No announcement yet.

Banking on international adoption: More affordable than it seems

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Banking on international adoption: More affordable than it seems

    Banking on international adoption: More affordable than it seems
    by Sandra E. Martin

    National Post (Canada)
    May 29, 2004 Saturday National Edition

    When blond Deana Wilson goes out with her two dark-haired daughters,
    Tia, 6, and Tessa, 21 months, they attract a certain amount of
    attention. Much of it is admiring; some of it is annoying.

    Upon learning that Ms. Wilson's children were both adopted from China
    -- Tia in 1998 and Tessa last July -- curious strangers often comment:
    "Oh, my God, that must have been so expensive!"

    Her response is swift and pithy: "I'm thinking, you know what? So's
    your car. How do you put a price on a baby?

    "Ever since we got Tia -- I'm always blown away by how much I love
    her. And now Tessa, too."

    For Ms. Wilson, her husband, Jeff, and the approximately 20,000 other
    Canadian families who've adopted children from abroad over the past
    decade, the financial outlay involved -- which, depending on the
    country, can top $30,000 -- is the best investment they ever made.

    And to couples who are considering international adoption, but may
    be intimidated by the cost, Ms. Wilson and others who've already
    been through the process assure that it's much more affordable than
    it seems.

    For starters, you don't need to have the full amount up front.

    "The thing that people don't realize is it's all done in stages. It's
    not like you go to an agency and hand them $20,000," says Kathleen
    Dennis of Toronto, who adopted a little girl from China's Guangzhou
    province last year.

    Fellow Torontonian Ruth Hatch, who adopted a baby boy from Armenia in
    2001, and has already started the process for a second adoption, agrees
    the staggered payments take the shock out of the financial equation.

    "It was split up in four chunks, which was pretty manageable,"
    she recalls.

    The process of international adoption begins with a home study, which
    is performed by a social worker over the course of several months.
    It's mandatory and costs $900 to $1,800, depending on where you live.

    The idea is to assess your suitability as an adoptive parent, check
    out your home, and help you figure out which countries would be the
    best fit.

    Although Ms. Dennis and her husband, John Slama, had been considering
    both Haiti and China, ultimately, the choice was clear.

    "We just had a gut feeling about China. We felt an affinity, being in
    downtown Toronto, having Chinese neighbours, being around Chinatown
    a lot," Ms. Dennis recalls.

    Ms. Wilson, who lives west of Toronto in Burlington, Ont., says China
    is also a good choice because the adoption process is well-established
    and very smooth. "It's a guaranteed thing," is how she puts it.

    In addition, Ms. Wilson had heard rumours about hidden fees for
    adoptions in other countries, such as Guatemala (which is now closed
    to international adoption), and didn't want any surprises. "Nobody
    was going to get us there and tell us we owed another four grand,"
    she says.

    China can also be more affordable than other countries, because
    adoptive parents are allowed to bring their children home almost
    immediately, keeping travel costs to a minimum.

    Ms. Dennis and Mr. Slama saved even more money, thanks to the
    generosity of well-travelled friends who "bought" their airfare to
    China with spare Aeroplan points. The couple's only travel expense
    was $300 in ticket transfer fees. Return airfare for the two of them,
    plus a one-way ticket to Canada for daughter Annie, would have cost
    about $5,000.

    But in the Ukraine, for instance, there's a wait of up to six weeks
    between your acceptance of a child, and when you can take him home.
    Because both parents must appear in court initially, that generally
    requires two return trips from Canada, potentially doubling the cost
    of airfare and accommodations.

    According to Darla Penner, executive director of Ukrainian Adoption
    Services in Manitoba, some couples spare themselves the cost of a
    second trip by arranging for one of them to stick around until the
    adoption is finalized, while the other goes back to work. (Both
    adoptive parents must be present initially.)

    Occasionally, adoptive parents who are dealing with two-trip situations
    catch a break from a compassionate judge who waives the waiting period.

    That was the case with Amanda and Sean Moriarty, who got their
    daughter, Maggie, from the Ukraine last September. From an emotional,
    as well as a financial perspective, it was a good thing, too. Having
    met Maggie, and visiting with her at the orphanage for two hours, twice
    a day, Ms. Moriarty says, "There was no way I could leave her there."

    Many couples who pursue international adoptions have already either
    looked into or tried fertility treatments, which can quickly eat up
    tens of thousands of dollars -- so they aren't shocked by the cost
    of adopting abroad.

    To put the dollars and cents into perspective, a single in-vitro
    fertilization attempt costs $6,500 to $8,000, including drugs. After
    four failed attempts, you've already overshot most international
    adoption budgets.

    Ms. Wilson, who had tried different fertility drugs and a single
    course of IVF before committing to the adoption process, says: "I
    don't agree with wasting all this money [on fertility treatments]. I
    just want to be a mother, and I don't care how I get there."

    She and her husband had saved some money before embarking on their
    first adoption. But, like many parents who choose international
    adoption, they looked to their bank for help.

    "Financially, it's been tough," says Ms. Wilson, who is now working
    part-time; her husband is a dispatch manager for a transportation
    company. "We maxed everything out when we did the first adoption. We
    maxed out the line of credit, we maxed out the credit card."

    Regardless of the expense, they had such a wonderful experience
    raising Tia that they began to talk about returning to China --
    if they were able to come up with the money.

    Fate intervened. Jeff's grandmother, with whom he was extremely close,
    passed away. He was broken up by the loss, but also extremely grateful
    for the fact that she had left him enough money to cover about half
    the cost of a second adoption. "It was kind of helping to pay off
    Tia's adoption and a downpayment on the second one," Ms. Wilson
    says. For the remainder, they again drew on the equity in their home.

    "If we didn't go into debt over this," she says frankly, "we would
    have gone into debt over something else."

    According to Maria Racanelli, vice-president of personal and commercial
    banking at BMO Bank of Montreal, the Wilsons' financing strategy is
    a sound one.

    She says a line of credit, secured by a large asset such as your home,
    offers the best rates and flexibility for people who are anticipating
    a foreign adoption.

    Because you only pay interest on the portion of your credit limit that
    you're currently using, a line of credit usually ends up costing less
    to service than a loan, for which you pay interest on the full amount,
    right from the start.

    The Moriartys, who had managed to save $10,000, financed the remaining
    $18,000 or so of their costs with a loan designed especially for
    adoptive parents, from National Bank of Canada.

    With a low, variable interest rate of prime plus 0.75%, and the option
    of taking up to 15 years to repay, the loan is "very manageable,"
    says Ms. Moriarty, whose monthly payments are in the neighborhood
    of $220 -- less than the cost of carrying a car loan. She and her
    husband are also free to make extra payments whenever they choose,
    allowing them to reduce the principal faster.

    If you're thinking about adopting internationally, talk to your
    employer; some have begun to provide parental-leave top-ups similar
    to those for biological parents. Bank of Montreal, for instance,
    provides a small income during the two-week waiting period for
    government benefits, then tops up those benefits for four weeks,
    to a total of 95% of the employee's gross weekly pay.

    You might also consider writing a letter or two to the federal Finance
    Committee, which is currently reviewing Bill C-246, a proposal for
    income-tax deductions for adoption expenses of up to $7,000. After
    dying several times in the past several years, the Bill was finally
    passed by a 168 to 50 vote last month, but isn't out of the woods yet.

    Quebec residents can already avail themselves of a provincial tax
    credit of up to $6,000 per child.

    Not that the availability of tax credits and top-ups would have made
    a whit of difference to any of these parents' decision to adopt.

    Kathleen Dennis still gets emotional when she thinks about how much
    Annie has brought to her and her husband's lives.

    She recalls that while they were travelling with Annie in China, many
    locals smiled at them, calling their new daughter a lucky baby. "We
    would say, 'we're the lucky ones.'"


    A chronological breakdown of major expenses:

    - Home study: $900 to $1,800

    - Agency fees, first instalment: $1,750 to $2,750

    - Travel and accommodation: $5,000+

    - Foreign/program fees: US$5,000 to US$15,000

    - Orphanage donation: varies

    - Agency fees, second instalment: $1,750 to $2,750

    - Extras: $100 immigration fee; $250 post-adoption assessment; $925
    fee for Ontario residents

    - Total: $20,000 to $40,000

    Sources: and Financial Post

    GRAPHIC: Color Photo: Peter Redman, National Post; Deana and Jeff
    Wilson with their daughters, Tessa, 21 months, and Tia, six years old,
    at their Burlington, Ont. home.