Domestic Adoption vs. Foreign Adoption, Compare The Challenges

The idea of adoption and the reality often surprises and confuses people.  

First, there are two different basic types of adoption, domestic adoption, and foreign adoption.  

For these types of adoption, there are different rules based upon state, and even country of origin as well as the good ole’ USA.  

In this article, we compare the challenges to both domestic and foreign adoption and discuss the pros and cons of each. 


Definition: What is Domestic adoption?

If you are adopting from the United States, (and assuming you’re a citizen and residing in the United States), then it is considered a domestic adoption. 

There are two main types of domestic adoption:

  • Agency Adoption: An agency completes the entire process of finding a child for you to helping you complete the adoption process.
  • Independent Adoption: This is typically done when adopting a baby. You are responsible for finding a pregnant mother who is wanting to place her child with a family permanently.  You then use an adoption agency or lawyer to complete the adoption legally. 


Definition: What is foreign Adoption?

Foreign adoption means you are adopting a child from another country.  A large portion of these children have grown up in orphanages due to their parents being unable to support them.

The top ten countries of international adoptions in 2016 according to creatingafamily.org are:

  •  China
  • Congo 
  • Ukraine 
  • S. Korea 
  • India 
  • Haiti 
  • Ethiopia
  • Uganda 
  • Philippines
  • Bulgaria 



In most cases, the requirements for domestic adoption are the same throughout the United States, though there are some occasional exceptions. 

Any adult or married couple that completes and passes the required home studies may legally adopt a child.  Some agencies have other requirements that are not legally binding.  

For example, a particular agency may not work with a couple over a certain age, or they may not work with single parents trying to adopt.  There are no laws against either of these but rather just a preference of the agency. 

Foreign adoption requirements depend entirely on the laws of the county you choose to adopt the child from and whether or not they are a Hague Convention country.  Some countries have stricter requirements than domestic adoption. For example, a country may require a couple to be married a certain number of years before being eligible to adopt. 


Adoption Costs: Overview

Many people believe that foreign adoption will cost significantly more than domestic adoption.  This is not necessarily the case, however.  Both foreign adoption and domestic adoption typically range from $25,000 to $50,000, but each has their own unique costs. 


Costs: Domestic Adoption

According to Adoptive Family Magazine in 2016-2017:

U.S. Newborn (Agency) – Average Cost Breakdown


Home study fee


Document preparation & authentication


Adoption agency application & program fees


Adoption consultant fees


Attorney fees




Birth family counseling


Birth mother expenses


Foster/interim care


Travel expenses


Post-placement expenses


All other expenses




Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.


Costs: Foreign Adoption

The cost of foreign adoption entirely depends on the country you are adopting from.  According to the Adoptive Family Magazine in 2016-2017 South Korea fees were $48,329 whereas Ukraine was $35,000.  Since there is such a difference, we will list the breakdown for South Korea alone.


South Korea – Average Cost Breakdown

Home study fee


Adoption agency application & program fees


All other document preparation & paperwork fees


In-country adoption expenses


Child’s passport, visa, medical exam, and other fees


Major travel expenses


In-country travel expenses


Post-adoption expenses


All other expenses




Average represents total costs before claiming the Adoption Tax Credit.

Foreign adoptions also come with additional costs such as a visa for your child, travel expenses for you and/or your spouse (airfare, hotel stay, passport, etc.), and travel expenses to return back to the US with your child.


Timing: Comparing Foreign & Domestic Adoption

Another big factor that needs to be considered is the amount of time it will take to adopt a child through domestic adoption vs. foreign adoption. Typically, domestic adoptions take from 1 to 12 months.  A foreign adoption may take anywhere from 1 to 4 years, or even more. 

Once you decide to adopt, there is a process you’ll become familiar with.  The basics here – you will be looking at pre-placement and post-placement issues. 

Pre-placement typically lasts anywhere from a couple of months to seven years depending on if the child is special needs or a typically developed/developing, healthy child. During pre-placement, there will be home studies done to ensure you and your home are ready for a child to be placed with you.   

Post-placement is usually no less than six months from the time of placement and is a legally mandated time period before the adoption can be finalized.  During post-placement, your agency will supervise your family to make sure it continues to be a good fit for the child. 

Factors that determine wait times in adoption:

  • The health of the child being placed; Special needs children are typically placed more quickly
  • Pre-placement and home study times
  • Post-placement time
  • What type of child you want to adopt and their availability (e. race, age, etc.)


Medical Background and Social History

When going with a domestic adoption, all medical records are made available to you for the children you may consider adopting.  Some agencies even include the medical background and social history of the biological parents before the match so you can take that into consideration before choosing a child. 

Some things that may be included in a social history synopsis include a medical history of the biological parents and potentially their exposure to or use of drugs or alcohol while the child was in the womb. 

When choosing a foreign adoption, the medical records may be very limited, if they exist at all.  In fact, you may not receive any social or medical history of the biological parents. 

Moreover, adopting a child from a foreign country comes with the risk of the child having a detachment disorder as the result of not having ever experienced a consistent caregiver.  This is especially the case in adopting an older child from a foreign country. 


Children Available

Typically, in a domestic adoption, it is newborns or infants who get adopted (unless it is a foster adoption).  This isn’t a hard and fast rule, just an observation – certainly, older children are adopted too.

In a foreign adoption, most children adopted are between 1 to 2 years of age.  This is likely due to the long process of being placed with a family. 



In domestic-baby adoptions, you might typically travel to the birth mother’s location a minimum of 2 times.  Once before the birth to meet her and a second time after the baby is born.  If she lives in a different state than you, you will have to remain in her home state for 7-10 business days after the baby’s birth to allow for interstate placement clearances to be processed.

If you choose to do a foreign adoption, then there will much more travel involved.  You will have to travel to the child’s home country at least twice with each trip lasting from one to four weeks. 


Which to Choose

One of the first things to look at is where your child is from. If you choose foreign adoption, you’ll need to work through potential immigration issues in addition to the adoption process.

If you’re looking to adopt a domestic born infant, you may have to be on a long waiting list. There are, of course, many other factors to consider when choosing where your child will be from.

What you decide needs to be based on what is going to work best for your family and the child you decide to adopt. 


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