On this page:
Refer to the travel section for many details listed here, as well as additional information that you will need.
Your agency may make your flight arrangements for your trip to Kazakhstan. If your agency does not, this would be the time to find a good travel agent. Purchasing a ticket for an adoption trip can be difficult, as you are faced with "open" tickets vs. "changeable" tickets vs. "special fare" tickets. Most families end up changing either their departure date or their return date at least once. If you have deeply discounted or special fare tickets, there may not be a seat available in that class for your return trip. You might then be faced with purchasing additional tickets at full fare. Discuss all the options with your travel agent and make sure you know what is involved, including fees, in changing your dates of travel. You can do some initial research on the internet so that you know what range of fares are available; Travelocity and Expedia.com are two sites to check on airfares. In the travel section I have a list of travel agents that many adoptive parents have used.
Most agencies take care of all visas, transportation and lodging in Kazakhstan. In the travel section and individual cities pages you will find information about hotels. Do your research so that you can make an informed decision when your agency asks you for your preferences. There are also visa services listed in the travel section if you need to do it yourself. The LOI (Letter of Invitation) is issued by the MOE (Ministry of Education) and it's local authority in the city that you are adopting from; you must obtain an "Adoption Visa", or else the court may not set a court date for your adoption. This rule was set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Obtain a passport immediately if you do not have one. If you already have one, check the expiration date because most countries will not issue you a visa if there is less than six months left.
Check the CDC web site for the recommendations about immunizations. Talk to your physician about it. He/she may be able to refer you to a travel medicine specialist. And, yes, most adoptive families do get the recommended immunizations.
Read this article on Transitioning. It has suggestions on things you can do before and after adoption to help your child make the transition from the orphanage to your family.
Call your insurance company and verify your coverage while you travel overseas. You might want to consider additional trip insurance. Talk to your physician and pediatrician about prescriptions for medications you might need, such as antibiotics.
Look in the files section of Kazakhstan_Adoption Yahoo group for an excellent article written by an adoptive dad. Wonderful hints and suggestions.
Create a card with emergency contact information, both in Kazakhstan and in your home country. I have a list of suggestions for information to include, as well as pre-formatted cards for you to print, fill in, and take with you.
Most important is to remember to take a sense of humor and a healthy dose of patience. You are going to a foreign country and must follow their schedule and deal with their governmental bureaucracy. Keep a positive attitude. Most everyone encounters small glitches; these make the best stories later.
Your schedule will vary with your individual circumstances, the facilitator, orphanage, judge, etc. Below is only a general guideline. Your trip may take from 5 to 7 weeks, or even longer, depending upon the region and your personal situation. Yes, it is a very long time, and hard for some to manage because of work or family obligations. Look on it as a unique opportunity to really get to know the land of your child's birth and its people. It is not a vacation, but you do get away from the stresses of every day life. You will be amazed at the changes that you see in your child over this time, as they become more familiar with you and the idea of leaving the only place they have lived. I believe, as others do, that this bonding time makes the trip home much easier and attachment less troublesome compared to adoptions from countries where you are in and out as quickly as possible. Some families have chosen to make two trips, one for the two week pre-court mandated time and then returned once all the paperwork was in order for the child to leave Kazakhstan and go to the US. In some regions the time between the bonding period (first 2 weeks) and the court can be up to a month; most of the families traveling there have been choosing to go home after the bonding period and return for court, then some are leaving immediately afterwards returning to pick up their child, making it a three trip adventure. There is at least one agency that allows the use of escorts to bring the child to the US.
