If you're living overseas and considering adopting a child, you may be wondering how and how much being overseas will complicate the adoption process. While it's true that the process will be a little more complicated because you live overseas, there are agencies and support groups to explain and guide you through it, and many families in the same circumstances manage to adopt successfully every year. With this information and guidance, you'll have a better grasp of how the process works and how to approach each step along the way.
Choosing an agency
Some adoption agencies shy away from working with military families, while others embrace the opportunity. Look for an agency with experience working with U.S. citizens living overseas. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a national adoption directory and adoption assistance information by state. When choosing an agency, consider these factors:
- Experience. Does the agency have experience working with military families living overseas? Ask for references and call the references to discuss their experiences.
- Licensing. As a U.S. citizen you'll need to work with an agency that is licensed in the United States. The agency may also need to be accredited if you are adopting internationally from a Hague Convention country.
- Requirements. Some agencies have requirements for adoptive families that go beyond the legal requirements of the state (or country, for international adoptions). Some agencies may require that you have a particular religious affiliation or meet certain financial conditions. When talking with an agency, make sure that you understand the difference between the agency requirements and the legal requirements. If you don't meet the agency requirements, find an agency that better meets your needs.
- Costs. Fees can vary widely from one agency to the next. Make sure you understand what's covered and what isn't when you compare agencies.
If you're adopting a child from the United States, you may use a state or public agency (such as an agency run by the state's department of social or human services) or an adoption attorney. Military families overseas may find it helpful to choose an agency in the state with jurisdiction over the child. State laws vary, and you may also have to comply with the laws in your state of legal residence.
A home study is required for all adoptions, domestic or international. Your home study should be prepared by a licensed social worker who meets the legal requirements (state, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service or country) of your adoption. Before you contract the services of a home study preparer, make sure they can prepare the home study to the specifications required. Your installation military and family support center may be able to provide information and referrals for home study providers. Several agencies and adoption professionals prepare home studies for families living abroad. If you can't find a licensed home study provider, you may be able to contract with one in your country of residence and have the study certified by International Social Service.
Keep in mind that obtaining the necessary documents, such as certified copies of birth and marriage certificates, can be difficult when you live overseas. If your documents must be notarized from the state, you may need to contact the issuing state or county to get them.
Domestic and foreign adoption
When a U.S. citizen adopts a child from the United States, the adoption is subject to the laws of the interested state or states. However, state laws are complicated and you will need an experienced agency or adoption attorney to help work out the details.
- State regulations. Both the state in which the adoptive child lives and the state of your legal residence may have an interest in the adoption. You may be able to complete your adoption in only the state that has jurisdiction over the child. Because state laws vary, each situation is different. In some cases, the adoption may be subject to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
The adoption of a child from a foreign country is subject to the laws of your country of residence, the foreign country and USCIS policies. Because international adoptions are so complicated, try to find an experienced adoption agency to walk you through the process.
- The Hague Convention. In 2008 the United States became a member of the Hague Convention, which regulates adoptions between participating countries. If you choose to adopt from another Hague Convention country, you must follow convention rules, which include regulations for agencies handling adoptions. The Hague Convention is designed both to protect children and provide safeguards for adoptive parents. The procedures for Hague Convention adoptions, including a list of participating countries, can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. If you are adopting from a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention, you will be subject to the rules of that country, along with U.S. adoption laws. Information on countries not a party to the Hague Convention is also available at the U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption website.
- USCIS paperwork. Parents adopting from Hague Convention countries must file form I-800A (Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt from a Convention Country) if the child has not been identified. Parents who have identified a child from a Hague Convention country will file form I-800 (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative). Parents adopting from countries not a party to the Hague Convention will file either form I-600A or I-600. The form should be submitted, along with your home study, other required documents (such as birth certificates) and a processing fee. Prospective parents must submit fingerprints to a USCIS office before the form is processed. In some cases, military service members and their families may be fingerprinted at their installation's military law enforcement office. For specific information visit the USCIS Adoption web page.
- Naturalization. In most cases, internationally adopted children automatically become naturalized citizens when they enter the United States, allowing the parents to apply for a U.S. passport for the child. If you are not traveling to the United States before returning to your overseas installation, you may request naturalization from the USCIS. The program, known as "Overseas Naturalization Eligibility for Certain Children of U.S. Armed Forces Members," is available to children whose adoption was finalized in their foreign country. You'll submit an application, form N-600-K, along with the following:
- A cover letter with the heading "322(d): Child of Military Member Overseas" explaining that the child currently lives overseas and qualifies to naturalize, and include the full names of the child and parents, current overseas address and location of the USCIS office overseas most convenient to conduct the interview
- Adoption paperwork and birth certificate
- Proof of U.S. citizenship, which can include valid U.S. passport, birth certificate or Certificate of Naturalization
- Two identical passport-style photos
- Copy of your permanent change of station orders as proof of your residence abroad
- A fee as outlined in the application instructions (form N-600K)
Send the application to the USCIS overseas office closest to your installation or the USCIS Nebraska Service Center. For detailed information, visit the USCIS website and type "Overseas Naturalization Eligibility for Certain Children of U.S. Armed Forces Members" into the search field. Download the form by following the links under "Adoption" and "Forms." Scroll down to the link to Form N-600K.