Exercise increased caution when traveling in Ethiopia due to the potential for civil unrest and communications disruptions. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Do not travel to:
Reconsider travel to:
The Government of Ethiopia has restricted or shut down internet, cellular data, and phone services during and after civil unrest. This impedes the U.S. Embassy’s ability to communicate with, and provide consular services to, U.S. citizens in Ethiopia.
The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Addis Ababa.
Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.
If you decide to travel to Ethiopia:
Civilians have been killed and injured in civil unrest along the Oromia-Somali Regional State border and in ongoing military operations against armed groups in the Ogaden and Hararge areas.
Terrorists maintain a presence in Somali towns near the Ethiopian border, presenting a risk of cross-border attacks targeting foreigners.
There are also landmines in this region.
U.S. government personnel may not take personal trips to the Somali region.
Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
The East Hararge Region of Oromia State
Demonstrations can occur anywhere with little warning. Civil unrest has resulted in injuries and deaths in parts of Oromia State. Government security forces have used lethal force in response to some demonstrations.
Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
The Danakil Depression in Afar
Violent crime, such as armed assault, is common.
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa has restricted travel to Danakil Depression for Embassy personnel.
Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
Border Areas with Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea
U.S. government personnel may not take personal trips to:
U.S. government personnel must travel to Gambella City and Asosa by plane only.
Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
Ethiopia is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). Intercountry adoptions of children from non-Hague countries are processed in accordance with 8 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 204.3 as it relates to orphans as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(b)(1)(F).
Ethiopia participates in a Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) program. The PAIR program requires prospective adoptive parents receive a preliminary determination on the child’s likely immigration eligibility prior to filing an adoption case with a court. This preliminary determination, referred to as the PAIR process, provides the foreign courts and relevant government authorities with information regarding a child’s likely eligibility to immigrate to the United States before the court enters an order establishing a permanent legal relationship between the U.S. citizen parent(s) and the child. The Ministry of Women Children and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA) will not issue an adoption approval letter to the Federal First Instance Court for entry of a final adoption decree until MOWCYA has received a letter indicating that USCIS has completed a PAIR review. To enable prospective adoptive parents adopting from Ethiopia to comply with Ethiopia’s new criterion, USCIS has issued a policy memo allowing prospective adoptive parents to file a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, before filing an adoption proceeding with Ethiopian courts.
Following the receipt of a PAIR letter from USCIS and subsequent issuance of a foreign adoption decree, prospective adoptive parents must submit the foreign adoption decree and the child’s travel and identity documents to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which will then complete the final review of their Form I-600 and visa processing. If the U.S. Embassy finds the case is not clearly approvable, it will return the case to USCIS for further action. Prospective adoptive parents should pay special attention to the process described below as it differs from other non-Hague and Hague countries.
Beginning on September 1, 2013, the Ethiopian government will require a PAIR letter from USCIS in all U.S. adoption cases.
Media reports in recent years alleging direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees remain a serious concern for the Department of State. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa will continue its heightened scrutiny of adoption visa processing under the PAIR program. The required Form I-604 investigation, Determination on Child for Adoption – sometimes referred to as the orphan investigation, will still occur, but at an earlier stage in the Ethiopian adoption process. The U.S. Embassy will work with adoptive parents and their adoption agency to ensure that each case is processed in the most expeditious manner possible in accordance laws and regulations.
To bring an adopted child to the United States from Ethiopia, you must meet eligibility and suitability requirements. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines who can adopt under U.S. immigration law. Additionally, a child must meet the definition of orphan under U.S. immigration law in order to be eligible to immigrate to the United States on an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa.
In addition to U.S. immigration requirements, you must also meet the following requirements in order to adopt a child from Ethiopia:
In addition to U.S. immigration requirements, Ethiopia has specific requirements that a child must meet in order to be eligible for adoption:
Caution: Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that not all children in orphanages or children’s homes are adoptable. In many countries, birth parents place their child(ren) temporarily in an orphanage or children’s home due to financial or other hardship, intending that the child return home when this becomes possible. In such cases, the birth parent(s) have rarely relinquished their parental rights or consented to their child(ren)’s adoption.
The Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO) operating under the Ministry of Women's, Children’s, and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA) is the primary adoption authority in Ethiopia.
The process for adopting a child from Ethiopia generally includes the following steps:
1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider
The recommended first step in adopting a child from Ethiopia is to decide whether or not to use a licensed adoption service provider in the United States that can help you with your adoption. Please note that U.S. citizens adopting from Ethiopia are required by the Ethiopian government to use a U.S. adoption service provider that has been authorized by the Ethiopian Government to provide adoption services. Adoption service providers must be licensed by the U.S. state in which they operate. The Department of State provides information on selecting an adoption service provider on its website.
Intercountry adoptions from Ethiopia are handled by the Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO), a part of the Ministry of Women's, Children’s, and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA). There are currently more than 20 U.S.-based adoption agencies authorized by the Ethiopian Government to provide adoption services for American adoptive parents. For a current list, contact MOWCYA (see Contacts section below) or the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
In order to adopt a child from Ethiopia you will need to meet the requirements of the Government of Ethiopia and U.S. immigration law. You must submit an application to be found eligible to adopt to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs, MOWCYA of Ethiopia. This is also called the dossier. U.S. prospective adoptive parents resident outside Ethiopia may request pre-approval to adopt prior to receiving a match. If not done prior to the match, the determination on the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) eligibility to adopt under Ethiopian law will be made by the MOWCYA at the time of the best interests review during the court process (see step 5 for more details). U.S. prospective adoptive parents resident in Ethiopia seeking a private adoption are required to go through the pre-approval process before receiving a match. The Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. provides a list of required documents for the application to adopt an Ethiopian child on their website.
Prospective adoptive parents must take or send all of the required documents, certified and authenticated, to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for additional authentication. Once it has completed its authentication, the Ethiopian Embassy returns the documents to the parents and the parents forward them to MOWCYA, Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO). You can find their address in the Contacts section of this information sheet.
MOWCYA reviews the documents for completeness and creates a dossier on the adoptive parent(s). The Claims and Authentication Section of the Protocol Office at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa authenticates the dossier and returns it to the Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO) for approval.
Note on Private adoptions: In general, only U.S. citizens who currently reside in Ethiopia and have done so for two years are eligible to complete a private adoption. Most U.S. prospective adoptive parents, therefore, will be required to use a licensed adoption service provider.
Note on Relative adoptions: Ethiopian-Americans who are adopting orphaned relatives do not have to come to Ethiopia to process their adoptions. They can have a representative with a power of attorney represent them in court. Married adoptive parents need to make sure that both parents have given the representative a power of attorney so that both parents' names appear on the adoption decree.
To meet U.S. immigration requirements, you may also file a Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition with U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be found eligible and suitable to adopt.
3. Be Matched with a Child
If you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the central adoption authority or other authorized entity in Ethiopia will provide you with a referral. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of and provide a permanent home for a particular child.
The child must be eligible to be adopted according to Ethiopia’s requirements, as described in the Who Can Be Adopted section. The child must also meet the definition of orphan under U.S. immigration law.
At this time Ethiopian authorities publish in the local press a notice seeking any other claimants to the child, stating the child's name and the name of the prospective adoptive parents. The notice advises that any parties opposed to the adoption must appear at MOWCYA by a certain date and time.
Prospective adoptive parents have the option to either accept or refuse the referral. Upon acceptance of the referral, a Contract of Adoption is signed by the child's legal guardian, usually the orphanage, and the adoptive parents or the agency representative. The contract is taken to the Inland Revenue Administration office to be stamped. A nominal fee of 5 Ethiopian birr is charged.
4. File the Form I-600 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to initiate the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review prior to filing an adoption case with the courts
Under the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) program, the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) files a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, with the National Benefits Center (NBC) prior to obtaining a final adoption decree from the relevant court authority in Ethiopia. After review of the Form I-600 petition and completion of the Form I-604 investigation, NBC will make a preliminary determination on whether the child meets the definition of orphan under U.S. immigration law. If the determination is favorable, NBC will issue a preliminary determination of immigration eligibility to the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) in the form of a USCIS PAIR letter. If an unfavorable determination is made, NBC may issue a request for additional evidence or denial letter to the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s).
Beginning on September 1, 2013, the Ethiopian government will require a USCIS PAIR letter in all U.S. adoption cases filed with the Ethiopian Federal First Instance Court (FFIC). Therefore, beginning on May 1, 2013, all new adoption cases filed with NBC must undergo a pre-adoption immigration review.
