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The Certificate that is the passport to your adoption

The Department of Education is the UK's Adoption Authority. It is this government department who is responsible for the issuing of the all important Certificate of Eligibility.

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The Certificate of Eligibility is your Passport to inter-country adoption.

This is the document that all other countries recognise as the certificate that proves that you have been assessed and approved as potential adoptive parents from an authoritative body.  You will not be able to adopt unless you have this vital document.

Once you have passed panel, your documents are sent to the DfE where they are processed for a fee (as of September 2018 it is £1775), and the Certificate of Eligibility is issued.

All countries signed to the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption will recognise this certificate. They will acknowledge with confidence that you have been suitably assessed and have been deemed to be a good adoptive parent for one of their children in need.

The Certificate of Eligibility used to be issued free, but a fee was introduced with  the new government :(. With this fee, though, is the promise that the processing will be done in a timely manner. When I did my adoption 7 years ago, it took over 5 months to issue the above document.  Now it has been known to be issued in an afternoon.

The DfE casework team is responsible for processing applications for intercountry adoption. On their website they state "the casework processing element of this can appear confusing" . Confusing, yes, because they don't seem to really have to do anything other than check that applicants meet the requirements set out in both UK legislation, and the criteria and law of the country they are going to adopt from. This information is already established otherwise the family will not have got thus far.

This is the standard procedure of the DfE before and after the issuing of the Certificate of Eligibility (each country process differs slightly):

  1. DfE receives your case from your adoption agency and sends you an acknowledgement which asks for contact details of your notary.
  2. The caseworker checks that all the necessary papers are included and up to date. If there are papers missing or incorrectly completed, they will send the papers back to the adoption agency to rectify any errors. (In my adoption the Agency Decision Maker forgot to sign the front page of my adoption dossier and thus it had to be sent back.)
  3. If they are satisfied from the paperwork that you have been assessed and approved according to UK legislation and that you meet your countries requirements, they will normally print a Certificate of Eligibility and Suitability to Adopt.
  4. You will be notified that this has happened but you yourself will not be issued with the certificate and will not receive it at any stage of the process. The Certificate of Eligibility. will be issued to  your adoption agency, or your overseas central authority, accredited body or  agent/lawyer, as appropriate. (I however, did an independent adoption and had to insist that they sent the certificate to me - with resistance they finally sent it to me.)
  5. The caseworker then arranges for your papers to be sent to the Notary Public who you have nominated. Some countries require only the dossier to be notarized like India, others like Russia will require each document to be notarised. Some countries do not require notarization at all. 
  6. You Notary may return the papers to the DfE casework team, who will then arrange for the papers to be legalised at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Or they may send it to the FCO themselves. Not all countries require this legalisation.
  7. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office returns your papers to the DfE team who will, if necessary, forward them to the other country's embassy in London for the final stage of legalisation.
  8. When the papers are received back at DfE from the embassy, the application will be sent to the relevant authorities or contact in the other country.
  9. For more detailed information about the process, please download the DfE leaflet Guide to intercountry adoption for UK residents.

Details of different countries' requirements, as well as details of local authorities and adoption agencies, are available in this section of the Department’s website.

the DfE makes a caveat that as part of their procedures they involve agencies outside of DfE they cannot determine time limits. 


If you have a current intercountry adoption application with the ICA Casework Team, you can contact the team by telephone, post and email.

Please have your intercountry adoption reference number available when you call, or when writing to the team.

Please note the opening hours of the ICA Casework Team:

Monday: 09:00 to 17:00
Tuesday: 09:00 to 17:00
Wednesday: 12:30 to 17:00
Thursday: 09:00 to 17:00
Friday: 09:00 to 17:00

This does not affect the centralised Public Enquiry Unit telephone service, which remains operable Monday to Friday during office hours.

General enquiries

If you do not currently have an intercountry adoption application in process with the team, you should contact the Department.

Please note that the Department aims to reply to written correspondence within 15 working days.

Contact details

Intercountry Adoption Casework Team
Ground Floor Area D, Mowden Hall
Staindrop Road
Co. Durham
Telephone: 0370 000 2288
Fax: 01325 391396

Department for Education
Castle View House
East Lane
Telephone: 0370 000 2288


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