What is intercountry adoption?
If you adopt a child who lives in a country outside Ireland, the process is called intercountry adoption. If you adopt a child who is resident in Ireland, it is called domestic adoption.
When you adopt a child, they become a member of your family. Adoption creates a legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the child.
As intercountry adoption is a complex legal process, you should get legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in intercountry adoption. See 'More information about intercountry adoption' below.
Who can adopt?
You must be at least 21 years of age to adopt a child under Irish law. There is no Irish legal upper age limit for adopting parents but age is a factor in determining suitability here.
You must also:
- Have a valid 'declaration of eligibility and suitability' (see 'Being assessed for eligibility to adopt' below)
- Be ‘habitually resident in the State’, which means Ireland has become your home. Living in Ireland for at least one year before the date of the making of the adoption order would generally be sufficient.
Your relationship status does not necessarily impact your eligibility to adopt a child. This means you are eligible to adopt if you are:
- A married couple
- A couple living together in a civil partnership
- A couple cohabiting together in a relationship for at least 3 years (living together but not married or in a civil partnership)
- A sole applicant who is not in one of the categories listed above (only where the Adoption Authority is satisfied that, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is desirable and in the best interests of the child)
You may also be eligible to adopt if you are the mother, father or relative of the child. ‘Relative’ means a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the child (or the spouse of any such person), with the relationship to the child being traced through either the mother or the father.
This is set out in the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 (pdf).
You can find more information on the eligibility and suitability of people wishing to adopt on the Adoption Authority website.
Being assessed for eligibility to adopt
Before you can adopt a child from another country, you must undergo an assessment of your eligibility and suitability. The assessment is carried out by a social worker from the Tusla intercountry adoption service, or an accredited body.
The social worker will then prepare an ‘intercountry adoption assessment report’ (also called a home-study report). The report goes before the local adoption committee, who will then make a recommendation.
Next, the Adoption Authority will review:
- Your application for assessment
- The social worker’s report
- The local adoption committee’s recommendations
If all documents are in place and correct, and the recommendations are positive, the Adoption Authority will grant you a declaration of eligibility and suitability (pdf).
Declaration of eligibility and suitability
The 'declaration of eligibility and suitability' may include a statement about the age or health condition of a child whom you are considered suited to parent (based on information provided in the assessment report).
The declaration is granted for a period of 2 years from the date it is issued. The legislation allows for a 1 year extension if necessary, providing your circumstances have not changed.
Choosing a country to adopt from
As part of the assessment process, you will decide on a country from which you want to adopt a child.
Irish residents can only adopt from countries that:
- Have ratified the Hague Convention
- Have not ratified the Hague Convention but have a ‘bilateral agreement’ with Ireland (Ireland does not currently have any such agreements).
This means that, at present, you can only adopt from the following countries:
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Each country has its own requirements and restrictions in relation to prospective adopters. You can get specific information about each country’s requirements from the accredited Irish agencies who carry out adoptions from these countries.
The process of intercountry adoption
The process of intercountry adoption is controlled by protocols set out in the Hague Convention.
Step 1: Your application is submitted
Firstly, the Adoption Authority (or an agency accredited by the Authority for such purposes), submits the ‘intercountry adoption assessment report’ and the ‘declaration of eligibility and suitability’ (together known as an Article 15 report) to the Central Authority (or an accredited agency) in the country you wish to adopt from.
Step 2: Your application is matched with a child
Your application is matched with a child in the child’s country of origin.
When a match is made, the Central Authority (or an accredited body) in the child’s country of origin sends a ‘child-study report’ (also known as an Article 16 report) to the Adoption Authority (or the Irish-based accredited body).
The report will normally contain:
- A background report on the child
- The birth-parents (if known)
- Medical history of the child
- Proof that consent, where applicable, was obtained in the required manner and format.
If the Adoption Authority is satisfied with the suitability of the match, it gives its consent to the placement of the child with you (known as Article 17).
Step 3: You make a decision in respect to the child identified
You will be told about the match and asked whether you wish to accept the child. You may be able to travel to the country of origin to see the child before making your decision.
You can change your mind up until the time you adopt the child.
Step 4: The adoption
Most countries allow you to adopt the child in the country of origin.
However, some countries may give you guardianship of the child first, with the expectation that you get a domestic adoption on your return to Ireland.
Similarly, some countries will give you guardianship of the child, with the requirement that you complete ‘post-placement reports’ for a certain length of time, before they finalise the adoption in the courts of the country of origin.
Getting immigration clearance for the child
Before your adopted child enters Ireland, you must get an ‘Immigration Clearance Letter’ from the Irish Immigration Service Delivery.
To request an Immigration Clearance Letter, you need to write to:
Foreign Adoptions Unit
Unit 3 Domestic Residence & Permissions Division
Immigration Service Delivery
Department of Justice
13-14 Burgh Quay
You must include:
- A letter of application, with a daytime contact number
- A photocopy of the passport of each adopter
- Two passport size photographs of each adopter
- The original Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability (not a copy)
- A letter from the Adoption Authority stating how many children you are eligible to adopt and from what country
These documents will be returned to you with your Immigration Clearance Letter, when approved. You will need to show this letter to an immigration officer when you return to Ireland.
Steps to take once the child arrives in Ireland
Tell the Adoption Authority that the child has arrived
You must tell the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla when you bring the child to Ireland for the first time after adoption in the country of origin. Find contact details in the section ‘More information about intercountry adoption’ below.
You must also tell the Adoption Authority and Tusla if you have brought the child to Ireland, in order to adopt the child through domestic adoption.
You must do this within 3 months of the child arriving in Ireland.
Register the adoption in Ireland
If the child was adopted in the country of origin, the final step in the intercountry adoption process is the registration of the adoption. This is the formal, legal recognition of the adoption by the Irish State.
You must complete and submit an application for registration of the adoption (pdf) to the Adoption Authority within 3 months of re-entering Ireland following the adoption.
The Adoption Authority can register the adoption in the ‘Register of Intercountry Adoptions’, on the basis of an ‘Article 23 certificate’. An Article 23 certificate is a certificate of assurance from the child’s country of origin that proves the adoption was carried out in compliance with the Hague Convention.
Getting an adoption certificate
When the adoption has been registered, it will appear on the Register of Intercountry Adoptions. The register has details of the adopted child and the adoptive parents. It is a public register and is open to scrutiny by members of the public.
You can get a certified copy (an official copy) of an entry in the Register of Intercountry Adoptions, which can be used for legal and administrative purposes, for €20 per copy. You can download an application form to get a copy of an adoption certificate (pdf) from the Adoption Authority website.
The adoption certificate has the same status as a birth certificate.
Some countries require you to give information on the child’s ongoing
condition and progress following adoption. This information is usually given in
reports known as ‘post-adoption reports’. These reports are normally
collected by social workers or agencies accredited by the Adoption
More information about intercountry adoption
If you have a query about intercountry adoption, contact your local Tusla intercountry adoption service. The Adoption Authority has information on the intercountry adoption process, as well as frequently asked questions on its website.
You may also want to read about the employment rights of adoptive parents.
As intercountry adoption is a complex legal process, you should contact a solicitor who specialises in this area of family law. Find contact information for solicitors throughout Ireland on the Law Society website.