Average Cost of Adoption in the U.S.

Adopting a Child Requires a Thorough Calculation of Cost

Comparsion of the cost of foster care, international adoption, and private adoption.

Image by Nusha Ashjaee © The Balance 2019

Adoption offers a path to parenthood for individuals and couples who want to expand their families. Adopting a child can be emotionally rewarding, but it also has the potential to be an expensive pursuit. The average cost of adoption can vary widely, based on how would-be parents choose to adopt. Getting a clear idea of the numbers beforehand can be helpful in creating a workable adoption budget.

Average Cost of Adoption for Foster Parents

At any given time, there are approximately 424,000 foster care children in the U.S. While some of them will eventually return to their families, others may be permanently placed in foster care. Those children then have an opportunity to be adopted by their foster parents.

Compared to other adoption avenues, adopting a child from foster care tends to be the least expensive option. In 2017, the average cost of adoption for foster parents was $2,398, according to Adoptive Families, an award-winning publication and parent network. Among the parents surveyed, 88% received a monthly subsidy from a government agency to provide care for their foster child. The average subsidy amount was $827.

The largest cost associated with foster care adoption is typically the home study fee, which is a fee that covers the cost of having a court-appointed caseworker observe you and your foster child in your home to ensure that you're a suitable candidate for adoption. But, there are numerous adoption assistance programs offered by state and local agencies that can reduce this cost.

Average Cost of Private Adoption

Private adoptions can be completed through a private adoption agency or with the help of an attorney. With private adoption, you work closely with an agency or an attorney to select a birth mother whose child you'd like to adopt. Private adoption may be more appealing if you'd prefer to adopt a newborn, as foster care adoptions can run the full age range from infants to teenagers.

Cost-wise, private adoption is more expensive than foster care adoptions, regardless of whether you work with an agency or an attorney. According to Adoptive Families, here's how the average cost of adoption for private arrangements compared in 2017:

  • Agency - $43,239
  • Attorney - $37,829

The disparity in cost between private adoption and foster care adoption largely centers on the fees adoptive parents pay. In addition to the home study fee, you may also pay:

  • Attorneys' fees
  • Document preparation fees
  • Agency application fees
  • Adoption consultant fees
  • Advertising or networking fees to match with a birth mother
  • Birth family counseling fees
  • Health care and/or travel expenses for the birth mother
  • Personal travel expenses to meet with the birth mother or pick up the child
  • Post-placement expenses

In terms of timing, working with an agency or an attorney can have a faster timeline from initially matching with a child to finalizing the adoption compared to foster care adoption. Private adoptions can, however, be more complicated if one of the birth parents is reluctant to consent to the adoption or there's extensive paperwork that has to be filed before the process can be completed.

Average Cost of Adopting a Child Internationally

While there are plenty of children in the U.S. waiting to be adopted, you may turn your sights overseas to find a new addition to your family. As far as the cost goes, international adoption can be very similar to the average cost of domestic private adoption, running between $25,000 and $40,000.

Adoptive Families breaks down the average cost of adoption for three countries that tend to have a high volume of international adoptions:

  • China - $36,441
  • Ukraine - $35,000
  • South Korea - $48,329

With international adoptions, the lion's share of the expense typically goes towards paying the adoption or placement agency's fees and travel arrangements. That includes travel to and from the child's adoptive country for both yourself and the child, as well as in-country travel expenses you might incur. In addition to those costs, you may also pay:

  • Child's passport, visa, and medical exam fees
  • Home study fee
  • Document and paperwork preparation fees

Logistically, international adoption can mean a longer wait to match with a child and be approved as an adoptive parent. Instead of one to two years, you may be looking at a two to a five-year window instead to finalize an adoption. And international adoptions may have more stringent requirements with regard to who can adopt. Some countries, for example, don't allow adoption by gay individuals or same-sex couples.

Creating an Adoption Budget

If your heart and mind are set on adopting, it's important to have a financial plan in place before you begin to make sure you can afford both the costs of adoption as well as the costs of raising a child.

First, decide which type of adoption is most appealing. Would you like to adopt an older child or a teenager, for example? If so, then a foster care adoption could be a good fit. If you'd prefer a newborn on the other hand, or you want to raise a multicultural family, private domestic or international adoption may be the better choice.

Once you've chosen your adoption method, make a list of the various costs you'll need to budget for and the amount. Then, consider your timeline for adoption as well as your current savings.

If you don't have sufficient cash in savings to fund an adoption in full, ask yourself how you'll make up the difference. For example, you may choose to delay adopting until you've saved the full amount. Or, you may use your credit cards or take out a home equity loan for adoption expenses.

If you're planning to finance any of your adoption costs, consider how long it will take you to pay the money back and the interest rate you'll pay. You may also want to look into consolidating debt with a 0% APR balance transfer or loan down the loan.

Finally, remember to factor in the Adoption Tax Credit to your budget calculations. This credit can put some of the money you spent on adoption back in your pocket at tax time.