Domestic vs. International Adoption

Making this decision is important at the start of your adoption journey.

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It will determine with whom you will work and insure that you are pursuing the right adoption path in building your family. Three issues are critical at this point in the process:


  • Domestic – According to a 2010-11 Adoptive Families Cost and Timing Survey, private domestic newborn adoptions can cost anywhere between $30,000 to $50,000 dollars, and international adoptions can cost anywhere between $32,000 to $66,000 dollars, depending on the child’s country of origin. Travel costs to the country you are adopting from need to be figured into the total, as well as repeated visits, and extended stays. Adoptions can also be paid for with adoption tax credits, grants, loans, adoption assistance, and private fund raising.
  • International – Depending upon the country from which you adopt, international adoption can be very costly, ranging anywhere between $32,000 to $66,000 dollars, depending on the child’s country of origin. Travel costs to the country you are adopting from need to be figured into the total, as well as repeated visits, and extended stays. Most agencies can help you estimate the total fees/cost before you begin your journey. In addition to out of pocket costs, international adoption will usually require more travel costs and time away from home/work.


  • Domestic – If you are looking to adopt a newborn or young infant, you are looking at a domestic adoption. It’s that simple.
  • International – International adoptions are of non-infants. Let’s clarify. Children adopted from overseas must be cleared for adoption. They must meet local guidelines and be offered to a local family before being eligible for an international placement. As a result, there is always a period of several months prior to the referral for adoption. In addition, all adoptions take time to process. By the time the child would come to the United States 6-12 months would have elapsed. Except for a few programs where children under the age of 8 months are referred for placement, the majority of children are at least 1 year of age at the time of referral and almost 2 years old when they immigrate to the United States. If you are looking to adopt a young toddler or an older child you can choose to adopt internationally or through the U.S. foster care system.
  • If considering U.S. foster care, you will be able to adopt locally or from another state. Most children are older and have been placed into foster care due to child abuse or neglect. They may have been in several foster care placements prior to being “freed” for adoption. If you agree to take an infant into your home, check to see if the child has been freed for adoption or if it is a foster care placement with a family reunification or adoption goal. If the child is not freed for adoption, it is a risky placement—meaning the child can be removed from your home and placed with a family member or even another foster care or adoptive family. Children freed for adoption in the foster care system are typically 4 years and older.


Wait times for international adoptions are comparable to private domestic adoptions, if not longer. With the increasing amount of paperwork required to adopt a child from another country, and the adherence to  The Hague Convention adoption process, the gap between domestic private adoption and international adoption wait times has been closing. According to a 2010-11 Adoptive Families Cost and Timing Survey, an average international adoption can take anywhere from 6 months to a few years to be completed.


  • Domestic – If it is important for you to have medical, familial and social background on a child — you are looking at a domestic adoption. In cases of private domestic adoption, a Birth Mother is matched with the Adoptive Parents and can provide medical history, genetic information, drug history, and other relevant health information to the adoptive parents. The Birth Parent will be asked to complete a long questionnaire. There are questions on medical, extended family (3 generational), education achieved and talents and hobbies. You will have the opportunity for a physician to review pre-natal records and ask questions directly of the OBGYN or hospital personnel.
  • International – There may be more unknowns with an international adoption. International adoptions commonly involve foster care facilities and orphanages, not Birth Mothers, the biological mother of an adopted child. In an international adoption, the child’s history typically begins when they are “abandoned” at the maternity hospital or orphanage. The record will contain any medical appointments or treatment as of that time. If it is an older child, it will include social and educational information. The extent and quality of information varies from country to country and institution to institution. While a physician in the U.S. can review the information provided, in very few instances is there an ability to reach out to a Birth Parent for more information. International adoptees may be under-immunized and be at risk for infections dues to often-crowded living conditions, malnutrition, lack of clean water and exposure to endemic diseases that are not common in the US. Medical histories and biological family histories are often unavailable or very limited for international adoptees. Also note that internationally adopted children will have a harder time finding their birth families later in life, if they wish to contact them.


