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A Checklist for Ensuring Your Foreign-Born Child Has the Correct Documentation

Adoption Process Post-Adoption

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  Written by Staff, Carolina Adoption Services on 14 Feb 2017

After coming home, the last thing that most families want to do is complete more paperwork. Those final steps of your adoption, as important as they may be, can easily be put off for another week, another month… another year… until you suddenly realize that years have passed and you missed a step.

We know how overwhelming international adoption is and how crazy life can be, but it is especially essential that you take the time to look over all of your adoptions documents after you come home to ensure that you have done all that you need to do to complete your adoption. The international adoption world has changed rapidly and repeatedly over the years, at times creating unclear expectations and confusion for families. As expectations change, requirements increase, and your children ages, steps that may have been optional or easy to put off in the past may now become necessary. Unfortunately, many families may not realize this until a time-sensitive moment, such as when applying for a driver’s license, passport or potential scholarship, setting them back significantly.

Depending on the time of your adoption or the country you adopted from, you may be more vulnerable to some missteps more than others. However, most situations have solutions. No matter how long ago you came home, it is a good idea to verify that you have all the documentation that you need before you know you need it. See below for steps to ensure that your child has their correct documentation and for instructions on how to get what you may be missing.

Step One: Ensuring that Your Adoption Has Been Fully Finalized

What You Need:

  • IH-3/IR-3 Visa + Country Adoption Decree -OR-  IH-4/IR-4 visa + US Adoption Decree

Who Should Pay Special Concern:

Children who came home under a guardianship order OR adoptions where neither or only one parent traveled to meet the child.

If your child came home with an IH-3 or IR-3 visa and you have a country-issued Adoption Decree, your adoption was fully finalized in your child’s country of origin and this step is done. Most adoptions that occurred under the Hague Convention, which was implemented in 2008, are now fully finalized adoptions.

If your child came home with an IH-4 or IR-4 visa, your adoption was not fully finalized in your child’s country of origin and you were required to finalize your adoption in your state of residence before your child could become a US citizen. This applies primarily to families who came home under Guardianship Orders or families who used an escort to bring their child into the US. This may also include adoptions where both parents did not meet the child before bringing him or her to the US. In these situations, it is essential that the adoption be finalized, as your child will not be a US Citizen until this occurs. If you completed your adoption in your state and now have a state-issued Adoption Decree, your adoption has been fully finalized.

If you do not believe that your adoption has been properly finalized, re-check your paperwork and child’s original visa located in their passport to verify. Finalization is the most important step in your adoption, so most families will know if they were required to complete additional steps after arriving home. If you adoption has not been finalized, you will want to contact the agency who completed your home study for further instructions on finalizing your adoption in your state.

Step Two: Ensuring that You Have Original Copies of All Foreign Adoption Documents with Certified Translations

What You Need, At Minimum:

  • Official Adoption Decree —AND— Translation by certified translator
  • Additional court documents or birth certificates, etc., depending on the country, plus translations

Who Should Pay Special Concern:
ALL FAMILIES. Required papers vary by country.

It is important that your child’s foreign adoption documents be kept in a safe place that is accessible should you ever need to use them. It is also important to keep translations by a certified translator with these documents as you will almost always have to provide a translation for any document you are required to submit.

Things to keep in mind when reviewing your documents: Some foreign adoption documents may not look very official and can be easily overlooked. Unclear titles can also disguise the purpose of the documents, so read what the document states carefully. Most families receive translations when they are given their documents, however, certified translators are generally easy to find and will charge reasonable rates.

For most countries, it is very difficult or impossible to replace these documents, so the copies that you were originally given may be the only copies that you will be able to get. As such, we strongly recommend that all families re-adopt in their state as an additional security measure. In the event that your original adoption documents are lost or destroyed, you will also have a complete set of US adoption documents.

If you believe that you may be missing your child’s foreign adoption documents, your placing agency will be your first source for information on obtaining new copies of these documents.

Step Three: Ensuring that You Have Proof of Citizenship

What You Need:

  • Certificate of Citizenship —AND/OR— US Passport

Who Should Pay Special Concern:

Families who adopted prior to 2004 OR families who came home with a IH-4 or IR-4 visa.

All children automatically become US citizens after their adoption is finalized (either abroad or in the US), but require documentation to prove it. Proof of citizenship can be proven with an unexpired US Passport, but we recommend that all families order the Certificate of Citizenship to ensure that they always have a valid proof of citizenship.

Beginning in 2004, all international adoptions that were finalized in the child’s country of birth (IH-3 or IR-3 visa) began receiving their Certificate of Citizenships automatically after coming home. Adoptions finalized earlier than 2004 and any adoption not finalized in the child’s country of origin (IH-4 or IR-4 visa) did not or will not receive this document automatically and have to apply for it.

