The process of international adoption has 3 main parts: finding a child, getting custody of the child, and bringing the child to the United States. Your child must have a medical exam in the country he or she is from (the host country), in order to get a resident visa (an official form that says your child can legally live in the United States). The medical exam your child gets in the host country may or may not be complete. You shouldn't automatically trust that this exam reflects your child's health. However, your child will not be able to get a visa until all the requirements have been met.
Will my child be ill on arrival in this country?
Most adopted children arrive in good health, depending on the country they come from and the quality of environment they've been living in. Half of all adopted children have common illnesses (such as ear infections) that need treatment in the first month after they get to the United States.
Will my child need to have a physical exam right away?
If your child has no obvious illness, it's often good to wait 2 to 4 weeks before taking your child for his or her first visit with your family doctor. This will give you and your child time to get to know each other a little better. It will give you time to watch your child and look for any problems he or she may be having. At the first doctor's visit, your child will have both a physical exam and a set of screening tests that will help the doctor detect any problems. Of course, it may take more than 1 visit to find and treat some medical conditions.
Does my child pose any risk of infection to others?
Children adopted from other countries do have a higher rate of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, parasites and hepatitis B. It's a good idea to make sure your family's vaccinations are up to date before your child arrives. (Some vaccinations take 6 months to complete.) Many of the common infections (such as parasites) are easily treated or aren't easily given to other people. Even though there is a higher rate of infections in children adopted from other countries, your family shouldn't be at risk during the first few weeks.
How much can we find out about our child's health history?
Any medical information you get from the host country is helpful, but sometimes the information isn't available or isn't complete. One way to find out about a child's health is to ask the foster care or orphanage workers if they see your child as being any different from other children who are the same age in the same situation. A history of alcohol or drug abuse in the child's biological mother can be another clue to potential problems, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
Will there be any surprises at the first visit to the doctor's office?
It's possible. However, serious medical problems, such as seizures or mental retardation, are rare. Often children will need immunizations, hearing or vision aids, dental work and better nutrition. Watch your child's development over the first 3 months. You may find that with better nutrition, direct attention and love, your new child will grow and develop quite a bit.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff