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Domestic vs. International Adoption

Which Type of Adoption is Right for Your Family?

When an adoptive family 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 families face is whether to pursue domestic adoption or international adoption. There are many factors adoptive parents 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, hopeful parents adopting domestically will not have to budget for a visa, unlike those adopting internationally. Likewise, parents 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.

Adoptive parents 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. Those adoptive parents contemplating international adoption should carefully research travel requirements for countries they are considering adopting from.

Adoptive families 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 usually takes 7 to 10 business days.

The following article further compares the costs of adopting domestically and internationally.

Or read the following to learn more about how much it costs to adopt a child with American Adoptions.

Wait Times

The time it takes for an adoptive family 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 of 1 to 12 months. Many factors contribute to this wait, including the adoption professional’s advertising efforts and the adoptive family's flexibility of their adoption plan: race of child, contact with birth parents, medical background, substance usage and budget.

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.

While domestic adoption continues to grow, international adoption has declined significantly over the past several years, with just 7,092 adoptions in 2013, down from 8,668 in 2012, 9,319 in 2011 and 11,058 in 2010.

In 2010, the countries with the most U.S. adoptions were China (3,401), Ethiopia (2,513) and Russia (1,082). In 2013, China declined to 2,306, Ethiopia to 993 and Russia to 250, and that trend does not appear to be changing.

The age of children available for adoption depend greatly on the type of adoption families pursue:

  • Private domestic adoption usually results in the adoption of an infant

  • International adoption ranges from infants to teenagers, depending on the country of origin

Medical Background Information

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.

Families 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, adoptive families are free to choose which circumstances they are comfortable accepting. For example, if the family 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 adoptive families are concerned with adopting a child who has not received the same level of medical care as a domestic child.

Finally, those 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. All families 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.

Hopeful parents 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 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 adoptive families 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 unsound legal practices.

Weighing the Options

If you are debating between private domestic adoption and international adoption, there is a wealth of information across the Web. We recommend you do plenty of research and investigate multiple private domestic adoption agencies and international adoption agencies so that you make the best choice for your family.

To learn more about private domestic adoption with American Adoptions, check out what separates our agency from others, request free adoption information, or call 1-800-ADOPTION today. To learn more about international adoptions, you can reach out to a local international adoption agency to learn more about their services.

Adoption Questions

Our Adoptions Specialists can assist you with any questions or concerns.