International Adoption Vs Domestic Adoption

A lot of adoptive parents, especially in the past, have battled with the assumption that their adopted children are likely to search for their birth families later in their lives or the other way around. For instance, Marilyn Monroe, a prominent figure in the media, born from psychologically and financially problematic parents, was placed into foster care. Later on, her birth mother tried to take her back once forcibly. This situation and the other similar ones fueled the dilemma in some adoptive parents whether to go with international or domestic adoption. 

International vs Domestic Adoption

International and domestic adoption have similarities and differences. When it comes to qualification, adoptive parents in international adoption are being qualified with more stringent eligibility requirements in terms of but not limited to age range and age difference between the child and adoptive parents. As for the cost, international adoption should include overseas travel expenses while the domestic will only include travel expenses across states within the US, but both adoption programs should similarly cost around $25,000 to $35,000. The approximate waiting time for two programs is at least six months, but international adoption usually lasts for at least 1 to 2 years.

There is no such thing as right or wrong in choosing which adoption program to pursue. The only thing that is there for prospective adoptive parents to think is that which will be more favorable, convenient or suited for their situation. 

Below are comparisons on various aspects of the two programs, so hopeful adoptive parents can examine whether it’s domestic or international adoption that’s perfect for them. 

The Process and Which Governs It

The domestic adoption process is highly governed by the state, which holds the custody of the child that is to be adopted. However, it follows the general adoption process flow, similar to the international adoption process. 

International adoption is governed by the country from which adoption is being pursued. Hence, it should be expected that international adoption should have more stringent requirements and more complicated paper chase compared to domestic adoption, greatly caused by the country’s laws. 

The following are the steps for domestic and international adoption, their similarities and differences specified.

  • Registration and Application

Prospective adopted parents, for domestic adoption programs, may opt to register with a service provider available within the state, or they could choose to pursue private domestic adoption. Service providers or facilitating agencies generally have foster care partners or child welfare facilities wherein applicants can adopt a child. For the private adoption program, on the other hand, the birth parent has control over choosing the adoptive parents.

For international adoption, it is highly convenient and advised that prospective adoptive parents partner with service providers or facilitating agencies such that the laws of the country from which they are going to adopt may have specific local rules about sending a child internationally for adoption. It should be fairly taxing and difficult to pursue adoption from another country that is seas apart from the hopeful applicants’ home country.

  • Home Study

A home study is required in all adoption programs, especially for countries who agreed and signed the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). This is a process by which adoptive parents are educated and trained to be well-prepared for the upcoming parenting life and to be aware of the entirety of adoption and its processes. Service providers or facilitating agencies may or may not provide this feature in their programs, but social workers should be able to pursue home study for those who partner with facilitating agencies who do not offer the service.

For international adoption, adoptive parent applicants may or may not be provided with home study services by their facilitating agency, but agencies usually have contact or will help the applicants apply for home study services available within their area or country.

Home study should last for how many weeks, about ten weeks, and which by the end, a report is made about the adoptive parent applicants’ home, social life, financial statements, criminal record, medical, and psychological health. Hopeful applicants for the international adoption program should brace themselves in preparing their income tax or payslips such that most countries require a certain amount for income, usually at least $40,000 to ensure that they are financially capable of parenting a child, especially if they already have a child at home. 

Domestic adoption applicants should be prepared as well, but for some countries like the US, their domestic adoptions are financed by taxes. In fact, adoptive parents or foster parents receive a monthly stipend from the government as payment for parenting the adopted child and as a means to financially support the child as well. It may also be due to the fact that the US exerts effort to prioritize placing their orphaned children domestically before they are placed for international adoption. 

International vs Domestic Adoption
  • Adoptive Parent/s – Child Matching

For domestic adoption, it should be easier to adopt a newborn or an infant. Adoptive parents can wait for when a child is born if the birth parent already surrendered the child for adoption prior to giving birth. However, the birth mother has more control in choosing adoptive parents. Should prospective adoptive parents register with an agency that partners with foster care institutes or orphanages, they may or may not be given the authority to choose which child to adopt. This is highly dependent on the agency. However, agencies should provide information about the children in their care that are waiting for adoptive families.

For international adoption, on the other hand, the adoptive parent/s-child matching should be usually overseen by the child welfare department of the country and the agency. Hence, the adoptive parent applicants must be open to adopting a child of either gender, a child that is at least toddler age or older, and a child that may or may not have minor or correctable to more moderate medical or emotional needs. It should not be that of a worry, though; the authority generally makes sure that the prospective adoptive parents are suitable for the child that is referred to them. Also, the applicants have the choice of whether to accept or not the child referral. The matching process would normally take 3 to five months, or in some cases, more.

  • Legal Proceedings, Travel, Placement and Post Placement

Domestic adoption should require the prospective adoptive parents to travel to the state that has custody over the adoption case to attend the court proceedings. As mentioned earlier, the domestic adoption laws are highly governed by the state. It should not be as costly as the international adoption, though since the travels are only domestically, sometimes even just a drive rather than a flight. While the adoption process is ongoing, which should take at least six months or more, prospective adoptive parents may or may not be able to visit the child who is convenient as they can monitor the child’s growth and development.

Obviously, international adoption should require adoptive parent applicants to travel overseas to attend the court hearing of the adoption case. Again, international adoption laws are governed by the country wherein the adoption is being pursued. Some countries even require applicants to travel at least two times in a span of a week or more depending on the case. Hence, the travel expenses will be costly for this type of adoption program. Furthermore, international adoption should also include applying for the visa, entry permit, permanent residency permit, and certificate of citizenship for the child in the adoptive parents country where they will be placing the child.

