Adopting a Child from Abroad – what is the process and is it just for celebrities?

13th May 2024

The CoramIAC (Intercountry Adoption Centre) receive 2,500 enquiries each year from potential parents seeking information about adopting children from abroad.  There are a variety of reasons why these enquiries are made but this is often from parents who want to start a family or add to their family, they want to adopt a child from a country related to their heritage or perhaps adopt a child related to them who lives abroad.

These prospective parent(s) are faced with a number of different options including the possibility of an international adoption; otherwise known as an “intercountry adoption”.

Intercountry adoption is understandably a complex area of law, and the Family Team at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP can guide prospective parents through this process and any potential challenges they may face.

What is intercountry adoption?

Intercountry adoption is a process that allows a parent who lives in one country to adopt a child who lives in another country enabling them to bring the child to their country of residence to live with them permanently.   This process allows the family, subject to meeting certain eligibility criteria, to provide a loving home to a child, where the child may not necessarily have such a loving home where they are or where it is otherwise deemed to be in the child’s best interests to be adopted.

Can I adopt a child from any country?

There are a number of routes to adopting a child from overseas, and the procedure that needs to be followed will, in part, depend on the country the child lives in.  For example this will depend upon whether the country in which the child lives is part of the “Hague Convention” or not.

What is the Hague Convention?

The Hague Convention is a series of international treaties and declarations negotiated at two international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands.  The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) is an international treaty that provides important safeguards to protect the best interests of children, birth parents and adoptive parents in intercountry adoptions.

This treaty enables adoptions to take place between Convention Countries eg countries which have signed up to the Hague Convention.   There are currently 91 members of the Convention and you can check the list here: HCCH | HCCH Members.  The purpose of the Convention is to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place by establishing a system of co-operation between contracting countries, that allows intercountry adoptions to be recognised, with the best interests of the child being paramount. This child centred approach aims to prevent the abduction, sale of or trafficking of children from one country to another. This means that prospective parents may be able to adopt a child from a country that is a signatory to the Convention.


Recognised countries

If an adoption under the Convention is not possible, this does not necessarily present a bar to adopting a child from another country. It is possible for a prospective parent to adopt a child from a country that is not a signatory to the Convention, where such country is included on the UK’s recognised or designated list of countries.  This is the (Adoption (Recognition of Overseas Adoptions) Order 2013, Schedule 1) and is called an “overseas adoption”.

Other countries

There are also options available to those looking to adopt a child from a country that is not listed in the Convention or the UK’s recognised list. In such circumstances, it is likely a court order will be required and specific legal advice about the best route available must be sought.  It is important to note that there are a list of restricted countries and such restrictions may be in place due to a lack of safeguards and proper procedures in the relevant country.

Will the child I adopt become a British citizen?

An adoption under the Convention will result in automatic British citizenship of the child, provided that the adoptive parents are habitually resident in the UK and at least one of them is a British citizen.

An overseas adoption eg an adoption via the UK’s recognised list will not provide automatic British citizenship for the child. However, an application to register an adopted child as a British Citizen can be made and again advice regarding the prospects of success of such an application must be sought.  In circumstances where an adopted child does not automatically acquire British citizenship and does not qualify for British Citizenship by registration, specialist immigration advice is likely to be required.  We have a specialist immigration lawyer at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP who can also assist with this.


Intercountry adoptions can present complex legal challenges and require careful navigation through the legal framework and regulations applicable to the UK.  The right guidance and support can make this process so much easier for any prospective parents wishing to embark on this process and grow their family.

If you are considering an intercountry adoption and would like to discuss this further, please do get in touch with Sarah Harding or Emma Reynolds in the SMB Family Team.