International or Intercountry Adoption 101

Quick Summary

Intercountry adoption is the adoption of a child living outside of your own country. Often far less is known about the child and birth family than if you were adopting domestically.

While timelines and costs generally track domestic infant adoption in the United States, in many cases, the duration and fees will be dramatically higher.

What’s more, depending upon the country, it can be significantly harder for single or LGBTQ hopeful parents to adopt from abroad.

In this chapter, we’ll provide a brief overview of what to consider when thinking through international adoption.

Waning Popularity of Intercountry Adoption

As you can see in the data below, the number of intercountry adoptions into the United States has dropped dramatically from its peak around 2005–2006. Simultaneously (or relatedly), the number of US domestic adoptions has climbed.

There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, one being that “sending” countries (e.g. China) took measures to bolster domestic adoption within their own borders or to stamp out “unethical adoptions”. In many countries, the hurdles to intercountry adoption have been raised, and as you’ll see, the profile of children being adopted today are different than a decade ago.

While it may seem like there are a dizzying number of countries from which to adopt, the reality is 90% of intercountry adoptions into the US are from eight sending countries: mainland China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nigeria, South Korea, and Ukraine.

While it’s generally true intercountry adoptions into the United States are down, as you can see from the data below, that’s not true for each sending country. Adoptions from Colombia, India, and Nigeria have increased (and in the case of India, dramatically) over the last half decade.


The fees associated with adoption can vary greatly depending on the country from which you adopt. For instance, in South Korea, the requirements of adoptive parents to remain in the country longer can lift the total costs dramatically.

Legal Considerations and Requirements

How the adoption is finalized will vary from country to country—to some extent this is slightly standardized and streamlined when sending countries are party to the Hague Convention (more on that below). In some cases you may complete and finalize the paperwork in the child’s home country, while in others, you may finalize the adoption in the United States.

Immigration, visa, and passport requirements to bring the child home and obtain US citizenship will also vary depending on the country. Having a lawyer and reputable agency to guide you through the process is crucial.

US Citizenship and Immigrantion Services (USCIS) must approve all intercountry adoptions. They require prospective adoptive parents to be US Citizens and at least 25 years old when filing the petition to adopt if unmarried. Married individuals have no age requirement, and citizenship is only required for one spouse.

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In this course we cover the costs for domestic infant adoption, as well as the timelines, crucial steps and major decisions to be weighed. We also focus on post-adoption aspects namely levels of openness with birth parents, coping with microaggressions and how this process can look for single and LGBTQ adoptive parents. Finally, we take a high-level look at the process of intercountry adoption.