International Adoption vs. Domestic Adoption

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There are many opinions out there about whether it is better to adopt internationally or within your own country. There are people who feel very strongly that one is superior to the other and I am choosing not to debate that today. I would simply like to share our experience. We have both adopted internationally (siblings from Ethiopia) and domestically (three children through the foster to adopt program). I get asked often which one was better or easier or faster.

Our foster-to-adopt experience was one of the most complicated ones I have ever heard of. Our first attempt at adoption through foster care resulted in us losing the baby girl we had been parenting since she was just three days old twenty months later. It was beyond painful. I miss her every day. Our subsequent three attempts all resulted in us eventually being able to finalize the adoptions but two of them were the epitome of the emotional rollercoaster.

All three of our domestic adoptions are children with special needs which some assume would make the adoptions happen faster but that was not the case for us. Our daughter’s adoption took over four years to be finalized from the day she began living with us. Our son’s adoption was finalized over 5 and a half years after he first came to us and up until the very end, we feared that we would lose him. There were many twists and turns, appeals and possible complications. Even our least complicated foster-to-adopt situation took 17 months to finalize, though that one was much less stressful than the others.

And so it was that after a legal battle and many sleepless nights during the road to our son’s adoption, we decided that international adoption was the way that we would go for our next adoption. I had always wanted to adopt from Africa and I reasoned that it would be easier and faster. I know that some of you reading are chuckling right now!

When we first began to seriously consider an Ethiopian adoption, the program had a long and stable history, referrals were happening within a few months of a completed dossier reaching the country and we felt confident that our adoption would follow that path. It looked like from the start of our paperwork until the time we were able to bring our child home would take one year!

We began our paperwork much sooner than we actually got our completed dossier to Ethiopia because we decided three quarters of the way through to change our request to siblings, so that part of our journey was much longer than for most but even from the time our dossier reached Ethiopia, it took more than a year before we received our referral. At this point, it had been about three years since we had initially applied…not faster than foster-to-adopt would have been after all!

Just one month after receiving our referral, we passed court making us legally parents to our Ethiopian children. We were elated by the speed that this happened and prepared for the five to eight month wait to be issued visas to go and pick the kids up (visas are currently being issued much faster but that was the wait at the time). Just two weeks later, we received word that our adoption agency had gone bankrupt and our kids were running out of food at the orphanage. It was mayhem trying to bring them home, but we were eventually able to get visas issued quickly and did bring the kids home much sooner than we anticipated.

In the end, “easier” is not a word I would ever use to describe our international adoption experience, nor is “faster”. As we adopted older children (ages 7 and 4 at the time of adoption), there were attachment issues, malnutrition, parasites, fungus, and language considerations after bringing them home.

I should also mention another difference between the two. Our foster-to-adoptions cost about $50 each while our international adoptions cost well over $20,000. We also receive post adoption support in the form of respite, money, and access to help for our foster-to-adoptions and there is no post adoption services such as this available for our international adoption.

If I were to base a future decision on just our experience, I don’t know which I would choose to do again. Going back to the very beginning again, I would of course choose to again do both so that we would end up with exactly the same kids in the end. There were pros and cons with each type of adoption. Neither type was easy. Neither was fast. Neither was without heartbreak. Both were exactly what brought us to our children and I wouldn’t change a thing.



  1. For us the decision was also a matter of heart-leading. I felt/believed strongly as a mid teen that I would someday adopt from Africa – I felt God had given me this plan. I wouldn’t even agree to date my now-husband of 18 years until he agreed to be open to international adoption – and thankfully it was something that he could easily envision in his life (though not with the sense of calling that I had). This was many years before we knew we had fertility issues and long before I knew much about either international or domestic adoption.
    When people ask me now why we chose the international adoption route (rather than the domestic route), I say without any sarcasm intended that it was because my children were there. I don’t know why I always believe this would be the case other than that I felt it was a God thing.

    Nice discussion point.


  2. Well said. We started out attempting to adopt from foster care in 2008. We ended up going to China for our daughter in 2010, and during that time, California has legislated a maximum of 6 kids in a home for foster care, so we are going back to China for another child.

    Neither is easy. Neither is quick. Both are needed. Both are worthwhile.

  3. You are in Canada, right? It’s my understanding that domestic newborn adoption hardly ever happens in Canada, as it does in the US. In fact, many Canadians adopt newborns internationally from the US, correct?
    Foster-to-adopt in the US sounds about the same as in Canada, though.

    • Domestic newborns adoptions do happen here. The wait averages two years, but newborn adoption does seem to be becoming less frequent. There are a fair number of Canadians who do adopt newborns from the US for a variety of reasons. The rate that those adoptions are happening has slowed down since the US ratified the Hague though.

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