Somehow, you get to your child's adoption city. How this occurs will vary greatly with where you arrive in Kazakhstan (usually Almaty) and where your child is located. As soon as your facilitator can get you in, you go to see your child for the first time. How often you may visit your child seems to vary from day to day, with the usual being twice a day for several hours; some orphanages are closed on Sundays or have limited visitation hours. For examples of questions to ask at the orphanage to learn more about your child: Russian Caregiver Questions (this is an archive of this page, as it is no longer online), Rousseau Adoption Journal (also includes questions for the court and the orphanage director; lots of pop-ups), Pre-Adoption Questions from a language development specialist and Questions to ask caregiver before you adopt on an independent Ukraine adoption site. An adoptive parent has provided me with questions for the director/caregiver/doctor, translated into Russian; the Questions in English matches the Questions in Russian
At least two weeks later you will go to court to adopt your child; sometimes the court date can only be scheduled after this two week bonding period, and it may take anwhere from one week to one month to get a date set. I have listed some of the questions you might be asked in court on FAQ page 3. One (or both) spouse(s) may leave after the court hearing. [Note: if a spouse leaves and will not be returning to pick up the child, you need to have proof when you get to the US Embassy that he/she saw the child. A picture is worth a thousand words. Take your first picture of you as a family. The Embassy will give it back. I took a 12 exposure roll of film for this purpose and had it developed while I was in Kazakhstan. If one is available, you could use an instant camera such as a Polaroid. You can also get a print made from a digital camera.] There is then a two week waiting period during which the adoption may be contested; during this time you need to obtain 4 photos: one for the medical exam, 1 for the passport registration, and 2 for the immigrant visa. A few agencies in some regions are able to get this waiting period waived, although this is happening much more rarely. Most of the time the child must stay in the orphanage during the waiting period. Your facilitator will then obtain the new birth certificate listing you as parents, a Kazakhstan passport, a Kazakhstan exit visa allowing the child to leave the country, and register your child's Kazakhstan passport with the government in Astana; this can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks.
If you are not already in Almaty, you must travel there to obtain an Immigrant Visa from the US Embassy in order to bring your child into the US. Previously (before March 1, 2003) this was done in Moscow. Even though the Embassy has moved to Astana, visa interviews still occur in Almaty. See the US Embassy Kazakhstan web site: the American Citizen Services has contact information, forms, hours, etc., and a page for international adoptions . You or your agency should have already e-mailed the Embassy to verify that they have received the Visa 37 cable of your approval to adopt.
The medical exam will be done at the International SOS Clinic in Almaty. It is open Monday through Friday, 9 am to 6 pm. See their web site for address and phone number to make an appointment. It is 15,750 Tenge for the exam (children under 15), plus any additional labs/x-rays that might be needed, payable in Tenge or by credit card. You will need to take a passport-size photo, child's Kazakhstan passport, and the medical record from the hospital/orphanage. They will provide you with a sealed envelope that you will turn in to the Embassy. Keep in mind that this is a cursory exam designed to assess the general health of the immigrant to protect US public health, but feel free to ask any questions you may have. This information is avaialble from the US Embassy's Medical Examination page.
Documents must be turned in to the Embassy before noon at least one business day prior to the immigrant visa interview. The agency facilitator/coordinator can do this for you. For a list of the needed documents, see the Checklist. You can also find details of the entire adoption process on their Applying for your child's visa page. Call 50-49-00 for an appointment; they prefer that you set up an interview time. Effective December 12, 2005 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday adoption interviews will be conducted at 3 pm. On Friday the interview will be conducted at 2 pm. The visa fee is $380, payable in US cash or credit card at the time the documents are taken to the Embassy; this fee increased on March 8, 2005. The Embassy is located at 97 Zholdasbekov Street, and remember you can't take any electronics in with you. There is a list of prohibited items on the Embassy web site.
The Embassy in Almaty is closed for the following dates in 2008 due to local and American holidays.
Upon arrival in the US, ask one of the immigration people to direct you to the correct line. The general advise is to go through the citizen line; when I did this I waited through that line, and then had to go stand in the immigrant's line, wasting about 20 minutes. The INS officer will open the visa packet, may ask a few questions, and then will stamp your child's visa and fill in the "A" number. This "A" number, or alien number, is what you will use on the social security application.
Once you have gotten your luggage, you will then go through US Customs. On the plane they should have given you a declaration form to fill out. This is much easier to do if you have kept a list of everything that you have bought to bring home; keep receipts for expensive items. For information on customs, go to US Customs . Of particular interest are "Know Before You Go" (general customs information) and "GSP and the Traveler" (Generalized System of Preferences, which describes duty-free items from certain countries, including Kazakhstan and Russia; under publications).
Congratulations on the new addition(s) to your family.