Domestic vs. International Adoption: What’s Right for You?

What is the difference between domestic and international adoption? How do you know which one is right for you?

If you’re like many adoptive parents at the beginning of their journey, deciding on domestic vs. foreign adoption is one of the first choices you’ll have to make. Each process will add a child to your home — but in completely different ways. Therefore, it’s important to understand early on the differences between domestic and international adoption in order to make the best decision for you.

This is where our adoption advisors can help. At FCCA, we assist families through both domestic and international adoptions. Our staff can explain the details of both paths and provide the information you need to start your family-building process. We know this decision can take some time, which is why we encourage to you contact our agency early in your process to learn more.

As we discuss international vs. domestic adoption with you, we’ll talk about some of the defining factors that have helped other adoptive families make their choice. Together, we can create your own international adoption vs. domestic adoption “pros and cons” list, so to say.

To help you begin your research, we’ve listed a few of the important determinants of domestic vs. international adoption for our California families below.

Domestic vs. International Adoption Requirements

When you consider adopting in the U.S. vs. internationally, you’ll need to think about which process is actually available to you. All adoption processes have different requirements, based both on state/country laws and the professionals used in the process.

Some requirements apply to all hopeful parents, whether adopting domestically or internationally. In California, hopeful adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child they wish to adopt. There are no state requirements for income, marital status, sexual orientation, or other demographic characteristics. All adoptive parents must complete an adoption home study. While certain adoption agencies may set stricter requirements (like requiring marriage or a religious affiliation), not all do. In addition, most people who wish to become a foster parent or adopt from foster care can be approved, subject to completing the home study and training process.

Parents adopting internationally have to meet additional requirements set by the country from which they are adopting. For example, some nations do not recognize same-sex marriage, and some strictly prohibit LGBT individuals from adopting children. Other nations may require adoptive parents to be married for a certain length of time, and with a limit on the number of prior marriages, as well. As you are considering domestic adoption vs. international adoption, research the adoption requirements in the countries you wish to adopt from — to see if it’s even an option for you.

If you work with FCCA for a Hong Kong adoption, you must have been married for at least two years.

Domestic vs. International Adoption Costs

Another thing to consider about domestic vs. foreign adoption is the total of expenses for each process.

In general, international adoption can be expensive. Adoptive parents will be responsible for fees to their adoption agency, the necessary adoption professionals in their child’s country, travel costs, immigration documentation costs, and additional legal steps once they return to the U.S. Overall adoption expenses vary by country but, on average, international adoption can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000. Please contact us for cost estimates related to our Hong Kong adoption program.

Private domestic infant adoption is similarly expensive. This is because adoptive parents commonly pay for the living and medical expenses of a prospective birth mother, as well as fees to their adoption agency, lawyer and additional costs during the process. Adoptive parents who work with FCCA can expect to pay about $10,000 for our agency and home study services, but that does not include variable living expenses, medical expenses, or additional legal expenses.

Adopting domestically from foster care is the most cost-effective manner to add a child to your family. Overall, the process costs about $1,500 with FCCA — a cost which is reimbursed by California’s adoption subsidy.

Domestic vs. International Adoption Opportunities

Before you decide on international vs. domestic adoption in California, you will also need to recognize the different adoption opportunities each path presents.

Typically, the children available for adoption in foreign countries are orphans, which means their personal history may not be available to those who adopt them. Often, these children only become available for international adoption when it has been determined that no domestic families are willing or able to adopt them. In many cases, this means the children are likely to be older or have special physical, mental, behavioral or developmental needs. For example, FCCA’s Hong Kong adoption program only includes children from 2-8 years old with significant special needs (frequently Down syndrome).

If you adopt a child from the United States, either through private domestic infant or foster care adoption, there is generally more diversity in adoption opportunities, with room for more personal choice. Of course, your personal preferences may impact your wait time (more on that below), but with over 58,000 children currently in the California foster care system and many women placing their children for adoption every year, you will have many opportunities to choose from.

Domestic vs. International Adoption Wait Times

Finally, how long you wait for an adoption opportunity will vary between domestic vs. foreign adoption.

Both private domestic infant adoption and international adoption are family-building processes that can take years. Depending on the professionals you use, you could spend six months completing your home study and pre-placement requirements. Then, you will wait for the right adoption match. In private domestic infant adoption, you must wait for a prospective birth mother to choose you. In international adoption, you will wait for your child referral agency to find an adoption opportunity. In either case, placement may not occur right after the match; a prospective birth mother may need to give birth, while an international adoption placement may have to be approved by a foreign court before you may travel to that other country to pick up the child and complete the adoption there.

In foster care adoption, placement usually occurs quickly after the match referral is made. While the adoption can’t be finalized until at least six to 18 months later, it is usually the quickest option for adding a child to a family. That being said, some foster care placements are terminated when a child is placed with birth family members. This is one advantage of an international adoption, in that all parental rights and family placement rights are fully terminated before the child is ever placed into your care.

One more thing to know about domestic vs. international adoption wait times: International adoption processes are largely at the mercy of our government, as well as the government of the child’s country. There is always a risk that an international adoption program will be shut down, temporarily or permanently, while you are in the middle of the process.

So, is it easier to adopt a child from another country or domestically? There is no single right answer for everyone, because some of the advantages and disadvantages may be of greater importance to you than to someone else whose situation is different from yours. For help determining which type of adoption is best for your specific situation, and to start your adoption process, please contact our adoption agency.

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