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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

The Real Costs of Adoption: What Everyone Needs to Know

What are the costs of adoption? The short answer—more than you think.

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Do your research

My husband and I spent nearly a year figuring out what adoption agency to use, costs, how long it would take to adopt, and a thousand other details. We spoke to adoption professionals, friends who had adopted, and lawyers. We got resources from social workers and requested info from agencies. I made a list of questions and began to write down the same fees that were repeated to get a clear estimate of what we should prepare to pay. I am one of those people that need to know as much as humanly possible before making a decision so this was an important part of the process to me!

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Be prepared to be stunned

Becky Fawcett, co-founder of in New York City explains, “Adoptive parents are expected to pay for everything. There is no one to share the cost with. Adoption costs can include: Attorney fees, agency fees, social worker fees, home study fees, travel, country costs, court costs, counseling, birth parent expenses, finalization costs.” Make sure to find out what’s included in the fee you’re expected to pay—and more importantly, what isn’t covered that you’ll be on the hook for.

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Ask a lot of questions

“I have talked to people who think their entire cost of adoption will come out to $22,000,” says Fawcett, “but that is simply their adoption agency fee. Sometimes that price doesn’t include any other parts of the adoption. Adoption is expensive and if the fees seem too good to be true, then they probably are.” However, don’t be too nosy: here are the questions you never ask parents who adopted children.

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Adopting domestically

It’s a common misconception that domestic adoptions (within the United States) are cheaper—they typically cost as much or more than international adoptions. According to annual survey, the average domestic adoption runs nearly $42,000. If you think your search may take you across state lines, make sure your agency can work with you. While some agencies cover multiple states, ours only worked with birth parents and prospective adoptive parents within our home state. Agency fees differ for domestic adoptions, so don’t assume that the number you hear from your friend in another state or even city will be the same one that you will hear. You might not know that these famous celebrities were adopted. 

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Open vs. closed adoptions

If an adoption is open, the birth parents can have contact with the child per an agreement between both families, though the level of agreed-upon openness can vary. A closed adoption means the birth parents cease all communication. (Here’s a heartwarming story about a woman searching for her birth mother after a closed adoption.) Somewhere between these is semi-open adoption, which replace visitation by birth parents with regular updates (emails and/or photos) from the adoptive parents. Open adoptions are becoming more common today as the stigma that was formally attached with adoption and choosing an adoption plan for a child has diminished. If you’re thinking of adopting an older child, do it. These stories will inspire you. 

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Consider a foster adoption

At any given time, there are as many as 500,000 children in the foster care system. Cheri Canada of Indianapolis, Indiana, wasn’t sure what route she was going to use when she began to research adoption. Once she and her husband realized the staggering number of children in the foster care system, their minds were made up. Though foster care can be a much more affordable option—under $3,000 according to, the children will often be older. As aging parents, Canada and her husband didn’t need to adopt an infant. And the savings are considerable, she says: “The state reimburses a certain amount of legal fees for foster adoption. The costs for our adoption were negligible. We were fortunate enough to find an attorney who specializes in foster adoptions and would only charge what the state reimbursed,” notes Canada.

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Adopting abroad

Depending on the country, the cost for international adoptions can range from $25,000 to $50,000. (If you’re going to be flying abroad, here are 12 golden rules for stress-free flying.) Sarah Taylor and her husband Travis brought their daughter Mia home from Ethiopia in 2009 at six months old, and seven years later they went back for their daughter Evie, who was three years old at the time. Going across borders adds up the expenses, says Taylor: On top of the agency fees, she paid for things like pre-approval documents from Homeland Security (which expire every 15 to 18 months). “We also had to readopt our daughters after we brought them home in order to change their name and get their U.S. birth certificates,” notes Taylor. The lawyer fees were about $500 for them to draw up the paperwork.

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A helping hand

Becky Fawcett founded after her own experience with adoption. Although she could afford to pay for the process, she wondered what happened when people could not. “ is a national, nondiscriminatory adoption grant program that helps couples and individuals with the costs of their adoptions by awarding large, impactful, problem solving grants up to $15,000 so that our grant recipients can complete the costs of their adoptions and bring their children home,” says Fawcett. Taylor explains that many employers, churches, and others offer financial assistance. She suggests Lifesong for Orphans and Show Hope.

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Fundraising for help

Families like the Taylor’s can raise funds in creative ways to help ease the expense. “Our family did other forms of fundraising to help offset costs; we created and sold t-shirts, raffled off an iPad, and hosted a family dance/silent auction,” she notes. Another option is starting a fundraising page at a site like


Julia K. Porter
Dr. Julia Porter has worked in Higher Education since 2008, following a career as a High School teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a PhD in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and rambunctious Australian Shepherd.