United Kingdom

Last Updated: March 2013

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Hague Convention Information

The United Kingdom (UK) is party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption(Hague Adoption Convention).  Intercountry adoption processing in Hague countries is done in accordance with the requirements of the Convention; the U.S. implementing legislation, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA); and the IAA’s implementing regulations, as well as the implementing legislation and regulations of the child’s country of origin.   

The UK is generally not considered a country of origin in intercountry adoption because UK children are usually not eligible for intercountry adoption.  Most intercountry adoptions in the UK are completed by UK residents who adopt while living in other countries.  The information provided below is intended primarily to assist in rare adoption cases from the UK, including adoptions of UK children by relatives in the United States.  This information may also be useful to U.S. citizens considering adopting from another country while living in the UK.

U.S. Immigration Requirements for Intercountry Adoptions

To bring an adopted child to the United States from the UK, you must meet eligibility and suitability requirements.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines who can adopt under U.S. immigration law.

Additionally, a child must meet the definition of Convention adoptee under U.S. law in order to immigrate to the United States on an IH-3 or IH-4 immigrant visa.

Who Can Adopt

In addition to the U.S. requirements, prospective adoptive parents must meet the following UK requirements to adopt a child from the UK:

  • Residency: UK residency is not a requirement for adoptions where the UK is the state of origin.  Prospective adoptive parents may apply for a Convention adoption order in the UK once they have lived with the child for a minimum of 10 weeks.  If they intend to adopt in the United States, they should apply to a UK court for an order under section 84 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which confers parental responsibility on the applicant and allows them to remove the child for the purposes of adoption.

The UK adoption law permits U.S. citizens resident in the UK for at least one year to apply to adopt from other countries through the UK intercountry adoption process.  These prospective adoptive parents may contact the relevant city or county council that is the local child welfare authority for the area of their residence, or a registered voluntary adoption agency to initiate the process. 

  • Age of Adopting Parents: Applicants must be at least 21 years old to adopt.  The UK does not have a statutory upper age limit.  However, in making decisions on placement, each council or local authority has the power to consider age as a factor in determining whether placement with a prospective adoptive parent is in the best interest of the child. 
  • Marriage: Married or single persons may apply to adopt.  Married couples must adopt jointly unless one partner cannot be found, is incapable of making an application, or if a separation is likely to be permanent.  Unmarried couples may not adopt jointly, although one partner of that couple may adopt as a single parent.  Adoption by gay or lesbian married couples and/or single persons is permitted under UK law.
  • Income: There are no specific income requirements related to adoption.
Who Can Be Adopted

Because the UK is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, children from the UK must meet the requirements of the Convention in order to be eligible for adoption.  For example, the adoption may take place only if the competent authorities of the UK have determined that placement of the child within the UK has been given due consideration and that an intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interests.  In addition to UK requirements, a child must meet the definition of Convention adoptee to be eligible for an immigrant visa that will allow you to bring him or her to the United States.

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS:

  • Relinquishment or Abandonment: Birthparents or legal guardians must consent, except in cases where consent may be waived in accordance with UK law.  See  Adoption and Children Act 2002.  A court ruling declaring adoptability is also required for a child to be eligible for adoption.  The birth mother is not considered legally competent to give consent to her child’s placement for adoption until the child is six weeks old.
  • Age of Adoptive Child: A child can be adopted until age 19 provided that the appropriate UK authorities receive the application for adoption before the child reaches age 18.
  • Sibling Adoptions: There are no specific legal requirements.  The local authority gives consideration to adoption of siblings together on a case by case basis depending on the needs of the children.
  • Special Needs or Medical Conditions: There are no specific legal requirements.  The local authority assesses the ability of the prospective adoptive parents to care for a particular child’s needs during the adoption process. 
  • Waiting Period or Foster Care: There is a mandatory 10-week pre-adoptive care period in each adoption case.  Prospective adoptive parent(s) generally should plan to remain in the UK for the 10-week period. 

In certain circumstances UK authorities may place the child with relatives who live abroad under a fostering arrangement prior to possible adoption.  In these cases, if the child’s legal custodians wish to travel to the United States with the child then they may apply at the U.S. Embassy in London for a B-2 non-immigrant visa for the child to travel to the United States during the pre-adoptive care period. 

Note:
 U.S. immigration law applies to the issuance of non-immigrant visas.  There is no guarantee that the child will qualify for a non-immigrant visa, nor is it advisable for the child to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) during the pre-adoptive care period.  In order to be eligible for a non-immigrant B-2 visa or travel under the Visa Waiver Program, the child must have a residence abroad that he or she has no intention of abandoning and cannot be an intending immigrant who is coming to live permanently in the United States. 

Other: A person cannot be adopted if he or she is married.

How To Adopt

WARNING:  The UK is party to the Hague Adoption Convention.  Do not adopt or obtain legal custody of a child in the UK before a U.S. consular officer issues an “Article 5 Letter” in the case.  Read on for more information.

UK Adoption Authority

The Department for Education

The Department for Education (formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Education and Skills) is the UK Central Authority for the Hague Adoption Convention and is responsible for children’s social services, including adoption policy.  However, each adoption case is handled by the relevant council or voluntary adoption agency in the area where the adoptive child is located.  Contact information for the local councils and local adoption agencies is available on the Department for Education’s webpage A guide to intercountry adoptionApply to adopt a child through your council, and Apply to adopt a child through a voluntary adoption agency.  
Complete contact information for the Department for Education is listed below. 

The Process

Because the UK is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, adopting from the UK must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention’s requirements.  A brief summary of the Convention adoption process is given below.  You must complete these steps in the following order so that your adoption meets all necessary legal requirements.  Adoptions completed out of order may result in the child not being eligible for an immigrant visa to the United States.

  1. Choose a U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider
  2. Apply to USCIS to be found eligible to adopt
  3. Be matched with a child by authorities in the UK.
  4. Apply to USCIS for the child to be found eligible for immigration to the United States and receive U.S. agreement to proceed with the adoption
  5. Adopt (or Gain Legal Custody of child in the UK.
  6. Obtain a U.S. immigrant visa for your child and bring your child home

1.Choose a U.S. Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider

The recommended first step in adopting a child from the UK is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited or approved to provide services to U.S. citizens in Convention cases.  Only accredited or approved adoption services providers may provide adoption services between the United States and the.  The U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider will act as the primary provider in your case.  The primary adoption service provider is responsible for ensuring that all adoption services in the case are done in accordance with the Hague Adoption Convention and U.S. laws and regulations.  Learn more about Agency Accreditation.

2. Apply to USCIS to be Found Eligible to Adopt

After you choose an accredited or approved adoption service provider, you must apply to be found eligible to adopt by the responsible U.S. government agency, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), by submitting Form I-800A.   Read more about Eligibility Requirements.

Once USCIS determines that you are “eligible” and “suited” to adopt by approving the Form I-800A, your adoption service provider will provide your approval notice, home study, and any other required information to the adoption authority in the UK as part of your adoption dossier.  The UK adoption authority will review your application to determine whether you are also eligible to adopt under UK law. 

3. Be Matched with a Child in the UK

If both the United States and the UK determine that you are eligible to adopt, and the central authority for Convention adoptions has determined that a child is available for adoption and that intercountry adoption is in that child’s best interests, the central authority for Convention adoptions in the UK may provide you with a referral for a child.  The referral is a proposed match between you and a specific child based on a review of your dossier and the needs of a specific child in the UK.  The adoption authority in the UK will provide a background study and other information, if available, about the child to help you decide whether to accept the referral or not.  Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs and provide a permanent home for a particular child.  If you accept the referral, the adoption service provider communicates that to the adoption authority in the UK. Learn more about this critical decision.

NOTE: As described above, the UK is not generally considered a country of origin in intercountry adoption.  Adoptions typically involve relatives or those with strong connections to the child.

4. Apply to USCIS for the Child to be Found Eligible for Immigration to the United States and Receive U.S. Agreement to Proceed with the Adoption

After you accept a match with a child, you will apply to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for provisional approval for the child to immigrate to the United States (Form I-800).  USCIS will make a provisional determination as to whether the child meets the definition of a Convention Adoptee and will be eligible to enter the United States and reside permanently as an immigrant.

After provisional approval of Form I-800, your adoption service provider or you will submit a visa application to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in London that is responsible for issuing immigrant visas to children from the UK.  A consular officer will review the Form I-800 and the visa application for possible visa ineligibilities and advise you of options for the waiver of any noted ineligibilities.

WARNING: The consular officer will send a letter (referred to as an “Article 5 Letter”) to the UK Central Authority in any intercountry adoption involving U.S. citizen parents and a child from the UK where all Convention requirements are met and the consular officer determines that the child appears eligible to immigrate to the United States.  This letter will inform the UK Central Authority that the parents are eligible and suited to adopt, that all indications are that the child may enter and reside permanently in the United States, and that the U.S. Central Authority agrees that the adoption may proceed.

Do not attempt to adopt or obtain custody of a child in the UK before a U.S. consular officer issues the Article 5 Letter in any adoption case.

Remember: The consular officer will make a final decision about a child’s eligibility for an immigrant visa later in the adoption process. 

5. Adopt or Gain Legal Custody of Child in the UK

Remember: Before you adopt (or gain legal custody of) a child in the UK, you must have completed the above four steps.  Only after completing these steps, can you proceed to finalize the adoption or grant of custody for the purposes of adoption in the UK.

The process for finalizing the adoption or gaining legal custody in UK generally includes the following:

  • Role of Adoption Authority: The Department for Education (DfE) is the central government department responsible for adoption policy and legislation.  The DfE also has a role in the processing of intercountry adoption cases.  The DfE issues Certificates of Eligibility for all non-Hague Convention adoption applications made by prospective adoptive parents habitually resident in the UK.  For adoptions completed under the Hague Convention, the DfE only processes applications for England.  The Devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man Government each have their own Central Authorities under the Hague Convention and process casework for applicants in their respective countries.
  • Role of the Court: The court is responsible for making legal rulings on adoption applications including an order under section 84 giving parental responsibility.  An application for an adoption order will usually start in a court that is a designated adoption center.  However, every case is different and the court's decision about the next steps will depend on the details of the application. 

Role of Adoption Agencies: In the UK, all local councils have a statutory responsibility to provide adoption services.  In addition to the local council, there are a number of voluntary adoption agencies that also provide an adoption service.  For a listing of adoption agencies, see Apply to adopt a child through a voluntary adoption agency.   

  • Time Frame: There is no standard time frame. 
  • Adoption Fees: In the adoption services contract that you sign at the beginning of the adoption process, your U.S. agency will itemize the fees and estimated expenses related to your adoption process.

There are no specific costs set by the UK government. 

  • Documents Required: Adoptive parents must provide the following:
    • A detailed home study completed by an approved adoption agency;
    • Medical clearance; and
    • Full police background check.

For more information, please see A guide to intercountry adoption

Note: Additional documents may be requested.

  • Authentication of Documents: The United States and the UK are parties to the Hague Apostille Convention.  U.S. public documents may be authenticated with Apostilles by the appropriate U.S. Competent Authority.

6.  Obtain an Immigrant Visa for your Child and Bring Your Child Home

Now that your adoption is complete (or you have obtained legal custody of the child for the purpose of adopting the child in the United States), there are a few more steps to take before you can head home.  Specifically, you need to apply for three documents before your child can travel to the United States:

Birth Certificate

If you have finalized the adoption in UK, you will firstneed to apply for a birth certificate for your child so that you can later apply for a passport. 

If you are granted custody for the purpose of adopting the child in the United States, the birth certificate you obtain will, in most cases, not yet include your name.
 
Adoptive parents may obtain UK Certificates of Adoption, the equivalent of a birth certificate issued in an adopted person’s new name from the General Register Office, Adoptions Section, Room C202, Trafalgar Road, Southport PR8 2HH.  The short form birth certificate will be sent approximately six weeks after the court hearing.  If a long form birth certificate is required the adopting parent will need to request one from the General Register Office, at the following website:  gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/default.asp
UK Passport

Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or passport from the UK. 

Information on how to obtain a U.K. child’s passport can be found on the following website:  ips.gov.uk/passport/apply-child.asp  

U.S. Immigrant Visa

After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to finalize your application for a U.S. visa for your child from the U.S. Embassy in London.  After the adoption (or custody for purpose of adoption) is granted, visit the U.S. Embassy for final review of the case, issuance of a U.S. Hague Adoption Certificate or Hague Custody Certificate, final approval of Form I-800, and to obtain your child’s immigrant visa.  This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you.  As part of this process, the consular officer must be provided the “Panel Physician’s” medical report on the child if it was not provided during the provisional approval stage.  Read more about the Medical Examination.

Child Citizenship Act

For adoptions finalized abroad prior to the child’s entry into the United States:  A child will acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry into the United States if the adoption was finalized prior to entry and the child otherwise meets the requirements of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

For adoptions finalized after the child’s entry into the United States:  An adoption will need to be completed following your child’s entry into the United States for the child to acquire U.S. citizenship.

*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. Read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

 

Traveling Abroad

Applying for Your U.S. Passport
U.S. citizens are required by law to enter and depart the United States on a valid U.S. passport.  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 a Visa to Travel to the UK
In addition to a U.S. passport, you may 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 affixed to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.  To find information about obtaining a visa for the UK, see the Department of State’s Country Specific Information.

Staying Safe on Your Trip
Before you travel, it is always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country.  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 enroll with the Department of State.  Enrollment makes it possible to contact you if necessary.  Whether there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis in the UK, enrollment assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.

Enrollment is free and can be done online via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

After Adoption

Post-Adoption/Post-Placement Reporting Requirements
Once an adoption order has been granted, you are legally the child’s parent with the same rights and responsibilities as if they were born to you.  Post-adoption reporting requirements will be determined by a UK local authority.

We strongly urge you to comply with UK’s post-adoption requirements in a timely manner.  Your adoption agency may be able to help you with this process.  Your cooperation will contribute to that country’s history of positive experiences with U.S. citizen parents.

Post-Adoption Resources
Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption.  There are many public and private nonprofit post-adoption services available for children and their families.  There are also numerous adoptive family support groups and adoptee organizations active in the United States that provide a network of options for adoptees who seek out other adoptees from the same country of origin.  Take advantage of all the resources available to your family, whether it is another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.

Here are some 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 the United Kingdom
24 Grosvenor Square
London, W1K 6AH, UK
Tel:  [44] (0)20 7499-9000  
Internet:  usembassy.org.uk

*The United States has additional Consulates-General in Belfast and Edinburgh

United Kingdom’s Adoption Authority
The Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BT
Tel:  0870 000 2288
Fax:   01928 794248
Email: info@education.gsi.gov.uk
Internet: The Department for Education

Embassy of the United Kingdom
The British Embassy
3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel:  (202) 588-7800           
Internet: ukinusa.fco.gov.uk.com/

*The United Kingdom has Consulates-General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle.

Office of Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State  
CA/OCS/CI  
SA-17, 9th Floor  
Washington, DC 20522-1709
Tel:  1-888-407-4747
Email: AdoptionUSCA@state.gov
Internet: adoption.state.gov

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures:
National Customer Service Center (NCSC)
Tel:  1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)
Internet: uscis.gov

For questions about filing a Form I-800A or I-800 petition:
National Benefits Center
Tel:  1-877-424-8374 (toll free); 1-816-251-2770 (local)
Email: NBC.Adoptions@DHS.gov