If you live in the UK and wish to adopt a child from outside the UK, you must follow the correct procedures or you will commit a criminal offence.
The first step is to decide which country you wish to adopt from (an adoption agency authorised to deal with intercountry adoption can guide you as to the options and where children are currently available to adopt). To understand the procedures you need to follow, you then need to know whether that country is:
A Hague Convention country: this is a country that, like the UK, has signed up to the 1993 Hague Convention on inter-country adoption. An adoption order in either country is recognised in both (and in all Hague Convention countries). Your child will also acquire British nationality automatically on the grant of a Convention adoption order.
A country on the designated list: the UK recognises adoption orders made in these countries which means that you can adopt overseas and do not need to re-apply to the UK court. However, unlike with a Hague Convention adoption, your child does not become British automatically, so you need to have a clear immigration plan.
Neither: you might need to apply for adoption in both your destination country and in the UK, and you need to plan carefully to navigate the immigration rules.
From the UK side, the only absolute legal restrictions are that:
You must also be approved as a suitable prospective adopter by an adoption agency authorised to deal with intercountry adoption. This means that many other issues will be taken into account before you can adopt, including your health, age, support network, financial circumstances, any other children in your family, your religion and ethnic background.
You will also need to adhere to the adoption eligibility requirements of your destination country. Sadly, as there is no global consensus about same-sex parenting, it is in practice very difficult (although not impossible) for UK same-sex couples to adopt from overseas.
As with UK adoption, the first step is for you to make contact with an adoption agency (you need an agency authorised to deal with intercountry adoptions). The agency will provide you with information and might ask you to attend an information session. If you decide that you are happy to work with them, you can formally apply to be assessed. They usually charge a fee for assessing you in intercountry adoption cases.
Your UK home study assessment
You will be allocated a social worker who will assess you in accordance with the regulations. This process typically takes 6-8 months and involves home visits, preparation groups, personal references and background and medical checks.
Your social worker will prepare a Prospective Adopters' Report, and this will be presented to your UK agency's adoption panel. The panel is a group of about ten experts, with appropriate intercountry adoption experience. The panel makes a recommendation as to whether you should be approved (and if so for which country), and your agency then makes a final decision. If you are turned down, there are several different mechanisms that you can consider, including the Independent Review Mechanism, if you feel that you have been unfairly treated.
Certificate of Eligibility to Adopt
If you are approved as a prospective adopter, your application will be passed to the Department for Education (which is the UK's Central Authority). They will charge a fee for reviewing your papers, which varies according to your income. The DfE will review your papers and, if satisfied, issue you with a Certificate of Eligibility to adopt. This will also be passed to the relevant Central Authority in the country you intend to adopt from.
Matching with a child overseas
Your matching process begins from there. In some countries it is important that you do not try to identify a potential child before you reach this stage. How precisely the matching process works depends on your destination country and the rules that apply there. However, you will need to visit the child whom you propose to adopt and engage with your adoption agency in the UK as things proceed.
The legal process and immigration
Depending on your destination country, you will either need to apply for adoption there, or bring your child back to the UK to adopt them here. You will need to obtain a British passport or entry clearance authorising your child to enter the UK before you travel. Read the government's guide to British nationality in intercountry adoption cases.