Vietnam Adoption: An Overview

In 2003, after various problems from minor hiccups to major corruption, Vietnam shut down its international adoption program. After what has been years of anxious anticipation, Vietnam restructured their program and finally announced in June 2005 that they had signed an agreement between Vietnam and the United States reopening the international adoption program. From that point, U.S. adoption agencies who had remained in Vietnam, providing humanitarian aide throughout the moratorium were welcomed to start the licensing process to become licensed for adoption under the new program. The first licenses were issued in January 2006 with many more expected to follow in the months following. Referrals started arriving in February 2006 with travel expected in March and April for that first set of referrals.

Why Choose Vietnam?

The Vietnamese are a people who honor family and, especially, children tremendously. Orphans in Vietnam are often placed for adoption due to a family’s inability to care for a child due to poverty, death of a parent or special medical needs. The Vietnamese culture also frowns on single motherhood so many infants are placed in orphanages by single mothers. Orphanages are kept extremely clean and the infant-to-nanny ratio is very low. Nannie are always seen with at least one infant in-arms and nannies are typically quiet emotinoaly when it comes time to say goodbye to their charges. Vietnamese babies have a very low incidence of attachment issues. Oftentimes birth mothers continue to visit their children in the orphanages until they are adopted and occasionally foster parents are used to care for children.

Who Can Adopt In Vietnam:

  • Single parents may adopt.
  • Married couples may adopt.
  • Couples with children in the home may adopt.
  • The minimum age to adopt in Vietnam is 20 years older than the age of the child and there is no maximum set by Vietnam for infant adoptions.
  • Many U.S. adoption agencies, however, set their own minimum and maximum parental age but this will vary considerably so shop around if this is an issue.
  • Parents earning at or above 125% of poverty level for their desired family size.
  • Parents of sound physical and mental health may adopt.

The Adoption Process:

The adoption process for Vietnam is like many international countries. It is a three part process: state-level approval, country-level approval and Vietnam approval.

  1. Obtain an approved home study. This is done on the state level and the requirements for your home study will vary from state to state. A home study assesses a family’s ability to handle the physical, financial and emotional aspects of growing a family through adoption. The home study can cost between several hundred and several thousand dollars and can take from a few weeks to several months to complete. The Vietnam requirements for the home study just usually defer to the state requirements and your chosen adoption agency will give more detailed information on the home study format they require for your dossier (Part 3). You will need an approved home study for both Part 2 (national level) and Part 3 (Vietnam level) approval can be obtained.
  2. Once you pass the home study (or in many states, before you even pass) you will want to immediately start processing your I-600a form with the US CIS. This is the federal level approval for adoption. The US CIS requires a fingerprinting of all adults in the home ($70/person) as well as an approved home study, a fee ($525) and a photocopy of all vital records for you and your spouse, if applicable. Because this is usually the longest step in the adoption process, many states allow parents to pre-submit their I-600a form and receive an appointment for fingerprinting but will not issue the final approval (called the I-171 H or I-175) until the approved home study is completed. The time frame for receiving the US CIS approval to adopt can be anywhere from a month to six months, depending on your state and how backed up they are at any given time.
  3. Once you receive your I-171H approval from US CIS you are ready to prepare your dossier. The dossier is a list of many important papers, including the approved home study report and the I-171H. You will get all these documents notarized, state authenticated and sent for national authentication and translation before sending on to Vietnam. The dossier is what the Vietnamese use to approve your adoption and refer you to a child. If you have located a waiting (special needs) child, you may receive that referral before sending in your dossier but, generally speaking, you will send in your dossier and then wait for a referral to be sent to you. Parents report spending 1 week to several months or more collecting vital records, financial information, medical reports, passports and more and then getting it all properly notarized, authenticated and prepared according to their adoption agency’s requirements before it is finally ready to send on to Vietnam.

The Cost of Vietnam Adoption:

International adoption is notoriously fraught with hidden fees. Vietnam is no exception. Good adoption agencies will not hide anything and will spell out all the various costs you can expect to pay on your own and what their services will cover. This can vary from agency to agency so do your homework. In general the costs will be:

  • Home Study fee: several hundred to several thousand dollars
  • Adoption Agency application fee: a few hundred dollars
  • Adoption Agency contract fee: this may be included in the agency fees but is sometimes required upon signing on with an agency and can be $1000 or more.
  • I-600a application fee: $525 fee plus $70/adult for fingerprinting
  • Medical Physicals: from free to several hundred dollars. depending on insurance coverage
  • Vital Records costs: from free if you already have certified copies to several hundred dollars depending on how many records you need, the cost and urgency – in general you should have at least 2 originals of all vital records but order a few extras if you have to place an order anyway
  • Passports: $97/adult new, $67/adult renewal, children traveling with you will also need a passport, passport photos (10) can cost from nothing if you print them yourself to $10-100 to have them printed by a photo lab
  • Notarization: this can vary significantly from free to several hundred dollars – check your bank, credit union, accountant or home study agency for free notary services
  • Dossier State Authentication: this can very from free to several hundred dollars, every sate has their own fee structure for this service
  • Dossier Authentication and Translation: some agencies include this cost, others do not. If you will need to pay this cost separately, it will cost $50/document for authentication and $20/page for translation – many parents find it totals about $1000
  • Agency Fee or Dossier Fee: varies from $3000+ and is generally due half at the time your dossier is submitted and half at the time acceptance of referral. This is also called various things by various agencies but this is the portion of your money that goes to your agency.
  • Program Fee/International Fee: $7000 – $12,500 and is generally due at the time of travel although some agencies will require half at the time of referral acceptance. This is called different things by different agencies but this is the portion of your money that will end up in Vietnam. This amount will vary considerably by agency. It covers such things as medical screenings for your child, staffing, overhead, transportation costs associated with your adoption, humanitarian donations to the orphanage.
  • Travel fees (airfare, hotel, meals, etc): This is around $5000 for two adults. Airfare fluctuates by the time of year and you may wish to spend more or less on tourism, shopping, etc. This is an extremely rough estimate.
  • Return Costs of Child (airfare, visa, passport, medical exam, etc): $1000

Although the agency and program fees are quite low compared to some international country adoption programs, you can expect to pay around $20,000 when all is said and done.

The Referral:

Referalls, under the old program, often happened quite quickly within a matter of a few months but varied from agency to agency. Many expect this to remain the same under the new program but only time will tell. There are already some referrals of babies born in Dec ’05 and Jan ’06 so it seems to bode well for quick referral times in the future.

Once a referral is accepted, the time between referral and travel may only be 1-2 months but could be up to 6 months.

The Trip:

One of the big changes under the new adoption program is that Vietnam now only requires one trip for parents. The trip is a short one, about 2-3 weeks. Only one parent is required although both are encouraged. Some agencies have their own rules about one-parent travel so make sure to ask the question if you plan to travel alone.

The Adoption:

Adoptions in Vietnam are done within a day or two of arrival. They occur at what is called the Giving & Receiving Ceremony. Occasionally, the birthmother will also be present but it is usually one or several adopting parents and the Vietnamese authorities. You may be asked to say a few words about what this adoption means to you.

The rest of the trip will be spent applying for and waiting for your child’s visa and passport. As soon as that arrives, you are free to go home.