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How to Adopt a Child | Step 2: Choose a Country

Once you’ve decided on an international adoption, you need to choose a country to adopt from.

Again, some people come into this process with this decision already made. They know someone who adopted from China, and their hearts were stirred, or they did a missions trip to India and fell in love. And that’s awesome, because making these decisions from scratch kind of sucks.

This is another one of those things that seems like common knowledge if you’re familiar with the world of international adoption, but totally blindsided me. I thought I could just say, “I’ll take one,” and then we’d find a child who fits our family.

I didn’t care where the child came from.

But there is no singular international adoption process. Each country has systems in place to deal with their own orphans, and you have to work with those systems. Adopting from “anywhere” would really, logistically, look more like adopting from “everywhere,” and it’s just impossible to work in more than one system at a time.

So you need to choose which country you want to adopt from before you can even really start the process.

Table of contents:


Step 1: Domestic, Foster Care, or International

Step 2: Choose a Country to Adopt From

Step 3: Choose an Adoption Agency

Step 4: Adoption Fundraising Tips and Ideas

Step 5: A List of Adoption Grants

Choosing a Country vs Choosing an Agency

There is bound to be some overlap, because the best info you’ll find on international adoption programs is going to be on agency websites. You will be learning about the agencies as you learn about the country programs.

But when you do officially apply to work with an adoption agency (more on that in Step 3), you need to apply for a specific country program with that agency.

That said, because of the inevitable overlap, don’t hesitate to reach out to agency representatives for help. We talked to representatives from five agencies when we were starting our adoption, and everyone was very nice and very helpful. Yes, they are—in a way—sales people and they want you to choose their agency, but most of them just have huge hearts for adoption and are happy to get you connected to adopt a child no matter what.

We are advocates for adoption and want families to be successful, so if America World is not the right fit, that’s alright. Of course, we are biased and will also advocate for why families should choose America World, but at the end of the day, we just hope fewer children are suffering and more families are blessed by the gift of adoption. — Madelyn Pierce, AWAA

And if, in the process, you really connect with a particular agency representative, or find that you really like one particular agency, then go with it. It’s okay to settle on an agency first, and then let them help you choose one of their programs. Just be aware that each agency has a different list of countries they work in (see Step 3).

How to Choose a Country Program

I made a copy of my spreadsheet for you, and copied over a few rows of info. (You’ll need to copy/paste it into your own spreadsheet so you can edit it.)

Each country’s international adoption program is different. You won’t know everything about any program before you jump in, but some disparities to ask and think about include:

  • What’s the overall time frame? This might vary a little bit from one agency to the next, but they’re all estimating anyway. No one is going to guarantee a time frame for completing an international adoption, but you can get a general idea.
  • How long do you have to be in-country? Each country has their own requirements for how many parents need to be in-country, how many times, for how long. China was the “easiest” we found—only one parent needs to go for one, two-week trip. Other countries require both parents, longer stays, and/or multiple trips. With two working parents and a kid at home already, this was a huge consideration for us.
  • What’s the estimated cost? This seemed more important when I started than it does now, but I left the column on the spreadsheet. It will vary by agency, some will be much higher but include travel expenses, and—again—these are estimates. International fees and policies change, airfare fluctuates, etc. Looking back, this column seems pretty meaningless, but it feels important at the beginning, so it’s there.
  • Is the country a Hague Convention partner? The Hague Convention is an international agreement that puts safeguards in place to protect children from human trafficking. It is not a requirement for adoption partnerships with the U.S., and it’s up to each country to agree and then comply. You can adopt children from countries that have or have not agreed to participate, but you will want to understand the convention guidelines and the implications for working with a country that does not comply. (Note that your options for adoption grants will also be reduced if you adopt from a non-Hague country. Some grants organizations will not award funds to families adopting from non-Hague countries.)

While some say The Hague Convention has made the inter-country adoption process more complicated, we need to remember that the intention is to protect vulnerable children from more hurt. The Hague Convention creates clear standards that unify diverse systems so that children can be treated with value and kept as safe as possible. — Kelly Raudenbush, The Sparrow Fund

  • What do they require of you? In addition to having unique travel requirements, each country has different requirements regarding your age(s), the number of children already in your home, the age of the youngest child in your home, your average annual income, your net worth, etc. All of those details are available online or from the agency rep you’re emailing. Additionally, most agencies have a pre-application form that will collect a lot of these details for you so they can find the country program(s) that best fit your family’s situation.

Add columns for whatever is important to you. Agency application fee, option to choose the child’s gender, number of orphans in-country, etc.

International Adoption Country Program Info

Here are some good resources to get you started.







This is by no means an exhaustive list. Google is your friend.

A Note About the Feels

I mentioned earlier that making this decision from scratch kind of sucks, and it does. This can be difficult, so own how you’re feeling about the process and know that it’s normal and it’s okay.

  • You might suddenly be more exposed to human trafficking, or be forced to see it closer to home than you have in the past. As you consider the Hague guidelines and whether or not it’s important to you to adopt from a Hague partner country, the issue of human trafficking will become a small part of your life for a moment, and that’s difficult.
  • You might find yourself angry at the system. As you compare enormous price tags and program requirements, the brokenness of the system (and the world in general) will be unmasked, and that’s painful. You may find yourself debating whether or not you want to participate in the system, but I would only remind you that the child who is waiting for you is not to blame for the system and has already suffered enough because of it.
    Yes, it is broken. Yes, there are probably people padding fees to line their own pockets. But none of it means that child on the other end is less deserving of a family. Dedicate yourself to reform if you find your heart breaking over all of it, but don’t leave an orphan behind because of it.

    A lot of the expense and lengthy process is for good reason – for the protection of the children and to prevent children being placed in unsafe homes or from being trafficked. However, we empathize with the frustration of many adoptive parents, because while all the paperwork and details are being handled, children are not getting the proper care and attention that they need to flourish.

    Thankfully we believe in a God that heals and redeems, and we believe in fighting for more efficient and quick processes so that children can be with their forever families sooner. — Pierce

  • You might feel paralyzed at the choice before you. We joke about the paradox of choice when we stand motionless in front of a wall of toothpaste options; I guarantee it’s worse when you’re looking at thousands of children. And if you’re a person of faith, or fate, and you believe there is one particular child out there for you, the pressure to make the right choice is real. It’s okay.
    This is where the spreadsheet, or however you’re keeping notes from your research, comes in handy. Take it one decision at a time. If you have two working parents in your family, you probably need a country program with minimum in-country requirements, so cross out those that require long or multiple trips—or anything that your family just cannot accommodate. If you’re in a rush, highlight the programs with shorter overall timeline estimates; if you have time and need to do some fundraising, highlight the programs that take longer.
    And if you are a person of faith, pray, and pray in the knowledge that his sheep hear his voice – even when he’s not shouting. He will lead you. It can feel like you’re crossing off children, but don’t think about it as “choosing” one, think about it as “finding” the one.

It is an emotional process from the very beginning, and in ways that we were not necessarily prepared for. I was prepared to feel overwhelmed and anxious and in love. I was not, necessarily, prepared to feel angry or guilty. 

Be open with your spouse about it, even if it seems silly. Express your frustrations and confusion to the agency representative(s) you’re working with; I guarantee they’ve heard and felt it all before.

Step 3: Choose an Adoption Agency →