Understanding the various factors and process of adopting a baby from China is integral as you begin your adoption journey...

5 Things to Know about Adopting a Baby from China

As a young girl, I was sick in bed one day, and my mom brought me a Reader’s Digest to keep me busy. I read through and found an article on China’s one child policy and was heartbroken. As a 13-year-old girl, I wanted to save the world, and this felt like an injustice too big to comprehend. I ripped the page from the magazine and taped it to the mirror in my bedroom. I looked at that article for years, and when it was time to apply to college, I looked for schools that had Chinese and international relations programs as I realized I could actually do something to help these children in China. Shortly after graduation, I began my career in Washington, D.C., at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute at the height of intercountry adoptions to the United States in 2004. By the time I became Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services in 2005, adoptions from China reached their peak of 7,902 finalized adoptions to the United States that year. The statistical drop in adoptions since that time, as well as the process of adopting a baby from China, has changed dramatically. In 2019, per the United States Department of State website, adoptions from China reached an all-time low of 819 adoptions to the United States. Understanding the various factors and process of adopting a baby from China is integral as you begin your adoption journey. However, China, like most countries engaged in intercountry adoption to the United States, can change their policies, timeframes, costs, and requirements at any time.

1. Is Adopting a Baby from China Possible? 

The short answer is, yes. However, it can be a longer process and a much longer waiting period of time waiting to be matched with a child, but more on that later. Children in China are available for adoption between the ages of 8 months and 13.5 years of age. Adopting a baby from China is possible. However, most children placed for adoption with adoptive parents in the United States are waiting children. Waiting children in China are usually between the age of 1 years of age to 13.5 at the time of their match. Most adoption agencies who work in China only finalize adoption of waiting children. They make those decisions and no longer accept applications for “healthy” babies as “healthy” children are now only adopted domestically in China and are no longer eligible for adoption to the United States. This could change, but for now, this is the current state in the process of adopting a baby from China. Siblings of any age are rarely available for adoption to the United States, and sadly, once a child reaches the age of 14 in China, he or she is no longer eligible for adoption. Most hopeful adoptive parents from the United States are matched with children older than 12 months of age. 

Waiting children are orphans who have some medical conditions that often are considered minor in the United States and easily correctable. These conditions could be minor heart conditions, missing limbs or digits, cleft palates, among many other correctable or minor medical conditions. Other waiting children in China have multiple developmental or medical conditions or significant medical conditions. Many good adoption agencies will work with hopeful adoptive families to help them find an adoption medicine clinic or doctor to help them understand what conditions they, as the hopeful adoptive parents, would be open to in a child they would adopt. Working with a doctor and social worker at the start of the process to make that decision is critical. You, as an adoptive family, will be matched with a child based on the medical conditions you are open to and approved to raise a child with. This is your choice, so although you may never know everything regarding the child’s health and development, the adoption doctors can also go through the referral you receive to explain what the medical records provided show and help you understand what medical and developmental interventions will be needed for the child to thrive in your family here in the United States. 

2. Finding an Adoption Agency to Help in Adopting a Baby from China

After you understand what age you would be open to adopting and the medical conditions you are open to considering, you will start researching an adoption agency that works in China to help finalize your process of adopting a baby from China. Oftentimes, the process will work in reverse, and an adoption service provider will help you understand the child you are open to adopting from China based on age, sex, and medical conditions. When I was Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, in 2008, the United States of America ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Hague Adoption Convention, as it is often called, is a treaty between the United States and other countries to safeguard intercountry adoptions and ensure the children eligible for adoption are actual orphans. Both the adoptive parents and child are truly protected with this treaty. The Hague Adoption Convention is only enforceable between the United States and any other country party to the Convention. China is a country who is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, so adoptions between the United States and China must go through the process of a Hague adoption. Also, and most important to you at this part of the process, adoption agencies who work in China to place children in the United States must be accredited to complete China adoptions. Be sure your agency is accredited to work in China under the Hague Convention.This Adoption Directory is a wonderful site to find accredited adoption agencies near you that complete adoptions from China. Gladney Center for Adoption is an example of an agency who has placed over a thousand children from China in loving, forever homes in the United States.

3. Who Is Eligible for Adopting a Baby from China?

Each adoption agency working in China will have their own requirements for hopeful adoptive parents planning on adopting a baby from China. Across the board, the Hague Adoption Convention will also have regulations for adoptive parents hoping to adopt from a Hague Convention country. Finally, the CCCWA, or China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption also has specific requirements for families adopting a child from China. Your adoption agency should help you understand the requirements at the start of the process and may do a preapplication to ensure that you meet all of the requirements for prospective adoptive parents at the very start of the process. It is important to know that the requirements and regulations for adoptive parents to be eligible to adopt from China often change. At one point, a family may not be eligible to adopt from China due to the number of children in the home, financial requirements, or issues in their medical history background. Inquiring with your agency what the requirements are now and if you are eligible is critical at this stage. Oftentimes, even if something may preclude adoptive parents from adopting, they may be able to get China to still approve them with letters of explanation. But your adoption agency should let you know how likely that may be. 

Current requirements as of the time of this article for adopting a baby from China include some of the following, though this list is not conclusive: 

  • The first requirement is age. Hopeful adoptive parents must be between 30 years of age and 50 years of age when the dossier is sent over to China. If both hopeful adoptive parents are more than 50 years old, neither parent may be more than 50 years older than the child whom they hope to adopt. 
  • China is one of the only countries open to intercountry adoption which currently allows singles interested in adopting a baby from China. Single women in the United States are eligible as long as they have no more than two children under the age of 18 in their family. Also, differently than hopeful adoptive couples, single women cannot have any child under the age of 3 years old by the time their dossier is forwarded to China. Single men currently cannot adopt from China.
  • Hopeful adoptive parent couples who are adopting a baby from China need to be married for more than two years as of the time the dossier is sent. If either of the hopeful adoptive parents have been divorced, the couple must be married for more than five years by the time the dossier is sent over to China. No more than two divorces for either parent will be accepted. If you have cohabitated before marriage, it can count to the two or five years married requirement. 
  • Hopeful adoptive parents must make at least $30,000 a year in their income, and for every child in the home, parents must add $10,000 to the total amount of annual income per child. Your social worker can help you understand how that is calculated when you start the process or during the home study process. 
  • Married hopeful adoptive parents can have no more than five kids under the age of 18 years of age in the family home (the baby you hope to adopt does not count toward this total of five).
  • Hopeful adoptive parents must have no significant criminal background in the last decade prior to adopting a baby from China. Your social worker can help you understand what counts as significant.
  • Hopeful adoptive parents must not abuse alcohol or have a history of abusing alcohol in the last ten years. There can be no history whatsoever of drug abuse by the adoptive parents. . Hopeful adoptive parents must be physically healthy per a doctor’s exam and medical history, and they cannot have severe mental illness. Minor mental illness must be under control, and a history of counseling will need to be evaluated with your social worker and disclosed.
  • Both hopeful adoptive parents must also have a high school degree or an equivalent (such as a GED).

Many of these requirements have lengthy explanations and caveats that your adoptive service provider, adoption agency, and adoption social workers should be able to explain and help you work through during the home study process and dossier submission. These regulations often change, so it is important to check with your adoption agency or adoption professional regarding your eligibility to adopt at the start of the process. 

3. Submitting Your Dossier

What is a dossier? Your dossier is a collection of documents that have very detailed information about you. The dossier usually takes four to six months to collect, and each one has to be authenticated by both United States and Chinese government officials. After that, every single document in your dossier will need to be notarized and then certified by the Secretary of State in each of the respective states in which the document came from. It then gets authenticated by the Chinese consulate. Some people do this piecemeal, while others wait to get them authenticated all at once. 


Once the documents are all compiled and authenticated, your agency will go through everything to ensure it is correct and will approve the dossier for submission to CCCWA. Once that happens and you receive approval, the entire dossier will be sent to the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption for their approval. You will need to pay a fee to have the dossier translated into Mandarin for processing. CCCWA will receive your dossier, and—hopefully—you will receive word from your adoption agency that your dossier is “logged in.” This is an exciting day! 

4. Receiving Your Referral

After you have your dossier logged in, the next step of the adoption process begins!  The hopeful adoptive parents will be waiting to be matched with a baby or child from China and will wait until the agency receives a file for a referral who would be a match based on the medical conditions, developmental conditions, age, and sex of the child the hopeful adoptive parents said they would be open to adopting at the start of the process. You will now wait during this stage for your agency to receive a file of a child who would be a good match for your family. Currently for waiting children, there is a “shared list” which is an electronic listing of children eligible for adoption in China and controlled by the CCCWA. Adoption agencies working in China see the same files of these children at the same time. Once an agency locks a file based on the child matching the special needs a family has said they would be open to, the file disappears from view of other agencies. During this time, the hopeful adoptive family can have 72 hours to submit a letter of intent desiring to adopt that child. This is one way to be matched for adopting a baby from China. Current wait times for traditional matching or from the shared list vary. These timeframes change, so check with your agency for current waiting periods for adopting a baby from China. Once hopeful adoptive parents accept a referral for adopting a baby from China and are approved, they will begin the process for traveling to China to meet their child! 

5. Adopting a Baby from China and Bringing Him or Her Home

Once hopeful adoptive parents have been matched and accept a referral for adopting a baby from China, the agency will help the family make travel plans to go to China for two weeks. Once hopeful adoptive parents arrive in China, they will go to the child’s respective province to meet the child and bring her or him back to their hotel for bonding and wait for the final steps to adopting. The child will have a medical exam, and the family will visit China together with a guide supplied by the adoption agency. Eventually, the adoptive parents and child will travel to Guangzhou to the U.S. Consulate to get their adopted child’s visa to travel back to the United States. This is an exciting time as it is now time to bring the child you have been planning for so long home! You will file for your child’s United States birth certificate once you are all home in the United States. Your adoption agency should help you with that process and should also explain the pros and cons of readopting your child in the United States. 

Most importantly, adoptive parents will need to complete all of the post-adoption reports which are necessary for your child and for adoptions to continue from China to the United States. Currently, China requires these reports which are done by your adoption agency (or adoption professional) social worker in your home for month one, month six, year two, and year five post-adoption.  

If you would like more information on adopting from China, this Adoption.com resource guide provides additional, valuable information.

Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon