Understanding the Hague Convention

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) is an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions. Concluded on May 29, 1993 in The Hague, the Netherlands, the Convention establishes international standards of practices for intercountry adoptions. The United States signed the Convention in 1994, and the Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008. Read the full text of the Convention.

The Convention applies to all adoptions by U.S. citizens habitually resident in the United States of children habitually resident in any country outside of the United States that is a party to the Convention (Convention countries). Adopting a child from a Convention country is similar in many ways to adopting a child from a country not party to the Convention. However, there are some key differences. In particular, those seeking to adopt may receive greater protections if they adopt from a Convention country. (See our chart comparing the Convention process and the non-Convention process.)

View forging effective Convention partnerships for more information on how the United States evaluates a Convention country’s adoption system.

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Convention Facts
  • The Convention requires that countries who are party to it establish a Central Authority to be the authoritative source of information and point of contact in that country. The Department of State is the U.S. Central Authorityfor the Convention.
  • The Convention aims to prevent the abduction, sale of, or trafficking in children, and it works to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children.
  • The Convention recognizes intercountry adoption as a means of offering the advantage of a permanent home to a child when a suitable family has not been found in the child's country of origin. It enables intercountry adoption to take place when, among other steps:
    1. The child has been deemed eligible for adoption by the child's country of origin; and
    2. Due consideration has been given to finding an adoption placement for the child in its country of origin.
  • The Convention provides for recognition by other party countries of adoptions made in accordance with the Convention.
Keys to the U.S. Convention Process
  • Accredited or Approved Adoption Agencies: Only adoption service providers that have been accredited or approved on a Federal level may offer certain key adoption services for Convention adoptions. When adopting a child from a Convention country, prospective adoptive parents know that their adoption service provider has been evaluated by the Department of State's designated Accrediting Entity. This Accrediting Entity, the Council on Accreditation, evaluates agencies and individuals using uniform standards that work to ensure professional and ethical practices.

    Note:  Starting in July 2014, all agencies providing services in intercountry adoptions will need to be accredited or approved, supervised by an accredited or approved agency, or exempted. Please see our FAQs on the Universal Accreditation Act for further information on the new requirements.
  • Transparency: When adopting from a Convention country, accredited and approved adoption service providers must itemize and disclose in writing the fees and estimated expenses associated with the adoption ahead of time. Outside of that fee schedule, the adoption service provider is only permitted to charge for unforeseen expenses under very specific circumstances. There is also an official mechanism for lodging a complaint against an accredited or approved adoption service provider with the Department of State.
  • Adoption and Custody Certificates: Every child adopted from a Convention country receives a Hague Adoption Certificate or a Hague Custody Certificate from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that issues the child’s immigrant visa. The certificate is issued by a U.S. consular officer after determining that the adoption (or grant of custody) has met the requirements of the Convention and the U.S. Intercountry Adoption Act. In Convention adoptions, prior to the final adoption or grant of custody in the child’s country, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines whether a child appears eligible to immigrate to the U.S. as a “Convention adoptee.” A U.S. consular officer also determines whether the child appears to meet the criteria for visa eligibility before the adoption is finalized (or custody is granted) in the country of origin. This will allow the prospective adoptive parents to know ahead of time whether the child appears to be eligible to enter the United States. Review our Country Information pages for specific information about adoption procedures in individual Convention countries.
  • Convention Forms & Visa Categories: Prospective adoptive parents must file Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, and Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, for Convention adoption cases. Both forms must be filed with U.S. Citizenship & Immigrations Services (USCIS). Form I-800A must be filed and approved prior to Form I-800 to allow USCIS to determine whether prospective adoptive parent(s) are suitable and eligible to adopt a child from a Convention country. Prospective adoptive parent(s) must identify the country from which they will adopt on the Form I-800A. After receiving Form I-800A approval from USCIS and being matched with a specific child, but prior to adoption or grant of custody, prospective adoptive parent(s) must file Form I-800 to determine the particular child’s eligibility to immigrate to the United States through the Convention adoption process. Children adopted from a Convention country must meet the definition of a "Convention adoptee” in order to immigrate to the United States through the Convention adoption process. Two visa categories, IH-3 and IH-4, are used in Convention adoption cases.
Forging Effective Convention Partnerships

The U.S. Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA) provides in Section 301(a)(1) that “The Secretary of State shall, with respect to each Convention adoption, issue a certificate if the Secretary of State (A) receives appropriate notification from the central authority of such child’s country of origin; and (B) has verified that the requirements of the Convention and this Act have been met with respect to the adoption.” This requires the Department of State to verify that every adoption to the United States completed under the Convention complies with the Convention, the IAA, and the U.S. implementing regulations. Accordingly, we must have confidence in the country’s Convention system and corresponding Central Authority’s certification that adoptions comply with the Convention. With that confidence, conducting investigations like those required in the “orphan” process is generally not necessary absent indications of fraud or other significant concerns.

