Family & Relationships

Key Differences Between U.S. and International Adoptions

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If you’re considering adoption, one of the first decisions you’ll face is whether to pursue a U.S. adoption or an international adoption. Read on to learn more about the many factors to consider, including cost and financing, wait time, the availability of medical history and legal issues.

Cost of adoption

The cost of international adoption and domestic adoption can vary by quite a bit depending on the specific situation. For example, adopting a child through the U.S. foster care system is relatively inexpensive thanks to federal and state adoption assistance programs. Costs of adoption within the U.S. through a private agency, on the other hand, can range from $20,000 to $45,000.

Expenses related to international adoption can be a bit higher than some types of domestic adoptions. This is largely due to travel and processing costs. Average costs for an international adoption can run between $20,000 and $50,000.

As with domestic adoption, the cost of international adoption can depend in large part on the kind of organization facilitating the adoption: government or private agency, orphanage, nonprofit, attorney, facilitator or a combination of these.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, parents adopting from a country outside the United States may also need to budget for:

  • Escort fees if they can’t accompany the child to the U.S. themselves.
  • Health care for the child.
  • Translation costs.
  • Foreign attorney and foreign agency fees.
  • Passport and visa processing fees.
  • Costs of visa medical examinations.
  • Counseling and support after placement.

Adoption financial help

Adoption costs can add up quickly. Fortunately, financing is typically available for domestic and international adoptions. 

The National Council for Adoption’s website lists a variety of organizations that offer grants and loans for all types of adopting families. The National Adoption Foundation is another great resource for adoption grants and loans. Check with your adoption agency for any programs they may be affiliated with.

The federal government offers tax benefits for adoption, including a tax credit for qualified adoption expenses and an exclusion from income for employer-provided adoption assistance. See the IRS website for details.

Some states also provide adoption fee reimbursements. Contact your state's tax department or a local tax preparer to see if you qualify.

Finally, check with your employer to see what adoption benefits they may offer. Some offer reimbursement plans for adoption expenses, while others might provide legal insurance benefits to cover your adoption attorney’s fees.

Length of adoption process

Once you decide to adopt, you’ll be eager to bring your child home. Depending on the type of adoption, you could have a child in your arms in a matter of months — or years. In general, the more open you are to certain situations, the less time you’ll wait.

While international adoptions can involve several additional steps (sometimes including a court appearance in the child’s birth country), in many situations they can happen quite a bit faster than a domestic adoption. Most domestic adoptions take one to two years to complete, while international adoptions from certain countries can happen within one year.

Differences in medical and personal information

One of the biggest differences between domestic adoptions and international adoptions is the information available to you regarding the child’s — and parents’ — medical histories.

Medical records of children adopted internationally can be minimal. Information regarding the social history of the child’s birth parents, including family medical history or any possible exposure to drugs or alcohol while the child was in the womb, can be scarce. This can be troubling, as many of the effects of exposure to these substances don’t appear until months or years after birth and/or placement.

Families adopting domestically are usually given the medical records of the child and the social history of the birth parents as it pertains to the child. Some agencies make this information available to families before their match and allow them to accept or deny the match based on those factors.

Legal concerns

If you’re considering an international adoption, make sure you examine the laws of the country from which you’re adopting and the state in which you live. The nature of those laws will likely determine in which place you finalize the adoption.

Pay special attention to whether or not your state recognizes a foreign adoption decree. If it doesn’t, you may want to finalize the adoption in your state. This may add to your overall costs but finalizing the adoption in a U.S. court offers additional legal protections that may outweigh the extra expenses.

To see federal and state rules for intercountry adoption, see the State Recognition of Intercountry Adoptions Finalized Abroad.

Assessing your adoption options

If you’re still debating between domestic adoption and international adoption, consider talking to an adoption attorney who can advise you on things to consider for your state and any countries you’re considering. An attorney can help you determine which decision will be the best decision for you and your growing family.


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