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Updated on April 20, 2023 with the most recent information and statistics.
Adoption costs can range anywhere from less than $1,000 to more than $50,000, and the process can take months or more than a year. Here’s a breakdown of the costs to adopt a child, as well as the different ways you can grow your family through adoption.
How much does adoption cost?
The cost to adopt a child — or multiple children — depends on the type of adoption you pursue. As you consider your options, keep in mind there are several ways to pay for adoption, from fundraisers and grants to personal loans.
Public agency adoption
How it works: Adopting a child through the public welfare system often means beginning as a foster parent. Each state has its own adoption agency, which oversees licensing, education, placement and support for adoptive families.
Adopting a child from foster care is a low-cost option that’s been characterized as “virtually free of cost” by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service under the federal Office of the Administration for Children and Families. The cost of adopting a child through the foster system is typically less than $1,000, according to the most recent Adoptive Families magazine adoption cost survey conducted in 2016-17.
Adopting through foster care is inexpensive because of state and federal adoption assistance programs put in place to make it more accessible and appealing. These children are often older and some may have experienced trauma or have special needs.
Helpful resource: The Children’s Bureau offers a state-by-state guide to adoption assistance.
How it works: Parents can work with an adoption agency or attorney to adopt children in the U.S. The process of adopting a child is similar, regardless of whether you work with a private agency or independently with the help of an attorney. It involves a home study, placement, counseling, training and legal documentation.
What it costs: Adoption costs can range between $30,000 and $60,000 if you adopt through an agency, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. It’s slightly less expensive to pursue an independent adoption, which involves working with an attorney. That adoption process ranges in cost from $25,000 to $45,000. Private adoptions are more likely to involve newborns. That means in addition to paying for the adoption process, you would also cover the birth mother’s medical and other expenses.
How it works: Adopting a child via intercountry adoption involves working with private or public adoption agencies in countries outside the United States. The process and fees vary by country and depend on the adoption organization you work with, which could be a government office, agency, orphanage, nonprofit or an individual like an attorney. Some aspects of this adoption process are unique. You’ll have to work through the immigration process, including applying for passports and travel visas, and navigate foreign legal systems. The road can be long. Child Welfare Information Gateway estimates intercountry adoption can take one to five years to complete.
What it costs: On average, intercountry adoption costs $20,000 to $50,000.
Why is adoption so expensive?
Adoption costs can quickly become expensive in part because adopting a child involves the time and services of a slew of professionals, including lawyers, social workers, doctors, counselors and government officials — and those costs are shouldered by the adoptive parent(s). In most domestic adoptions, the adoptive parents also pay for the biological parents’ expenses associated with the adoption.
These can include the biological parents’ social worker, lawyer, travel, lodging and cost-of-living expenses, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Adoptive parents also pay for the home study: a lengthy process legally required for all domestic adoptions. During the study, adoptive parents typically undergo background checks, in-home observations, interviews with a home study worker and a thorough review of the adoptive parents’ marriage license (if applicable), birth certificates and pertinent health care and financial records, according to American Adoptions, a national adoption agency.
Read more about a few of these expenses below.
Expenses that may arise when adopting a child
The adoption process typically starts with a home study.
During a home study, prospective parents — and their family members — are checked out to make sure they would provide a safe and loving place for a child. A home study requires you to produce documents, including financial statements, employment records and a letter from your doctor about your latest physical. You’d also undergo background checks and interviews. This particular adoption cost can range from $2,000 to $4,000, according to The Gladney Center for Adoption, an adoption agency based in Fort Worth, Texas. That price may be adjusted based on your family’s income.
This step in the process also includes education and training. Some of it may be provided by the state agency that administers the home study at a cost ranging from $300 to $600. Additional hours of training are likely required through books or online courses, which can cost $100 to $200 per person.
Lastly, during the home study, you’ll agree to a post-placement reporting phase. In the U.S., a social worker visits the family multiple times over a six-month period after the child has been placed in the home. Fees for post-placement reporting can range from $1,500 to $2,000.
When working with a private agency or an attorney, a major expense in the adoption process goes toward matching with a birth mother. Fees for a consultant and advertising may be rolled into an adoption agency’s overall fee. But if you’re pursuing an independent adoption, you’ll probably pay for these services separately. Those consulting and advertising costs can range between $3,000 and $7,000 for an independent adoption, depending on where you live and how you advertise, according to The Gladney Center.
Birthing parent expenses
The cost of adopting a newborn includes paying the birthing parent's expenses. These costs can include medical bills and some living expenses, as well as counseling, legal fees and travel, and can range between $6,000 and $8,000 for parents pursuing a private adoption, per The Gladney Center.
There are a lot of legal requirements in adoption, including terminating the rights of the birth parents, court filings, negotiating birth mother expenses and finalizing the adoption after the post-placement reporting period. An adoption agency may roll some of these costs into its overall fee.
If you’re pursuing an independent adoption, the bulk of your adoption costs will be made up of legal fees, costing between $7,000 and $15,000.
Travel costs can crop up for domestic adoptions, though they’re most significant in intercountry adoptions. Distance is a key factor in how much you’ll pay for travel. Another is time. You might be waiting days or weeks for the final legal approval to bring a child home, especially when crossing state lines or country borders.
For private domestic adoptions, you could pay up to $3,000 in travel expenses, according to the Gladney Center. (You could look at getting a travel credit card to offset some of those expenses.)
Estimates vary for intercountry adoption-related travel. The cost can depend on the country where the child is living and the organization you’re working with. In a cost estimate on its website, New Beginnings — an international adoption agency based in New York — says the adoption of a child in South Korea could include $6,000 to $9,000 in travel expenses. Adoptive parents are often required to be in the child’s country to finalize the adoption, too, according to an intercountry adoption guide that Child Welfare Information Gateway published in 2020. It may require multiple, extended visits.
Raising a child
Adoption in itself can be a long and expensive process, but that’s only a precursor to the full cost of raising a child. New parents should budget for those expenses, which can top $21,000 in the first year alone.