Everything You Need to Know About International Adoption

Interested in adopting internationally? From cost to country regulations, we answered the most common questions couples have about international adoption, plus rounded up great additional resources so you can continue your research.
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More than 200,000 children from around the world have become part of American families over the past decade. But throughout the years, international adoption has become a more challenging choice for new parents. Due to an international treaty that governs adoption, and seismic shifts in the number of children adopted from previously popular countries like China and Guatemala, we've been ushered into a new era—one with fewer children being adopted, but with more openness and less chance for corruption.

If you're thinking about adopting a child from abroad, here's what you should know, based on interviews with top U.S. State Department officials who help oversee the intercountry adoption process for American families.

RELATED: Getting Started: 5 Steps to Adopting a Child Internationally

What Countries Can I Adopt From?

The State Department keeps a constantly updated list of countries with active adoption programs on their adoption-focused website, and even offers a simple "Learn About a Country" search tool. Many parts of the world have strict rules that limit the number of U.S. adoptions to a small handful each year, but countries such as China, Ethiopia and Russia continue to send 1,000 to 2,000 children to the U.S. each year.

You'll want to review the rules carefully for each country—many have age and health restrictions, or won't allow adoptions to single parents or to gay or lesbian couples. Some countries adopt children only to parents who share their religion or heritage, or only after the parents agree to live in country for several weeks to complete the adoption. The State Department site gives a sense of the length of time you may wait before you'll complete your adoption.

RELATEDAdopting a Child from Vietnam: One Mom's Story

How Much Does International Adoption Cost?

There are two sets of fees that you will need to pay to adopt: the fees to your U.S. facilitator and the U.S. government, to cover the cost of a home study, background check, and the agency's services in preparing your paperwork; and fees to the foreign government to cover expenses for paperwork and care for your child. You will also pay some travel expenses—either for you to travel to your child's home country to meet her and complete the adoption, or for your child to be escorted to the U.S., if you adopt from Korea or Ethiopia.

The total cost of an adoption can run between $15,000 and well over $60,000. But keep in mind that the adoption tax credit, up to $13,810 in 2018, can help offset some of those expenses.

What is the The Hague Convention?

When you hear the word "Hague" in connection with adoptions, it refers to Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the treaty signed by 88 countries governing international adoption.

"The Hague Convention really provides a safe, ethical, and transparent adoption process, to help protect children and parents and biological parents," says Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs for the U.S State Department.

Adoptions between countries that follow the Hague Adoption Convention treaty must meet stricter guidelines:

  • The adoption agency or facilitator must be approved by the U.S. State Department to manage adoptions in that country. The agency or facilitator must fully disclose fees and expenses up front—and has limited opportunities to change fees down the line.
  • The child's country must ensure that the child is indeed an "orphan," with no one available to adopt and care for her in her home country.
  • The adoptive parents must complete several hours of training to help prepare them for potential issues their child may face, such as developmental delays due to less than optimal orphanage care.
  • The paperwork required changes slightly, to include a new Hague adoption certificate and a new type of visa that's issued in these cases.

Some countries, including Haiti and Uganda, still haven't implemented the Hague Convention, and adoptions from those countries don't have all of these requirements, such as the training and the additional paperwork—or the accreditation of the adoption agency or facilitator.

Should I Worry About International Adoption Corruption?

Most international adoptions are conducted ethically, but there have been documented instances of corruption within some adoption programs, occurring before the Hague Convention treaty was signed.

"In some of the countries—especially in the poorer countries—we've seen instances of government officials and adoption service providers engaging in unethical practices," Ambassador Jacobs says. "There's a lot of money involved in international adoption and sometimes that amount of money can corrupt."

In China, several people were convicted in 2005 for trafficking children into orphanages in Hunan province, and concerns surfaced last year about children being forcibly taken from their families and sold to the orphanages; in Vietnam, the adoption program was closed because of instances of trafficking and even kidnapping.

"If we suspect any kind of fraud or bribery or inappropriate financial gains, we will investigate very carefully," Ambassador Jacobs says. "When it happens, we put a stop to it as quickly as we can." That can lead to restrictions on adoptions from a particular country, delays in finalizing your adoption, or, in severe instances, closing the program altogether. But in Hague-compliant countries, there is less room for corruption to take place.

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Learn More About International Adoption

Many parents initially underestimate the challenges associated with international adoption, but fortunately a wealth of resources exists. The following books and sites will help both you and your child adjust.

RELATED: Can a Single Person Adopt?

Books for Adoptive Children

At Home in This World, A China Adoption Story

Written from a young Chinese adoptee's perspective, this book by Jean MacLeod stresses the importance of both personal reflection and supportive love from family members in adjusting to a new country and home. (Ages 9 to adult) Buy it on Amazon

I Don't Have Your Eyes

This multicultural book written by Carrie A. Kitze teaches adopted kids to look beyond physical differences and celebrate the unique bond that ties them to their caregivers. (Ages 2 to 7) Buy it on Amazon

We See the Moon

Translated into several languages besides English, this beautifully illustrated book encourages adoptees to ask questions about their birth parents. It's been lauded for its ability to foster communication between adoptive parents and children of any age or origin. (Ages 4 to adult) Buy it on Amazon

W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook

This useful workbook by Marilyn Schoettle prepares kids to handle inappropriate questions about their adoption. A pull-out guidebook for parents is included. (Ages 6 to 12) Buy it on Amazon

Books for Adoptive Parents

Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections

This 400-page guidebook, which includes contributions from more than 75 adoption professionals and parents, offers advice on cultivating a deep bond with adoptive children. Buy it on Amazon

Beyond Good Intentions: A Mother Reflects on Raising Internationally Adopted Children

This collection of insightful, candid essays addresses the challenges adoptive parents' face, such as helping their kids express anger and sorrow. Buy it on Amazon

Online Resources for International Adoption

The Office of Children's Issues

Part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, this organization plays an active role in the intercountry adoption process. In their work, the assist parents as they seek to provide a home to orphans abroad.

Attach-China/International

Here, parents of internationally adopted children can learn about reactive attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Adoption and Foster Family Coalition of New York

This site offers articles on common post-adoption challenges, such as raising separated siblings.

Pact, An Adoption Alliance

Focusing on children of color, this site provides placement services for birth parents and educational resources for adoptive parents.

Parents Network for the Post Institutionalized Child

This site informs families and medical professionals about the effects of orphanages, hospitals, and institutions on children.

Learn what not to say to parents of adopted children—and why you shouldn't say it—with this adoption etiquette primer.

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