Adopting While Living Overseas

We did something I thought was impossible. We adopted a child while living overseas.

Adoption has been on my heart for years. Even before we were married I shared with my husband my dream of building a family entirely through adoption. In 2012 we adopted our son from the US foster care system and a year later moved to Indonesia. Since Indonesia has very restrictive adoption rules and while abroad we couldn’t adopt again from foster care, I thought one adoption must be it. All doors were closed…except they really weren’t.

There are so many reasons people pursue adoption. This post isn’t really meant to tackle the Big Why. I’m going to assume if you’re reading this it’s because adoption is already on your heart. You know why you want to adopt. You know what a huge blessing children are. Now you just need to know whether or not you should, or even can take the next step.

So many questions…

What about all the paperwork?
For Americans living abroad, there are a handful of adoption agencies specializing in expat adoptions. A simple google search will bring up some of the most well-known. Each agency will have different country programs. You’ll need to find an agency that can work with you as an expat and can legally facilitate an adoption in the country you wish to adopt from. The paperwork process is hugely intimidating, but a good agency can guide you through each step. (For other nationalities, the process may be different. You’ll need to contact the government office that overseas adoptions in your home country and ask for guidance.)

Isn’t it an expensive process?
Yes, at least it was for us. And no, we didn’t have the funds upfront. Paying two separate governments’ fees for immigration paperwork and adoption approvals, plus travel and agency fees all added up quite quickly. In the end, we were able to fund the adoption process through savings, donations from friends and family, grants, and an interest free adoption loan. Our agency supplied a list of grant organizations and I took on writing grant applications like it was a full-time job.

What if we can’t handle our child’s needs and we have to leave the field?
It could happen, but it could also happen if you have a child by birth.  Or something else could happen that causes you to leave. The fact is that we have no guarantees for the future. Today is all we have been given. Today I am able to serve overseas and am grateful for it. Today I am able to trust God with my family. Today I am able to trust God with my future.

Also, exercise wisdom. In adoption, unlike birthing a child, we have a choice about who we adopt. Look around your community – who do you have serving with you? In my team there is a physical therapist and in the community two very competent medical doctors. As we chose to adopt a child with special needs, we looked over the list of medical conditions supplied by our agency and discussed what needs we could reasonably expect to be able to handle in our community. For us it went like this… Hydrocephalus? No. Limb deformities? Possibly. Albinism? Yes. Heart disease? Possibly…  Narrowing down medical conditions will greatly help in guiding the process.

But what about emotional and mental health needs?
It is very possible the child you adopt will have significant emotional and mental health needs. A child living in an institution their entire lives will have no idea how to live in a family. Abuse, hunger, trauma, and lack of stimulation are all very real experiences for many children. Even if a child experienced none of those things, adoption itself only exists because a child has experienced the huge loss of their family.

In the lead up to the adoption, you’ll have to complete agency specified training. Attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention parenting is a real thing. Equip yourself well, but also connect yourself well. By far, the most help we’ve received has been from other been-there-done-that parents of children from hard places.

Ultimately remember this – the security of a loving forever family is a tremendously powerful healer. And while you’re on the road to healing, there is a lot of help out there if you look for it.

What if I start the process and it never works out?
About the middle of our adoption process, the country we were applying to changed their rules and under the new rules we did not qualify to adopt. For one agonizing week I worried we’d spent our savings, raised donations, and invested an enormous amount of time in paperwork for nothing. Thankfully we were grandfathered in as we’d already been registered in the country’s central adoption authority’s system. But for many other families, the door closed and they were left heart broken.

While I’ve never experienced a failed adoption process, I have lost a child. I know the excitement and hope of expecting a little one only to have the doctor say, “I’m sorry. You’ve lost the baby.” Hope cut short in adoption is much the same.

Just as the risk of losing a child in pregnancy is very real and even common, so is the risk of losing an adoption placement. But the risk doesn’t stop you from trying.

If you’re considering adoption as an expat, can I just encourage you to take it one step at a time? So many children around the world need families. I can’t guarantee it will all work out. I can’t guarantee a happily ever after, even if it does. But here’s what we do know about God:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalm 68:5,6

God loves and seeks out the vulnerable. He sets the lonely in families…maybe even in yours.


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Anisha Hopkinson

Anisha was born to Chilean and Texan parents, first tasted missions in Mexico, fell in love with an Englishman in Africa, and now lives in Indonesia. She journals about cross-cultural life, helping people, and loving Jesus on

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