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PanamaOfficial Name: Panama Last Updated: January 1, 2011
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Hague Adoption Convention Country? Yes
Hague Convention Information
Panama is party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption ( Hague Adoption Convention ). Therefore, all intercountry adoptions between Panama and the United States must meet the requirements of the Convention and U.S. law implementing the Convention.
In order for an adoption application to meet the requirements of the Hague, a U.S. consular officer must review the case file and issue an "Article 5 Letter" to the Panamanian Central Authority before an adoption or grant of legal custody takes place. Therefore, prospective adoptive parents are cautioned to carefully follow in order the steps outlined in the "How to Adopt" Section below.
Currently, Panamanian laws also allow U.S. citizens who meet required eligibility requirements under Panamanian law to adopt under a "National" adoption process, which is a different process from the Hague intercountry process. Please note that any child adopted locally (i.e. outside the Hague Adoption Convention process described below) is not immediately eligible for an immigrant visa. Instead, the child must qualify for an immigrant visa as the child of the U.S. Citizen (IR-2). This visa category requires that the U.S. citizen adoptive parent fulfill a two year period of legal and physical custody in Panama prior to filing the petition for the visa to the United States. Additional information is available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ).
Note: Special transition provisions apply to adoptions initiated before April 1, 2008. Learn more.
Who Can Adopt
Adoption between the United States and Panama is governed by the Hague Adoption Convention. Therefore to adopt from Panama, you must first be found eligible to adopt by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government agency responsible for making this determination is the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).Learn more.
In addition to these U.S. requirements for prospective adoptive parents, Panama also has the following requirements for prospective adoptive parents:
- RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS: Panamanian courts allow U.S. citizens to adopt, however Panamanian citizens are given preference. There are no official residency requirements for adoption in Panama.
- AGE REQUIREMENTS: There must be an age difference of at least 18 years and no more than 45 years between the prospective adoptive parent and the child.
- MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS: Prospective adoptive couples must have been married for at least two years.
- INCOME REQUIREMENTS: There is no minimum income requirement for prospective adoptive parents in Panama.
- OTHER REQUIREMENTS: No family line adoptions are allowed, meaning grandparents may not adopt their grandchildren and siblings may not adopt their minor siblings.
Same sex couples are not permitted to adopt children.
Most adoptions of Panamanian children by U.S. parents take place in Panama. Less frequently, Panamanian courts may grant the U.S. citizens guardianship, allowing for adoption following the family's return to the United States. There are no legal impediments to granting guardianship, but the Panamanian court system generally discourages this practice.
Who Can Be Adopted
Because Panama is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, children from Panama must meet the requirements of the Convention in order to be eligible for adoption. In accordance with the Convention, the Central Authority of Panama determines whether possibilities for placement of the child in Panama have been given due consideration. In addition to Panama's requirements, a child must meet the definition of a Convention adoptee for you to bring him or her back to the United States.
Under Panamanian adoption law, adopted children do not need to be orphans, though their natural parent(s) must have legally abandoned them and/or have had their parental rights terminated by a court.
- Relinquishment Requirements: Only children who have been declared adoptable by Panama's judicial system can be adopted; relinquishment is contemplated during the Panamanian judicial process.
- Sibling Requirements: Panamanian courts generally do not separate siblings. If a prospective adoptive parent would like to adopt one child, they must adopt the child's siblings.
How To Adopt
Panama's Adoption Authority
Panama's central adoption authority under the Hague Adoption Convention is the Secretaría Nacional de Niñez, Adolescencia y Familia (SENNIAF).
Because Panama is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, adopting from Panama must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention's requirements. A brief summary of the Convention adoption process is given below. You must complete these steps in the following order so that your adoption meets all necessary legal requirements.
NOTE: If you filed your I-600A with Panama before April 1, 2008, the Hague Adoption Convention may not apply to your adoption. Your adoption could continue to be processed in accordance with the immigration regulations for non-Convention adoptions. Learn more .
- Choose an Accredited Adoption Service Provider
- Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
- Be Matched with a Child
- Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Immigration to the United States
- Adopt the Child in Panama
- Bring your Child Home
- Choose an Accredited Adoption Service Provider:
The first step in adopting a child from Panama is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited. Because Panama is a Convention country, adoption services must be provided by an accredited agency, temporarily accredited agency, approved person, supervised provider, or exempted provider. Only these agencies and attorneys can provide adoption services between the United States and Panama. In addition, the adoption service provider must also be authorized by the Panamanian Central Authority SENNIAF to provide services in Panama.
Parents interested in adopting from Panama should contact SENNIAF for up-to-date information prior to initiating a new adoption process. As of December 2010, the following U.S. Hague accredited adoption service providers have also been accredited in Panama: A Helping Hand Adoption Agency in Lexington, KY; Families Thru International Adoption, Inc., in Evansville, IN; Faith International Adoptions in Tacoma, WA; and Hands Across the Water in Ann Arbor, MI. Learn more.
Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. For U.S.-based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the licensing authority in the U.S. State where the agency is located or licensed.
- Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt:
After you choose an accredited adoption service provider, you apply to be found eligible to adopt (Form I-800A) by the U.S. Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).Learn how.
Once the U.S. Government determines that you are "eligible" and "suitable" to adopt, you or your agency will forward your information to the adoption authority in Panama. Panama's adoption authority will review your application to determine whether you are also eligible to adopt under Panama's law.
- Be Matched with a Child:
If both the United States and Panama determine that you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the central adoption authority in Panama may provide you with a referral for a child, through your adoption service provider. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of the particular child and provide a permanent family placement for the referred child.
- Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption:
After you accept a match with a child, you will apply to the U.S Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for provisional approval to adopt that particular child (Form I-800). USCIS will determine whether the child is eligible under U.S. law to be adopted and enter the United States. Learn how.
After this, your adoption service provider or you will submit a visa application for the child to a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy. The Consular Officer will review the child's information and evaluate the child for possible visa ineligibilities. If the Consular Officer determines that the child appears eligible to immigrate to the United States, he/she will notify Panama's adoption authority via an Article 5 letter. For Convention country adoptions, prospective adoptive parent(s) may not proceed with the adoption or obtain custody for the purpose of adoption until this takes place.
Remember: The Consular Officer will make a final decision about the immigrant visa later in the adoption process.
- Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in-country:
Remember: Before you adopt (or gain legal custody of) a child in Panama, you must have completed the above four steps. In addition, Panama's judicial system usually requires three months of cohabitation by adoptive parents and the child to ensure the match is a good one before the adoption can be finalized. Only after completing these steps can you proceed to finalize the adoption or grant of custody for the purposes of adoption in Panama.
The process for finalizing the adoption (or gaining legal custody) in Panama generally includes the following:
- ROLE OF THE ADOPTION AUTHORITY: SENNIAF should be the first point of contact for parents interested in adopting a child in Panama. They offer the most up-to-date guidance as to the steps required, approved adoption service providers, and the final match of a child.
- ROLE OF THE COURT: The Juzgado de la Niñez y Adolescencia (Children and Minors' Court) has jurisdiction over adoption cases of abandoned children, wards of the court (including children whose parents' parental rights have been terminated by the court), and orphans. There are 12 district courts throughout the provinces in Panama. The courts generally require proof from the U.S. government, such as the I-800 provisional approval notification provided on an I-797 approval form, that the parent(s) are eligible for adoption and the child has been approved for adoption, as well as proof of cohabitation totaling between one and three months.
- TIME FRAME: Adoptions in Panama typically take 18-24 months.
- ADOPTION APPLICATION: Usually, the prospective adoptive parent(s) and their attorney will communicate with the judge's staff until the demanda is ready for review. If the judge approves the demanda, the judge will forward the documents to the "Registro Civil de Panama" (Civil Register). The adoption is not official until it is published in the Civil Register and the judge has signed a final decree.
- ADOPTION FEES: The U.S. Embassy in Panama discourages the payment of any fees that are not properly receipted. "Donations" or "expediting" fees, which may be requested from prospective adoptive parents, have the appearance of "buying" a baby and put all future adoptions in Panama at risk.
Attorney fees for an adoption in Panama range from $1,000 to $2,500. Government processing fees vary on a case by case basis. In the adoption services contract that you sign at the beginning of the adoption process, your agency will itemize the fees and estimated expenses related to your adoption process.
- DOCUMENTS REQUIRED: For intercountry adoptions, the Government of Panama requires the below listed documents. Spanish translations of English documents are required. It is advisable to obtain several authenticated copies of the same document in case extra copies are requested or required.
- Birth certificate of each adoptive parent;
- Marriage certificate of each adoptive parent, and death or divorce certificate of prior spouse(s) if either parent was previously married;
- Apostiled or certified copy of adoptive parents' passports;
- Health certificate certifying good mental and physical health of each parent (the Panamanian authorities will accept a health certificate from the prospective adoptive parents' doctor in the U.S.);
- Certificate of good conduct from local police in adoptive parents' state of residence (the I-800A does not fulfill this requirement.);
- Letter from employer(s) stating position and current salary;
- Two passport size photographs in color of each parent;
- Two reference letters attesting to character, financial situation, and living conditions of adoptive parents;
- Sociological home study report conducted by U.S. social worker or U.S.-certified investigative agency approved by the Panamanian courts (home studies conducted in the U.S. can be used if approved by the Panamanian courts.); and
- Psychological evaluation conducted by authorized medical officer in Panama or a U.S.-certified medical official approved by the Panamanian courts.
NOTE: Additional documents may be requested. If you are asked to provide proof that a document from the United States is authentic, we can help. Learn how.
Bring Your Child Home Now that your adoption is complete (or you have obtained legal custody of the child), there are a few more steps to take before you can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for three documents for your child before he or she can travel to the United States:
You will first need to apply for a new birth certificate (short-form, as copia integra are not issued in adoption cases) for your child, so that you can later apply for a passport. Your name will be added to the new birth certificate. It usually takes at least five business days to acquire one. It can be acquired from the Tribunal Electoral de Panama, Dirección Nacional de Registro Civil (Civil Registry), Second floor, located on Calle 33 between Avenida Cuba and Avenida Perú in Panama City
Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or passport from Panama.
U.S. Immigrant Visa
After you obtain the new birth certificate and Panamanian passport for your child, you also need to apply for an U.S. visa from the United States Embassy for your child. After the adoption (or custody for purpose of adoption) is granted, visit the U.S Embassy for final review and approval of the child's I-800 petition and to obtain a visa for the child. This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you. As part of this process, the Consular Officer must be provided the "Panel Physician's" medical report on the child if it was not provided during the provisional approval stage.
Adopting Under Local Laws
Some U.S. citizens who meet eligibility requirements under Panamian law may also be permitted to proceed with a "National" adoption, which is different from a Hague Convention adoption. A child adopted under a National adoption process is not immediately eligible to travel to the U.S. The type of visa you would seek is an IR-2, which requires two years of legal and physical custody of the child; this physical cohabitation must occur in the country of origin of the child. To pursue this avenue, you must file an I-130 with the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS.
If your adoption in Panama is nearly or already finalized, but you did not start the process with an I-600A filed before April 1, 2008, which has been extended and is still valid, you have not met the requirements necessary to obtain an adoption visa under either pre-Hague adoption visa processing or Hague Convention adoption visa processing. However, the IR-2 visa remains a path to bring your adopted child to the United States.
Please visit the Department of State's website for more information regarding IR-2 visas and other immigrant visa categories.
Child Citizenship Act
For adoptions finalized abroad: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your child to acquire American citizenship when he or she enters the United States as a lawful permanent resident (with an immigrant visa).
For adoptions to be finalized in the United States: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 typically allows your child to acquire American citizenship when the U.S. state court issues the final adoption decree. We urge your family to finalize the adoption in a U.S. State court as quickly as possible.
* Please be aware that if your child did not qualify to become a citizen upon entry to the United States, it is very important that you take the steps necessary so that your child does qualify as soon as possible. Failure to obtain citizenship for your child can impact many areas of his/her life including family travel, eligibility for education and education grants, and voting.
Learn more about the Child Citizenship Act.
Applying for Your U.S. Passport
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave Panama. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.
Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print-all in one place.
Obtaining Your Visa
In addition to a U.S. passport, you may also need to obtain a visa. A visa is an official document issued by a foreign country that formally allows you to visit. Where required, visas are attached to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.
To find information about obtaining a visa for Panama, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.
Staying Safe on Your Trip
Before you travel, it's always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The Department of State is a good place to start.
The Department of State provides Country Specific Information for every country of the world about various issues, including the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.
Staying in Touch on Your Trip
When traveling during the adoption process, we encourage you to register your trip with the Department of State. Travel registration makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there's a family emergency in the United States, or a crisis in Panama, registration assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.
Registration is free and can be done online.
What does Panama require of the adoptive parents after the adoption?
In adoption cases where prospective adoptive parent(s) are granted legal guardianship of a child in order to adopt the child in the United States, a Panamanian judge must interview the prospective adoptive parent(s) and determine that an adoption outside of Panama is in the best interests of the child. This often includes a psychological evaluation of the parent(s) by a social worker. This evaluation can be performed by a comparable agency in the United States.
A judge must approve the departure of a child from Panama if the child is leaving without the child's birth parent(s) or legal guardian. The judge will grant the prospective adoptive parents guardianship for a trial period. This trial period can take place either in the United States or in Panama. If the judge determines that the child's adjustment has been successful, the adoption is finalized under Panamanian law. If the judge is concerned about the child's welfare, the judge may extend the trial period or cancel the process altogether.
Once the adoption is finalized, Panamanian law requires post-placement reports every six months for three years (for a total of six reports). These reports can either be delivered by the adoption service provider or via DHL or Federal Express sent to the following address:
Secretaría Nacional de Niñez, Adolescencia y Familia (Dirección de Adopciones)
Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro
Panama City, Panama
Attn: Lic. Mauad
Phone number to place on package 500-6079
We strongly urge you to comply with the wishes of Panama and complete all post-adoption requirements in a timely manner. Your adoption agency may be able to help you with this process. Your cooperation will contribute to Panama's history of positive experiences with American parents.
What resources are available to assist families after the adoption?
Many adoptive parents find it important to seek support after the adoption. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family -- whether it's another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.
Here are some good places to start your support group search:
Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.
U.S. Embassy in Panama
Clayton Building #783
Ave. Demetrio B. Lakas
Panama City, Republic of Panama
Panama's Adoption Authority
Secretaria Nacional de la Niñez, Adolescencia y Familia (SENNIAF)
Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro
Panama City, Panama
Internet: www.senniaf.gob.pa, or http://senniaf.100freemb.com/
Embassy of Panama
Embassy of the Republic of Panama
2862 McGill Terr., NW
Washington , DC 20008
*Panama also has consulates in: Mobile, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Honolulu, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, and San Juan.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures, call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC)
1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)