Advice about International Adoption

Parent Reviews

We adopted from China in 2006 and you should know that the international process has changed drastically since then, getting a lot harder, with countries either closing to the US or declining to a crawl. This is due to different factors, including increased regulation (Hague Treaty) and politics.  For instance, China peaked at something like 8,000 adoptions a year down to about 1,000. Frankly, if we were to start now, I think we would go the domestic route.  If you do still want to consider international adoption, I would recommend that you not go with a local agency, but do your homework based on the country you want to go to and find the best agency for that country.  For instance, we used WACAP in Seattle (now merged with HOLT).  They are used to working with people long distance and that will give you the best chance - you then partner with a local agency to do your homestudy. As a great source of information, I would recommend the Adoptive Families Magazine website, with all sorts of agency and process information - for domestic and international adoption. Here is a link about countries and agencies:

Another great source of information is the State Department for factual statistics on adoption by country.

Here's an article from NPR about the adoption decline:

The number one general advice I would give you on any agency is to do your homework. Ask the agency for referrals of other parents you can talk to about their experience and make sure you feel 100% comfortable with them.  We did this, but were shocked about how many people told us they just went with a friend's recommendation or the first agency they talked too. Best of luck in your journey - it's a tough process but it's so worth it, and our daughter has transformed our lives. 

We used Across the World Adoptions in Pleasant Hill for some post placement paperwork after we moved to California from another state. They were great and recommended by a friend who adopted internationally four times. 

When my husband and I were starting the process we went to several information nights at various places, which we found helpful to assess the agency and the process. If you are considering an international adoption, call around to different places and ask about their programs. They don’t need to be located in California, but they’ll need to get a home study that’s been approved in California. Often agency websites have general info on basic requirements of the parents (age, marital status, length of marriage, number of children in the home, age range of kids typically available, setting of kids [foster care, orphanage], and travel requirements). It’s a good way to narrow it down. 

Also, I am 90% sure the only way to get an infant is to adopt domestically and even that is not a guarantee. One key decision point is whether you prefer an infant. There are more options if you are open to toddlers or kids but that’s a big decision.

finally, I found it helpful to talk with a friend who had adopted about her experience, warts and all. It helped me be more realistic about expectations. 

Best wishes on this special journey!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions about International Adoption

Considering adopting an international special needs older child

May 2012

I am considering adopting an international special needs older child (no older than 5), and am wondering if families who have adopted international SN children would be willing to share their experiences. That's a tall order, I know, so let me be specific: I am wondering what the emotional toll - or reward - has been for you.

It seems that whenever I read adoptive blogs, they either fall into the ''most wonderful experience ever'' category, or ''this really sucks, the child is stimming, tantruming and stealing'' category. In the case of the latter blogs, I am left wondering if these parents enjoy one single moment of parenthood - it seems like an overall nightmare, even if they stay committed.

What has your experience been like, how did you come to adopt and what would you advise prospective parents? thank you for your input!

I adopted my daughter at 14 months from Ukraine. Although she was perfect, it turned out that she had ADD, and the other two girls we know who were adopted from the same orphanage had ADHD. She is bright, but continues to have learning issues. Therefore, any child from another country may have special needs, although they are not defined as such. Most issues are learning disabilities, but some kids have heartbreaking emotional issues. Just remember that you are adopting a child who in most cases has had no early intervention to assess or help them with their disability.

Hi there, I'd be more than happy to speak to you about my family's 'special needs' international adoption! a great decision

Korean adoption vs. domestic

Oct 2011

I have a biological son and looking into adopting a healthy infant for our second child. I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has gone through the process of adopting from Korea or domestically (we are a mixed Korean/Caucasian couple). Is there any particular agency or route to take that will result in a quicker adoption process, advice on what pitfalls to avoid, or any advice you have in general. Please excuse me if I sound naive!

From the mid-80s through the early 90s my mother was the head of Korean adoption for WACAP - a large adoption agency based out of Washington State. Korean adoptions were by far their largest program back then, although I understand that international Korean adoption has scaled back considerably since that time. WACAP was affiliated with Holt - founded by the legendary Holt family who helped start adoption programs in the US post Korean War. I actually shared a cabin with Grandma Holt at the agency's annual Korea Camp for adoptive families.

All that said, what my mother loved about WACAP was that it was well known for being an especially ethical agency - they only placed children who were documented orphans from trusted orphanages. In fact, they were one of only four agencies allowed to place Romanian orphans after the country shut down adoptions. And people also really appreciated the fact that, with the exception of my family, all the employees of the agency, at that time, were adoptive parents.

During my mother's tenure, the best way to adopt a healthy infant in the shortest amount of time was to adopt a child with a correctable disability. (Cleft-lip and palate being an example). Special needs can mean a lot of things - and many big issues (like emotional disabilities) are invisible at first. I would urge you to re-consider accepting only a healthy infant if you don't want to wait years.

Do look up WACAP and good luck! Anon

We went the Domestic route and found it to be a great choice. Yes, there are plenty of babies available domestically! We are a Chinese/Caucasian couple and we matched with a PI child. We did this through Adoption Connection in SF. The costs were low (we received ALL of our money back through Tax credits). Our waiting time was not long and we had a good experience with the agency. Friends who went international had to pay MUCH more and including time and travel to far away places. Our agency does a great job of screening and counseling prospective birthmothers so that there is very little risk of problems with relinqishment. Of course I understand wanting to adopt a child of the same ethnicity but I think the financial and logistical barriers are large. happy mom

I totally recommend forums. There's one specifically about Korea adoption: anon

Religious discrimination in international adoption?

March 2009

We are in line for adopting a baby from Ethiopia. Our agency also works with a Christian orphanage/agency in the us that has orphanages in Ethiopia. The Christian prospective adoptive parents can get babies a lot faster because the Christian partner agency will give them a baby and not non-Christians (we are Jewish). To get a baby from the Christian agency you have to sign a statement of your beliefs and get a letter from your Pastor. Has anyone else experienced this? Seems pretty discriminatory to me. j

One of the agencies that was recommended to us only accepted Christian couples so we couldn't use them. China's central adoption authority fasttracks Chinese- Americans (or, at least used to). Keep your eye on your goal (a child to love) and don't let other issues sap your energy. There is a lot of annoying stuff in adopting, but the annoying stuff fades away when you come home with your child. Good luck! anon

I'm a lesbian and I can tell you this is a big issue in our community. Obviously depending on the country, gay people do lie, at first for most people it seems horrifying but most of these kids come from countries that are soooo impoverished, the idea of the society contemplating something like gay rights is absurd, they are just trying to get clean water so their kids don't die of disintera. Lie. My lesbian (jewish BTW) friend had to sign tons of docs, affidavites saying she was straight, that her girlfriend was her roommate....they got a child who was living in an orphange with 1200 lie. The reality is people there think gay people want to molest the kids, whaddya gonna do? educate a culture that is so impoverished they live or die by a harvest, lie. The best this child could have hoped for, she came from a very poor area, was a job working in a factory 14 hours a day/7 days a week....not at all exaggerating. you lie...for a lot of my friends who have taken that route, at first it was hard, they had convictions but in the end, if they wanted a child....they lied. Sorry if people have a problem with that but that is what you have to do. So you become christian for a week or two, maybe longer and you get a baby? it's just a small white lie in my book...... Harsh but sometimes you just gotta skirt around the play book. erin

It does not seem discriminatory to me that a religious agency would want to give preferential treatment to people of their faith. That happens all the time with many private religious organizations, and not just Christian ones. If they are government-funded, that is another matter altogether.

My two cents. anon

I'm betting you'll get some good feedback from adoptive parents but I will tell you what a very lovely social worker told me - ''hard to place babies go to hard to place families. Jews are hard to place families.''

There are Jewish adoptive parents (I bet many of you are on this list) who will certainly be helpful. Jewish realist

Experience with international adoption agencies?

Dec 2008

Hi, Does anyone have any recent experience with international adoption agencies? We're looking at Holt International but the most recent recommendation on this site is from 2002. Any advice is much appreciated! I.G.

Although we adopted nearly 17 years ago, I can still recommend Bay Area Adoption Service (BAAS) without reservation. I recently had a wonderful conversation with Janet Shirley, their overseas program coordinator, and she's just as caring and enthusiastic as she was when she helped us. Their executive director, Andrea Stawitcke, has successfully helped BAAS forge its way through the accreditation process under the Hague International Adoption Treaty. And finally, my best friend and fellow adoptive parent has just joined the BAAS Board so I know that it is still strongly committed to enabling, supporting and standing with the parents who come through the BAAS doors. Check them out at I wish you the best in finding your child. Jody L

It probably depends where you are adopting from. We are using AAI (Adoption Advocates International) for our adoption from Ethiopia. We've found them to be very good. They have the children's interests in mind most importantly. Communication isn't 100%, but they also have lower fees. I'm mostly glad I chose them because I feel they have extremely ethical practices, which is important in the world of international adoption. Best luck on your journey! anon

I didn't use Holt but as an adoptive parent have a few ideas to help you with your research: 1)Parent discussion groups, such as the ''Adoption Agency Research'' Yahoo Group( a Yahoo Group for the country you are interested in adopting from. There are many groups and these are the most current and honest sources of information 2) I would recommend actually talking to someone as opposed to just getting feedback from this board. Ask Holt to provide you references, people who have adopted with them recently, which they will be happy to do. While the agency will only use references who had positive experiences, I found that most people were very candid in their discussions. Also, selection of an agency is a personal choice and what works for one person doesn't work for another. I can say that Holt has a great reputation, but you need more than that to make your decision. Best of luck to you -- the international adoption picture changes constantly and you are right to do your homework. Marie

Researching Chinese adoption - which agency?

October 2007

Hello, My husband and I are researching international adoption agencies. Specifically, we are looking to find an agency to help us with a Chinese adoption. I have seen that both Holt International and ACCEPT have been reviewed by BPN, but the posting are old. I would appreciate more recent feedback, and ideally feedback from people that perhaps looked into both agencies during their adoption process. Thanks! anon

Both Holt and ACCEPT have good reputations, but we used Bay Area Adoption Services (BAAS) and could not have asked for a better fit for our adoption. They bring home many children from China. You can reach them at (650) 964-3800. Their website is Jody L

When we were starting the adoption process we looked at both BAAS (Bay area adoption services) and Heartsent in Orinda and attended both their orientations. Talking to the director of Heartsent, Val, she was reassuring and said that the adoption agencies in the bay area are good and that there really isn't a ''bad'' choice, which I think is true. We eventually chose Heartsent and were extremely pleased with their program. They are very experienced, and were extremely helpful above and beyond what we expected. We started the adoption process in July 2005 and were done with homestudy by mid September 2005(we had a lovely social worker. We ended up switching countries after completing homestudy. Heartsent was so supportive and very accommadating. We picked up our lovely daughter the following February 2006. We have friends that have used BAAS and were very pleased. Check out the different agencies and you'll know where you feel most comfortable. I can say that Heartsent helped ALOT with the paperchase, and also was very convienient for us because of the location. Good luck it is so worth all the effort. Nita

I didn't use the agencies you mention, but if you are considering adoption from China, you should be aware that the waits for a child there are growing exponentially. We received our referral in Sept. 2006, for our daughter after waiting one year, but people getting referrals now have waited about 2 years.The wait keeps growing because China keeps matching a smaller number of people each month. At the current pace, people starting out may wait 4 years or more. Here's more info:

If you are really set on adopting from China, I urge you to choose an agency that works with more than one country so that you have other options. Also, make sure to ask prospective agencies about the growing waits. Many agencies are not being completely honest about this and you will only want to work with an agency that is up front. Any agency painting a positive picture is not doing you any favors.

There are other programs out there, such as Vietnam, that you may want to consider instead. ChinaMommy

Connecting with my adopted child's Yemeni Heritage

October 2006

My adopted 5 year old daughter is of a mixed-raced background and I really want her to understand where she comes from. She's quite exotic and two of the cultures are fairly obscure, one in particular, Yemen. I've located a website called that I can get wonderful books suited for children with lots of pictures of two of three of her cultures but I haven't been able to locate anything appropriate for a child about Yemen. On the website I was able to find age- appropriate literature with photographs about Saudi Arabia but nothing on Yemen. So my question is this, would I been confusing her by showing pictures of a people and culture I suspect have great similarities or are the Yemen people so drastically different that I should keep looking? I don't think we will be traveling to that part of world anytime soon but really would like her to have an understanding of her make- up since I can't provide any personal references -thanks for any advice!

