The information provided here is for adults affected by intercountry adoption.

Intercountry adoption in Australia

Intercountry adoption is the adoption of children from other countries by parents who are usually of a different race, ethnicity, and cultural background. In Australia, formal intercountry adoption arrangements must be approved by the local state and territory central authoriaty. Intercountry adoption also includes expatriate adoption (when an Australian resident adopts a child while living overseas), which is arranged through an overseas agency or government authority instead of the Australian government.

Intercountry adoption to Australia began in the 1960s as an international humanitarian response to children impacted by war and poverty.[1] Coinciding with the decline of local adoption in Australia, intercountry adoption steadily increased, reaching its peak in the mid-2000s. Since 1999-2000, most adoptions in Australia have been intercountry adoptions.[2] However, numbers are now declining due to the development of child and family welfare systems in sending countries, as well as the disclosure of corruption and child trafficking in intercountry adoption programs.

In response to the rise in intercountry adoptions throughout the 1970s and 80s, the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption was established—a set of ethical principles and legal guidelines to protect the best interests of the child in intercountry adoption practices. Australia ratified the Hague Convention in 1998. According to the Convention, intercountry adoption should only occur when a child cannot be raised by their natural family or extended family, and other forms of permanent care in the country of birth have been considered.

The impacts of intercountry adoption

VANISH recognises that each individual feels differently about their intercountry adoption experience and those feelings can change over time. Having supported thousands of people adopted from within Australia and overseas, we have learned that intercountry adopted people experience the same lifelong impacts of family separation and loss of identity as domestically adopted people, as well as additional impacts including loss of first language and culture, loss of connection to land and country of origin, experiences of racism, and struggles in developing racial and cultural identity.

While VANISH is not the main provider of intercountry adoption search and support services in Australia, intercountry adopted people are welcome to utilise our services such as support groups, information, counselling referrals, workshops and events. The best way to keep informed of news and services is to join VANISH as a member.

Searching for origins and family

Searching for family is a very personal and often challenging journey. In intercountry adoption, the process can be even more complex due to the need to navigate the legislation and adoption system of the country of origin, and original adoption records that, unfortunately, may be inaccurate, falsified, or missing. It is common for complex feelings to arise when deciding whether to search and then taking the first steps. Hearing from other adopted people and speaking with post-adoption professionals can be very helpful and some links are provided below.

The search process is specific to the country of origin and each case is unique, however, the first step is to gather information about the adoption from both Australia and the country of origin. Intercountry adopted people can apply for a copy of their Australian adoption records from the relevant state government adoption department. In Victoria, this is Adoption Information Services in the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

To continue the search, there are a variety of formal search services (offered by adoptee-led and non-adoptee led organisations), informal search services (such as social media, private detectives, and TV/journalism), and DNA testing options available, depending on the country of origin.

For more information about searching, refer to Intercountry Adoptee Voices’ Contemplating Searching guide.

Searching can be unpredictable, highly emotional, and life changing. Support from experienced post-adoption professionals, at all stages of the search process, is strongly recommended. Individuals may also feel concerned about the impact of search and contact on both their family of origin and adoptive family, and further challenges after reunion are common. VANISH understands these issues and we are available to support intercountry adopted people throughout this complex journey.

Support services

Adult intercountry adopted people throughout Australia can receive free individual and family counselling services from the Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Service (ICAFSS), a national government-funded service delivered by Relationships Australia SA. ICAFFS also provides case management services as well as small grants and bursaries open to intercountry adopted people and organisations twice yearly. You can call ICAFSS on 1800 422 377 or email

Intercountry adopted people are also welcome to attend VANISH’s adoptee support groups in Melbourne, some regional Victoria locations and online. These informal meetings are facilitated by fellow adoptees and provide a non-judgmental space where you can share your experiences or just come and listen.

Peer support and community networks

InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) is a support network created by intercountry adoptees for intercountry adoptees, of any country of origin. ICAV hosts a private Facebook group for intercountry and transracial adoptees only, a Memorial page dedicated to honour those who die of suicide or are murdered, and a Public News Page with current information from around the globe on intercountry adoption. You can contact ICAV via the contact form on their website.

Korean Adoptees in Australia Network (KAIAN) is a not-for-profit organisation run entirely by Australian Korean adoptees providing support and resources to other Australian Korean adoptees.​ For news and information about upcoming events, you can follow KAIAN on Facebook or contact them at . Korean adoptees in Australia can also join this private Facebook group.


While contextually different, VANISH recognises that there are many similarities and parallels between the practices and impacts of intercountry adoption and past adoption in Australia. VANISH has a long history of advocating with and on behalf of intercountry adopted people. Some past recommendations include that:

  • An evidence-based understanding of the consequences of removing a child for adoption outside their own country, culture and family connection informs legislation, policy and practice in intercountry adoption, and
  • All legislation, policy and practices enable the keeping of true birth certificates, records and processes that will allow the adopted child/adult to find out their accurate history and/or connect or reconnect with their birth mother/father/family (VANISH submission to the Interdepartmental Committee on Overseas Adoption, The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2014)
  • Australia should end intercountry adoption programs with countries who have not ratified The Hague Convention and with whom Intercountry Adoption Victoria cannot verify whether the adoption records of children from overseas are accurate, and that the children in question are legitimately available for adoption (VANISH submission in response to the Proposed Victorian Adoption Regulations 2019)
  • Victoria’s involvement in intercountry adoption should be reviewed, with a view to making a formal apology for intercountry adoption practices, following calls by intercountry adoptees to be included in the National Apology for Forced Adoptions (VANISH Submission to the Inquiry into Historical Forced Adoptions June 2020)

Articles, Books & Other Resources

There is now a wide variety of content about the intercountry, transracially adopted experience—including essays, memoirs, blogs, podcasts, and documentary films—made by and for intercountry adoptees.

Here is a brief selection of articles written by intercountry adoptees:

“This is how deeply humans can miss people we’ve never even met” by Korean adoptee Stephanie McDonald (Mamamia, 2015)

“Please don’t tell me I was lucky to be adopted” by Indian adoptee Shaaren Pine (Washington Post, 2014)

“As a transracial adoptee I was made to feel as though I should be grateful for coming to the West” by Vietnamese adoptee Amazin LeThi (Metro, 2021)

“What Jessica wants you to know about transracial adoption” by Korean adoptee Jessica Walton (ABC Everyday, 2021)

For more resources, see American Korean adoptee scholar JaeRan Kim’s website Harlow’s Monkey. ICAV has also compiled a wide collection of resources, including perspective papers drawing together responses from intercountry adoptees from all over the world. You may also find our selection articles and personal stories helpful, as there are many parallels between domestic and intercountry adoption.