When does an internationally adopted child become a United States Citizen?

Finalizing International AdoptionBilly Crystal said in, When Harry met Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”  Many adoptive parents of international children want the rest of their life with their new child to begin as soon as possible.  For the most part, the last hurdle to the rest of their lives is US Citizenship.  The question of when an internationally adopted child becomes a citizen is both legal and practical in nature.

The legal question is actually the easier of the two questions to answer.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 states that a child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a citizen of the United States when all of the following conditions have been fulfilled:

(1) At least one parent of the child is a citizen of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization.

(2) The child is under the age of eighteen years.

(3) The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence.

This means that the adopted child becomes a citizen of the United States on the day they are admitted to the United States or on the day that all of the following three conditions are met.  First, at least one of the adoptive parents is a U.S. citizen. Second, the child is under 18 years of age. Finally the child is admitted to the United States as a permanent resident and the child is permanently residing in the United States with the citizen parents. If the adoption has to be completed in the U.S., the child becomes a citizen when the citizen parents obtain a final adoption decree from the courts in their home state.  The moment all three conditions are met the child is a citizen “by operation of law” which means at that very moment the US Government considers them an American!

The practical question is just as important as any legal question.  No parent wants any degree of separation from them and their child, so proof of citizenship has almost as much value to both parent and child as actual citizenship. Proof of citizenship helps ensure that parents have no trouble enrolling a child in school, getting them a driver’s license and many more of the most ordinary and important life events.  Gaining proof of citizenship can be done in one of two ways.

Children who enter the U.S. with full and final adoptions from the country of origin, on IH-3 and IR-3 visas, are automatically sent Certificates of Citizenship from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to their parent’s U.S. address without requiring any additional forms or fees. Parents who bring their child home under IH-3 and IR-3 visas finalized their adoption in their native country and often want to go through the re-adoption process in their home state. This process is not always mandatory and can be state specific, but the process can allow adopted children to apply for a state issued birth certificate.  Re-adoption is at its essence a domestic adoption and may require the legal guidance of a qualified attorney.

Children who enter the U.S. on IH-4 and IR-4 visas and will be “re”-adopted in the United States, automatically receive a permanent resident green card.  These families find it necessary to acquire proof of citizenship after the domestic “re”-adoption is complete.  The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will issue these children a Certificate of Citizenship through the process of filing a Form N-600, once the local adoption is finalized.  The cost of filing the Form N-600 is $550. Another way of attaining proof of citizenship is by obtaining U.S. passport for your child. This avenue is far less expensive than the certificate process and is more practical because the passport can be used for travel.  Information concerning obtaining United States passports is available on the U.S. Department of State website: www.travel.state.gov.

Older children who enter the U.S. on IR-2 visas automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States if they meet the requirements previously mentioned and may apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing a Form N-600.  Children who are over 14 years old will be required to take an oath of allegiance before obtaining the certificate.  If the child is over 18 years old they become permanent residents, receive a green card and can apply for naturalization when eligible.

In summary, there are two basics paths by which an internationally adopted child will enter the U.S.  Either the adoption will be finalized abroad or only guardianship will be granted abroad (requiring the adoption to be finalized in the U.S.).  By way of example, Hungary is a country that grants a full and final adoption in-country, and Uganda is a country that only grants guardianship.

Finalized Abroad

If the adoption is finalized in the country of origin (i.e., where the child was born) then the child will be automatically granted U.S. Citizenship upon their entry into the U.S.  (in these cases, the child usually enters on an IH-3 or IR3 visa; but see adoptions where only one parent is present at finalization, e.g. many Ethiopian adoptions; contra Bureau of Consular Affairs).  The child is automatically issued a Certificate of Citizenship and this serves as proof of citizenship.  Families often wish to “re”-adopt in State Court to obtain a U.S. birth certificate.

 Only Guardianship Granted Abroad – Must be Finalized in the U.S.

 If the country from which the child is adopted merely issues a guardianship order (or the functional equivalent), then the adoption will have to be finalized in State Court in order to obtain U.S. Citizenship (in these cases, the child usually enters on an IH-4 or IR-4; but see adoptions where only one parent is present at finalization, e.g. many Ethiopian adoptions; contra Bureau of Consular Affairs).  Proof of citizenship can be acquired by obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship or U.S. Passport.

For more information, see the following links:

1.  “Before Your Child Immigrates to the United States

2.  “Other Adoption Related Immigration

3.  “After Your Child Enters the United States

4.  How to obtain a social security number for an internationally adopted child

5.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website


Written by Chad Harrison


Chad Harrison has been a pastor for 16 years and is currently the founding pastor of EastLake Community Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He graduated from Princeton University with a BA in Economics, from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and is currently a second year law student at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. Chad has been married to Kathleen for twenty years and has two daughters.


Photos by Beatrice Murch and Tiago Celestino.


Be Sociable, Share!

37 thoughts on “When does an internationally adopted child become a United States Citizen?

  1. We adopted our daughter from Vietnam in 1973. We were under the impression that simply by adoption, we are both citizens, she would be a citizen. They we were told this was not true.

    She is now a grown woman married with 2 children. We were told that because she married a citizen that automatically made her a citizen, then told no.

    How can we tell whether she is legally a citizen or if she should apply.

    Thank you.


    • Wow, that is a tough question. I’m assuming your daughter is now over 40 years old.

      On one level, I think if it hasn’t been a problem for her so far, then it may never be a problem for her. However, the risk of deportation is definitely scary, so I understand your concern.

      This is a complex question, made a little more complex by the way the laws have changed over the last 40 years. If the child were brought into the US within the last 10 years, the question would be a little easier to answer.

      All that being said, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a way to get her US citizenship – assuming, worst case scenario, that she isn’t.

      Please, let’s chat on the phone and discuss this in more detail: 334-612-3406.

  2. Dear Sir, I am trying to help my daughter Son Ya, age 51 married to US Citizen, has 2 children. We discovered that she was not a US Citizen and we were able to final acquire a Certificate of Foreign Birth, which we thought would solve the problem for citizenship in the US. She has had numerous problems over the years and I don’t understand why back in 1970 we were not informed that she was not a legal citizen even though her name was changed in a legal court. We are going to attempt to get her a passport, but what does she have to do to get her citizenship? I really appreciate any help you can give me. Thank you Sandra Connell

  3. Thank you for this article! I thought N-600 was mandatory for citizenship, thus thinking that acquiring and proving citizenship were two different things. I’ll definitely be getting a passport for my adopted daughter rather than the expensive, time-consuming USCIS route.

  4. I was born in the Philippines in 1969 (i am 44yo) natural father air force and mother Philippine both were not married. mother married my step father air force who adopted me and my brother in the us and my question is when my step father adopted me and my brother in 1975 were we considered citizens of the us and if the answer is yes how do i go about obtain proof of that.

  5. The adoption in the Philippines will be completed in April 14, we are both citizens and want to make our 3 yr old daughter a citizen right away. We were in Super typhoon and have spent all our money repairing our house and can’t afford to return to USA. right now [maybe next year]. Is there a way after adoption papers are received for us to get SS3 and start citizenship here in the Philippines thru’ the embassy… Thanks Emmett

  6. I am so very confused to all of this. I was adopted by my biological grandmother (who was a permanent resident from england) and her husband my adopted father (a u.s. Citizen) in 1989. I myself have become a permanent resident when I was 16 years old ( I am now 28) I do not have the $600 to renew my card or apply for citizenship. My mother passed away a year ago. Am I a citizen? I have 3 children of my own and im nervous if im not a citizen what will happen to me?

  7. I and my husband do not have US citizenship. However, we both have a Green card and we both work in the United States. We are unable to conceive and hence want to adopt a child. Is is possible for us to adopt a child from a different country ,specially India? Can we bring an adopted child form India to United States?

  8. I am american citizen and married to a foreign lady and I got the perminat residence for her and my 2 sons and I applied for n600 6 month ago for my two kids the question is that I need to travel abroad now and I applied for the american passport for my to sons one week ago want to know how long do my so should stay in usa to be eligible for n600

  9. Today my son received is Certificate of U.S. Citizenship. We immediately went to the Dept of Motor Vehicles to obtain an ID card or him (he is 19). DMV

  10. Today my 19 year old adopted son received his Certificate of Citizenship. We immediately went to the TN Dept of Motor Vehicles to get an ID card for him. The DMV said that immigrations would not accept his Certificate and they would have to send a copy of his application to Nashville for Immigration approval and charged us an additional $2 for this What is going on? I feel like we live in a 3rd world country!

  11. I really could use someones help. My parents (already then an elderly couple) adopted me when I was a baby in the mid 80’s from outside the country. Both of my parents got sick by the time I started high school. My legal guardian didn’t do such a great job and bounced me around between family friends. As an added bonus, no attempt was made to preserve my paperwork. My parents both passed away ages ago and weren’t in any shape to answer questions about documentation even when I was younger and had no idea this would be an issue. According to adoption laws, as far as I can tell, I’m a citizen. But how do I prove it? I can finally afford fees to get the documentation but I don’t know where to go. No one I’ve ever spoken with has been helpful.

  12. I had no idea this was ever going to be issue either , whether I am a citizen or not . I am so sorry so many are about experience what’s ahead. Not all should have any issue I would think. I do hope each and everyone of you complete the process successfully.

    I was adopted in 1974 , and my ignorance and stupidly never thought I was anything other than American or a citizen. Only time I ever questioned it was when I looked in the mirror.
    I’ll make it short .. well it’s time to get a DL and replace documents I lost my SS card . SS administration lets me know I have a hold with Immigration or USCIS . What?

    I was never naturalized by the age of 18. I’m a legal resident by green card and my adoption I guess finalized in Texas ,it’s a huge hassle here and just waiting on how to unseal those. But I am not a citizen , and that’s the biggest ….I can’t describe the feeling.

    I’ve been in so much trouble and I knew I would be punished for the rest of my life, but not what may happen once I start the process. I have to do it , cause I have no ID and SS card. Once again a nobody and with no identity.

    I’m not going to point fingers at anyone. It’s just I can’t understand, I’m not a citizen now or ever was, but I was adopted , not by choice but never after looking through adoptions criteria if the child ends of screwing up , the Adopted One may be “Removed” from the USA and sent back to a country that really has no real responsibly for my actions and past actions. I’m actually scared , but if it happens .. It’s going to be an “execution removal” . Absolutely no disrespect to the country I was born I would love to know who am, but not this way. I love this country and the people I grown to love , but this is crazy.

    Anyone adopted I would make sure and I do hope each and everyone of you the best .

    I’m so very sorry , if this wasn’t an appropriate post in anyway.

  13. We adopted our son from Russia in 1998. He is now 15 yeas old. What do we need to do, and where do we need to go to make him a U.S. citizen. He was given a pemanent resident (green) card when we adopted him.

    • Did you get a resolve. My wonderful adopted great niece and nephew are now the age for learner’s licenses and were turned away…….this was the first time their parents realized their would be a problem…….my poor little niece feels rejected……..why has someone not changed this archaic, demeaning and prejudiced law. Adoptive parents should not have to jump through hoops that birth parents don’t have to jump through. It is time to get out of the prejudices of the 40’s an adopted child should be treated the same as a birth child. This is wrong!!!!!

  14. I’ve been asked for a naturalization number because I was born outside USA. I’m adopted and my parents got me a state-birth certificate and passport. Do I need to have a naturalization number or is a passport number good enough?

  15. Hello, everyone out there, i got married to my husband 20 years ago but i could not provide a child for him, i keep thinking of what to do to make my house busy and a fried of my told me about adoption and she took me to a very good place were i got my baby girl from, i am so much happy now. you can also contact them with this email if you need a baby to adopt. Email: swarry_dave6211@hotmail.com

  16. I need help. I have become close, a surrogate mother, to a young lady I met about a year ago. Meriam was brought to the United States at appx 6 months old from Morocco (an orphanage). One of her parents, I believer her father, was in the Navy. Her parents were to finalize the adoption in US by her 12th birthday; this was not done. She has a social security card (it has “not for employment purposes” listed on the card), a Moroccan birth certificate (in Aramaic), a passport, and a few other items of paperwork. Her father passed away last year and her mother is hostile and unhelpful. Meriem is a new Believer. She has a 6 month old daughter (Lionel is an American citizen) but Meriem and Lionel are not married. They can not afford an attorney to file whatever paperwork needs to be filed as they are barely scraping by (yes, he does work full time). Our church is not financially well off but would be willing to give her several hundred dollars to help. My husband and I do not have the resources to help her through the legal process either. She is afraid that one day she’ll be deported because she was never formally adopted by the couple who brought her here as a baby, she does not want to lose her daughter (she’s a wonderful mother), she loves the US and considers herself an American. She wants to get her GED but can’t without a valid driver’s license which she can’t get without proof of citizenship. She want to work after she gets a GED. What should she do? Is there an attorney anywhere that would be willing to help her? Please, please help us.
    Thank you,

  17. Hi My Name Diamond F. and I was brought by my mom to the Us when I was around the age of one, then put into foster care in Philly at age 2 and adopted by a us citizen at 6 years old, im 17 and my birthday soon, is there any where for me to get automatic citizenship soon or do I have to go through the full process now.

  18. I’m a us citizen and my parent lived in Guyana had 2 adopted children. Last year both my parents died and there is no one there to take care of the children. I went back last year for the funeral, on my trip I have file for legal guardianship of the children. I’m now the legal guardian of the 2 children, both kids have a non immigrant visas. For Christmas I brought them for vacation and they are here with me. I now want to know how to proceed to file for them so that they can get to go to school here in the US. I can’t go back and be in guyana with them because I have my family here and I have mortgage to pay and bill to pay but I would like to care for them and keep them in the Us. How do I proceed with this case?

  19. I was adopted in the Philippines at the age of 7 in 1987, by a married couple, one US green card holder & a US Citizen serving USN Active Duty at that time of my adoption. When my adoption finalized, my new parents got stationed in Japan, 12 years to be exact, where I spent majority of my early childhood to teenage years. My adoptive mother then obtained her US Citizenship in 1993, I was 15 yrs. old.

    I am now 38 years old and will need to obtain my citizenship so I can apply for a GS job. My question is, since I don’t qualify under CCA, can I qualify as a US Citizen since my mother became a naturalized US Citizen before I turned 18? Thank you for any answer you may be able to give me!

  20. I am in the process of adopting my former foster daughter who is almost 32 years old. Cambodian heritage born in refugee camp in Thailand. Came to U.S when 2 years old with siblings and parents. Was issued social security card and has green card. Her younger sister was adopted with no issues when she was 14. When I adopt her will she receive citizenship since I am a citizen? The family came here sponsored by a church and came into the country legally. Thank you.

  21. my wife and I adopted our children from mexico when they were 1 and 6 perspectively, one is now 26 and the other is 19. how do I prove they are citizens and get them an I D
    card under CCA of 2000 ? the oldest one had all her I D stolen and the only thing I have on her is the adoption papers and the birth certificate but no pictures. HELP BIG TIME !!!

  22. wow, its 2017 , i hope you still get my message, long story short, i was adopted by my dad, who was in the navy ,we came from the philippines, i have the adoption papers, my passport at the time we came, social, and his death certificate, i am 50 years old now, been here for 36 years, married 3 times and have 5 kids, went to school here prety much grew up here, in lew of all thats happening now about immigration and stuff, i need to know how i can aquire a proof of citizenship, up untill this election,i always knew i am a citizen but i want to make sure i am, i should be confident because i have a ssn, and a permanent resident card which was aquired before my adoption was finalized in order to get in , i guess it was part of the petition, ? pls. let me know what i need to do now? i dont want to fill out the wrong paper works . pls..

  23. Hi I dont know if this is the right site for me, but I’m currently pregnant and I would like to give up my baby for adoption to parents who really need it. Please I dont want to abort it I know you can help me in one way. Please

  24. PLEASE HELP !! My mom re-married when I was 2 yrs. Old along with a sister and 2 brothers all under age 10 and he legally adopted all 4 of us. I am now ” 52″ yrs. Old. We Enrolled in schools, have S.S. cards, Drivers license. High school diplomas and some of us are now married with children of our own and I’m a proud grandfather of 4 . We’ve lived here all our lives, it’s all we know as proud Americans. One of my sons is in the military, on his 2nd. Promotion as staff srg. Doesn’t it mean anything ??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *