Top Ten Factors to Consider When Adopting From South Korea

Top 10 Factors to consider when adopting from South Korea. Info about parental requirements, available children, costs, and process.
Top 10 Factors to consider when adopting from South Korea. Info about parental requirements, available children, costs, and process.

*It should be noted that at the time of this update (September 2023), most agencies approved to work with South Korea are not accepting new applications for the traditional adoption program. Families who may qualify for the Korean Heritage Program should seek an approved, established agency for details on that process.

1. The Parents

To be eligible for the South Korea (also known as Republic of Korea) adoption program, parents must be between 25 and 45 years old* at the time of home study approval. Couples must be married for a minimum of 3 years. No single parents can adopt from South Korea, and they do not knowingly place children with homosexual parents.

Both prospective parents must be in good mental and physical health. While not impossible, it can be difficult to adopt from South Korea if either parent has a history of depression or mental illness. Each approved agency working with Korea’s adoption authority will have agency-specific guidance on health issues like Body Mass Index (BMI) requirements and a mental health history or medications.

Additionally, it is required that both parents have a minimum of a GED or high school diploma to apply, and parents with an arrest record should consult an agency to determine eligibility.

*Parents who are part of the Korean Heritage Program or who have previously adopted from Korea may be between 25 and 49 years old.

2. The Family

South Korea will place children in families with up to 4 children already in the home.  The youngest child in the home must be at least one year old at the time of application. Generally, South Korea expects families to have an income higher than the national average, with a minimum income of $35,000 + $10,000 per child in the home. Inquire with your agency for the specifics of income requirements per family.

3. The Kids

In South Korea, children waiting to be adopted internationally have been legally relinquished by the birth parent(s). They are generally 6 to 12 months of age at the time of the match, up to an average of about 2 years old at the time of placement. Families hoping to adopt from S. Korea should be open to children with mild to moderate special needs. Often, medical conditions have already been resolved when a referral is made. Older children or sibling groups are rarely available for placement. Adopting more than one child at a time is not allowed. The children are of East Asian ethnicity.

Families are prohibited from specifying gender, and more girls than boys are adopted domestically in Korea. Therefore, it is more likely that US families receive referrals for boys. Some agencies allow parents who are part of the Korean Heritage Program or families adopting a Waiting Child (those available with special needs) to request a gender.

While the children wait for adoption placement, they are generally in the care of foster homes that Korean child welfare agencies run. The typical reasons children come into state care include medical needs, poverty, and social stigma, and lack of support for single mothers.

4. The Process

To begin an adoption from South Korea, choose an adoption agency with an active and established program within the country. South Korea specifies which agencies may place in each state. South Korea is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so working with an approved, established agency is critical.

Once you have applied, work with the agency to start the home study process. If your placing agency is not licensed in your state, they can direct you to a Hague-accredited home study agency to create the compliant home study report.

Once the home study report is complete, your primary/placing agency will guide you through the steps to gain approval from USCIS. From that point, a referral will be issued by the child welfare agency (typically in about six months). Parents have two weeks to review and accept or decline the referral. Please note referrals cannot be declined due to gender. It is wise to seek an experienced review of the referral information regarding the child’s special needs at that time.

The referrals usually contain detailed information on the birth family’s medical history, background information, and prenatal history. There is also excellent medical care for the child once in state care. After you accept a referral, you can receive periodic photos and progress reports on the child. Additional information and medical testing are readily available upon request.

Once you accept the referral, your agency will guide you through the remaining paperwork, including the Acceptance Dossier application to the Korean government and travel approvals.

5. The Travel

Adoption from South Korea requires two trips, for approximately one week each. Both parents must travel on the first trip, but only one must make the second trip. On the first trip (usually 8-11 months after completing your Acceptance Dossier), you will meet your child and appear in court.

Once the court makes its final ruling (approximately 8-12 weeks later), you will return to Korea to apply for an IR-3 immigration visa from the US Embassy in Seoul. Your adoption is finalized in-country, and you can bring your child home. Once you return to the States, you will automatically receive your child’s Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS. You will be required to provide proof of citizenship via the Certificate of Citizenship as soon as it is available and obtained from USCIS. You can expect the process to take about two years from application to arrival home.

6. The Program

South Korea is not a Hague Convention country. The program is stable and predictable in its processing. However, the South Korean government established a policy to phase out international adoptions; therefore, they are actively working to reduce the number of children they place abroad each year.

In 2022, the Republic of Korea placed 141 children in adoptive homes. That compares to 156 children in 2021, 188 in 2020, and 166 children in 2019. Approximately 65% of the children adopted were boys, and 35% were girls in 2022.

*It should be noted that at the time of this update (September 2023), most agencies approved to work with South Korea are not accepting new applications for the traditional adoption program. Families who may qualify for the Korean Heritage Program should seek an approved, established agency for details on that process.

7. The Cost

South Korea is NOT a signatory to the Hague Convention, so no Median Adoption Service Provider Convention Fee is documented in the State Department Annual Reports for 2022. Adoptive families report that their total costs ranged from $35,000 to $50,000, including all the documentation, adoption service provider fees, travel, and in-country lodging expenses.

8. The Needs

Families must be open to a child with special needs, including prenatal alcohol/tobacco exposure and developmental delays. The most common needs agencies report include moderate prenatal exposure to alcohol/tobacco and developmental delays.

Other common needs include:

  • prematurity/low birth weight with accompanying developmental delays or medical issues
  • potentially hereditary family medical history
  • heart murmur/heart conditions
  • skin conditions (Mongolian spots, nevus, hemangioma, birthmarks)
  • plagiocephaly (flat spots on the head or asymmetry of head shape)
  • cryptorchidism (undescended testis)

Less commonly, the more complex needs might include major prenatal alcohol exposure impacts; birth parent history of intellectual disability or mental illness; macrocephaly/microcephaly; hearing or vision impairment; intellectual disability; cerebral palsy; hypothyroidism; neurological conditions; seizures; neurofibromatosis; congenital syphilis; eye conditions.

Many international adoption doctors report that the incidences of prenatal substance exposure are increasing but they are not generally seeing neurological impacts in the children who are coming home (at the average age of 2). However, be aware that this could mean the type, quantity, and timing of alcohol consumption were not of the nature to cause FASD. But it can also mean that impairments are subtle in the early toddler and preschool ages and thus will not be detected until the child reaches school age. 

9. The Post-Adoption Reports

South Korea requires at least six post-adoption reports to be written in the year following the finalization of the adoption. These reports require a minimum of three home visits and must include your child’s developmental progress and pictures.

Many agencies will provide these reports as part of their adoption provider services. Please inquire with your agency or home study provider about this process and the financial aspects of those services.

Creating a Family always urges families to comply with post-adoption requirements in a timely manner. Your cooperation contributes to the program’s stability and to South Korea’s history of positive experiences with US citizen parents.

10. The Additional Resources

This information is current as of September 2023 and represents our best estimates and approximations only. Depending upon your individual circumstances, even the widest ranges can vary greatly. Please always refer back to your chosen adoption service provider for specifics regarding your process.

This information is subject to change; therefore, check with an agency approved to place from this country for the most current information.

© Creating a Family

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