Last Updated: June 2010

Hague Adoption Convention Country?

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Hague Convention Information

Japan is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption ( Hague Adoption Convention ). Therefore, when the Hague Adoption Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008, intercountry adoption processing for Japan did not change for American citizens.

Please note: Japan does not have a comprehensive national law on intercountry adoption.

Japan has two distinct procedures for intercountry adoption:

  1. American citizens can complete a full and final adoption in Japan under Japanese law. However, since Japanese law requires the adopting parents and the child to spend at least six months together before the adoption can be finalized, this option is generally only feasible for American citizens who are already resident in Japan.
  2. (2) American citizens may obtain legal custody of the child in Japan for the purposes of the child's emigration and a full and final adoption in the United States.

Both alternatives require that the child meet the definition of "orphan" in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 101(b)(1)(F) in order to qualify for issuance of an immediate immigrant visa to enter the United States in either category IR-3 (option 1) or IR-4 (option 2).

"Special" and "Regular" Adoptions

For adoptions that are finalized in Japan, there are two types of adoptions under Japanese law - regular and special.

"Regular" adoptions are not considered an option for American citizens wishing to adopt in Japan as they are based on Japanese cultural and family traditions and do not legally sever the ties between the child and his or her birth family. To date there have been no known cases of Americans applying for immigrant visas for children adopted under the Japanese "regular" adoption process. To be a valid adoption for U.S. immigration purposes there must be an irrevocable termination of the biological parent(s) - child relationship.

"Special" adoptions in the Japanese context are an option for Americans who are resident in Japan. The law on special adoptions went into effect on January 1, 1988, having been created to protect children. Special adoptions more closely resemble Western-style adoptions. As in U.S. adoptions, a special adoption legally severs the child's ties, rights and privileges with regard to the birth parent(s) and any prior adoptive parents.

Who Can Adopt

To bring an adopted child to United States from Japan, you must be found eligible to adopt by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government agency responsible for making this determination is the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Learn more.

In addition to these U.S. requirements for prospective adoptive parents, Japan also has the following requirements for prospective adoptive parents:

Requirements for prospective adoptive parents who want to complete a full and final adoption under Japanese law:

  • RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS: There are no laws concerning the visa status of prospective adoptive parents. However, parents almost always must reside in Japan during the entire court process, which takes a minimum of six months and possibly as long as 18 months. When the adoption is finalized at least one parent must be present at court. Proxy adoptions are not permitted.
  • AGE REQUIREMENTS: In special adoptions, prospective adoptive parents must be over 25 years of age. However, if one parent is over 25, the other parent can be younger than 25 so long as he or she is at least 20 years old. In regular adoptions, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 20 years of age.
  • MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS: In special adoptions, prospective adoptive parents must be a married couple. In regular adoptions, there may be circumstances in which single people can adopt.
  • INCOME REQUIREMENTS: While there are no specific income requirements required by Japanese law, the prospective adoptive parents likely will have to provide documentation on their income and finances.
  • OTHER REQUIREMENTS: There are no laws regulating or addressing same-sex couples adopting in Japan, but there have been no known cases of this happening. However, it may be permitted if the prospective adoptive parents' state recognizes the marriage as legal.
Who Can Be Adopted

Japan has specific requirements that a child must meet in order to be eligible for adoption. You cannot adopt a child in Japan unless he or she meets the requirements outlined below.

In addition to these requirements, a child must meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law for you to bring him or her back to the United States. Learn more about these U.S. requirements.


Requirements for a child to be adopted under Japanese law:

Abandonment Requirements:

For a child to be adopted under the special adoption law, the child must be under the age of 6 at the time the petition to adopt is filed. However, the adoption can still proceed if the child is under the age of 8 and the prospective adoptive parents have had custody of the child and continually cared for the child since before the child was 6 years of age.

Abandonment/Relinquishment Requirements:

Japanese law does not specify that the child must be an "orphan" (i.e., as defined in U.S. immigration law) in order for the adoption to proceed. According to Article 817-7, a special adoption can be granted when:

  1. It is extremely difficult for the biological parents to take care of the child;
  2. It is considered inappropriate for the biological parents to raise the child; and/or
  3. It is in the interests of the child.

Please note: The family court uses these guidelines to determine whether or not to grant the adoption, taking the specific circumstances of each case into account. Please note that it is possible for the Japanese court to issue a final adoption order, but for the child to still be ineligible for an IR-3 immigrant visa because he or she does not meet the U.S. definition of "orphan" in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA 101(b)(1)(F)). For more information on the child's eligibility for a U.S. immigrant visa please see the following link on our website http://adoption.state.gov/us_visa_for_your_child/visas.php.

How To Adopt

Japan's Adoption Authority

Japan's principal adoption authorities are the Family Courts and the Child Guidance Centers (CGC), both of which are administered at the prefectural level.

The Process

The process for adopting a child from Japan generally includes the following steps:

  1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider
  2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
  3. Be Matched with a Child
  4. Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in Japan
  5. Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption
  6. Bring Your Child Home
  1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider

    The first step in adopting a child from Japan is usually to select a licensed agency in the United States that can help with your adoption, including those requirements related to the child's immigration to the United States. Adoption service providers in the United States must be licensed by the U.S. state in which they operate. Learn more about choosing the right adoption service provider.

  2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt

    To bring an adopted child to the U.S. or to obtain custody of a child for the purpose of adoption in the U.S., you must apply to be found eligible to adopt (Form I-600A) by the U.S. Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Learn how.

    In addition to meeting the U.S. requirements for adoptive parents, you need to meet the requirements of Japan as described in the Who Can Adopt section.

  3. Be Matched with a Child

    If you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the Japanese adoption service provider or the Child Guidance Center that has custody of the child arranges for child/prospective adoptive parent matches. In some cases the biological parent is asked to provide input concerning who will adopt the child. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of a particular child and provide a permanent family placement for the referred child.

    The child must be eligible to be adopted according to Japan's requirements, as described in the Who Can be Adopted section. The child must also meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law. Learn more.

    Please note: Under some circumstances, a foreign born adopted child may be eligible for a U.S. immigrant visa in the category IR-2, if the child has been in the legal and physical custody of the adoptive U.S. citizen parent(s) for at least two years, and the adoption was finalized before the child's 16 th birthday.

  4. Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in-Japan:

    The process for finalizing the adoption (or gaining legal custody) in Japan generally includes the following:

      Final Adoption (Special Adoption):

      For those who are finalizing the adoption in Japan, the Family Court reviews the adoption application. Please note that you may never actually appear in court in front of a judge; the paperwork may be done at the clerk's office. In reviewing the application, the Court examines the law governing intercountry adoptions in the prospective adoptive parents' U.S. state of legal domicile. The Court informs the prospective adoptive parents of their court hearing date. This first hearing date generally occurs at the end of the trial six-month period, during which time a court representative conducts an interview with the prospective adoptive parents and conducts at least one home visit. Approximately two to three weeks after the final hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to approve the adoption. If the judge approves the petition, the Court issues a certificate allowing "Permission to adopt" (yoshi no kyoka). If the biological parents or any interested parties do not object within two weeks of the parents' registering the adoption at the ward office or two weeks after the date provided on the final decree, it is considered final.

      Legal Custody for purpose of adoption in the United States:

      For those who are obtaining legal custody of a child to complete the adoption in their U.S. state of residence, the Japanese court is not involved and the Japanese adoption agency is responsible for transferring custody. In such circumstances, the biological parent signs a form in English and her native language stating that she is the sole remaining parent of the child, that she is incapable of providing care for the child, and that she consents irrevocably to the adoption of the child by the prospective adoptive parents as well as the emigration of the child to the United States.
      When finalizing the adoption in Japan, the adoption agency can match the prospective adoptive parents with a child, provide all of the necessary forms and instructions on how to complete the adoption process in Japan, and help collect the documents necessary for the U.S. immigrant visa, including the birth certificate and adoption decree.

      When obtaining legal custody of a child for a full and final adoption in the U.S., the adoption agency can match the prospective adoptive parents with a child and assist with the forms and documents necessary to secure a U.S. immigrant visa.
      When finalizing an adoption in Japan, the prospective adoptive parents submit their adoption application to the Family Court with jurisdiction over the child's residence.

      When obtaining custody of a child for a full and final adoption in the United States, the application to adopt is submitted to the proper authorities in the U.S. state of residence after the child enters the United States on an immigrant visa. Please note that in this case, the adopted child will acquire U.S. citizenship only after a full and final adoption in the United States.
      Intercountry adoptions through the Family Court require at least six months and sometimes longer, possibly up to 18 months. The Japanese court system will take into account the laws of your state of residence and will try to comply with those laws. In practice, this may mean that finalization of the adoption takes several months longer than it otherwise would. The Family Court does not mandate a time limit on when an adoption must be completed.

      Prospective adoptive parents who are gaining custody to complete a full and final adoption in the United States report that the process takes between nine and eighteen months to take custody of the child, plus additional time in the United States to finalize the adoption in their state of residence.
      For those who are resident in Japan and adopting a child through the Japanese court system, the costs vary widely; however, the average total cost is approximately US$20,000. This includes fees for the Family Court, adoption agency, immigration processing, and document translations and authentications.

      It should be noted that Japanese adoption service provider fees can range from US$5,000 to US$50,000 or higher, so the overall cost of adoption depends on the agency the prospective adoptive parents select. Japanese law prohibits adoption service providers operating in Japan from profiting from adoptions, and the provider is required to give you an itemized invoice. That list may include fees to cover the birth of the child, as such costs are not covered by Japanese health insurance. Prospective adoptive parents may incur additional fees when adopting a child with medical conditions.

      Adoption service providers in Japan are prohibited from receiving donations before the completion of the adoption process, and a donation may not be a condition for providing services. Providers that violate these regulations should be reported to the prefectural government and may be suspended or closed by that government.
      When completing a full and final adoption under Japanese law, the Japanese adoption agency should provide you with a complete list of required documents. These may include:
      • Birth certificate and/or family register of all parties
      • Passport, Japanese visas and Alien Registration cards for all parties
      • Copy of U.S. military ID (where applicable)
      • Marriage, divorce, and death certificates (where applicable)
      • Copy of any property ownership deeds and/or bank statements
      • Certificate of foster parent registration (where applicable)
      • Certificate of good conduct/no criminal record for each adoptive parent (issued by their home city or state police department)
      • Certificate of legal address, employment, and income
      • Biographic history of all parties
      • Statement of consent to adopt by the child's biological parent(s) or guardian
      • Statement of prospective parent(s)' intent to adopt the identified child
      • Home Study (approved by an authorized and licensed adoption agency)
      • Two character references
      • When taking custody of a child for a full and final adoption in the United States, again the adoption service provider will assist you with documentation. For example, you will need a family registry (koseki) for the child, a passport for the child, signed release statements from the biological mother, and descriptions of the situation of the biological mother.

        NOTE: Additional documents may be requested. If you are asked to provide proof that a document from the United States is authentic, we can help. Learn how.

  5. Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption

    After you finalize the adoption (or gain legal custody) in Japan, the U.S Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) MUST determine whether the child is eligible under U.S. law to be adopted (Form I-600). Learn how.

    Because Japan does not have a USCIS office, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the U.S. Consulate General in Naha, Okinawa are authorized to accept the Form I-600 when the parent(s) already have an approved and valid I-600A. Once the Embassy or Consulate receive notice from USCIS that your I-600A has been approved, the Immigrant Visa Section sends the prospective adoptive parents information about how to file Form I-600. The prospective adoptive parents request an appointment by fax or email, then come to the Embassy with the child to file the form. Usually the prospective adoptive parents take custody of a child, file the I-600 at Embassy Tokyo or Consulate Naha, then return to the Embassy or Consulate a couple of days later to apply for the immigrant visa.

  6. Bring Your Child Home Now that your adoption is complete (or you have obtained legal custody of the child), there are a few more steps to take before you can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for several documents for your child before he or she can travel to the United States:

    • Birth Certificate
      You will first need to apply for a family registry (the Japanese version of a birth certificate) for the child, so that you can later apply for a passport. If you have obtained legal custody of the child for adoption in the U.S., the family registry will list the birth parent's name. An adoption service provider should be able to assist you with this process.

    • Japanese Passport
      Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or passport from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only the child's biological or adoptive parent or legal guardian may apply for a passport on behalf of the minor child, but an adoption service provider should be able to help get the document.

      Please note: according to the Japanese nationality law, a child is not considered to have gained citizenship of a second country (the United States in this case) by his or her own will, so the child does not automatically lose Japanese citizenship when naturalized as a U.S. citizen. For more information, click here.

    • U.S. Immigrant Visa
      After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to apply for an After you obtain the family registry and Japanese passport for the child, you also need to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa for the child from the United States Embassy in Tokyo or the Consulate General in Naha. When you file Form I-600, you will be instructed to take the child to a "Panel Physician" for a complete health examination. You will return on the appointed day to the Embassy or consulate to apply for the visa. Learn more.

Child Citizenship Act

For adoptions finalized abroad: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when he or she enters the United States as lawful permanent residents.

For adoptions finalized in the United States: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when the court in the United States issues the final adoption decree.

* Please be aware that if your child did not qualify to become a citizen upon entry to the United States, it is very important that you take the steps necessary so that your child does qualify as soon as possible. Failure to obtain citizenship for your child can impact many areas of his/her life including family travel, eligibility for education and education grants, and voting.

Learn more about the Child Citizenship Act.

Traveling Abroad

Applying for Your U.S. Passport

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave Japan. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.

Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print-all in one place.

Obtaining Your Visa

In addition to a U.S. passport, you also need to obtain a visa. A visa is an official document issued by a foreign country that formally allows you to visit. Where required, visas are attached to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.

To find information about obtaining a visa for Japan, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.

Staying Safe on Your Trip

Before you travel, it's always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The State Department is a good place to start.

The Department of State provides Country Specific Information for every country of the world about various issues, including the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.

Staying in Touch on Your Trip

When traveling during the adoption process, we encourage you to register your trip with the Department of State. Travel registration makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there's a family emergency in the United States, or a crisis in Japan, registration assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.

Registration is free and can be done online.

After Adoption

What does Japan require of the adoptive parents after the adoption?

The adoptive parents need to work with the Japanese adoption service provider to have the child's name removed from the birth mother's family registry (koseki). This is important to the birth mother because she may have chosen intercountry adoption so that the child's name would be removed from her family registry.

Japanese children who are adopted by foreign parents and acquire a second nationality retain Japanese citizenship because they are not viewed as having acquired a second nationality by their own choice. According to Japanese law they should select their citizenship before reaching the age of 22. For more information, click here.

What resources are available to assist families after the adoption?

Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family -- whether it's another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.

Here are some good places to start your support group search:

Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.

Contact Information

U.S. Embassy in Japan
Box 114
1-10-5 Akasaka Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-8420, Japan
Tel: (81)(3) 3224-5000
Fax: (81)(3) 3224-5929

Japan's Adoption Authority
The Family Court and the Child Guidance Center (CGC) are administered at the local prefectural level and are often located in the City or Ward Office.

Embassy of Japan
2520 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008-2869
Tel: (202) 939-6700

Japan also has Consulates in Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Miami, Kansas City (MO), Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Portland (OR), Saipan (Mariana Islands), San Francisco, Seattle, and Tamuning (Guam).

Office of Children's Issues
U.S. Department of State  
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20522-1709
Tel: 1-888-407-4747
E-mail: AskCI@state.gov

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures, call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC)

1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)