The Cost of a International Adoption

by Fred Fauth on October 1, 2012

This article is being contributed by Fred @ One Project Closer.

Six years ago my wife, Kim, and I adopted twin 2-1/2 year old boys from Guatemala. The process took about 22 months from start to finish, and along the way we incurred a large number of expenses. I think that any adoptive family would tell you that money spent on adoption is money well spent. What parent doesn’t love their children more than their bank account? But the reality is that adoption–especially international adoption–can be very, very expensive. It’s helpful to know what kind of fees a potential adoptive family might face, what options you have for financing the expenses, and where all the money is really going.

On that last point–where all the money is going–I’ve got a fair number of cautionary words for readers considering international adoption. To sum it up: it isn’t always what it seems. In the United States and other developed countries, we’ve come to expect a certain level of fairness in the legal system, and a certain level of decency among family lawyers and non-profit organizations. We can’t imagine that a birth mother might be bribed, coerced, tricked, or blackmailed into giving up her child(ren). In third world countries (the primary source of most children being adopted into the States internationally), legal systems are far from perfect, and evil people do prey on the weak with little fear of consequence. The large amount of money associated with an international adoption can attract the worst types of people, and poverty can create desperation in birth moms. You can easily see that the environment is ripe for corruption.

That’s not to say that international adoption cannot be a wonderful thing. It can be. But remember, even in the best of situations, adoptions are born out of loss — a real loss of the birth family of the child being adopted. That reality too plays into the financial considerations.

The Financial Breakdown

I’m going to start with the financial breakdown of our adoption, and then head into some of the component parts of the cost. I’m not an “expert” in adoption. But I have been through one international adoption completely and am currently in the process of a domestic adoption.  Since my wife and I adopted twins, some of our costs were double, while others (such as the cost for us to travel to the country) were not. I’m going to list the costs to adopt a single child since I think that’s what most people will use as a metric.

Our rough actual costs per child are in parentheses.

Pre-Adoptive Costs: (Total: $6,885)

  • Retaining an Adoption Agency: ($4,500) Most private adoption agencies in the United States will charge between $3,000 and $8,000 per child to process an international adoption. This fee is your cost for them to represent you and to coordinate the adoption.
  • Home Study: ($1,200) Home study costs will vary by state, but this is essentially the cost to have your family and home certified for adoption. It covers the cost of a social worker to visit your home, interview family and friends, and write a report on your suitability to adopt.
  • Immigration Authorization: ($685) This fee is paid to immigration and naturalization services for a visa to bring the child into the United States. This fee changes yearly and in 2012 it stands at $720, plus a “biometrics fee” (fingerprinting for background check) of $85 per adult applicant (so $170 for a couple).
  • Miscellaneous Documentation, Background Checks, etc: ($500) International adoptions require a lot of paperwork, which usually involves getting notarization, county certification of the notary, and apostilles from the state.  You’ll also have co-pays for physical exams and police & FBI fingerprinting fees for background checks (separate from USCIS’s fingerprinting listed above).

Pre-Adoptive In-Country Costs: (Total: $20,750)

  • Attorneys or Agency Fees: ($20,000): The fees paid to the attorney or government agency in country to process the adoption. These fees vary widely, but usually range from $5,000 to $20,000 per child. The fee is designed to help the attorney and/or the country recover the cost of the adoption. But the money can go elsewhere. The source of much of the corruption in international adoption comes from these fees. I talk more about that below.
  • DNA Testing: ($750): In Hague Countries, DNA matching between children and birth mothers is required whenever the birth mother is living. In our case, this fee was paid to the adoption agency.

Travel Costs: (Total: $3,800)

  • Airfare (2 people round-trip, 1 person one-way), Hotel (5 days), Meals, and Local Travel: ($3500) Obviously, costs are dependent on how long the process takes in-country. Some countries can require multiple court dates, two or three separate trips, and as many as six weeks of at least one parent staying in country.
  • Local Gifts (or sometimes, bribe money): ($0)In some countries, gifts are expected from adoptive parents to the locale where the child was born. The ultimate good these gifts produce is dubious, because many times the money is taken by corrupt leaders. In some countries, it is an expected practice that court officials will be bribed to hear cases faster. (Note: this is actually illegal according to the Hague; but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.)
 Total costs for our international adoption: (Total: $31,105 for the first child; our total for 2 was approximately $56,000)

What about Post Adoption Costs?

Children who have been through an international adoption often require increased medical attention and sometimes therapy. It is impossible to estimate the total financial cost an adopted child presents post-adoption. Children are expensive, adopted or not. My recommendation is to make sure that you have a plan for obtaining health insurance for the child, and that you obtain some assistance in planning additional resources that might be needed to accommodate your specific child’s needs.

Factors that Impact Cost

International adoption processing costs usually range between $15,000 and $30,000 per child. I have heard of few international adoptions that are less expensive than this. Factors that most affect the cost include:

  • In Country Fees (depends heavily on what country you plan to adopt from. Here’s a list of country fees)
  • Travel Expenses

The best way to learn the specifics of cost for a particular country are to find a reputable agency in your area and go to an information session to learn more. They should be able to tell you with some certainty what expectations you should have.

Less Expensive Alternatives

  • Domestic Adoption (Expect to pay approximately one-third to two-thirds the cost of an international adoption.)
  • Special Needs Domestic Adoption (May be completely free via Government grants for parents who can handle this situation.  In addition, most of these kids have stipends that will be paid to their adoptive parents to cover the care for their additional needs until – and sometimes through – adulthood.)
  • Fostering to Adopt (Likely to be free with Government support, but foster care is *not* an adoption service. Foster parents should not enter foster care with the sole purpose of adopting children as many cases will not lead to adoption).

