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The True Cost of Adoption

The overall cost of adoption is high, but some forms of adoption are definitely more affordable than others. Read on to learn more.

If you’re thinking about adoption, you know first-hand how expensive it is, and how cost definitely becomes a part of the consideration of whether and when you can or will ever decide to adopt.

What I’ve found is that the sheer cost is a not insignificant part of the story for adoption for families across America who are grappling with the decision. The actual cost depends on many different factors, with the average cost of adoption in the U.S. at $43,000.


So today I’m exploring the real (humbling!) hard-line numbers for adoption – to try to unpack how the cost changes depending on which adoption route you end up choosing to go with.

What are the different types of adoption?

If you decide that adoption is right for you, there are a couple of different options you can take.

Agency adoption

Agency adoption, also known as private adoption, is the most common form of adoption as they complete the entire adoption process for you including helping you find birth parents. Agency adoption typically costs around $39,966 in the U.S

Independent adoption

Independent adoption is when you choose to adopt a child without the help of an agency: you find an expectant mother or a baby/child to adopt on your own, and you pay for an attorney or adoption agency to complete the legal process. 

Independent adoption is one of the cheaper options, with the average cost about $34,093.

International adoption

When you adopt a child from another country, you’ll end up becoming very familiar with all the ins and outs of international adoption. This process operates similarly to agency adoption, but you’ll work with agencies in whichever country you choose to adopt through. 

There’s no question that international adoptions are significantly more complicated than U.S.-based adoptions. There’s a lot more travel, and you are usually required to stay for an extended period of time in the country where the adoption is taking place. But that being said, international adoption can take much less time than U.S.-based adoption. 

International adoptions are the most expensive route. Here’s a sample of international adoption costs:

  • China: $36,338
  • Ethiopia: $45,960
  • South Korea: $43,795

Foster care adoption

Foster care adoption is the least expensive adoption process, with the average being just $2,744. You work with your state’s foster care system, and if you foster a child that may eventually be up for adoption, you’ll be first on the list. 

However, the foster care system’s goal is always to reunite families and therefore many foster children are never put up for adoption. So this can be the most difficult route to growing your family. 

How adoption works

I want to jump to unpacking the actual process in more detail. As you’ll see, there are many steps, and important to try not to be overwhelmed by the process – especially since it’s a long one.

First, you need to do your research

When you start thinking about adopting, there’s a lot to consider to make sure it’s the right decision for you. One of the most well-known adoptive family sites is the Adopt America Network and I highly recommend it. But I’ll share a few other great resources I’ve found particularly useful:

Choose an adoption option

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll need to decide which adoption option is the best one for you. To help you choose, here’s who each option may be best for:

Agency adoption may be for you if…

  • The adoption process is too overwhelming for you to tackle on your own. Don’t worry, this is why many people use an agency.
  • You’re able to pay a high price to adopt.

Independent adoption may be for you if…

  • You want to make the decisions for every part of the adoption process.
  • Already know someone who wants you to adopt their child.
  • You’re able to afford the higher price tag that comes with arranging independent adoptions.

International adoption may be for you if…

Foster care adoption may be for you if…

  • You’re open to adopting a child of any age.
  • You’re willing to foster a child first and adopt them if necessary. 
  • You are looking for the most cost-efficient way to adopt.

Complete a home study

There are many steps when going through the adoption process including a lengthy application process and a home study. 

Required in many states, the home study is typically a very lengthy process and can take between 3-6 months. You and your family will need to go through interviews and have multiple home visits, where your caseworker will be meeting with you to gather the following information:

  • Family background, financial statements, and references
  • Education and employment
  • Relationships and social life
  • Daily life routines
  • Parenting experiences
  • Details about your home and neighborhood
  • Readiness and reasons about your wanting to adopt
  • References and background checks
  • Approval and recommendation of children your family can best parent

To get the full sense of how the home study process works, you can read this helpful guide

Lots of waiting for your family member

The amount of waiting is a built-in and especially long part of the adoption process.

Many families use this opportunity to prepare including making all the purchases necessary for the newest member of your family. It is also a good time, of course, to update your budget and make sure you have an emergency fund in place. 

Adoption FAQs

What is an open adoption vs. a closed adoption?

