Adopting a child from another country is certainly not the same as planning a holiday, but it does involve international borders, multiple countries and families with young children. While every individual family’s experiences are completely different, suitcases&strollers also recognises that there is a distinct lack of information to help guide people who want to understand more about the process. With that in mind, here is a bit of a starter kit of things parents should think about if you are considering adopting a child from another country.  

International adoption is an incredibly grey area where things are changing all the time. (Even as we go live, things will have changed and continue to change.) Typically there are at least two governments involved, numerous government departments, agencies and then the complexities of shifting and changing politics. There are no step-by-step guidelines for how to successfully complete an international adoption – it’s all about finding a good network, figuring out the process that is appropriate for your family at that moment, timing and good luck. 
What works for one family may not work for another so this is simply a guide for where to start if you are considering bringing a child into your family from another country.

Go To Your Embassy or Relevant Government Department

The first port of call should always be your home country’s embassy or relevant government department to find out exactly what the process is for your adopted child to get the same citizenship as you. Most will have a point of contact there who deals with all the international adoption cases – make an appointment and find out exactly what the process is to ensure that the child you adopt will be able to gain citizenship in your country of origin. If you and your partner have different passports, it’s worth visiting both consulates and weighing the pros and cons of each.

Ensuring you have met all the criteria for your country of origin to recognise the adoption is critical, otherwise you may end up in an awful situation where you cannot bring your child home because of his or her passport. For instance, in Australia it is incredibly important that your adoptive child passes all the requisite medical checks, so ensuring that they are healthy before you adopt is essential. Similarly, many countries now no longer recognise adoptions from countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and China. If you an expatriate, even adopting a child through the courts of the country where you live may not be recognised, so make sure you check and understand all the rules first. 

Questions to ask include:

· What types of international adoption will your country of origin recognise? Which ones won’t they recognise and why?

· Are there specific guidelines or boxes you must tick in order for the adoption to be recognised in your country of origin? If yes, what are they?

· Are there particular countries/agencies/systems that your country of origins recommends or prefers you to use for international adoption?

· Once your child is adopted, what is the process to gaining them a passport and citizenship in your country of origin and what are the timelines?

Start Your Home Study

No matter where or how you are adopting, you will eventually need to complete a home study. This is the paperwork you prepare for an accredited social worker or counsellor to give you the basic approval as “fit to adopt”.

The home study can take far longer than you expect – especially if you a bit of a procrastinator or you’ve lived in multiple countries – so begin this process early. For most families it is many months before they complete the home study, so even if you are just seriously considering adoption but haven’t committed, its worthwhile considering starting the home study anyway so that if you do decide to go ahead, you can do so immediately.

If you are still unsure of which country you want to adopt from, ask for your home study to be as broad and embrace as many countries as possible so that you have the flexibility to adopt from anywhere should circumstances change.

All home studies vary depending on who is administering them, but a typical one will require you to provide or undergo:

· A detailed questionnaire about your familial situation and background.

· The usual passports, birth certificates and marriage certificates.

· Police checks in the cities you have resided in for all adult residents in your house (including any live-in helpers).

· Income and financial records.

· Education, work references and other employment-related records.

· Medical examinations for everyone resident in the home including other children and live-in helpers.  

· At least 2 personal references per parent plus a letter of agreement from the person you nominate to be your children’s guardian in case you are unable to care for them yourself.

· Attendance at a specific adoption-related course.

· 10 hours worth of online training.

· A minimum of 2 in-person sessions with a qualified counsellor or social worker.

· A home site inspection. This will include a check of the family dynamics, walk around to ensure everything is child-safe (they are usually looking for window locks, safety measures for balconies and stairs, that all toxic products and medications up high, at least 2 working smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher that you know how to use) and a meet-and-greet with everyone who lives in the house, including your live-in helper.

Check with your service provider about which of these documents they need to be in their original form. Some documents (such as police reports and medical reports) can take weeks to obtain and will be required for your adoption dossier later – losing them in the home study process is something best avoided. 

Start Your Research About Where You Are Planning To Adopt

The best way to do this is ask around. You might be surprised at what you hear. For instance, many of the Asian countries one usually associates with international adoption (such as The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka) all have residency requirements for international adoption which means unless you live there, you will not comply. Others, such as Cambodia and Vietnam, are currently not even open for international adoption. On the flip side, countries like Singapore or Ethiopia have a far more streamlined and straightforward process that can make them a more attraction proposition. Your embassy or relevant government department will be able to provide the information on which countries they find the most acceptable.

Join the Adoption Community

Parents who are adopting, have adopted or are thinking about doing it are generally surprisingly generous with their time and personal information and experiences and swapping notes. This not only makes for a fantastic and much-needed source of support, it also is the best way to figure out the right path for you.

Join adoption support groups, ask your home study provider and embassy if they have any contacts and login to the online forums. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how many other people there are out there trying to do the same thing as you.

Talk to as many people as you can and once you’ve decided which direction you want to move in, choose a family who has recently done what you want to do and copy them. Most adoptive parents had someone in the past mentor them through the process and will be happy to pay it forward by doing the same for you.

But beware – adoption is an emotional subject and an area where the laws, rules and processes are constantly in flux. You will hear a lot of conflicting information and stories. Don’t be disheartened. Take onboard what is relevant to you and piece together the route you want your family to follow from there. 

Be Patient

Adoption is a decision for life, so it can take a bit of time. Depending on where and how you do it, expect to wait anything from a minimum of 6 months to a few years. Expect to be doing a lot of photocopying, form filling, document authenticating, queuing and generally being frustrated. It’s all part of the process. Just focus and take it step-by-step. The more dedicated you are, the faster you will compile everything you need and the quicker you will get to your new child. 

To read about the real life experiences of one adoptive family, go to the suitcases&strollers story Flying to Bring Home Baby