Domestic vs. International Adoption

By: Calum Welch

[10.02.2020] When you are considering adopting, one of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to pursue a domestic adoption or an international adoption. While each system has its benefits, there are some significant differences to be aware of as it will impact your growing family.


The cost of adoption, both domestic and international, can vary quite a bit.

Here in the United States, adoptions can be through either public or private agencies. Adoption through public agencies, such as social services, foster care, and the child welfare system, can be relatively inexpensive thanks to federal and state adoption assistance programs. Adopting from the foster care system also has the added incentive of reimbursement and recurring payments for the child’s maintenance. Adoption through private agencies is typically more expensive, ranging from $20,000 to $40,000. Independent adoption, between the adopting family and the birth family, will typically be towards the lower part of the range as it only involves the families and their intermediary, usually an attorney. Adoptions through a private agency will generally be in the higher portion of this range as each agency has its own services and related fees.

International adoption costs will also vary, largely due to travel, processing costs, and immigration proceedings from the other country. International adoptions will generally range between $15,000 and $50,000, largely depending on the associated travel costs. Fees may also include escort fees for when parents cannot travel to accompany the child to the United States, medical care and examination for the child, translation, foreign legal and agency fees, passport and visa processing, and counseling and support after the placement.


Domestic adoptions are typically a long process, usually taking anywhere from one to two years. This process factors adequate time for a variety of steps including, but not limited to, a home study, court appearances, counseling and medical care for the birth parents, adoptive parent preparation and training, social work services needed to match a child with a prospective family, interim care for the child leading up to adoption, postplacement supervision until the adoption is finalized, and termination and establishment of parental rights. One significant benefit of this procedure is the ability to obtain access to the child’s medical records and the birth parents’ social history as it pertains to the child. Many agencies make this information available to families before their match, allowing the adopting family to accept or deny the match based on those factors.

Similarly, domestic adoption is also often open; that is, the child will have the option to maintain a relationship with or contact their birth parents. Birth parents will also sometimes have certain options and rights to revoke adoption agreements within a limited time after the child’s birth. There is also the option to have a closed adoption where the records will be sealed after adoption; however, the adopting family will still receive non-identifying information about the child and the birth family.

The international adoption process varies depending on the country. International adoptions are typically faster than domestic adoptions, often taking less than a year from start to finish. While there are often fewer procedures, it is usually necessary to work with an agency or attorney located in the other country to ensure you comply with all applicable laws. One major tradeoff for the faster time frame of international adoption is the more limited available medical information of the child and the birth parents, especially regarding the child’s birth parents’ social history.

There are likewise very few opportunities for open adoptions in the international process. Another area to bear in mind is the number of different legal services required domestically to finalize the adoption under local laws or to recognize the foreign adoption. Moreover, other countries are sometimes more restrictive in who is permitted to adopt, including prohibitions against adoption by same-sex couples. Additional steps will also be necessary to comply with state regulations and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, including steps needed to issue necessary documents, such as a domestic birth certificate.

Your Options

While the circumstances and procedures of any adoption will be as unique as your growing family, having an adoption attorney assist you throughout the process will ensure you are able to adopt safely and efficiently.

If you are considering adopting in Virginia and need assistance, contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or emailing clientservices@wblaws.com.

Related: Adoption