How to Finance International Adoptions

There are a number of options for lessening the cost of adoption and for financing the remaining cost. Here’s the big ones:

Reducing the cost:

  • Adoption Tax Credit: This refundable federal tax credit can be applied 1-for-1 to up to $13,360 per child in 2012. There are rules about when and how one can take this credit, including income limits, but if you qualify, this can significantly reduce the cost. Note: for international adoptions, the adoption must be completed before you can file for this credit.
  • Employer Adoption Benefits: The IRS will allow an employer to reimburse adoption expenses without the employer or employee paying federal taxes on the money. Note, however, that FICA taxes are still required on adoption payments. Talk to you employer about whether they have an adoption support program and how much in expenses it covers.
Financing the cost:
  • Home Equity Loan: This is the method Kim and I used to complete our adoption. We took out a HELOC on our home for $60,000. This has become harder since 2008, as many folks don’t have the equity to make this work.
  • Credit Cards: I *highly* recommend against this option. The interest costs are completely outrageous and you don’t need the stress of paying those rates (or trying to float a card on 0% balance transfer credit card) while you’re in the middle of parenting a new child.
First and foremost, I recommend saving. Kim and I took the risk on the HELOC and were able to pay it off pretty quickly thanks to a small inheritance we received when my grandmother died. For many families, $60,000 in debt could be on the books for years.

What About the Corruption?

I wanted to save this topic for last because it’s a sensitive one. Think about these two scenarios:

Imagine that you are…

  • A woman in the rural area of a third world country. You already have three kids and you just learned you are pregnant again. A local adoption “worker” finds out about the pregnancy and approaches you with a deal. He says that he can pay you $1,000 if you give your child to him for adoption. Note: $1,000 is more than you earn in a year, and your other kids need clothes in order to be able to attend school.
  • An uneducated teenage girl who has grown up on the street. An adoption “worker” finds you and says that if you get pregnant, he can pay you $1,000 to put that child up for adoption. Indeed, he can actually help you find a man who can get you pregnant, and you can get pregnant year after year for $1,000 or more each time you birth a child.

Now, consider that an American family sends $20,000 to a third world country to process an adoption. What are the odds that some of that money might be farmed out to adoption “workers” who are hired by attorneys (or even corrupt Government workers) to identify birth mothers willing to relinquish kids?

How would you know if your money was being used this way? It’s something that every potential adoptive parent should consider and research.

If you’re interested in learning more about adoption corruption, I suggest starting with this book. It deals with a child-theft situation in Guatemala, and it is eye opening.


As I said in the introduction, I’m not an adoption expert, but I am happy to openly and honestly answer questions about our adoption to the extent that I can without violating my kids’ privacy. I hope this article helps you when you consider adoption as an avenue for growing your family.

About the author: Fred and Kim are the parents of five children, two of whom were adopted internationally. They are also the owners and editors of One Project Closer, a home improvement blog focused on DIY projects, tools, and deals. Fred and his partner Ethan write how-to guides for home  projects like building a deck. Kim updates coupons and deals on the site for stores like Home Depot.

Has anyone else ever gone through an international or Domestic adoption? If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask.  Fred is more than willing to help anyone out who has thought about adoption.

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  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    Thanks for your post. I knew that adoption, in general, was expensive…although I did not know the expense of international adoptions. It’s not really surprising to me though, nor the possible fraud that can come into play. My wife and I have thought it over in the past as my Mom was adopted, but just don’t think it’s in the cards for us right now.

  • Jason @ WorkSaveLive

    Wow, that is really expensive to adopt; my wife and I have talked about it but since we haven’t gotten serious about having kids yet, we didn’t look into it much. I’ve also never given much though to the corruption involved but that makes total sense. What a terrible/tough situation to be in.

    Thanks for sharing your story and opening our eyes!

  • Yikes, that is just wrong. No wonder so many kids don’t have homes. People can’t afford to adopt them. I am sure you would never put a price on your child but that sure sounds like a lot of money. I wonder what it costs if you live in Canada. I should check around.

  • Thanks for sharing, I lived for 4 years in Guatemala and met a few parents coming over to adopt, those costs are crazy. In France (I am French) adopting Guatemalan kids has been banned for years because of too many bribes and malpractice of some agencies. Glad yours worked out.

  • I’m not gonna lie, I almost passed out looking at that total cost figure. My aunt and uncle have adopted two amazing girls from China and South Korea who were our flower girls at our wedding last year. Seeing their experience has really made me and my wife want to adopt. We haven’t looked into the costs (hence why I almost passed out) but I was aware it is expensive. Thankfully we don’t plan on adopting for probably 8-15 years. Thanks so much for posting this and making me (and everyone else) aware of the costs involved!

  • Kim

    I don’t know if I would have the fortitude to make it through all the paper work and waiting. I’ve know people who have adopted domestically and internationally, so the cost was not terribly surprising. I wish it were easier for couples who can’t have children. Many would be good parents and be able to support a child, but might never be able to come up with the fee.

  • I got to say I admire you for adopting. Its not a very popular thing to do because of the ‘cost’, but my wife and I are hoping to adopt, just don’t know exactly where yet. We have friends who live in Uganda and Sudan and know of others who have adopted from there. Just knowing people who have already gone through the ‘loops’ will help us get through them faster and cheaper.

    Since we have friends who live in Uganda we have a wide open door to adoption there. No one ever really thinks about the ‘cost’ after the adoption.

  • I always knew it was expensive to adopt, but never had the break down in costs like you nicely laid out in the post. Thanks for the informative article!

    Yes, adoption is expensive – but what could be more rewarding than spending the money to adopt and love a child that is desperately in need?

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