If you do not have a Certificate of Citizenship, you can apply for one at If your Certificate of Citizenship does not reflect your child’s legal name, apply for an updated certificate at

Special Note: Due to confusion surrounding the new adoption laws that were enacted in 2001, there are many families who adopted through the early 2000s who do not currently have a valid proof of citizenship and should start taking steps now to obtain it.

Step Four: Ensuring that You Have a Social Security Card

What You Need:

  • Social Security Card

Who Should Pay Special Concern:


This is one of the first steps that families will often complete after they arrive home, as it is required to claim your child for tax purposes. While families can apply for a SS number before their adoption is finalized (IH-4 or IR-4 visas), they are encouraged to wait to apply until the adoption has been finalized and the child’s name and citizenship status changed (if necessary) so that they only have to apply once. That is not always possible, however, and replacement cards can be easily ordered, as well.

A common missed step, however, is ensuring that your child’s card reflects their current legal name. You only need to show proof of their legal name/name change to get a replacement SS card. If your child does not have a SS number or their card does not reflect their legal name, go to to apply for a SS card or replacement SS card with your child’s legal name.

Recently, some families have started receiving SS cards automatically after coming home, although it will often be issued in their birth name. Upon receiving proof of your child’s legal name change (see website for acceptable documents) be sure to apply for a replacement card to ensure that it remains valid.

Unfortunately sometimes government agencies don't always communicate. If your child received a SS# prior to obtaining their CoC and the name does not match up you must update your child's social security information. In the eyes of the social security administration your child is still "green card status" and therefore not recognized as a citizen.   Updating this information will ensure your child will be able to collect their social security when they are older. Visit your local Social Security office with your CoC or other official adoption documents showing your child's current legal name in hand to update this information.   

Step Five: Ensuring that All New Documentation Shows Your Child’s Current Legal Name

What You Need:

  • Proof of Your Child’s Legal Name

Who Should Pay Special Concern:


A legal and binding name change in any country can only be completed through legal action, which in the case of adoption is usually via an Adoption Decree (Foreign or US). If you child’s adoption decree does not show their new name or spell it accurately, and you did not legally change your child’s name after coming home, then the name they go by may not be their legal name.

Re-adoption in your state of residence is the easiest way to change or guarantee your child’s legal name, as an opportunity to change their name is generally built into the process. You can also complete a legal name change without re-adopting through your state’s standard process. Re-adoption and legal name change processes are state-based, so check with your home study agency or local court for instructions.

After verifying your child’s legal name, it is equally important to ensure that their US documentation (Certificate of Citizenship, social security card, etc.) reflects their legal name to be valid. See steps above for instructions on updating your child’s documentation with their legal name.

Step Six: Ensuring that You Have a State-Issued Birth Certificate

What You Need:

  • State-Issued Certificate of Foreign Birth

Who Should Pay Special Concern:


All families will want to get a state-issued birth certificate (often known as a Certificate of Foreign Birth) after arriving home. Having a state-issued birth certificate will ensure that you will have a document that is accepted as a valid form of identification by all US governing bodies and is easily replaceable if lost or destroyed.

The process and requirements vary by state, so contact your home study agency or state Vital Records office for more information. The process for most states is fairly simple, and many states, though not all, will now allow families to get one without first re-adopting. Regardless of the requirements of your state, CAS encourages all families to obtain this document.

Step Seven: Ensuring that You Have Considered Re-Adoption

What You Get:

  • State-Issued Adoption Decree and Certificate of Foreign Birth

Who Should Pay Special Concern:


It is our recommendation that all families re-adopt their child after coming home. Although it is not required in most states and overall knowledge about international adoption continues to increase in many communities, it still remains much, much easier and safer in the long run to obtain a full set of US adoption documents to supplement your foreign adoption documents.

Re-adoption creates a record of your adoption in the US that will still hold true even if the adoption becomes contested in your child’s country of origin. It also erases procedural flaws, such as misspellings, that could potentially cause undue concern or questions. Re-adoption creates a US Adoption Decree and Certificate of Foreign Birth that can be replaced if lost or stolen, as well as acts as an avenue for a legal name change, if that is necessary. Many governmental entities – run by workers who may not be familiar with international adoption procedures – reserve the right to request additional forms of identification, and having US documentation is a good way to ensure that what you present will be readily accepted. Having US documentation can also be helpful when dealing with other foreign countries, as some countries have been known to refuse to accept documentation from a “third” country.

Re-adoption procedures are state-based, so speak with your home study agency or local court for more information. Generally, there are specific requirements that may be time-sensitive, so completing the process while you are still in the post-adoption phase is recommended to ensure that you will not have to meet additional requirements. Most states will allow re-adoption even if you have been home for an extended amount of time or your child came home to another state, so this is an option that remains open to all families who have adopted, regardless of how much time has passed.

In the majority of cases, families will obtain all of the documentation that they need after they come home and not run into any issues. However, finding out that you are missing essential documentation at a crucial moment can set you back significantly, so it is important to take the time to ensure that you have everything that you need before you know that you will need it. 

Over 4,600 children are currently waiting for adoption in our Waiting Child Area




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