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Intercountry Adoption

Inter-country adoption is the process by which a child is adopted abroad and brought to the adoptive parents country of residence to live permanently. Adopting a child from overseas  can be a wonderful way to grow your family. However, the process often raises complex issues in relation to family and immigration law. It is therefore vital that the correct legal procedure is followed to allow for a successful adoption and ensure that your adopted child can enter the UK and acquire British nationality. 

If you need advice or representation on any Children Law or adoption matters, click below for a free initial consultation with one of our expert Children solicitors.



Adopting a child from overseas is possible where the child in question cannot be safely cared for in their country of origin, and adoption would therefore be in their best interests. The adopter must also be deemed eligible by a UK adoption agency. An appropriate adoption agency can be found through your local council. It is also important to note, in this respect, that you may be eligible to adopt within the UK as well as in the country from which you are planning to adopt from.  

In the UK, there are a few basic criteria which must be met initially before you can adopt: 

  • You must be over 21 (there is no upper age limit) 

  • You must not have committed any of the %27specified offences%27 (certain offences against children and sexual offences) 

  • You are habitually resident or domiciled in the UK (in some inter-country adoption cases, the length of the period of your residence may be relevant).  

There are additional requirements for overseas adoptions: 

  • The child cannot be cared for in their own country in a safe environment 

  • It is in the child%27s best interest for the adoption to proceed 

  • The adopter has acquired a Certificate of Eligibity that shows they are assessed as suitable to adopt  

In order to acquire a Certificate of Eligibility, which is issued by the Department for Education or relevant UK Central Authority, your chosen adoption agency will first need to assess your suitability for adoption (as you would with a UK adoption) before submitting your application for a Certificate. This is a vital document that will then be passed onto the relevant authority in the country you intend to adopt from. Once you have acquired your certificate, the process of matching with a child can take place.  

Adopting from a Hague Convention Country 

A Hague Convention Country is one which is signatory to, and has ratified, the 1993 Hague Adoption Convention. One of the purposes of the Convention was to provide formal recognition of inter-country adoptions, ensuring that adoptions made under the Convention would be recognised in other countries. As such, a %27convention adoption%27 carried out abroad will be recognised by UK law, without the need for a UK court order. British citizenship will also be automatically conferred onto the child if at least one of the adoptive parents is a British citizen and that person (or, in the case of joint adoption, both parents) is habitually resident in the UK.  

An up-to-date list of the countries which are signatories to the Hague Convention in respect of inter-country adoption can be found here.  

Adopting from a country on the UKs designated list 

If you are adopting from a country that is not party to the Hague Convention, it may still be on the UK%27s designated list for the purposes of The Adoption (Recognition of Overseas Adoptions) Order 2013, in which case England, Wales and Northern Ireland will automatically recognise any adoptions made in those countries. Again, a separate UK court order will not be required. A list of these countries can be found here

However, adopting from one of these countries (and not via the Hague Convention) does not carry the benefit of automatically granting the child British citizenship. Instead, the child will only acquire British Citizenship through registration under the British Nationality Act 1981. Registration under this section is at the discretion of the Home Secretary but is likely to be approved, provided all the following applies: 

  • The adoption is not temporary or informal 

  • The laws of the country where the adoption occurred result in the child becoming the child of only the adoptive parents and the legal connection to the birth family is formally ended 

  • At least one adoptive parents is a British citizen other than by descent  

  • The current (birth) parents have consented to the registration 

  • There is no reason to refuse registration because of character reasons 

  • It is confirmed that all relevant adoption laws have been complied with, including the laws of the country where the adoption occured, the country of origin of the child, and the country that the adoptive parents are habitually resident 

  • It is proved that the adoption is not one of convenience purely to allow the childs to enter the UK 

Adopting from elsewhere 

An adoption order made in a country not signatory to the Hague Adoption Convention, nor on the UK government%27s %27designated list, will not be recognised in the UK and, as such, a separate UK court order is likely necessary. In the same vein, it is unlikely that British citizenship will be automatically conferred in such cases. 

Finally, it should be noted that there are some countries where the UK has restricted adoption. Typically, restricted countries are those where there exists a risk that the appropriate safeguards designed to ensure the best interests of the child through adoption are not present. A list of the restricted countries can be found here. If you want to adopt a child from a restricted country you can still make an exception request. This requires you to set out the reasons why your case is exceptional, alongside evidential support for this. An adoption from the restricted country will not be permitted unless, and until, the Secretary of State  (who must be satisfied that the circumstances are sufficiently exceptional) approves your request.  

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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