Evaluating a Convention Country’s System

When a country announces its intention to ratify the Convention, the Department of State reviews laws, procedures, practices, and infrastructure to assess the country’s ability to implement procedural safeguards and governing structures consistent with Convention standards. The assessment seeks to confirm that each country:

  • Has implementing laws or regulations that identify and authorize a Central Authority, other competent authorities, and accredited bodies to undertake Convention functions. The Convention requires parties to designate a Central Authority that is empowered to communicate with other central authorities, exercise oversight of the intercountry adoption process, and oversee or conduct the accreditation of agencies and authorization of competent bodies (such as foreign adoption service providers). Additionally, other competent authorities and accredited bodies may perform other Convention functions.  
  • Enforces the Convention principles. The Convention establishes a framework for co-operation between authorities of different countries and sets minimum safeguards to ensure that adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. These safeguards include:
    • Competent authorities determining that intercountry adoption is in the best interest of a child after placement options in his or her country of origin have been duly considered (subsidiarity);
    • The Central Authority or other authority determining that a child is eligible for adoption, and including this determination in the Article 16 report on the child when proposing a match with prospective adoptive parents (adoptability);
    • Ensuring that the child’s parent(s), or legal guardian(s), provided informed, freely given, and irrevocable consent to adoption, in writing, after the child is born, and without receiving payment or compensation of any kind to induce the consent. Additionally, the child must receive counseling and consent to a proposed adoption, if the country of origin’s laws so allow, and the Central Authority or other authority shall include a determination that all necessary consents have been obtained in a manner consistent with the Convention in the Article 16 report on the child (consents);
    • Ensuring that no person or entity involved in an intercountry adoption derives any improper financial or other gain, or unreasonably high remuneration for services rendered, in relation to an intercountry adoption (prohibition on improper financial or other gain); and
    • Precluding contact between the prospective adoptive parents and the child’s parents or any other person who has care of the child until a child has been matched with prospective adoptive parents who were already found suitable and eligible to adopt from a Convention country (prohibition on prior contact). Relative adoptions and cases that meet conditions established by the competent authority of the country of origin are exempted.
  • Clearly outlines and coordinates authorities’ Convention functions and responsibilities. This entails ensuring that the step-by-step procedures will be achievable, given the local context, and will carry out Convention safeguards in an order that works within the Convention framework.
  • Has a Convention process that works with the U.S. Convention adoption process, as of the Convention’s entry into force date. This analysis focuses on synchronizing procedural steps to ensure that our systems are compatible.
  • Authorizes U.S. adoption service providers (ASPs) or ensures that services will be provided. U.S. adoption service providers play a critical role in assisting U.S. families complete an intercountry adoption. Foreign countries may specify what role(s) U.S. adoption service providers may play and how they will be selected for authorization.
  • Ensures that authorities have the capacity and infrastructure to uphold their Convention obligations and to effectively oversee the process. This includes ensuring that the authorities have the legal authority to carry out their responsibilities; sufficient staff, funding, training, and other resources; political and legal support to uphold Convention principles and framework in light of local cultural realities and/or practices; control over the integrity of documents; and consistent decision-making processes.   

If the Department of State determines that a country does not meet the required standards, it will strongly encourage the country to first implement the necessary legal framework and procedures to uphold the Convention’s standards and principles before becoming a party to the Convention. The Department of State will also encourage the country’s officials to consider establishing procedures to allow adoptions initiated prior to the Convention’s entry into force to be completed through the pre-Convention procedures. The Department of State’s goal is to prevent a disruption in adoptions and ensure that there is no unnecessary delay in processes pending adoptions due to the Convention entering into force.

The Department of State may take a number of actions, often in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to support a country’s efforts to implement and transition to the Convention, including but not limited to:

  • Providing Convention-related resources and training materials we have developed;
  • Providing information on how the United States and other countries have implemented particular Convention standards and principles;
  • Providing technical consultations and guidance regarding implementation options, language, and/or Convention adoption procedures;
  • Assisting in creating a country-specific action plan for implementing the Convention principles and framework;
  • Providing information on how to request assistance from the Hague Permanent Bureau’s Intercountry Adoption Technical Assistance Programme (ICATAP), a program designed to provide assistance directly to the governments of certain countries which are planning to become parties to the Convention, or which became a party and are experiencing difficulties with the implementation of the Convention;
  • Arranging for key officials from the other country to travel to the United States on visitor programs targeted to addressing their concerns or questions regarding Convention implementation options;
  • Actively encouraging, and where possible facilitating, the development of mentoring relationships with exemplary regional Convention partner countries;
  • Frequently meeting with partner countries and the Permanent Bureau to advance the central goals of the Convention; and/or
  • Coordinating efforts with our Embassies and Consulates, USAID, NGOs, international organizations, and other partner countries to promote improvements in the country’s child welfare system as a whole.