Foreign Adoption: What to expect when you adopt abroad.

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The recent Tsunami disaster has certainly spurred new interest in international adoptions. But, if you're thinking of adopting one of the children orphaned by the giant tidal wave (or any bundle of joy from abroad, for that matter) -- you'll first want to make yourself familiar with adoption laws, not only the ones in this country but in the country you're adopting from as well.

Every country has requirements for prospective parents. Generally, these fall within certain age and income parameters. But, you may also be asked about the number of children you already have, as well as questions designed to indicate the stability of your marriage.

You should also be aware that certain countries have more, shall we say, unusual requirements? Korea, for example, has a weight requirement. No fatties (defined here as more than 30% overweight) need apply. If you want to adopt from St. Lucia, bring your realtor with you. You're not required to be a resident, but you do need to own property on the island. And if you have your heart set on an infant or child from Indonesia, one of the areas hit hardest by the Tsunami, you'll be required to spend two years in the country before your application will even be considered. And, oh yes....apparently there are no atheists in foxholes or Indonesia, because you'll also be required to express a belief in God.

Once you meet requirements, there are two ways to adopt your international child:

If you've traveled to the country of birth, you may proceed with adoption right then. There is no need to wait until you return to U.S. courts. Your child will be given an IR-3 visa, and will automatically be granted U.S. citizenship upon entering the country. A certificate of citizenship will follow about 45 days later.

If you pick up your child in the country of birth, but do not proceed with adoption in that country, he or she will be issued an IR-4 visa. You'll be required to follow through with adoption proceedings once you return to the U.S. And, American citizenship will be granted automatically when the adoption is finalized. However, parents must apply separately for the certificate of citizenship. To do so, simply file USCIS Form N-600, which can be downloaded from www.adoption.com

Why re-adoption makes sense

If you've adopted your bundle of joy under the first scenario, in the country of origin, you may want to consider re-adopting the child in an American court. There are plenty of good reasons for doing so. Only 26 states, for example, recognize a foreign adoption decree, which means the legality of the adoption may not be recognized where you live. The legality issue could mean problems ahead if your child is due to inherit property or money from you when you die. It could even lead to deportation if the "child" -- now 18 years or over - ever commits a felony crime.

The benefit of re-adoption is that it also allows you to procure a couple of documents that will help make life much easier for you and your adopted child. For example, you can obtain:

An American birth certificate from your state of residence.

This certificate will list you as the birthparent, and also the name you have chosen for your child. If the child wishes to change the name in the future, he or she can legally, and more easily, do so with an American birth certificate. It will also be easier to obtain copies of birth certificates in the future.

A U.S. Judgment Order for Adoption.

This document means you won't have to produce the foreign judgment, along with its translation, every time you might need to show a birth certificate. Think how much faster you'll be able to cross into Canada or Mexico for vacation if the border guards won't have to study your Slovakian child's adoption decree, and its translation.

Of course, once you have your child home, and all your legal documents in place, don't expect everything to be smooth sailing. After all, you've had months, maybe even years to plan for this day - but your child has had little preparation for his or her new home life.

Expect some medical issues

One of the first matters of business for your child should be a complete medical examination. Medical records and/or medical history may be missing for your child, so it's a good idea to have your doctor perform all age-appropriate tests.

Don't be surprised if your child is not in perfect health. Studies of internationally-adopted children show that as many as 60% of them bring an infectious disease with them to their new homes. The most common are hepatitis and HIV. An additional problem is reactive attachment disorder, a condition in which the child has trouble forming a loving relationship. More than likely, you can also anticipate some sleeping problems. After all, your child is, most likely, adjusting to an entirely different time zone.

All of these medical disorders can be treated -- but will your insurance plan cover the health problems of your adopted child? In most cases, the answer is yes, especially if you are covered under an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, which is subject to federal laws. If you are covered under an individual plan, however, those are generally regulated at the state level, so call your State Department of Insurance to determine your child's eligibility.

Finally, do take some time out from all the paperwork and red tape to focus on your child. Each bundle of joy is a blessing, and that's true whether they're delivered by stork -- or by an international airline.