Domestic vs. International Adoption

Domestic vs. International Adoption

If you’re just starting your adoption journey, deciding on whether you’re opting for domestic adoption or international adoption is the first thing you must do. Though both can find you a lovely child to finally call your own, the domestic and international adoption processes have major differences. Being obvious is that one would require you to complete the process of adoption in another country.

To help you weigh what may be best for you, we’ve compared and contrasted the two types of adoption. Putting them side by side and evaluating your pros & cons should help you plan before any adoption process. To start, let’s know these two types of adoption by definition.

  • Domestic adoptionthe adoption of a child born within the United States from a family of US citizens who legally consents to the adoption with the adoptive parent/family of their choosing.
  • International adoptionor intercountry adoption, is the process by which you adopt a child from a country other than your own country (i.e., anywhere besides the United States).

Differences Between Domestic and International Adoption

One of the best ways to help you decide on what will work best is by making your pros and cons list. Jot them down, or even note them mentally, and see what you come up with. Of course, this isn’t a decision that's solidified in just minutes. However, what we’ve listed down below, the major differences and even similarities between international and domestic adoption, may help to start some healthy discussions not just within yourself, but also with your family. It is important to learn more about domestic and intercountry adoption.


Requirements for domestic adoption across the United States are quite similar. Primarily, you must be of legal age, no records of criminal behavior, and willing to undergo other mandatory steps for the completion of the adoption process. Some adoption agencies might have more requirements. In addition, adoption agencies with religious affiliations might express their preference for adoptive parents that are part of the same congregation.

For international adoption, aside from the US Department of State, the US Citizenship and Ad Immigration Services (USCIS) and other federal & state authorities are involved. The additional requirements set by the country of the birth child must also be followed. Some countries don’t recognize some of the in-place laws in the US. For example, some countries are still not open to adoption by LGBTQ+ parents.

Do your research about the requirements before starting on any adoption journey.


Financial capability should be considered before deciding on what type of adoption is best for you. Here is some data on domestic vs. international adoption costs:

  • Dating back to 2016, according to the Children’s Bureau, private domestic adoption ranges from $20,000 to $45,000. This is inclusive of expenses for court and legal needs, documentation needs, home studies, preadoption and postadoption counseling, and birth parent medical needs. Costs may be lessened if you inittially have founr a birth parent who already agreed on adoption firsthand and just need anadoption agency to oversee the process. Sometimes, your income is well-considered by adoption agencies.
  • The average cost range of international adoption is $35,000-$70,000, according to A large chunk of international adoption financing is the adoption agency’s fees and travel arrangements. Traveling to and from the child’s birth country might incur a lot of expenses.
  • In addition, you might be asked to provide for other adoption requirements:
    • Child’s medical examination, passport, and visa
    • Home study
    • Legal paperwork

Children Available 

If you are looking to adopt an infant or a newborn (less than a year old), then domestic adoption might be for you. Domestic private adoption happens outside the public welfare system. The birth mothers may choose among the agencies’ list of prospective parents. They’re also required to provide current records of the child’s physical health and medical history.

In terms of international adoption, children might be at least one-year-old. Most of the time, it’ll be difficult to get a hold of a child’s medical records and other information. In many countries, children up for adoption are cared for by institutions and orphanages.


Intercountry adoption is more time-consuming than domestic adoption. For prospective adoptive parents who opt for international adoption, you’re required to travel to the child’s country to complete the placement of the child. Traveling to and from might happen more than once, depending on what the authorities will request.

For domestic adoption, adoptive parents may opt to see and get to know the adoption professionals and the child they plan to adopt more often, as it’s more affordable and less expensive. Most agencies require you to meet a prospective child at least twice. Interstate domestic adoption would entail you staying in the child’s birth state for a week or two to complete the placement papers.        

How Domestic and International Adoption Vary, Step by Step

Looking at the requirements and the resources that would be given by the adoption agency and the authorities from the birth country can help with your decision-making. It should be able to help you gauge your capabilities, whether it is financially or emotionally. Aside from the usual differences, you might find some common similarities in how an adoption process should go. There are five key steps in each adoption process, and we’ve laid down how they compare with each other.  

Step 1: Looking for an Adoption Agency

Domestic - There are a lot of adoption agencies you can contact who may serve you best in terms of domestic adoption. Look for an adoption professional who you can trust and who can cater to your preferences during domestic adoption. As much as possible, you’d want them to provide you with the utmost guidance and support as you welcome the adopted child. Make sure you ask about home studies, counseling, birth parent support, legal needs, and post-adoption information.

International - There are adoption agencies that have programs from domestic infant adoption to foster care adoption to international adoption. And then, some agencies specialize in international adoption alone. Regardless, know if the adoption agency or professional has an impressive track record of finding matches in several countries or if they have a current photo listing. Sometimes, some adoption agencies specifically cater to prospective parents who are ready to adopt a child with special needs. Decide very well what may be suitable for you and your family.

Step 2: Completing a Home Study Program

Domestic - A state-licensed social worker must oversee a domestic adoption’s home study process. Though home study requirements are quite similar from state to state, you may find that your state will require a home study checklist differently from others. So always do your research; ask the adoption professionals what you must prepare for domestic adoption.

International - Home studies required during intercountry adoption, just like any type, have the same purpose—to ensure you’re a perfect match for the child. International adoption home study, as we have mentioned before, might be quite expensive for some, so always do your due diligence to make sure that your home study is accomplished by Hague-accredited, certified professional. Otherwise, USCIS and other federal bureaus in charge won’t recognize the home study results.

  • Additional training - 10 hours, to be exact, is automatically added if you’re adopting from a Hague country.
  • Orientation for special needs children - Most children adopted internationally are categorized as special needs. As much as possible, the prospective parent must be ready for this kind of commitment.
  • More detailed background check on stability - Unlike in domestic adoption, if you wish to adopt inter-country, you must undergo a more scrutinized review of your finances. Data on your source of income, employment, investments, retirement plans, and/or insurance are great indicators if you can adopt a child with special needs.

Step 3: Matching with the Right Child

Domestic - Adoptive families who aren’t strict about their preferences are likely to get matched sooner than others. In a domestic private adoption, the birth parent/s must be oriented toward the shortlisted prospective adoptive parents. Of course, the birth parents must have a say in placing their child. An adoptive parent’s profile includes some basic information about themselves, their hobbies & interests, health history, placement plans, and the likes. This will help in selecting the adoptive family.

After profile selection, birth parents are to meet with the waiting families to help them build a foundation and even envision how the placement would be. During this time, the birth mother can also voice out her concerns about the adoption and even the post-adoption phase.

International - Birth parents are not part of most adoption done internationally. After completing all the required paperwork, you may be quickly matched with a specific child ready for placement. However, this will depend on the country and the adoption agency in charge of your adoption process. Some adoption agencies offer photo listings available for viewing once you’ve been assessed as a qualified parent. Sometimes, photo listings are already available when you first sign up.

Once you’ve been informed about the matching, ask questions and make sure you have all the information you need. It’s better, to be honest about your apprehensions, than to continue with an adoption process that can end in disruption or dissolution. The waiting child will, of course, want you to be ready wholeheartedly. So, here are things you should pay attention to get to know more about the child:

  • Information on the child’s health and prenatal health - Some medical doctors specialize in international adoption and will review the medical information provided by the adoption agency in the child’s birth country.
  • Placement history - This is important as you can prepare as a prospective parent on how you can provide for his/her emotional and mental needs. Most children placed in orphanages and institutions in other countries have been exposed to trauma or abuse.

Step 4: Receiving a Placement

Domestic  -In domestic infant adoption, placement is immediately confirmed once the baby is born. Depending on the placement agreement signed, the adoptive parents may immediately hold the child in their arms and bring it to their homes upon discharge from the hospital. If the birth mother and you, the prospective parent, agreed to open adoption, you may even choose to be part of childbirth by simply being present in the hospital to welcome the child. Note that agencies’ placement rules may vary from each other.

International  -As soon as the prospective adoptive parents accepted the match and agreed to adopt the waiting child, the placement documents will be processed. The adoptive parents must be in the child’s country of origin for the adoption professional to start the re-homing process. The child will receive an  IH-3 visa.-To get state recognition and even state benefits, you must register or re-adopt your child before he/she turns 18 to protect his/her rights, depending on the state laws present.

Step 5: Finalizing your Adoption

Domestic  -Most adoption agencies help adoptive parents even after the adoption process. A post-placement supervision period is required, during which a licensed social worker pays the new family visits and observes how both the parents and the child are coping. Post-placement visits are important to ensure that the adoptive parent and the adopted child are a perfect fit. These visits are like home study visits.

International  -All your preparation and training is for a grand purpose. To avoid any complications while you create a bond, it’s best to get support before, during, and especially after the adoption process. Have realistic expectations as to not put pressure on both of you. There are available resources prepared by RainbowKids or your adoption agency on intercountry adoption, that may help you during your change period. In addition, it’s also advisable that as soon as your adopted child comes home to your home, arrange a medical exam with a pediatrician who specialized in adoption health.

Choosing What’s Best for You: Domestic vs. International Adoption

Knowing the similarities and differences between domestic vs. international adoption will get you closer to deciding what type of adoption is best for you. Intercountry adoption can be long and trying, but it can be very fulfilling. Domestic adoption is cheaper and less tedious in regards to paperwork. However, it may confuse for some as adoption laws vary state by state, and getting matched takes a long time.

Whatever type of adoption you choose, whether it be domestic adoption vs. international adoption. You should be certain of this lifelong commitment before permanently transferring custody or even starting the adoption journey. As much as possible, we don’t want to wait for children to be under any pressure or trauma as they find their new home. If you’re going to go in, be 100% ready.

If you have questions on the above comprehensive comparison and contrast of the international and domestic adoption, please let us know. The RainbowKids team is here to give you support and guidance.