Open adoption is when adoptive parents adopt and raise the child, but the child’s birth mother and/or father still has some contact and role in your child’s life. Closed adoption is when the birth parents give up their rights to their child and have no relationship with them once the adoptive parents adopt the child. 

It’s worth noting that closed adoptions are becoming increasingly less common. Many mothers today want to have some relationship with the child they give up for adoption.

Why is adoption so expensive?

With any adoption method outside the foster system, you’ll be paying quite a lot to adopt your child. Agencies and lawyers just aren’t cheap.

To give you an example, when you adopt through an agency, you’ll be paying for the following:

  • An adoption professional service fees
  • Networking (to find a birth mother)
  • Home study fees
  • Court costs
  • Travel costs
  • Birth mother expenses

If I’m a single parent, am I less likely to get a child?

Single parents can absolutely adopt children, but many agencies prefer well-educated married couples. So while you’re not less likely to be able to adopt a child as a single person, you may be placed lower on the waitlist. 

How long does the adoption process take?

How long the adoption process takes depends on the type of adoption you choose and the age range you’re willing to adopt.

Almost always, it’ll take longer to adopt a newborn than adopt an older child. You may also find that it takes less time to adopt a child internationally than it does in the U.S.

Adopting through foster care is the fastest way to adopt a child because there are fewer steps you’ll need to take. Through foster care, you may be able to adopt a child in six-18 months.

Newborn adoptions through an agency or independent adoption can take two-seven years. It all depends on your qualifications and how quickly you can find a birth mother. 

International adoptions can still take years, but often not as many as if you adopted in the U.S. Here are some examples:

  • China: 4-5 years
  • Bulgaria: 1-2 years
  • DR Congo: 3-6 months
  • Mexico: 3-6 months
  • Nicaragua 1-2 years

How to start saving for adoption

Think ahead

As you can see, the adoption process can often take years. So if you believe you may be ready to adopt in the future, start planning years in advance. Research adoption agencies if that’s the route you want to take or prepare to become a foster parent

Getting ahead of the game will only make you that much more prepared when you start the long process of adoption. 

Start a savings account just for adoption fees

The best way to get started early is to open a high-yield savings account. Some of the best online savings accounts offer substantial interest on your balance. So you can make some easy money just by housing your money with the right bank. 

One of my personal favorites is the Capital One 360 Performance Savings Account. It offers 4.25% APY on ANY balance and it comes with zero fees. One of the reasons I love this account is because of how easy the mobile app is to use. Not only can I see my Capital One 360 account, but I can see all my Capital One accounts in one place!

Check out our article on Best Savings Accounts paying some the most competitive interest rates to U.S. depositors today.

Set up life insurance and a will

When you introduce a child to your family, you’ll need to make sure you have life insurance as well as a will.

If you want to compare all your life insurance options at once, Policygenius is an insurance aggregator that pulls all your rates from various different lenders and arranges them by the best price.

Alternatives to adoption 

Artificial insemination

Artificial insemination is typically sought out by couples who can’t get pregnant naturally by implanting sperm directly into the woman’s uterus. Compared to adoption, artificial insemination is not costly and typically ranges between $300-$1,000 per cycle

In vitro fertilization (IVF)

With IVF the sperm and the egg are fertilized in a lab and implanted in the uterus. You probably already know that IVF is not cheap. In fact, it’s often more expensive than adoption because it more often that not requires multiple cycles in order for a woman to get pregnant. The total cost per cycle runs between $40,000-$60,000


Surrogacy is typically sought out by those who can’t conceive a child and who don’t want to adopt. Typically, a surrogacy agency is the easiest way to find a woman willing to be your surrogate. And they handle the legal side of things.

Because many people go through an agency to find a surrogate, surrogacy is an extremely expensive option. It can range anywhere between $50,000 – $200,000 depending on the agency you use.


Depending on the type of adoption you decide to go with, the cost can range from a couple of thousand dollars to ~$50,000. The higher cost is typically associated with adoption agencies, while the lower cost is for adoption through foster care.

Bottom line – adoption requires time and money.

No matter what route you decide to take in terms of adoption, make sure you look at all of your options and start saving early so that you have enough money to cover the steep cost.

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