You are so right. Teaching any children about their cultural heritage, whether you share that culture with them or not, is a very important thing. Since your daughter is 5, she is at an age where she and you can do the research together. The great thing about the Bay Area is that it attracts people from every corner of the earth. So, you don't have to stop at images and facts of Saudi Arabia just because that's more common. You and she can create a ''Where in the World...''-type project that will turn both of you into super sleuths trying to find as many facts as you can about Yemen's history and culture. Maybe you want to start with the Yemen consulate in SF.

Also, as you are finding these things out, be sure to look not only for differences but also for similarities between what happens in Yemen and what happens in her other culture of birth as well as her home culture, your home, where she now is part of the family. You don't want to make her feel like she is so exotic that she doesn't actually fit into her own family. If you haven't already, connect with East Bay-based IPride ( whose work is bringing multicultural families together. Lynn

Ofra Haza was an incredible singer from Yemen. It doesn't solve your problem, but might be something worth bringing into your home for cultural value and enjoyment. Her albums spanned both traditional and dance. You might start with ''Yemenite Songs'' which is available on iTunes and other online sources (according to the search I just did).

I love her music and saw her in concert in the early 90s in San Francisco. She was beautiful and her music uplifting and I think it would be a nice thing for you and your child to experience together Berkeley Mom

No advice. i just had to share something with you after reading your post which made me smile.

My daughter's father is North African and I always tried to avoid ''white-bred'' environments and provide her with exposure to other cultures but I didn't make a big deal out of it. I thought I had done well.

Then she was 20 went to Morocco and told me how strange, in a good way, it felt to be somewhere where ''everyone looked like me''. That's when I realized how pitiful my efforts had been. So I applaud you for your early, earnest concern. Not totallly colorblind

I have zero knowledge about how to handle cross-cultural adoptions. But here's an oddball thought: the Eunice Cafe in Albany (Solano at Stannage) is run by a very nice Yemeni family. If all else fails, you could start stopping in for lunch or coffee, get to know them, and who knows, maybe they'd be able to help you out with some tips on Yemeni resources in the Bay Area. anon

Hmmm, this brings up some interesting issues you might want to consider:

First of all, a person's culture is not determined by their ethnicity, but by the culture in which they are reared.

Secondly, I can imagine that there may at least be periods in the life of an adopted child where they just want to belong, and too much focus on their ''heritage'' could feel a bit like they are being told they are not really a part of the family, or the culture in which they live - that they are an outsider in some way. Obviously, this depends upon how you present the information, I'm just suggesting to be considerate of this possibility, I'm not suggesting that you not bring it up.

All of this is NOT to say that ''you shouldn't'' introduce them to the Yemeni of their background, but I wonder if it might not make sense to put it in terms of ''these are the cultures of your birth parents'' rather than ''these are YOUR cultures.''

I don't know, perhaps I am way off base and an adult adoptee can correct me? But those are the thoughts that were provoked for me. Anon

Hello, I am half Yemeni and I grew up in a multicultural household. I think that it is very important and great that you are instilling a sense of identity and understanding in regards to your daughters heritage. During your quest to enrich her knowlege of her heritage, I would be careful not to make her feel too ''exotic'' or like er culture is ''obscure''. Having been brought up in a multicultural family, I can say that sometimes we tend to feel like we are falling in between the different cultures rather than fitting in. As a child, the only place that I ever felt completely normal and accepted was in my own household. I think that you have a great opportunity to expose her to not only objects and information about her heritage, but to the people and community. I offer myself as a personal reference when it comes to some aspects of the culture, but I too, find it challenging to fully integrate into the community as we are so few and very tight knit. Personally, I have found it frustrating to be confused with and lumped under larger and more common ethnicities. Yemen has such wonderful cultural gems that may be hard to find, but once you do, you will appreciate them and so will your daughter. I was so surprised at how much I loved living in Yemen and what a great experience it was for myself and my family. Please feel free to email me if you have any further questions. I wish you the best of luck, and it sounds like you are on the right track. Sincerely, Nydia nydia

Adoption agency for international adoption

March 2004

My husband and I are trying to gather information about international adoptions. Does anyone know of reliable agencies that facilitate international adoptions? Karen

Two months ago my husband and I adopted a beautiful child from Guatemala! We used Adoptions International in Philadelphia for the main adoption ( and Adopt International in SF for the home study portion ( Both agencies work with Guatemala, Russia and former Soviet Union countries, China and perhaps a few others. While they differed, I was pleased with both agencies. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more info on my experience with them. Christine

Want to adopt an asian girl 0-2 years old

Oct 2002

I'm seeking some information on adopting an Asian girl between 0-2 years old. This would likely be an international adoption, but I am open to domestic or social services adoptions also.

I'd like to hear from adoptive parents what agencies you have used and what your recommendations/cautions might be regarding the agencies and the process in general. I would like to be able to choose an agency with some confidence as to their process, integrity and success. I have checked the webite recommendations also, but am hoping for some fresher input, perhaps specific to this situation! Thanks.

Currently, Kazakhstan is open and has Asian children available. Asian children are also available in Russia, and because they are less frequently requested I have heard that the process is fast (and sickeningly the fees may be reduced!). Cambodia is reportedly still open, but the program is having problems in the U.S. and I wouldn't personally recommend starting with them. I know people have successfully adopted from Nepal, but it's a more self-driven process than many. Depending on your ethnicity marriage status, and other factors, you may be eligible to adopt from Korea, Taiwan, or Japan, as well. Domestic Asian children are not commonly adoptable, but it does happen. There are many fine agencies out there doing international adoptions. Heartsent, BAAS, and AAO are all local and well- regarded. That's just a partial list. Good luck! Nancy

Other recommendations received:

General advice

From: Nicole

Re the question about adopting from Brazil and adoption in general: I have a friend, a single mom and economist, who adopted from Brazil. After getting her Ph.D. here at UCB, she now lives in Anchorage, Alaska now and I could get her e-mail address if you're interested in communicating.

There are quite a few adoption websites which refer to agencies helping people adopt internationally. There is also a good resource catalog from Adoptive Families of America (AFA). I am adopting a child through Alameda County. They have a program called MAPP (Model Approaches to Partnerships in Parenting), which is a ten-week course which paces you through the paperwork, helps you understand the children and your own family in relation to adopting, and builds a support group from the participants. The cost to adopt locally is minimal (a few hundred $$), compared to 1000s of $$ for private or agency adoption. There are advantages and disadvantages of going through the county and getting a local child, but for the most part, I have been very favorably impressed with my interactions with the bureaucracy.

There are over 120,000 kids in foster care in California right now, and only perhaps 20 percent of them will be reunited with their birth families. The rest need loving foster homes and eventually, permanent homes. While some of the kids have special needs (e.g. medical conditions, or psychological, emotional or physical damage), many of them just need a safe home and a loving and committed family to help them live happy lives. They are of all races and ages, including newborns to older kids, and single kids or sibling sets. The county is very open to people traditionally disadvantaged in adopting, including single people, older parents, and gay/lesbian couples. They also need foster parents for short or long-term care. To find out about the next info session for Alameda County, the number is 510-268-2444, or the local county adoption office is listed in the blue pages of your phone book.

From: Jessica

Have you considered international adoption? There are many many infants in need of loving homes, waiting either in orphanages or with foster mothers. My husband and I are going to China next month to adopt a baby girl. We've met many, many parents who've done this successfully. We're working with an agency I highly recommend. It's called ACCEPT and is listed in the yellow pages.

From: Melinda

Regarding citizenship:
I am a U.S. citizen (born here) who adopted two children from Guatemala, and I can guarantee you that they did *not* automatically become U.S. citizens. You have to apply for their citizenship through a lengthy, expensive, complicated process with INS. They then become naturalized citizens. I completed the process for my older daughter when she was three, my younger is still a Guatemalan citizen, with a Guatemalan passport, and I would definitely not take her out of the U.S. until her citizenship is complete.