  • Domestic – Domestic adoptions require an Adoptive Parent to travel to the place of the child’s birth to obtain custody of the child. Many Adoptive Parents travel to meet Birth Parents prior to birth. Some adoptions require the Adoptive Parent to travel back to the state where the child was born to finalize the adoption. If a parent cannot fly, they can choose to adopt from a nearby state, thereby being able to drive rather than fly. When adopting domestically, your travel will be limited to the US, to the state where your Birth Mother is living.
  • International – International adoptions often require you and/or your spouse to travel to the country from which you are adopting for several weeks. Trips may be for a few days or several weeks’ duration. Often with international adoptions, more than one trip is required. It is important if considering an international adoption that you ask about travel and in-country stay requirements. If an Adoptive Parent cannot fly or stay away for an extended period, this option may not be for you.


  • Domestic – In the U.S., adoption laws vary state by state. Thus, it depends on what state the Adopting Parents live in and the state the Birth Parent(s) live in. For more information on your state’s adoption laws, click  here.
  • International – Adoption laws change from year to year, and from country to country. Changes in  intercountry adoption bans and regulations in different countries may cause unexpected challenges for prospective international adoptive parents. For instance, Cambodia, which does not comply with the Hague Convention, has retained its right to continue to ban adoptions between the United States and Cambodia into 2013. Whereas, Lesotho, an African country, has lifted its ban on intercountry adoptions as of February 28, 2013. When choosing which country to adopt from, timing can play a crucial role.


By the time individuals or couples turn to adoption, most have spent time pursuing a biological child, including fertility treatments. The years have progressed and you are probably in your late 30’s or upper 40’s. Some of you may even be in your 50’s. How does your age impact on your adoption options and choices?

  • Domestic – In the majority of domestic adoption, the Birth Mother will choose the Adopting Parent(s). If she has no problem with your age, the adoption can move forward. However, in domestic adoption, some agencies put a cut off on an Adoptive Parent’s age, usually at 40. Why? If the adoption agency is showing your profile to a Birth Mother and you are competing with younger singles and couples, the agency may feel your chances of being selected are low. While it may not seem so to you, they are actually doing you a favor by not taking you on as a client when there is little chance of success. You can ask the agency if you found your own Birth Mother, would they provide the needed services. Most agencies will agree to do so.
  • International – In international adoption, each country (and domestic agency) has age guidelines and restrictions. Many keep the age difference between the child and youngest parent at 40 years. This does not mean you cannot adopt, just that depending on your age, you would be referred an older child.


Singles and couples can adopt.

  • Domestic – Domestic adoption has no limitations, although marital stability must be evident.
  • International – There are stricter regulations in international adoption. Some countries require marriage or marriages of several years duration, and some limit adoptions to individuals with multiple divorces.


Where current or a history of medical or psychiatric illness exists, the Adopting Parent will need to provide evidence of current stability. This would require a letter from the treating physician. Some countries will not allow individuals with specific medical or psychiatric conditions, including the taking of psychiatric medications, to adopt.


If there is a history or arrest, whether or not you were convicted of the crime, the Adopting Parent will need to provide a disposition of arrest and an explanation of the circumstances. If a DUI or DWI, proof of rehabilitation (i.e. classes, treatment, etc.) will be needed, as well. Some countries will not allow anyone with an arrest history to adopt.


If ever charged as the perpetrator of child abuse, depending on the result of the child abuse clearance, you may not be able to adopt, either domestically or internationally.


If you were the victim of any of the above, you will need to discuss the circumstances and any rehabilitation received. Current emotional stability is necessary to proceed with an adoption. Some international countries will not allow individuals to adopt with such a history.


Individuals of all religions adopt. However, if adopting an older child who is already observant, an adoptive parent needs to be flexible in allowing the child to continue observing his or her religion. Some domestic agencies and international programs prefer families of a specific religion.


Families of all income levels can adopt.

  • Domestic – Domestically, those with very limited resources should look at adopting from foster care. Other individuals can pursue a private adoption.
  • International – To adopt internationally, a family must show an income 125% over the Poverty Level for at least 3 years.


There are issues that can affect your adoption process from the very beginning. Domestic adoptions are of newborn infants or older children in foster care. International adoptions are of toddlers and older children.

By making your decision at the beginning of your adoption journey you will be able to choose an adoption agency or attorney with whom to pursue the adoption.

It is important that Adopting Parents meet the guidelines discussed above for age, marital status, medical, criminal and child abuse histories, as well as other requirements for a particular type of adoption process.

It is important that all areas included in this article are discussed with any adoption agency or attorney before the adoption process is started. These areas will also be discussed with the social worker who does the Adoption Home Study.

Knowing the limitations of options, and honesty from the start will eliminate unexpected delays and barriers to an adoption.

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