Guatemala is a warm and hospitable Latin American country, rich in history and Mayan culture. Nevertheless, we call Guatemala “a developing country” to describe its weak economy and overwhelming poverty, especially in the country-side. Extreme poverty, coupled with ostracism towards unwed mothers, leads many women no choice but to give up their children for adoption. Guatemala is one of the few countries that allows private adoptions to be facilitated by attorneys between birth mothers and foreign adoptive families.
Guatemala has long become a popular choice for adoptions, especially for families who want younger children or can afford to make only one short trip. In private adoptions, children can be referred at birth and if the adoption process moves quickly, arrive home in 5-6 months. Private foster care and good healthcare system ensure most children are healthy and well-nourished. Special-needs and older children often end up in orphanages, or “hogars”, and although their adoption is sometimes more difficult, it is always rewarding despite its challenges.
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala plays an important part in the adoption process, facilitating DNA testing and issuing pre-approval from the Department of Homeland Security. Other major adoption authorities include Minor’s Court (local authorities) and Solicitor General’s Office (PGN) that reviews and approves all international adoption cases in Guatemala. Please see U.S. Department of State overview for more details.
Our Guatemala program is currently closed. A few years ago, About A Child has applied through the State Department to be a part of a small pilot program to help place older and special-needs kids and large sibling groups. However, USDOS subsequently announced that they have withdrawn from the pilot program and we don’t foresee any new adoptions from Guatemala taking place in the near future.
There is no national or international adoption registry in Guatemala, and children typically become available for adoption/referral once they are released to the attorney (often, at birth) and may be as young as 4-5 months at the time adoption is finalized. Most children are of Spanish or Mayan descent, with olive skin and dark hair. Siblings and unrelated children can be adopted at the same time.
While in the U.S., prospective families are required to prepare an adoption dossier (a set of documents required for adoption processing by local authorities abroad). For Guatemala, dossier includes USCIS (former INS) permission to adopt internationally, homestudy prepared by a licensed agency and a number of documents verifying family marital status, income, health condition, criminal history, etc.
Once the dossier is completed, it is first authenticated in the Guatemalan Embassy in USA and then mailed to an attorney in Guatemala. There, it is translated into Spanish, and parents’ Power of Attorney is registered at the Guatemala Supreme Court. At that point the attorney starts looking for a referral for the family. About A Child does not withdraw a referral until the prospective adoptive parent(s) have had two weeks (unless extenuating circumstances involving the child’s best interests require a more expedited decision) to consider the needs of the child and their ability to meet those needs, and to obtain physician review of medical information and other descriptive information, including video of the child if available. When a family accepts their referral, attorney submits their dossier to the Minor’s court and simultaneously submits documentation for DNA testing to prevent any fraud or baby-selling. Upon receiving DNA results, U.S. Embassy accepts documents for processing and issues DHS pre-approval for adoption. Once both pre-approval and Minor’s court approval are received, the documents are submitted to PGN. Once PGN releases, or approves, the documents, final paperwork may be completed and parents can travel to pick up their child(ren).
U.S. allows Guatemalan children to be escorted to the U.S., or pick up the child once adoption has been completed in the U.S. Such adoptions are not considered to be finalized (children don’t automatically become U.S. citizens, and re-adoption must be done in USA). Immigrant visas issued to children in such adoptions are called IR-4. If both parents saw the child before their case went into PGN (verified via passport entrance stamps), they are issued IR-3 visas, and children become U.S. citizens upon entering U.S.
In our program, parents may visit their referred child before accepting the referral, and any time during the wait..
At the moment, there are no registration requirements imposed by Guatemala, but families are asked to send in two agency-conducted post-placement reports, at 6 months and 12 months after the adoption is completed.
It is possible to estimate average timeframes of adopting from Guatemala, but any delays in PGN or Minor’s court processing are hard to control. At the moment, we estimate it to take from 4 to 6 months to complete an adoption after the dossier is submitted. Typically, it takes 3-5 months for dossier preparation, but unexpected circumstances and USCIS delays might extend the wait time.
The length of stay in Guatemala could be as short as four days if the family chooses to adopt under IR-3 visa, though we recommend at least two trips, the first one to accept the referral or visit the child before family case enters PGN.
Guatemalan adoptions are understandably expensive considering high attorney fees and several months of foster care expenses. However, it affords a convenience of a very short stay for families with one parent on a tight work schedule.