Adopting a child from another country

International adoption is the adoption of a child from another country. It usually happens when a child or youth can’t live with their birth family and an adoptive family can’t be found within their own country.  Some people choose international adoption because they have a cultural connection to a specific nation, or have spent time living there. Others wish to adopt a relative internationally. 

International adoption is also known as intercountry adoption. 

A diverse and happy family portrait with two white parents and a smiling black child.

International adoption at a glance

Adoption representativeInternational adoption is facilitated by licensed adoption agencies.
Typical age rangeMost children and youth are ages 2 – 10.
Eligibility criteria for prospective parentsDepends on the requirements of the child’s country of origin.
Costs$30,000 – $70,000 
Estimated timeline3-5 years or more.
Access to social and medical history Yes
Openness of adoptionOpenness is not typical but is starting to become more common.
Financial supportYou may be eligible for the BC Adoption Expense Tax Credit

How to choose a country

Some people go into International adoption already knowing which country they want to adopt from. Others want to explore their options.

The best way to choose a country is to interview agencies, ask for statistics, and talk to other families who have completed adoptions from the same countries you’re considering.

Some of the things you should consider include your budget, the ages and needs of the children who are available from each countr,, travel requirements, languages spoken, your family’s culture and the racial and cultural makeup of your neighborhood and your circle of family and friends, and your willingness to meet the needs of a transracially adopted child.

You will also want to look closely at each country’s rules about who can and can’t adopt. Many countries have requirements or restrictions about income, age, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental or physical illness, and even weight. 

Talk to your adoption agency if you’re worried about eligibility. They’ll help you find out if there’s a country that’s a good match for you. If not, don’t lose heart! Consider local infant adoption or adoption from BC government care. The eligibility requirements for those programs are much less restrictive.

People often ask if there’s a country that guarantees a fast, easy adoption process. In short, no. It’s impossible to predict which country will move smoothly and which will have delays or closures. More importantly, a quick and smooth adoption process doesn’t mean a perfect match in terms of culture, the child’s needs, or the family’s expectations.

Children waiting for international adoption

Children around the world come into foster or orphanage care for many reasons: poverty, the loss of one or both parents, illness, gender preference, stigma towards single parenthood, and so on. Sometimes officials decide the child’s home is not safe, the birth parents make an adoption plan, or the child is abandoned.

Children available for international adoption are often over the age of two and have special placement needs that require extra support. Support needs and risk factors vary from country to country and from child or child. Sometimes extensive health and social histories are available, and other times there’s little or no information about a child’s needs and past experiences.

Some countries offer a medical special needs adoption program in which all available children have diagnoses such as cleft lip, hand or limb differences, a heart condition, down syndrome, or HIV.

A small child looks out of the window, touching the mirror with one hand.

The international adoption process in BC

International adoption is administered by BC’s licensed adoption agencies. The process involves working with the child’s orphanage or care provider, the adoption agency and/or and government authorities in their home country, and Canadian immigration authorities.

Steps to international adoption through a licensed agency

Every country’s international adoption process is different. The following steps are common to most processes.

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1. Research and choose an adoption agency

BC has licensed agencies that offer a range of adoption services and experiences. The one you choose will be your partner in your adoption journey.​  Choose the agency that is the right fit for your family and your adoption goals.​ Find an adoption agency→

2. Submit an application to the agency​

Submit your application to your selected agency. The application process will include a meeting with the agency, having a home visit, and completing an electronic or paper package.

The agency will review your application, including reference checks, a medical check, a criminal record search, and a prior contact check with the Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD).

3. Adoption training​

All prospective parents are required to complete adoption education. This is usually the agency’s own training. You may also have the option of taking the Adoption Education Program (AEP) online.​

4. The homestudy​

A social worker from your agency will contact you to prepare you and set up the first visit. A homestudy usually involves six to eight visits from a social worker over the course of several months.

They’re not just looking at the physical setup of your home, but also will interview you about your life, including your upbringing, family and current relationships, health, experience with children and youth, and approach to parenting.

The homestudy determines if adoption is right for you, as well as how many children and which special needs your family can accommodate.

5. Submit your dossier

Each country has its own list of required documents that you’ll need to compile and submit. This documentation is called your dossier. It may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, medical forms, employment information, bank statements of other financial forms, recent tax returns, home ownership or rental agreement paperwork, pictures of your family and home environment, background checks, copies of your passport, visa applications, reference letters, and your completed homestudy.

You may also need to file a sponsorship application with the Canadian immigration authorities.

6. Getting matched with a child​

Once your dossier is completed, your adoption agency works with a partner agency or government program in your chosen country. In some countries, agency workers match children to families. In countries where children wait in orphanages or foster care, government workers oversee the matching of children to families.

7. ​Making a decision

When you’re offered a match, your social worker will give you information about the child and/or their birth parents. Use this information to help you decide whether you want to accept the match. 

If you accept the match, your social worker will start making arrangements and help you prepare to adopt the child. This may include meeting the expectant parents and creating an openness agreement.

When there’s a potential match for you, your agency will let you know. You’ll receive information on the child’s age, health, and history. Sometimes information is extensive, and sometimes it is limited. 

You’ll have time to review the proposal before making a decision to accept or decline a proposal. After you accept, you may have to travel to the child’s country one or more times before you can complete the adoption.

8. Welcome a child home​

International adoptions are often completed in the child’s country according to local adoption laws. You’ll wait for finalization and travel documents and then you’ll bring your child home. If the adoption is completed in Canada, you’ll need guardianship approval and travel clearance before you bring your child home.

Most parents travel to their child’s country to pick them up and bring them home. 

9. After finalization

Most countries require post-placement reports. These reports assure your agency and the child’s home nation that the adoption is going well.

Some countries require a few post-placement visits from your social worker over several months or years. Others require annual reports until the child reaches adulthood. 

Your social worker will stay in touch and offer support through your adoption agency. You can also access the Belonging Network’s services at any time.

Learn about our support services

How much international adoption costs

International adoption is the most expensive type of adoption. Expect to pay $30,000 – $70,000 or more.

Unlike adoption from foster care, which is government-funded, adoption agency programs are fee based. You pay for basic services including your adoption training, homestudy, and any fees required by Canada’s immigration authority. Your fees also help cover the agency’s costs of doing business. Some adoption programs require a partner agency that will have its own fees. Many programs also require a donation to the child’s orphanage or care home to help support children who are still waiting for adoption. 

Your agency will provide you with a fee schedule that explains these fees and other expected costs.

Which countries can I adopt from?

Countries open and close international adoption programs all the time. Families in BC have adopted children from China, South Africa, Vietnam, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Korea, Lesotho, the United States, Kazakhstan, Guatemala, Russia, and more. Some of these programs remain active and others have shut down over the years.

BC’s licensed adoption agencies have the most up-to-date information. Your best bet is to reach out and ask them which countries currently have active programs. If you’re hoping to adopt from a specific country, make sure to inquire even if it’s not listed online.

Not all countries allow international adoptions. In addition, sometimes BC or the Canadian government prohibits adoptions from certain places. The Canadian government has a list of countries you can’t adopt from

The Hague Convention 

The Hague Convention* is an international agreement designed to protect the interests of children in international adoption. Canada is a participant, along with more than 100 other countries. The Hague Convention lays out basic safeguards and rules for how intercountry adoptions are conducted.

All provinces and territories, including BC, also have laws about international adoption. Adoptions from countries that aren’t aligned with BC’s laws or the Hague Convention can be difficult. Check with your adoption agency for the latest information. 

*Full name: The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption

International relative adoptions

Many of the same requirements apply even if you’re adopting a child who is related to you. Please confirm that your adoption and immigration plans meet all local, federal, and international requirements before pursuing any international adoption, including relative adoptions. We cannot stress enough how important this is. Adopters who fail to do so can find themselves unable to return to Canada with their child. 

Learn more on the Government of Canada’s website

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Further readings

Everyone has a story: Meet the Yrjana family 

Handling culture shock and intercountry adoption 

Immigration and international adoption 

External link: MCFD: Adopt a child from another country