What Is The International Adoption Process And What Legal Advice Do I Need?

International, or intercountry, adoption happens when an individual or a couple become the legal parents of a child who is a national of an overseas country. It can mean adopting a child from overseas who is without parents or one being raised in a children’s home. It can also sometimes mean adopting the child of a family member if you or your partner were born outside the UK. This guide explains the law and the process involved in adopting a child from abroad.

What are the requirements for adopting a child from overseas?

To be able to adopt any child from overseas, all potential adoptive parents must be approved as suitable in the UK before having their application processed by the country whose nationality the child holds. Often the requirements for adoption differ greatly from those in the UK and any prospective adopters should be aware of that. For example, some counties have upper age limits, they may only accept married couples, or restrict certain adopters on specific health grounds. They could also prioritise prospective adopters depending on their proven links to the country.

The approval process is an important one and takes a minimum of a year to finalise. Waiting times from that point onwards vary and depend on the country the child lives in.

Adopting a child from overseas

The first step is to decide which country you wish to adopt a child from. There are adoption agencies who are authorised to deal with international adoptions who can guide you, and let you know your options where children are currently available to adopt.

UK adoption agencies can be contacted in the following ways: via your local authority in England and Wales, your local health and social care trust in Northern Ireland, or a voluntary adoption agency dealing with overseas adoptions.

To understand the adoption procedures you will need to follow, you need to find out whether that country is:

A Hague Convention country – this is a country that has signed up to the 1993 Hague Convention on international adoption. An order for adoption in either the UK, or the other Convention country is recognised in both, which means you will not have to make two applications. Your adopted child will also automatically acquire British nationality on the grant of a Convention adoption order.

A country on the designated listthe UK recognises adoption orders made in countries on the list, which means you can adopt overseas and will not need to re-apply to a UK court. However, your child will not automatically acquire British nationality, so you will also need to have a clear immigration plan.

If the country you wish to adopt a child from does not fall into either of the categories above, then you may need to apply for adoption in both the country the child currently resides in and the UK. You will also need to carefully plan your route through the UK’s immigration system.

Can I bring a foreign child to the UK and adopt it here?

If you bring a foreign child into the UK for the purposes of adoption, it is a criminal offence, punishable with over 12 months in prison and/or a fine. If you want to bring a child into the UK from overseas, there are strict regulations that must be adhered to before bringing the child into the country.

How do I know if I am eligible to adopt from overseas?

To be eligible to adopt from overseas, you must meet these initial requirements:

  • You are over the age of 21 (there is no upper age limit)
  • You are habitually resident and domiciled in the UK
  • You have not been found guilty of a “prescribed” offence such as sexual offences or those against children.

Other counties have their own adoptive criteria, which varies from country to country.

You can potentially adopt a child from overseas if:

  • The child cannot be cared for in their own country in a safe environment
  • The adoption is in the child’s best interests
  • The adoptive parent has been assessed as eligible and suitable to adopt a child from overseas by a UK adoption agency

Adoption process

Step 1: UK home study assessment

You will be allocated a social worker who assesses you in accordance with the regulations. Typically, this process takes around 6 – 8 months and involves preparation groups, home visits, personal references, and medical and background checks.

Checks during this stage include:

  • A full DBS check to make sure you can safely look after a child throughout their life. If you feel anything adverse may come back from this check, then you should be open about it at the start so you can discuss any implications at an early stage.
  • Checks with the local authority social care, child protection and education services in the areas you live or have previously lived.
  • A full medical check with your GP.

You will be regularly visited by your social worker who will speak with you about all aspects of your life, your family, your relationships, both past and present, any support you have, your experience with children, and your expectations of being an adoptive parent. Your social worker will also visit your referees including any family members. They will also talk with you about the child you are searching for to become a part of your family.

Step 2: Panel approval

Your social worker prepares a Prospective Adopters’ Report (PAR) which will be presented to your UK agency’s adoption panel. The panel comprises around ten experts who have international adoption experience and will make a recommendation as to whether you should be approved, and if so, for which country. Your adoption agency will make the final decision. If you are turned down, there are several ways to appeal, including the Independent Review Mechanism, if you believe you have been treated unfairly.

Step 3: Certificate of Eligibility to Adopt

If you obtain approval, your application will then be passed on to the Department for Education, who will charge a fee for reviewing your documentation, although this varies according to your income. The Department for Education will review your documentation, and if satisfied, issue you with a Certificate of Eligibility to adopt. This will also be passed onto the relevant Central Authority of the country where you intend to adopt the child from. You will then be placed on a waiting list.

Step 4: Matching with a child overseas

In some countries, it is important that you do not attempt to identify a potential child before you reach this stage. How the matching process works depends on the country the child lives in and the rules that apply there. However, you will need to visit the child you wish to adopt and engage with your adoption agency in the UK as things progress.

Step 5: The legal process and immigration

Depending on the country the child resides in that you intend to adopt, you will either need to apply for adoption there, or bring the child back to the UK and adopt them here. You will also need to get a British passport or obtain entry clearance authorising the child to enter the UK before travelling.

How long does it take to adopt?

The approval process can take between 6 – 8 months from the time your adoption agency accepts your Registration of Interest to being approved as a suitable adopter.

How long you will have to wait on the waiting list to be matched with a child depends on each country and the individual child waiting in the country. You should be prepared to wait several years. Generally speaking, if you are flexible regarding gender or are willing to accept a child with special needs, for instance, the wait for a placement will probably be shorter.

Adopting a child from overseas is a long and complicated process, so it is important to understand this before embarking on the journey.

What countries can I adopt from?

Prospective adopters may have close links with the country they wish to adopt a child from already. However, not all countries place children available for adoption and it is not possible to adopt from some countries because the UK has placed restrictions on them.

Popular countries to adopt from include:

  • India – a signatory to the Hague Convention. India also has close links to the UK.
  • South Africa – a signatory to the Hague Convention, they will prioritise those looking to adopt children over the age of 3 and those with additional needs or medical issues.
  • China (for children with special needs) – a signatory to the Hague Convention, prospective adopters must be at least 30 years of age.
  • Philippines (for children in the special home finding categories)
  • Bulgaria – a Hague Convention signatory.

There are several reasons these counties are more popular with adopters than others. The country may have more flexibility in their requirements, have more children to choose from, or a quicker travel time.


The UK has restricted adoptions from the following countries:

  • Guatemala
  • Cambodia
  • Haiti
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Ethiopia

If you want to adopt a child from a restricted country, you must set out your reasons in writing and explain why you think your case is exceptional; this could be because you are adopting a family member, for example. You must also provide supporting evidence.

Things to consider when adopting a child from overseas

As stated above, every country has its own adoption laws. Some of the common criteria in other countries can include: Age – minimum and maximum limits, marital status – many countries require the parties to be married for a certain amount of time and may not allow single-parent or same-sex adoptions. Income – sometimes country’s laws require a specific minimum income and health restrictions. Some additional points to note:

  • Most available children are not babies. Even though a child may be a newborn at the time you are matched, it will probably be another year or two before you officially adopt them.
  • The costs can be very different to a UK adoption. An international adoption requires much more time and money for travel than a UK adoption. Some additional expenses include: government adoption application fees, passport and visa application fees, translation of documentation fees, or orphanage donations.
  • You may not receive much medical information about the child. Some countries have better access to medical records than others and in many international adoptions, there is not sufficient information on the child’s biological parents to provide a comprehensive health background.
  • You will be helping the child adjust in many ways. Irrespective of the child’s age, they will inevitably need time to get accustomed to their new home environment. This could involve developing attachments to you, overcoming a language barrier, or coping with trauma. At the same time, you will be adapting to becoming a new parent. The first few months are likely to be challenging and it is not uncommon for new parents to have issues with bonding or having to deal with other negative behaviour.
  • Your child’s culture will become part of your family. By talking openly about your child’s birth country, you will enable them to develop a sense of pride in where they come from and, more importantly, who they are.

The decision to adopt a child from overseas takes a lot of research, careful consideration, and timely legal advice. With these fundamentals in place, you will be able to come closer to knowing whether international adoption is the right choice for you.

Noticed an error on this page or something broken? If so, please email us at support[at]wiselaw.co.uk.

The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.