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Just when you thought you were done with being a document “hunter-gatherer” – you get to do it all again to assemble your dossier!

Although it sounds presumptuous, a dossier (pronounced “doss-e-A”) is really just a collection of papers containing very detailed information about you. The vast majority of countries open to international adoption require prospective adoptive parents to compile a dossier. Compiling a dossier involves gathering documents, having these documents notarized, and then adding various seals from your county, your state, and the U.S. government.

There’s Good News & Bad News…

The good news is that some of the documents required for your dossier are the same documents required by the USCIS and your homestudy. The bad news is that the vast majority of these documents has to be notarized, certified, apostilled, and authenticated.

We’ve all had documents notarized – where a Notary Public certifies that they witnessed a specific person sign a specific document. This is done to eliminate the possibility of forgery. A Notary Public can also certify that a copy of a document is a true and unaltered copy of the original document. Here’s a notary tip: Before you hand your local Notary Public a stack of documents that are bound for your dossier, ask when the notary’s commission expires. Most countries require that the notary’s commission be valid for at least a year past the date they witness a signature.

Putting an apostille on something is the equivalent of having the Notary Public’s seal notarized. When a document is apostilled, the governmental body that registered the Notary is certifying that the Notary’s signature, seal, and license are valid. The government official will look at the signature and seal of the Notary on your notarized documents and then check their records to validate the signature and seal. They will then attach another paper to your document with their authorization seal and official signature. This apostille procedure certifies that the Notary’s notarization is authentic.

To get something apostilled, contact your state’s office of Secretary of State and ask them to apostille your documents – they will let you know what to do.

What Goes Into a Dossier?

While dossier requirements are different for each country, the following list gives a general idea of what your dossier will need to contain:
  • Health statement for adoptive parents - usually a written report by your physician (on his letterhead) after you have undergone a complete physical examination
  • Financial information – usually written letters from the financial institutions with which you do business stating your account balances
  • Adoption petition (provided by your adoption agency)
  • Post Placement Agreement (from your adoption agency)
  • Form I-171H (this is the only time a copy of a document is allowed in the dossier) from the USCIS
  • For married parents: certified copies of birth and marriage certificates
  • For single parents: certified copy of birth certificate
  • Certified copy of divorce decree (if applicable) – obtained from the probate court of the county where the divorce was finalized
  • Certified copy of death certificate of former spouse (if applicable) – obtained from the state office of vital records
  • Proof of home ownership (or rental agreement) - a copy of your most recent monthly mortgage statement or your rental agreement
  • Employment verification - must be on company letterhead and have a recent date – ask your company’s human resources department for a letter stating how long you have worked for the company along with your current annual salary. (Note: You must include employment verification even if you are self employed.)
  • Homestudy – obtain a certified copy of your homestudy from the social worker who conducted the homestudy
  • License of your adoption agency (Note: check to be sure the date on the license is valid)
  • Results of your criminal background check – visit your local police station to obtain this document
  • Copy of the photo pages of your passport
  • Letters of reference – it’s okay to use the same references you used for your homestudy.
  • Copy of your most recent Federal income tax return – if you don’t have a copy, the IRS can provide you with a copy (go to for instructions on requesting a copy)
  • Power of Attorney (given to your adoption agency coordinator)
  • Photographs of your family, relatives, pets, and house
Do It Yourself vs. Do It For Me

The prospect of compiling a dossier can be overwhelming – it certainly was for us. We knew that any mistake in our dossier could delay the referral of our child and thus delay the adoption. If you are an extremely organized, detail oriented, and methodical person (if you view the term “obsessive-compulsive” as a compliment) you can probably compile your own dossier – many adoptive parents have successfully done so.

There is another option, however, if the idea of putting together your dossier is causing you a great deal of stress: You can pay someone else to compile your dossier for you. (The average cost is between $800 and $1,000 to get your dossier completed.) There are dozens of companies that do nothing but assemble dossiers for prospective adoptive parents. Who knew? Chances are, your adoption agency can recommend someone to help you with your dossier. If not, check the Internet – do a search on “international adoption dossier” and you’ll find a smorgasbord of companies eager to help you.

Is it worth spending the extra money to have someone else compile (or help to compile) your dossier? The answer depends on you. If you are overwhelmed with the prospect of making sure that the proper seals are on the correct documents, then reducing your stress may be worth the price. On the other hand, if money is tight and you are a very organized person, you can certainly compile a proper dossier yourself. But remember: your dossier must be absolutely perfect (according to the standards of the country you’ve chosen to adopt from) or it will be rejected.

Additional Resources:

Credits: Excerpted from "International Adoption Guidebook," Mary M. Strickert, 2004

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