International Adoption: What You Need to Know

International adoption (sometimes called intercountry or foreign adoption) is fraught with ever-changing rules and regulations. In some countries, you may adopt the child before coming home, but wish to readopt your child after entering the United States. Other countries only grant adoptive parents guardianship, and you will be required to formally adopt your child after you’ve entered the United States. We help families with both international adoption and international readoption.

When Should I Start?

You should start the legal process as soon as you return to the United States with your child. You have 30 days after you return to the US with your child to file in court for adoption, so you should contact an attorney as soon as possible when you return home with your child. 

If you like, you can hire an attorney before you leave to finalize the adoption overseas. The attorney can begin preparing your paperwork for court, so you have a head-start. However, the paperwork cannot be finalized or filed with the court until you return home with your child.

(Please see our blog post regarding when to contact an adoption attorney for timing on other types of adoptions.)

overview of the international adoption process

Once you’ve decided on international adoption, you have a rewarding (but long) journey ahead of you.

  • Step One: Contact an agency that you would like to work with. The agency will help you obtain the required home-study and will help you match with a child to adopt.

  • Step Two: When choosing which country to adopt from, you should review the county’s adoption requirements. Some country’s requirements change frequently. To make sure you have up-to-date information, you should review the State Department’s website with county-specific requirements. You should also discuss the country’s requirements with your adoption agency to make sure the country is the right fit for your family.

  • Step Three: Once you are matched and all pre-adoption requirements have been met, you will travel to the foreign country to take possession of the child.

  • Step Four: Once you arrive in the United States with your child, it’s time to contact an adoption attorney to finalize the adoption. Your agency will continue to work with you as well to provide any required post-adoption services or home visits.

types of international adoptions

There are two types of international adoptions.

  • Most commonly, the adoption is finalized in your child’s birth country. Upon return to the United States, you can “confirm” the adoption (also called “readoption.”) Typically, your child will enter the US on an IH-3 or IR-3 visa.

  • In other cases, you only receive guardianship of your child from the foreign country. Upon return to the United States, you must file for adoption in order to finalize the process. Typically, your child will enter the US on an IH-4 or IR-4 visa.

International readoption (IH-3 or IR-3 visa)

A readoption occurs when your child’s adoption was finalized in the foreign country, but you wish to confirm the adoption in the United States. Benefits include:

  • You obtain better documentation of the adoption

    • Documentation is in English, so everyone can easily read it

    • Documentation is more widely-accepted by schools, doctors, etc.

    • Security and Convenience. If you lose original paperwork or need extra certified copies, you don’t have to worry about how to get them from a foreign country. Instead, you are able to get duplicates or certified copies of your child’s paperwork in your home state.

  • You get a Record of Foreign Birth. This is like getting a new birth certificate for your child. It is a government-issued record that lists you as the child’s parents. Without this, your child will not have the equivalent of a US-issued birth certificate, and will instead have to produce the foreign adoption paperwork every time a birth certificate is needed.

  • Change of Last Name. With a readoption, you can change your adopted child’s last name to your own, and have a Record of Foreign Birth issued that lists the child’s new last name.

  • Readoption a simple, speedy, and straightforward. Typically, most courts waive the 6-month waiting period, and some courts will even finalize the readoption on your very first court date.

There is no downside to a readoption, and it provides many benefits to you and your child.

FULL International adoption (IH-4 or IR-4 visa)

A full international adoption occurs when you received only guardianship from the foreign country, and your adoption was not finalized in that country. Typically, your child enters the US on an IH-4 or IR-4 visa if this happens. In these cases, adoption in the US is required for your child to obtain US citizenship.

Other benefits of finalizing your foreign adoption in the US:

  • Adoption is required for your child to have US citizenship

  • Adoption makes your adoption legally-recognized in the US and legally-binding, so you have peace of mind that the adoption is finalized and permanent

  • Adoption qualifies you to claim the adoption tax credit (if you otherwise meet the IRS’ requirements)


At Rivero-Boundas PC, we assist families with international readoptions and international adoptions. We will help ensure your adoption is legally-binding and finalized, so you can focus on your new family without any worries. Please contact us today to get started.


Adoption Center of Illinois (assists Illinois families with international adoptions):

Adoptive Families Magazine:

Rainbow Kids (information on international adoption, including option for e-mail updates):

United States State Department website regarding international adoption, including country-specific requirements: