Domestic vs. International Adoption

When a couple begins to explore the idea of adopting a child, it is easy for them to quickly become overwhelmed with information, questions and decisions.

One of the first dilemmas couples face is whether to pursue domestic adoption or international adoption.

International adoption has been in the media spotlight in recent years as notable Hollywood stars, such as Angelia Jolie and Madonna, have adopted internationally. However, this does not mean that domestic adoption has gone by the wayside. In fact, domestic adoption continues to grow, while international adoption has declined significantly over the past three years.

When comparing domestic and international adoption, there are many factors a couple must consider: cost, wait time, children available, medical and social history and legal concerns.


The difference in cost between international adoption and domestic adoption is a common misconception that many adoptive families share. Many mistakenly believe that international adoption costs far less than domestic adoption; however, this is not true.

Both types of adoption have similar total costs, typically ranging from around $25,000 to $50,000, but they both have their own unique costs.

For example, couples adopting domestically will not have to budget for a visa, unlike couples adopting internationally. Likewise, couples adopting domestically may provide living expenses for the expectant mother, such as help with rent or utility payments, an expense that is not typically seen in international adoptions.

Couples adopting internationally should also be prepared to travel to and stay in the country they are adopting from for a period that could range from a few days to several weeks. Multiple visits may also be necessary. Couples contemplating international adoption should carefully research travel requirements for countries they are considering adopting from.

Couples adopting domestically should be prepared to travel to the birth mother’s location for the birth of the baby and stay until the baby is released from the hospital. If the baby is born outside of the adoptive family’s state, the family must stay until ICPC approval has been granted, which takes 7 to 10 business days.

Wait Times

The time it takes for a couple to receive a child domestically or internationally depends on many factors.

While it is difficult to assess the wait times of other adoption professionals, approximately 75 percent of the families working with American Adoptions adopt within our estimated wait times. Many factors contribute to this wait, including the adoptive family's specified parameters for issues such as budget, race of the child and birth parent medical/social histories.

The more restrictive a family’s adoption plan (such as only being open to one race), the longer the family may wait. Conversely, the more open a family is to certain situations, the more exposure their adoption profile will receive and the less time they will typically wait.

The wait times for international adoptions also vary and depend on a family’s adoption plan, as well as country-specific issues. For example, according to The Adoption Guide, adopting a child from China may take more than four years, while adopting a child from Russia may take less than a year.

Children Available

According to the latest research by the National Council for Adoption, private domestic agency adoptions have risen steadily from 14,549 in 1982 to 20,254 in 2007.

The same study showed that U.S. citizens completed 19,942 international adoptions in 2007, which declined to 9,319 in 2011 as international adoption policies became more restrictive.

In 2005, the countries with the most U.S. adoptions were China (7,903), Russia (4,631) and Guatemala (3,783). In 2010, China declined to 3,401, Russia to 1,082 and Guatemala to 51, and that trend does not appear to be changing.

Just as there are children of all ages available for adoption in the U.S., the typical age of children adopted internationally also varies, depending greatly on the country of origin and its adoption policies.

Medical Issues

One of the biggest differences when comparing domestic adoption and international adoption is the availability of medical and social history of the child and their birth parents.

Medical records of children adopted internationally are often minimal, if available at all. Information regarding the social history of the child's birth parents – such as family medical history or any possible exposure to drugs or alcohol while the child was in the womb – is also often unavailable, and the effects of such exposure are often unrecognized until after the child is placed with a family.

Couples adopting domestically are usually provided the medical records of the child and the social history of the birth parents pertaining to the child. Some agencies, such as American Adoptions, make this information available to families prior to their match and allow them to accept or deny the match based on those factors.

At American Adoptions, couples are free to choose which circumstances they are comfortable accepting. For example, if a couple is not comfortable adopting a child whose birth parents have a history of depression, or who may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb, they will not be considered for those situations.

Not all countries’ medical facilities and medical treatments are on par with the United States’, so some couples are concerned with adopting a child who has not received the same level of medical care as a domestic child.

Finally, couples adopting an older child internationally should also be prepared for attachment disorders. If a child is not provided consistent care by a familiar person, as is often the case in orphanages, the child may have trouble forming a secure attachment with his or her adoptive parents. Couples considering adopting an older child are encouraged to research attachment disorders prior to adopting an older child.

Legal Concerns

Domestic adoption and international adoption also have their own unique legal concerns.

Couples adopting internationally should fully research the adoption process required by each country, as each has its own set of legal mandates that must be met before the adoption is finalized.

One very large legal concern in domestic adoption is the myth that the child's biological parents may come back years later and take the child back. This is also a common argument against open and semi-open adoptions, as many people are lead to believe that contact with the birth parents will lead to the birth parents' desire to revoke their consent, even after the adoption is finalized. For this reason, many couples believe that international adoptions are "safer," due to the fact that there is routinely no contact with the birth parents in international adoptions prior to and after the completion of the adoption.

The fact is that once an adoption is finalized by the U.S. courts, the adoptive family is recognized as the child's family by law. Although adoption laws vary state to state, the laws remain very clear. Despite sensationalized media stories in a few high-profile cases, post-adoption revocations are extremely rare and are usually a result of illegal or unsound legal practices.

Weighing the Options

This domestic adoption vs. international adoption article only scratches the surface of this big decision.

Because a family’s experience with adopting from China will be very different from a family adopting from Russia, it is difficult to describe what to expect when adopting internationally.

Couples should fully research each of these adoption avenues and then weigh their options to see which best matches their adoption plan.

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