and cannot be more than 12 years older than the child.
- Both married and single prospective parents are eligible.
- Pre-adoption residency is not required.
- Belize requires a probationary period where the child must be in the custody of prospective parent(s) in Belize or in the United States for 12 months before the adoption can be final.
Requirements to adopt from India include:
- India is a Hague Convention Country.
- The governing body for Indian adoptions is the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).
- Your adoption agency must be accredited in the U. S. and registered with CARA.
- Fees are variable.
- Single adoptive parents must be between the ages of 30 and 50 years. If you are married, you can be between 25 and 50 if the child is less than three years old, or between 25 and 55 if the child is older than three years.
- Adoption is open to both married couples and singles.
- You must have fewer than five children under 18 years of age and the youngest child must be at least one year old.
- India does not require pre-adoption residency in the country but it may require a seven-day residency durng the adoption proceedings.
South Korea is not a Hague Convention country. Other details about adoption from South Korea include:
- The governing body for adoptions is the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs
- Your adoption agency must be licensed and approved by South Korea.
- Fees are about $9,500 to $10,000.
- The time frame for the adoption process can range from one to four years.
- You must go through a waiting period of five months to ensure the child cannot be adopted in South Korea.
- You must be between 25-45 years and there cannot be an age difference of more than 15 years between partners.
- Only married couples can adopt.
- Your income must be higher than U. S. national average.
- You cannot have more than five children in household.
- South Korea does not require a pre-adoption residency.
- Prospective parents must be in Korea for the full and final adoption, otherwise you only get legal custody and the final adoption takes place in the U. S.
Vietnam is a Hague Convention country. Details about adopting from Vietnam include:
- The governing body for adoption in Vietnam is the Ministry of Justice, Department of Adoptions.
- Your adoption agency must be accredited in the U. S. and be authorized, as of September 2014, by the Government of Vietnam
- You can only adopt children younger than 16 years old.
- Vietnam has a special adoption program where certain groups are eligible for adoption:
- Special needs
- Age five and older
- Sibling groups
- You must be at least 20 years older than the child, unless you are a step parent, aunt or uncle.
- Adoption is available to single people, or married, heterosexual couples.
Vietnam does not require pre-adoption residency in the country
At least one adoptive parent must travel to Vietnam to execute documents before Vietnamese authorities.
If only one adoptive parent goes to Vietnam, he must have a notarized power of attorney from the other parent executed and notarized by either the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, DC., or other Vietnamese consulates in the U. S.
Guatemala is a Hague Convention country but according to the DOS website, the U. S. is not currently (2014) approving new I-800 applications because Guatemala was not in compliance with the Hague Convention.
Russia is not a Hague Convention country and banned the adoption of Russian children by U. S. citizens on January 1, 2013.
International adoption can be an expensive, lengthy and an emotionally stressful process. The process can be further complicated by political issues and policy changes, and other upheavals in the foreign country during your adoption process.
A reputable, experienced international adoption agency can provide expertise and emotional support. However, an agency cannot represent you for any complications with the USCIS, or other legal aspects. If your situation is complicated, consider hiring an attorney for additional help. Focus on the welfare and security of you, your child and your family.