Frequently Asked Questions
Why do the travel times vary so much from agency to agency? This is a topic of hot debate on the e-mail lists. A little history about adoptions in Kazakhstan. There was a law passed in December 1998 specifically stating that international adoption is allowed, and all adoptions are to be done through the court system. Prior to that, it was up to local government officials and orphanage directors whether to allow adoptions; at that time, adoptions could take anywhere from 1-3 weeks. After the law passed, mandating a two week pre-adoption visitation and a two week post-adoption waiting period, adoptions took 10 days to 5 weeks (some agencies/regions were able to get visitation/waiting periods waived, some could get just the waiting time eliminated, and some could not get any time changed). In the summer of 2003 there was a reduced leniency regarding waiving the visitation/waiting periods, and now most adoptions require the entire time. You can expect your trip to take from 3 weeks (less likely, post-court waiting period would have to be waived) to 8 weeks, with 5-6 weeks being the most likely. It takes a full day to get there, 2 weeks before court, 2 weeks after court, 1-5 days for paperwork (new birth certificate, passport, visa for child to leave Kazakhstan, registration in Astana), 2 days (at least one night) for the medical exam/Embassy visit in Almaty, and another full day traveling back to the US. In a few regions, you are not able to set-up a court date until you have completed the 2 week visitation, thus adding more time from 1 day to four weeks. Some parents have chosen to leave Kazakhstan during the post-court time, and go back when they are able to pick up their child and leave. In the regions that take a long time to set a court date after the visitation period is done, some parents have done 3 trips. Kazakhstan off and on has allowed escorts to take children out of Kazakhstan. You may be able to have your child brought to Almaty from their adoption city; talk to your agency about it if you are planning on making two trips. Please refer to the Law pages.
Should I take a stroller or snugli? If your child is small enough for a carrier, that is what I would recommend. It will keep your child close to you and will leave your hands free to carry groceries, luggage, etc. If your child is too large for a snugli-style carrier, you may be able to use a hip carrier or sling: EZ Baby Carrier was my personal favorite (5 mos. up to 40 lbs./4 years). Other options are Sara's ride (4 mo. to 4 years, popular with adoptive parents traveling to China), a sling baby carrier on New Native Baby (up to 35 lbs.), a hip hammock (up to 3 years), a Maya Wrap , Hip baby (5-36 mos.), Cuddle Karrier (infant to pre-school), Ergo baby carrier (doesn't have a weight limit), bundle baby carrier (can be used for premies on up), Kozy Carrier (an adaptation on the Asian Mei Tai carrier), and beco baby carrier (newborn to 55 pounds). A few parents have used a backpack frame carrier; there are excellent models by Kelty. Baby slings and carriers has articles that may help you choose what is right for you and your child; this is a pro-sling site. You can check out the selections of strollers and carriers at baby-Wise.com.
Children less than 6 months, or those unable to hold their head up, should not be put in an umbrella stroller. A full size stroller would be too much of a hassle to take, so only take an umbrella or travel stroller. The streets and sidewalks are not very even, making pushing a stroller difficult. A stroller is nice in the airports and on long walks, and can be useful as a high-chair, an extra cart for luggage, sleeping in the airport, etc., as long as you have a free hand to push it. There may be strollers available for purchase over there; ask your agency about it. A new product is Ride-on Carry-on , which looks like a child's lawn chair that attaches to a rolling carry-on; for children 8 months to 5 years or 40 lbs; designed by a flight attendant mom.
Can I take a car seat? I can not imagine traveling anywhere without a car seat, either in a car or on a plane. However, it is simply not practical to take a car seat on your adoption trip. Most cars there don't have seat belts. They are very small, and there would not be room to put the car seat in the trunk, along with all the rest of your luggage. On the international flights, they will provide you with a mini seat belt to go around a smaler child, which attaches to your seat belt (they are not in the seat belt with you) to use for take off and landing. Bassinetts are available in the bulk head seats for infants, but they do have a weight limit. Another option is a Baby B'Air, available through baby-Wise.com ; note that this is not FAA approved for take off and landing. A more expensive product that has just been approved by the FAA is the AmSafe Aviation CARES for children 22 to 44 pounds. You also need to remember that your child has little experience traveling in cars and planes, and may react negatively to being strapped down for long periods of time.