To initiate the PAIR process, prospective adoptive parents should submit a completed Form I‑600 together with all available documentation listed in the Form I-600 Instructions, minus an adoption decree or grant of legal custody to the USCIS National Benefits Center through the Dallas Lockbox. All documents originally produced in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified English translation. In addition, the following PAIR-specific documentation must be submitted when the child’s country of origin is Ethiopia:
In addition to the documentation required in the Form I-600 instructions pertaining to evidence that the child is an orphan as defined in section 101(b)(1)(F) and 8 CFR 204.3(b), there may be Ethiopia specific documentation that can help establish the child’s orphan status. Such documentation may include, but is not limited to:
Please note that additional documents may be requested.
USCIS will forward its preliminary favorable determination, together with the prospective adoptive parent’s file, to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. USCIS will also forward the original preliminary determination letter to the prospective adoptive parents for their records.
Upon issuance of the PAIR letter, USCIS NBC will forward your petition to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa for final adjudication following the completion of the Ethiopian court process.
5. Adopt or Gain Legal Custody of Child in Ethiopia
The process for finalizing the adoption in Ethiopia generally includes the following:
After September 1, 2013, under PAIR, prospective adoptive parents will file a dossier with Ethiopia’s Federal First Instance Court (FFIC) to initiate the legal adoption process in Ethiopia. This dossier will include documents related to the child’s background, such as the Life History document created by the orphanage, along with the PAIR letter, the signed adoption contract, and information about the adoptive parents’ suitability to adopt. As of February 2013, the court requires a filing fee of 25 Ethiopian birr to open a case. The FFIC will forward the case to the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs for its review, and will usually set a specific date by which the review must be completed. MOWCYA will review the dossier, along with the approved home study, and make a determination on whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child. If it determines that the prospective adoptive parents are eligible under Ethiopian law and the adoption should move forward, the dossier will be sent back to the FFIC for a hearing. Usually, if a child has been relinquished by living relatives, the court will hold a first hearing in order to obtain the relatives’ legal consent to the adoption. One to two weeks later, the court will schedule a hearing with the adoptive parents. In most cases, if the court approves the adoption, full legal custody is transferred to the adoptive parents on the same day. The adoptive parents receive an adoption decree from the court, which they can take back to MOWCYA for certification. Possession of the certified adoption decree permits adoptive parents or their agency’s representative to begin the process of applying for a new passport and birth certificate for the child. Please see below for more information on these processes.
There may be additional fees charged by the U.S. adoption service provider (ASP) or Ethiopian legal counsel. Prospective adoptive parents should seek information in writing, upfront of all fees their ASP or legal representative will charge throughout the process. Many non-adoption related services, like lodging or transportation, for example, can be booked privately by prospective adoptive parents prior to traveling to Ethiopia. Prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to research all of the options available to them, which will give them an idea of the price of various goods and services on the local market. For prospective adoptive parents with legal questions, Embassy Addis Ababa can provide a list of local attorneys with experience working with American Citizens, including some that specialize in adoptions.
Note: Additional documents may be requested.
6. Receive final approval of your Form I-600
Under the PAIR program, your Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Adopted Child is not adjudicated until after your adoption is complete. You need to submit the final adoption decree issued by the FFIC and certified by MOWCYA, as well as the child’s identity and travel documents, to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa in order to complete the processing of the Form I-600 and receive a final determination on the immigration eligibility of your child. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa will approve Form I-600s that are clearly approvable.
You will need to apply for several documents before you submit your decree:
Once you have finalized the adoption in Ethiopia, you will need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child. The names of the adoptive parents will be listed on the new birth certificate. In general, your child’s legal name in Ethiopia will be the child’s given name followed by the first and last names of the adoptive father (e.g. Habtamu John Smith). When an adoptive mother is unmarried, the child’s name will follow the same pattern using the new mother’s name.
Once the adoption is complete, MOWCYA prepares a request to the City of Addis Ababa for the issuance of a new birth certificate. This is best facilitated if the request is hand-carried to the relevant office. The fee for a new birth certificate, as of February 2013, is 300 birr per child.
Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so s/he will need a travel document or passport from Ethiopia.
The MOWCYA prepares a request to the Office of Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs for an Ethiopian passport for the child in his/her new name. This request is best facilitated if it is hand-carried to the relevant office. The fee for a new passport, as of February 2013, is 150 birr for children aged 7 and under, and 300 birr for children age 8 and above. It can sometimes take 4-6 weeks for the passport to be issued by the Ministry of Immigration following certification of the adoption decree.
7. Obtain a Visa and Bring Your Child Home
U.S. Immigrant Visa
If your Form I-600 is approved, you then need to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa for your child from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. 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.
You may submit your immigrant visa application and medical report when you submit the final, certified adoption decree, birth certificate, and Ethiopian passport for final adjudication of your Form I-600. You can find instructions for applying for an immigrant visa on the adoption page of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa’s website. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa will contact you, and your ASP or designated representative, once the Form I-600 is approved, to schedule the immigrant visa interview.
Visas for Other Countries
If the child will transit through the U.K. or Germany en route to the U.S., and will exit the airport, a German or U.K. visa will be required. A German or U.K. visa may be obtained by applying at the respective embassies in Addis Ababa. If the child does not exit the airport then no visa is required.
Child Citizenship Act
For adoptions finalized abroad prior to the child’s entry into the United States: A child will acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry into the United States if the adoption was finalized prior to entry and the child otherwise meets the requirements of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
For adoptions finalized after the child’s entry into the United States: An adoption will need to be completed following your child’s entry into the United States for the child to acquire U.S. citizenship.
*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.
Read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000
Applying for Your U.S. Passport U.S. citizens are required by law to enter and depart the United States on a valid U.S. passport. 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 a Visa to Travel to Ethiopia
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 affixed to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation. To find information about obtaining a visa for Ethiopia, see the Department of State’s Country Specific Information.
Staying Safe on Your Trip
Before you travel, it is always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. 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 enroll with the Department of State. Enrollment makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis in Ethiopia, enrollment assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.
Enrollment is free and can be done online via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Post-Adoption/Post-Placement Reporting Requirements
Pursuant to Ethiopian law, adoptive parents must submit post adoption reports at three months, six months, and one year. After the first year, the reports must be filed yearly until the child turns 18. This is a commitment that the adopting parents, home study agency, and adoption agency must sign when submitting documents for the adoption.
We strongly urge you to comply with Ethiopia’s post-adoption requirements in a timely manner. Your adoption agency may be able to help you with this process. Your cooperation will contribute to that country’s positive experiences with U.S. citizen parents.
Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. There are many public and private nonprofit post-adoption services available for children and their families. There are also numerous adoptive family support groups and adoptee organizations active in the United States that provide a network of options for adoptees who seek out other adoptees from the same country of origin. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family, whether it is another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.
Here are some places to start your support group search:
Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. government links does not imply endorsement of contents.
If families have concerns about their adoption, we ask that they share this information with the Embassy, particularly if it involves possible fraud or misconduct specific to your child's case. The Embassy takes all allegations of fraud or misconduct seriously.
The best way to contact the Embassy is by email at ConsAdoptionAddis@state.gov. Please include your name, your child's name, your adoption agency, the date of the adoption (month and year), and, if possible, the immigrant visa case number for your child's case (this number begins with the letters ADD followed several numbers and can be found on any document sent to you by the National Visa Center). Please let us know if we have your permission to share concerns about your specific case with Ethiopian government officials.
We strongly encourage you to register any complaint that you may have about an adoption agency in the following ways:
Embassy of the United States of America – Addis Ababa
P.O. Box 1014
Tel: (251-11) 130-6000
Fax: (251-11) 124-24-35
American Citizens Services are available from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. M-F, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. M-Th. Please consult the U.S. Embassy’s website for specific times when certain services are available.
Ethiopian Adoption Authority
Ministry of Women's, Children’s Affairs
Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO)
P.O. Box 1293
Tel: +251 12552 1657
Fax: +251 11552 7524
Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures:
National Customer Service Center (NCSC)
Tel: 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)
For questions about filing a Form I-600A application or Form I-600 petition:
National Benefits Center
Tel: 1-877-424-8374 (toll free); 1-816-251-2770 (local)
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