International vs Domestic Adoption: What’s Best for You?

By Lauren Ward · June 30, 2023 · 6 minute read

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International vs Domestic Adoption: What’s Best for You?

Choosing to adopt a child is an exciting milestone in life, but it’s also one that takes a lot of planning and effort. Future adoptive parents can opt for either a domestic adoption or international adoption, but there are a lot of differentiating factors that may influence the decision.

If you’re considering adoption, you’ll want to understand the distinctions between domestic and international adoptions, from the process and timeline to the costs involved, so you can decide what’s best for you.

The Domestic Adoption Process

One of the major advantages of choosing a domestic adoption is that you have the potential to adopt a newborn. However, the timeline is not set in stone and may depend on whether you opt for an open, semi-open, or closed adoption. Most domestic adoptions are considered at least “semi-open.”

Depending on the agency you work with, you may need to be chosen by a birth mother based on your profile. Once you’re selected, the timing depends on the expected (and actual) due date. The process usually takes a few months. Typically, you get access to the child’s medical records as well as the birth mother’s family history.

An open adoption also allows some contact and conversations with the birth mother before the baby is born. In a semi-open adoption, personally revealing information is withheld between the adoptive parents and the birth mother.

Once the baby is born and you officially adopt the child, the adoption agency may facilitate sending updates to the birth mother, as well as pictures so she can see the baby is well taken care of.

Domestic Adoption Eligibility Requirements

American adoption requirements vary by state and by the adoption agency you choose to work with. Generally, you must be at least 18 years old, and there’s often a minimum age difference required between you and the child.

Most states allow domestic adoptions regardless of marital status; parents can be married, single, divorced, or widowed and still qualify.

Explore your state and city adoption websites for more details on additional requirements unique to your area.

The International Adoption Process

International adoption, thanks to rules and clearances, typically will not involve a newborn, so you’ll need to be open to welcoming an older baby or toddler to your home.

With international adoption, there are issues that could affect your ability to adopt, even in the middle of the process. New international laws and relations between the United States and other countries have the potential to derail families who are in the middle of an adoption. The process varies by country but typically takes between 1.5 and 2.5 years.

While you can find out about the child’s medical history, you likely won’t know anything about the family history. Once you adopt a child from abroad, you won’t have any contact with the birth family.

International Adoption Eligibility Requirements

Each country has its own eligibility requirements for adoptive parents, which are typically much stricter than domestic requirements. Often you’ll need to meet income requirements, which may include a higher amount if you already have children. Some countries also have net worth requirements.

In addition, you may discover that some countries restrict the type of families that are allowed to adopt from there. For example, some only offer adoption to married couples or single women.

These rules vary by country, and there are some countries, such as Colombia, that allow single men and same-sex partners to adopt.

International vs Domestic Adoption Costs

The costs vary greatly with both international and domestic adoptions, but the common thread is that it can be expensive if you’re not adopting a foster child.

For international adoptions, expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the country.

In South Korea, for example, adoptions may cost between $32,000 – $38,000. In China, the range is $35,000 to $40,000. Adoptions from India may span $21,000 to $25,000.

Choosing an international adoption also requires you to travel to the country (often more than once) in advance of actually adopting your child.

Domestic adoptions through a private agency may cost between $30,000 and $60,000.

It is much less expensive, and potentially even free, to adopt through foster care. However, as a foster parent, your goal is to help reunite the child with the existing family. Adoption may become an option, but it is not the primary objective.

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Funding Options for Adoptions

Adoption costs are often out of reach for many U.S. families. But even if you can’t tap into your savings (or don’t want to), you can explore other options for funding your adoption.

Recommended: 5 Tips for Saving for a Baby

Employer Benefits

Some companies offer adoption assistance funds as part of their employee benefits packages. In addition, about 34% of employers offer paid adoption leave and 25% provide paid foster child leave. This provides flexibility to transition when a new family member arrives.

You may want to check with your HR department to make sure you don’t miss out any adoption benefits offered by your company.

Adoption Federal Tax Credit

The federal government provides some tax benefits for adoptions. First, if you use employer benefit funds to pay for the adoption, that money is excluded from your income so you don’t have to pay federal taxes on it.

The tax code also offers an adoption tax credit that can help offset some of the costs involved in adoption, whether you adopt for a domestic or international adoption. Qualified adoption expenses include things like adoption fees, legal costs, and travel expenses.

The tax credit amount changes every year, so it’s a good idea to talk to an accountant for more specifics.

There are income limits for qualifying for both the tax exclusion and credit.

Friends and Family

Many adoptive parents ask friends and family members for financial support when starting the adoption process. You could even start a crowdfunding campaign as a way for your broader community to donate to your adoption fund.

Hopeful parents may want to include a compelling personal story about the path to adoption to help draw in potential donors from their community.

Just remember that if you use a crowdfunding platform, you generally have to pay fees taken out of the money you’ve raised. This usually ranges from 3% to 8% when including both fundraising fees and processing fees.

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Personal Loan

Another option for financing your domestic or international adoption is with an unsecured personal loan.

This type of loan typically comes with a fixed interest rate and repayment period, which allows you to make a set monthly payment over a set number of years.

You’ll need good credit to qualify for the best interest rates. Lenders may also take your debt-to-income ratio into consideration. You may qualify for a larger loan amount if your existing debt is low compared to your monthly income.

Sometimes referred to as an adoption loan, the proceeds from this type of loan can be used for just about anything. That means not just the agency and legal fees but also soft costs like travel and meals, which can get expensive if you’re adopting from abroad.

The Takeaway

Choosing to adopt a child can be life-changing, but an international or domestic adoption usually carries a high price tag. Fortunately, with tax benefits and funding options available, you can worry less about how to pay for all of the costs associated with the process and focus more on the joy of growing your family.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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