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Our Story
Getting Started
Choosing Korea
Selecting the Agency
The Homestudy
The Referral
Post-Arrival Issues
Adoptive Parenthood
For Adoptees
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Adopting from Korea - A Parent's Guide to Korean Adoption

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The Adoption Agency Always Rings Twice!

By the time you reach the waiting for referral stage, your home study has been approved and your I-600A has or is close to being approved. Now comes the hard part. Waiting... waiting.... and waiting.

Your agency should be able to give you an approximate time between your approval and referral, but prepare now to be flexible because wait times vary greatly. But, generally, you should be able to expect a referral within 6-12 months after your approval.

It could be a lot shorter (ours was one week, but that's unusual.) It could be as long as 18 months, but that's also highly unusual. There are no guarantees either way. So my best advice is to keep living your lives as normally as possible until...


This part really is exciting. At some point, your social worker will call you and say s/he has a referral for you to review. You'll be invited back to the office (or have the file sent to you if you're working with an out-of-state agency.)

You probably won't get much information (if at all) until you get the file in your hand. Our social worker simply asked us to come into the office. We were there the next morning - pronto!

The Referral File and its Contents

Okay, so you're sitting there at the agency. Nervous and excited. Your social worker hands you a folder with a few photos. As you're looking at the photos, your social worker is talking to you, but you're not hearing. You're still taking in the photos of your prospective new son or daughter. Take your time and remember the moment so you can share it later.

 Now to the file itself. It will contain those lovely photos and something like this:

  • Baby's Medical Report: This includes his/her complete medical history, lab tests results, any medical complications or medications given
  • Baby's Background: This includes his/her Korean name (usually given by the social worker who works with the birthmother) and its meaning, age/religion/education/occupation/marital status of the birthparents, description of the baby's birth, and some background on the birthparents (how they met, circumstances by which the baby was placed for adoption. You'll also get an initial report of the baby's overall health and development.

You'll reread this stuff many, many times. At this point, your social worker will probably encourage you not to make a fast decision one way or the other. (Our social worker recommended we take at least 24 hours and no more than one week to decide. We called the next day with an OK!)

Physician Review

Remember, be honest with yourselves. This is a lifelong commitment you're about to make. If there are medical issues that you need more information about, ask your pediatrician or consult with one of the many international adoption medicine specialists in practice. There could be family background issues or circumstances. Don't rush to judgment. Get the information you need and then decide what's right for you and your family.

If you have any reservations about this referral whatsoever, better to turn it down. You won't be penalized for it, you won't lose humanity points, and you won't "go to the end of the line" either. But you will free up this baby to be adopted by another family.

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Saying "No"... Thoughts on Declining a Referral

My phone rang and I recognized the voice as that of the executive director of our adoption agency. I got a little excited as we were awaiting the referral of our second child from Korea. But I noticed a hesitancy in her voice. I grew still and listened.

She had a referral of a two-month old girl on her desk. Although, on first reading, the baby looked healthy, there were some prospective health issues down the road. We were (and are) open to mild, correctible special needs (same as when we accepted the referral of our son, Spencer), but these particular health issues had the potential for, while being manageable, quite serious.

Adoption offers choices, a two-edged sword at best and worst.

We decided to review the information. I did some research online. The agency faxed over additional health information for us to look at. We wanted to take our time, look at the information objectively and dispassionately as possible. My husband and I discussed the pro's and con's regarding our current family's needs and what we felt we could knowingly take on with a potentially chronically ill child.

We talked. Talked some more. But ultimately we decided to decline this referral. It was very hard and I still have some lingering sadness about it. But I don't regret declining the referral. And if you're faced with similar circumstances, neither should you. (We did find out later the little girl was adopted and is doing beautifully.)

One thing you should prepare for, though, if you do decide to decline a referral is [1] the emotional toll it can take on you and your spouse and [2] the lack of understanding and support from friends and family. I've likened this to having a miscarriage. You're incredibly sad, grieving for lost possibilities, and your relatives and friends, not knowing what to say, offer platitudes and sometimes outright dismissal of the event. "You can always have more children" easily translates to "You didn't even know the child, another one will come along."

Feel whatever you need to feel -- for as long as you need to feel it -- but try not to be too hard on those friends and others who seem awkward around you. Many people are uncomfortable talking about any painful event, especially those who love and care about us. They might feel their silence is easier on you or that 'jollying you up" will make you feel better. For meaningful support, you may want to search out other adoptive parents who have shared your experience. Your adoption agency can help.

When evaluating any referral, you must take into account your own needs, the needs of the current members of your family, your work, lifestyle, issues -- everything, because everything will change once you say yes. And you must be achingly honest, out of fairness for everyone -- especially the little one you're considering.

There are families out there who are ready and able to parent the child your heart tells you isn't "yours" -- don't beat yourselves up if a prospective referral just doesn't feel right. Go with your instincts and your best judgment. In time enough the right child will present him/herself and you'll know it.

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You've Accepted the Referral. Now What?

More paperwork! Yah! Once you formally accept your referral, you'll finalize the financial arrangements with the agency and fill out additional forms and other kinds of paperwork. Here's what you're likely to be looking at:

  • Korean Affidavit of Support shows you have an appropriate income and assets
  • Statement of Adoption for use with your child's Korean passport
  • Statement of Acceptance of Child with Special Medical Problems (if applicable) shows you understand and accept full responsibility for the child to be entrusted to your care
  • Korea Statement of Acceptance shows you agree to cooperate with your agency's guidelines after your child has arrived. These usually include post placement services and updates, having your child adopted and naturalized by state and federal law, be responsible for your child's medical expenses, etc.

Some of these forms will need to be notarized. Your agency will work with you in the preparation of these documents.

So now you're ready to complete that blue I-600 form that's been gathering dust in your adoption folder (you really should have a folder for all this stuff!) Just don't do anything yet!

Completing the I-600

Your agency will show you how to fill this form out. Just keep two things in mind. You can't send it until you receive your child's Korean legal papers which your agency will forward to you. Referred to as the "legals", they consist of the English translations of:

  • Certificate of Acknowledgment from the American Embassy attesting the paperwork was presented
  • Extract of Family Register showing your child's name, birth date, etc.
  • Certificate of Appointment to Guardian of Minor Orphan in Orphanage attesting that the Korea orphanage has been granted guardianship
  • Statement of Consent to Overseas Adoption which shows the agreement of the child's guardian to have the child adopted overseas.
  • Copy of baby's Korean Birth Certificate

You'll receive these from your agency within several weeks of accepting your child's referral. Make a copy for yourselves (frankly, make a copy of EVERYTHING for yourselves!), attach your completed I-600, and send it all -- again via traceable means -- to your INS office. (You might also want to send a photocopy of your original fee sent with the I-600A to show the INS the fee has already been paid.) Remember to use the same person listed on the I-600A as Prospective Petitioner.

With a little luck, you should have the I600 approval in less than six weeks. Once you get the approval, fax or send a copy of it to your agency.

Working with an agency outside of your home state?

You'll need to complete an Interstate Compact. This form is filed after your baby's legals arrive, but before you file the I600. Your agency will send you a DSS-4291 form to sign. It lists all services and fees paid. You complete the form, get it notarized and return it to the agency. They will then file this form, along with your legals, the interstate compact application, and other documentation to their state ISC office. When approved, the paperwork is then sent to the ISC office in your state for final approval. When completed, all of the documents are returned to your agency. It is only then that you send your I600 with all required documentation to USCIS.

For more information:

Completing the I-864 Affidavit of Support

Basically this form attests your ability to the American government that you have the means to provide for your adopted child and that he or she won't become a burden on the taxpayer. Your agency will give you a copy or you can download this form at the INS site or order a packet to be sent to you via the regular mail. (These forms are not required for those families adopting children whose adoptions are legally finalized in their native countries. Children adopted from Korea have their adoptions finalized in the county court where they adoptive parents reside.)

Here are the documents the Prospective Petitioner needs to complete this form:

  • Employment letter or current pay stub attesting to ongoing employment
  • Last three years of your W2s
  • IMPORTANT: Last three years of your complete federal tax returns (1040s and ALL, that's right ALL attachments!)

If both spousal incomes are required in order to exceed the annual household income required, the spouse will also need to complete the I-864A and include his/her employment letter or pay stub and W2s. (I also included a copy of my birth certificate, just in case.) To play it safe, my suggestion is for married couples to go ahead and complete all forms.

Complete the I-864s as instructed and have each copy notarized. Photocopies are fine for everything else. Your agency will need 2-3 copies and keep a notarized copy for yourself.

If you're traveling: speak with your agency specifically about who is to present the I-864 at the American Embassy in Seoul.

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Waiting for THE Call!

The time between acceptance of the referral and the travel time can run 2-4 months, maybe a little shorter or somewhat longer. But, as you can imagine, it's a hard wait. (More on what to do while you're waiting below.) But just so you know, you won't get a lot of lead time. Maybe a week. Probably less -- so be prepared - ACK!

Escort or Travel

We chose the escort option primarily because we already had a young child at home and I had business responsibilities. I would urge you, however, if you can to travel to Korea to meet your child and bring him/her home. You'll have the chance to meet your child's foster mother, tour the adoption agency and perhaps a little of Seoul, as well.

See Travel for more details if you decide to go this route!

At the airport

If you've chosen the escort option, here's some suggestions as to what to bring to the airport.

  • Prepare a diaper bag with a change of clothing, some fresh diapers, several bottles of milk or soy-based formula with traditional-style nipples, and a few bibs.
  • Schedule a visit with your pediatrician within a few days of the baby's arrival
  • Call your health insurance provider to get your child on the plan pronto -- ideally he/she should have coverage the scheduled day of travel. Check with your agency about this. (Note: your insurance company BY LAW must cover your soon-to-be adopted child the moment he/she is delivered into your care.)
  • Gets lots of fresh film (or a nice big memory card or two for your digital camera) and don't forget to charge up your cameras and camcorders.

A lot of folks have asked me about who to have at the airport. We opted just for immediate family and an extended family member. Your agency will have a representative or greeter with you, as well. We liked a small group so as not to overwhelm a little baby with lots of unfamiliar noises, faces, voices, and smells who has spent many hours traveling with a stranger. (Spencer came off his plane calm and smiling. Piper was a red-faced little screamer.) I promise you won't regret going with a smaller group. You can always have a big family event a few weeks later when your baby has had the chance to settle in with you.

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What to Do While You're Waiting

Ah, this is the fun part. Keeping yourselves occupied.

First and foremost, if your agency allows, go ahead and send your new baby and foster family a few gifts ahead of time.

  • For the children: sleepers, a soft blanket, a small stuffed animal, and a few disposable cameras. The foster family will take the photos for you and either return the camera or the pictures to you.
  • For the foster family: gourmet instant (yes, instant) coffee, honey, quality chocolates, and American souvenirs like key chains, baseball caps and tee-shirts (make sure the items are American-made, though.) Send cosmetics, too, but not soap or perfumes.

Here are a few suggestions from my own experience and those AOL Adopt Korea forum members who were kind enough to share some of their own thoughts:

  • Decide on the baby's name. We kept our son's given name and our daughter's surname as second middle names.
  • Start collecting certified copies of your birth certificates, marriage license, and if applicable, divorce decrees. You'll need these documents for preparing your formal adoption petition for your city or county court. Check out State Vital Record Departments, a great link to help you get this paperwork started.
  • Take a pediatric CPR and first aid course
  • Take a general and/or adoptive parenting class
  • Read as many adoption related books and magazines as you can find
  • Join online Adoption forums, listservs and electronic newsletters - including our own at adoptingfromkorea. Subscribe today for support, information and sanity!
  • Decide on a decorating scheme for the baby's room
  • Buy furniture and a new crib mattress
  • Take any kind of course to keep you busy!
  • Find a pediatrician you like who's familiar with Asian and internationally adopted children
  • Start a journal of your experiences
  • Start a memory book/life album for your child - you can find several varieties at AdoptShoppe.
  • If you both work outside the home, start exploring available daycare options
  • Find some special alone time for the two of you ('cos when it's gone, it's gone!)
  • Visit Adopting from Korea website often
  • Learn Korean - check out and learn online!
  • Create your own adoption website.
  • Create a website for your new baby! 

And don't forget to go shopping at our sister sites
AdoptShoppe and AdoptShoppeBooks.

Want to read our homecoming stories?
See Spencer's Homecoming and Piper's Homecoming

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