Is the water safe to drink? No, but you knew that already. Bottled water is readily available and fairly cheap. The water is either "with gas" or plain. You can tell the difference when purchasing because the "with gas" bottle will be firm. I did not care for the taste of the "gas" water. Always carry a small bottle of water with you when traveling; you never know when you will be able to stop and get more. Some people have used water filters, but very few of them will filter out the smallest particles such as viruses. If you are staying in an apartment it might be more convenient to boil tap water for 5 minutes than to be carrying big bottles of water all the time from the store. Take a kitchen timer for this. For more information about taking food and water precautions, see this article on water from the CDC .
Should I take other siblings along? This is a difficult question to answer because so much depends upon your family, your agency, ages of children, and where in Kazakhstan you will be going. Things to consider: Will the child really remember the trip? How well does she handle very long trips, strange food, canned milk, long times between bathroom breaks and food stops? Who will take care of him while you are in court or doing other official business? Some orphanages do not allow outside children to visit, so be sure to ask your agency how the orphanages that they work with feel about it. How easily is she entertained without TV or videos or lots of toys? Are you prepared to take and handle an additional suitcase for the child's belongings? Do you like doing laundry by hand? Most people end up washing clothes in the bathtub. If he is in school, can he afford to take 4-6 weeks off? Yes, the trip would be very educational, but that is not what they are tested on. What if she gets sick? Do you want her treated in a hospital there, without adequate (by our standards) medical equipment available? Even a "western-trained" physician maintains their cultural beliefs, which may result in a different form of treatment than you would get in the US. Why are you really taking the child? If the answer is because you can't bear to be gone from him that long, you need to re-evaluate your decision based upon what is best for the child. The siblings will begin to bond when they meet, it doesn't matter where. It is nice to have the "quiet" time away from home to bond with your new child without the distractions of other children and running a household. If your child is old enough to remember, it would be an invaluable experience to see where their new sibling comes from. Your agency may have a strong opinion on the subject as well, so be sure to ask them. I had a 10 year old son that I did not take, and it was the right decision for us. He had lots of world traveling experience, liked trying new things, loves to read and play game-boy, and he would have been so bored for such a long trip. And I was in Almaty most of the time. IMO, if you are doing a short trip, I say go for it; but if you are gone for longer than 2 weeks you need to really think about it. See this excellent article from Rainbow Kids online magazine: When Older Children Stay Home : ease separation anxiety - both yours and your child's - stay connected during international adoption travel; this is an archived version as the article is no longer available.
Is it safe to carry all that money? Can't you just wire it, or use traveler's checks? After being on an Eastern European adoption list for over 11 years, I don't think I have ever heard of anyone being robbed other than pick-pockets. They may ask you to show all your money at customs on the way in or out, but that is it. Use common sense like you would in any big city. Have a small amount of spending money easily available and keep the rest in a waist or neck pouch (money belt). It is amazing how little room a lot of crisp new $100 bills take up. To help me keep the money organized and more easily counted, I used the small money envelopes from the bank labeled with different categories such as: foreign fee, orphanage donation, apartment rental, Almaty (visa fee, driver, accomodations), and miscellaneous for souvenirs and daily food; seal the envelopes with a US flag stamp (customs will be less likely to open and count it); put these envelopes in a plastic bag to keep them dry and put them in your money belt. I don't know what kinds of fess are associated with using ATMs. The only place you can cash traveler's checks would be at the larger banks, and the fees are 8-10%. Credit cards are accepted only at a few hotels and restaurants. Some parents have reported using Western Union, but check with your agency about this possibility. So unfortunately you do have to carry a lot of cash. But you do get rid of the largest sums - the foreign fee and orphanage donation - almost immediately upon arrival.
Notify your credit card companies that you are leaving the country; this will advise them not to put a hold on your account because they are "possibly stolen". Another hint: You and your spouse should carry different credit cards. If one spouse's cards get stolen and they need to be canceled, the other spouse will still have a valid card. For example, my husband and I each have our own American Express. Then one carries a Mastercard and the other carries the Visa. That way we always have two different valid credit cards.