Post-placement reports should be necessary for both adoption programs, but the international adoption program is more stringent. Most countries require visitation by the social worker or the service provider that does the home study to twice or thrice within at least six months after the placement.

The Requirements for Qualification

Domestic adoption requirements for adoptive parent eligibility vary state by state, but generally, married, or single applicants can apply, but they have to qualify with the age limit, usually around 40 years old. However, since the birth mother has more control in choosing the adoptive parents in some cases, younger parents are generally more preferable. Moreover, a married couple applicant is also preferable, but for the other cases, a stable marital status should define a huge part of the qualification. 

All adoption programs also require that the applicants are:

  • physically and psychologically healthy with medical examination documents for proof,
  • have a clean criminal record,
  • have a stable financial status,
  • for some agencies, are affiliated with a religious organization. 

However, some service providers or agencies have considerations regarding the health and the criminal records, but cases of domestic, sexual, and child abuse are strictly not allowed.

On the other hand, most of the countries for international adoption have a specific age bracket for adoptive parents. They should be within the range of 25 to 45 years old and should not have more than 45 years age gap with the child. However, some agencies would allow a 5-year margin. Married applicants should usually be at least married for three years. Divorcees may or may not be considered, but some countries allow for applicants with not exceeding two divorce cases. Income requirements, for the majority of the countries, is set at a mandatory minimum of $40,000 or at 125% above the poverty level.

The Children on the Waiting

Adopting a child within the country means adopting a child of whom there is guaranteed access to pertinent records such as medical records, birth history, and social background. In some private adoption cases, birth mothers would want constant communication with a child even after the adoption. Moreover, domestic adoption programs could provide or may require the birth mother to provide her own medical record, especially the prenatal, drug use history, and genetic information, which will determine the child’s health as well. The major advantage of domestic adoption is that prospective adoptive parents can adopt a newborn or an infant if available.

International vs Domestic Adoption

Alternately, an international adoption program may or may not provide the prospective adoptive parents with the child’s records. The child’s record usually starts at the time he or she is surrendered in the orphanage or foster care institutions.

However, agencies make sure that the children are cared for in the institutions while they wait for a family that would adopt them. They could also include the social education information of the child, but depending on the agency, whether they have the proper documentation. Some countries, for instance, South Korea, they highly value their children’s development records, and they make sure that their children are receiving excellent healthcare services.

The downside to international adoption is that prospective adoptive parents rarely happen to adopt a newborn or an infant. If infants are even available on the waiting list, they are expected to grow along while waiting for the entire adoption process to be finalized. Usually, adoptive parents get to bring a child home that is at least 2 or 3 years old. For older children, adoptive parents should expect that they have some special emotional needs as some may have suffered trauma due to neglect, abandonment, and abuse.

Breakdown of Expenses

Domestic and international adoption programs, having similar stages and process flow, do not differ much in cost. However, in the table below, a separate breakdown is provided for domestic and international adoption programs as they may have quite a few differences, especially in the travel expenses and document translation for international adoption. It must be noted, nonetheless, that the range of costs provided below is but a rough estimation as they may vary depending on the type of adoption program, the country or state where the adoption is being pursued, and the services provided by different service providers.

Registration/Application$1,000-$1,500Registration / Application$1,000-$2,000
Service provider service fees
Parent-Child Matching
Child care concurrent with the adoption
$10,000-$17,000Service provider service fees
Parent-Child Matching
Child care concurrent with the adoption
Home Study$2,000-$5,000Home Study$4,000-$5,000
Paper requirements
Post placement report
$1,000-$4,000Paper requirements
Authentication and translation
Child’s visa, passport, and birth documents
Post placement report
Travel expenses
Airfare if applicable
$5,000-$10,000Travel expenses
In-country transportation
In-country accommodation
Number of the trips required

Related Questions

What is open adoption, and how does it work? 

Most adoption situation in the present is an open adoption. Open adoption means that the birth mother wants and will maintain some level of contact or communication with the child even after the adoption and placement. This is more common for domestic adoptions such that the birth mother and the child and his or her adoptive family may be living in the same country, but states away, for instance. This type of situation will be harder for international adoption; however, on the other hand. The reason for this is that the birth mother and the child and his or her adoptive family are seas or countries apart. Moreover, the birth mother and the adoptive parents could differ greatly in culture and language, which should be some of the major barriers they have to overcome to maintain a decent relationship in light of raising the child and witnessing him or her grow up.

In the past and sometimes even in the present, adoptive parents prefer that they raise the adopted child totally as their own; hence, not allowing completely for an open relationship with the birth mother or the birth family. This is the reason why some prospective adoptive parents prefer international adoption. However, studies show that not keeping the adoption a secret from the child results in a more emotionally stable and healthy child, contrary to some assumptions that the child will grow up problematic. Therefore, adoptive parents are encouraged to communicate well with the child about their relationship and talk about the adoption, which should build their relationship and secure the role of the adoptive parents in the child’s life.

We want to adopt a child, but we are afraid we are of a limited budget, what should we do? Some countries, especially for domestic adoption, have financial aid programs to help hopeful adoptive parents pursue an adoption. For instance, the United States Depart of State mandates that children be placed domestically first before placing them for international adoption. Along with this effort that they grand financial aids to adoptive parents what adopt or foster a child within the country or state. 

Moreover, service providers or facilitating agencies for both domestic and international adoption programs are nonprofit organizations that conduct their own financial grant programs and not only fundraisers to support the children under their care, but also to offer aid to hopeful adoptive parents. Moreover, some agencies even offer adoption loans. Most of the adoption facilitating agencies have websites, so it is easy to check on their programs. 

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Eni Gordove

is a freelance writer who has a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in Political Science. She has also taken Bachelor of Laws, making her adept in domestic and international adoption regulations and processes.

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