You need to take bills that are the new style (with the big heads), without any marks, and no creases. If you are having problems obtaining new bills, you may need to contact your local Federal Reserve Office yourself, and then give the information to your bank. The Federal Reserve will send out new bills especially for international adoption. Some parents have reported that they have washed the bills and then ironed them, but I would use extreme caution if doing this - do you really want to ruin $100 bills? I took 80% in $100s, 10% in $50s, 10% in $20s, with a few of the smaller bills.
Does anyone have suggestions on what to take for gifts? Gifts are traditionally given to those that you have contact with in Kazakhstan. Your agency should give you some guidelines about what to take. Talk to recently returned families for recommendations. Some people you may be expected to give a gift to include: orphange care givers, orphanage director, medical staff, drivers, interpreters, facilitator, etc. I add to this list frequently without noting that it is new, so check back periodically.
Most people say to not wrap the gifts in case your luggage gets searched at the airport. Some facilitators also take responsibility for distributing the gifts and will need to see what they are. Take nice gift bags, tissue, ribbon, and gift tags to wrap everything there. Make personalized gift tags by putting your child's picture on them.
Good generic gifts include postcards from home, picture books about your area or state, any speciality regional item, pen/pencil sets, clocks, umbrellas, candy, picture frame, packages of seeds (there is some concern about whether these would pass agriculture inspection, but they are cheap enough to throw out if they don't), small tote or canvas bags, duffel bags, magazines, paperbacks, watches, small flashlights, tapes/CDs (movie soundtracks, popular singers, rock from the 70s and 80s), rechargeable hand warmers (use an online translator to write instructions in Russian), notepads, packs of different seasonings and spices (taco seasoning, salad dressing, etc.) tied together with ribbon with instructions translated, umbrella/tote combinations, small photo album with a picture of your chid, instant hand sanitizer (Purell type, Bath & Bodyworks carries different scents), portable CD player.
For men: money clips, good liquor (Kalua, tequilla, US brands), professional sports team merchandise, lighters, binoculars. For the drivers (who are usually men): wallet with cash, leatherman type tool, car care items (such as Armoural), bunge cord packs, swiss army knife, small tool set, cologne samples, music tapes, leather litter bag, lighters, small flashlights, gloves, thermos, coffee cup, wool scarf, ice scraper, souvenir key chains, Harley Davidson stuff, coffee mug that plugs into cigarette lighter, tire inflator.
For women: cosmetics (Loreal and Mabelline), scarves, jewelry (especially gold), Bath & Body works items, scented candles, perfume samples or good perfume, manicure sets.
For a homestay: dish towels, bath towels, potholders, hot tea related things.
For the orphanage: Not all orphanages expect a donation directly from you; some agencies include this in their fee, so check with them. Unless you know by talking to a recently returned family or over-seas coordinator, your best bet is to take money; it is easier to carry, you can buy exactly what the orphanage needs, and you will be supporting the local economy. Things you might want to buy there: music, VCR tapes, clothes, coats, mittens/gloves, shoes, underwear, socks, fresh fruit and vegetables. Some parents have been asked to buy appliances, paint, etc. to fix up the orphanage. If you want to take items, try wipeable toys, nothing with batteries, art supplies (crayons, markers), jigsaw puzzles, fast food meal toys, bubbles, kids birthday party gifts (see the Shopping section for stores) or maybe even Silly Putty (they offer a bulk purchase deal so this would make a great item to take to the kids in the orphanages; free shipping on purchases over $50). The medical director would probably appreciate stethoscopes, ice packs, sterile gloves, first aid pads, gauze, ace bandages, etc., or maybe a Russian - English Medical Dictionary (Search Barnes & Noble out of print and used books. ). Talk to your dentist and get them to donate small toothbrushes and toothpastes. The orphanage may also need items for special needs kids, such as bottles for cleft palate and cerebral palsy (Haberman feeders from Medela); something to support these kids while they eat, such as a bottle boppy or bottle nany.
Go To Russia Travel has a page with very nice suggestions for all, women, men, kids, and orphanage donations.
I will be leaving a child at home when I travel. Is there a legal document to give a caregiver authorization for medical treatment? For some examples see: