Russian Adoption Information

Russian adoption can rather frustrating and confusing, but the final result is well worth it.  Adopting these children can improve their lives enormously, and it may even save their lives.

 

As parents of a child recently adopted from Russia, we have compiled here a number of things that we found useful or wish we had known earlier in the adoption process.  If you are involved in a Russian adoption of your own, we ask that you please send us additional information or corrections (RussianAdoption AT byu Dot edu) so that we may make this page more useful to others.

Note: May 20, 2008: Since we have not received any information from adoptive parents for some time, this page has not been updated for several years. Information may be out of date.

 

Disclaimer:

These pages are provided as a public service.  Opinions expressed herein are solely those of its authors and are not those of Brigham Young University, nor of the Mathematics Department of Brigham Young University.  Although we work hard to keep these pages current and accurate, no guarantee of their accuracy, express or implied, can be granted. Differences or errors will occur because of changes in the law (both US and Russian), variation between agencies, and variation between regions.   Please send us information about any errors or differences you notice (RussianAdoption AT byu DOT edu) so we can make these pages as useful to others as possible.

 

Russian Adoption General:

We understand that about 5000 children per year are adopted out of Russia by citizens of other countries.  Apparently very few adoptions are done by Russians.  The city we went to for our adoption (Blagoveshchensk) had had only one child adopted in the last year by a Russian, and approximately 40 by non-Russians (from an orphanage of 120 children 3 years old and under).  

 

Agency issues

Choosing an Agency

Things you might want to consider:

v   Is the agency licensed in Russia? 

o    It will be faster and easier to work with if it is officially licensed in Russia, although this alone is no guarantee of quality.

o    For a list of agencies accredited in Russia, and reasons to choose them, see http://russianaccreditation.org/. 

v   Were other parents who used the agency happy with its services? 

o    It is a good idea to talk to people who have used the agency you are considering and ask them what they found—good or bad—about it.  Although most everyone is frustrated at some point with their agency, some agencies seem to be much better to work with than others.

Questions to ask when choosing an agency: 

v   What is average time between trips?  Although in most Russian states you will have to make two trips to complete your adoption, some agencies are much more efficient at getting you back for your second trip than others.  Of course the agency is not the only factor that determines this time, and times vary substantially from region to region.

v   What is the average time from beginning to end of the adoption process?  Again, this depends somewhat on the specific region that you adopt from, but the agency can make a big difference.

v   How quickly does the agency process paperwork?  Russian adoptions are mostly about paperwork.  Documents may need to travel to several American and several Russian cities and be translated in the process.  The agency also needs to write documents for you and fill out forms.  If the agency does this promptly and moves the documents along quickly, it will make your adoption happen much more quickly.

v   How many intermediaries lie between your agency and the Russian city?  Many smaller agencies contract with other larger agencies to complete various parts of your adoption.  The fewer levels there are, the faster things will go.

v   How quickly does the agency get you through your final paperwork in Moscow?  This varies greatly from agency to agency.  We spent only two days in Moscow for our final paperwork, while some people spent a week to do the exact same paperwork.  Since Moscow is an expensive city, this can add a lot to your total costs.

v   What ages of children are available for adoption?  This also varies by agency.  Some agencies charge more for younger children, other agencies working with the same orphanage charge the same for any age child, and still others working at the same orphanage claim there are no children available under a certain age.

v   Is the agency open with information?  Can you call with questions?  If they don't know an answer, will they find out quickly, or at least let you call someone who does know? 

v   Is the information they give you correct about forms, documents, dates, and procedures?  Some agencies seem to be more careful than others about checking the accuracy of their information.

v   How much does it cost, and which costs will the agency guarantee?  Agencies cannot guarantee that your travel costs will not be more than a certain amount, but watch out for those that charge extra fees late in the process when you can't easily switch agencies. 

 

Agency Frustration

Everyone we have talked to has been frustrated from time to time with their agency.  Russian adoption is often an extremely frustrating experience.  Most agencies work with orphanages in many different cities, and so don't know details about the specific orphanage, city, and state you will be working with.  In most cases everything takes much longer than your agency tells you it will (this includes finishing paperwork, getting travel dates, getting court dates, etc).   Unexpected fees are also sometimes charged very late in the process when you can no longer switch agencies.  Whether your agency does this intentionally or not, this can be quite frustrating. 

 

Referrals

Almost every agency gives "referrals"-- pictures, videos, and medical information about children you might adopt.  However, this is illegal in most, if not all, of Russia.  Instead, you are supposed to visit the orphanage before having seen any information about specific children, choose a child there, and then sign an official request to adopt that child.

 

If you do get a referral, don't be afraid to turn it down and wait for another.  Most orphanages have many more children than there are adoptive parents, so this should not be a long wait.  Some people have been given referrals that were quite different from what they requested (age, number of children, sex).  But after they kept reiterating their preferences, they got what they wanted. 

 

After you get to Russia, if you don't feel comfortable about the child you originally chose via referral, you should be able to choose a different child in the same orphanage.  No penalty should occur for this (especially since the original referral was illegal in the first place), although different agencies may have their own rules. 

 

Even if you have signed something about a particular child in the US, that form is not necessarily meaningful in Russia.  Indeed, the child may not even be there when you get to Russia.  Some people's referrals have been moved to a different orphanage or adopted without their knowledge.  But at least one person successfully tracked down her referred child after he was moved away and was able to adopt him after all. 

 

The Process

This is the overall order of things (in our experience) for a Russian adoption with two trips.  Your process may well vary in specific paperwork required, but this should give you a feel for the main steps.

 

  1. Contact your agency or agencies.  You will need a homestudy (the same kind as you would need for a US adoption).  Depending on your state, this will probably include a criminal background check, multiple home visits, medical forms, and filling out forms about your income, your family and your marriage.
  2. While you're waiting for the social worker to finish the homestudy (after you've done your part with the forms), make sure you have a valid passport that won't expire in the next year or so.  If you don't, get a new one.
  3. Start working on the Russian documents and the INS documents (the parts you can do yourself).  When you and the agency are finished with the forms, send them off. See the section on Russian documents.
  4. When and if you get a referral, you will want to contact an adoption medical specialist.  See the section on adoption medical specialists.  Your agency might also have you sign and notarize additional documents about accepting the child.  This referral is not written in stone.  See the section on referrals. 
  5. Your agency, from time to time, will probably request additional documents, due immediately.  This might include a letter from the bank stating your bank balance, copies of your last 3 years' tax forms, and a form certifying you will complete all post-placement requirements.
  6. Most all of the paperwork you have done so far will be submitted (by your agency) to the Russian Ministry of Education.  Once they approve you, you will get information from your agency about your first trip.  At this point you rush to fill out Russian visa applications (possibly including the F95 form about your history--past jobs, etc) and buy plane tickets to Moscow. See the section on travel. 
  7. On the first trip you will meet the child (or children), get more information about him or her, and sign papers in front of a Russian notary saying this is the child you want.
  8. Between trips you will have additional paperwork.  See the section on Russian final documents.   The court may also request additional documents--these might include a letter from the state certifying that your agency was permitted to do international adoptions or a letter from your insurance company stating that they will fully cover all children you adopt in Russia.
  9. The second trip:
    • Once the court receives all your documents, the judge will set a court date.  Then you get rough information from your agency about your second trip and again must rush to get visas and plane tickets.
    • In the region  you will go to court and finalize the adoption, get birth certificates, the adoption decree, and the baby's Russian passport. 
    • In Moscow you make a doctor visit (see the paragraph on the Moscow doctor) and trips to the American Embassy and Russian Consulate (see the section on post-court paperwork). 
    • At your port-of-entry upon returning to the US, you will turn in the application for the baby's citizenship (a folder the American Embassy gives you), and receive a stamp in the baby's passport that serves as his/her green card until the official one arrives in the mail.
  10. After you get home your agency will have to do post-placement visits in your home (see the section on post-placement paperwork) and you can apply for a US passport and social security card (see the paragraph on the child's US passport).

 

Traveling

What to bring, what not to bring:

Bring

v   An extra change of clothes in your carry-on

v   Ziploc bags (for the trip when you'll have the baby to dispose of various baby leavings). 

v   Medicines for child--see the paragraph on medicines to bring for the child.

v   Diaper rash cream

v   A few diapers and wipes

v   Clothes that fit the climate, raincoats or umbrellas.  Check a weather website for specific information (try http://www.wunderground.com/).

v  Gifts

o    Personal gifts can be sticky.  On the one hand, most agencies suggest you bring gifts for people who help you, and indeed, gift-giving is very common among friends in Russia.  In actual practice, however, since you are not exactly close friends with the random agency representatives you meet, it can be awkward.  Also, since anyone connected with adoption in Russia is in a very exposed and public position, they are very sensitive about anything that might be seen as a bribe.  Our advice: give gifts only to

v   those you really feel went out of their way to help you or

v   those that you have developed a close relationship with, and

v   anyone else your agency representative tells you to, provided you feel good about it.  

o    Gifts for the orphanage, on the other hand, were a good thing. Clothes and toys are especially good.  If the orphanage can tell you what they need on the first trip, you can bring it on the second. American vitamins and medicines are not so good--they tend to not get used because of the language problem.

o    Most things you might want to give as gifts (except touristy things from America) are easily available in Russia, so you needn't carry it all with you from home.

Don't Bring

v   A lot of diapers, wipes, or baby food--you can buy them there, unless you want antibacterial wipes, which we didn't find.

v   A lot of bottled water--you can buy it there, and you may have to pay for extra weight.

v   Big diamond wedding rings (just a band might be better).  Crime is not as bad as you might have heard--like most big cities in the US--but it is not especially wise (nor nice) to go flaunting your extreme wealth (see the section on money).

 

Plane

Flights from the US to Moscow and back 

v   Frequent flier miles are the best, of course. 

v   Northwest's adoption fare is 35% of their normal fare, and the dates are completely flexible.  See their website at http://www.nwa.com/features/adopt.shtml.  The main drawback to Northwest/KLM is that they seem to have a high rate of lost luggage in Amsterdam. 

v   British Airways also has an adoption fare.

v   Lost luggage is common.  Apparently it is especially bad in flights connecting through Amsterdam or Paris, so don't put important documents in checked bags.  Bringing an extra change of clothes in a carry-on is a good idea, too.

v   Be aware that on your return trip (with your child or children) your child(ren) will have Russian passports.  This means that if you must stay overnight in another country on your way back you have to get a transit visa for your child to be allowed into that country.  Amsterdam is very accommodating about this, and just has you fill out a simple form at the airport. France is supposedly much more difficult.  Ask the airline when you book your flights about this issue.

 

Airlines within Russia: 

You probably will have no choice about which airline you fly on in Russia.   

 

A few things to be aware of, however:

v   Bring plane snacks--most of the food they serve is not on the travel okay list see the section on what not to eat.

v   The planes are very old.  This can be disconcerting at first, but depending on the airline, the can be pretty well kept-up.  The FAA has determined that their Russian equivalent does a suitable job of checking and enforcing safety standards.  The Federal Aviation Administration gave Russian airlines an acceptable rating (see http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa). We heard Kras air was a bit seedy, and that Transaero was better than Aeroflot, but this is hearsay. 

v   Airlines within Russia have strict weight limits (but they seem to be extremely variable).  On the same airline and the same itinerary it can range from an allowance of anywhere from 20 to 40 kilos per person (including all carry-ons), with a fee of  %1 of the cost of ticket per kilo over the limit.

v   Lost and broken luggage is common.

 

Airports in Russia

 

v   Airports in Russia are very hit and miss.

In Moscow:

o    Sheremetyevo II is the main international airport, and is relatively clean and modern.

o    Domededovo is a very new, primarily domestic airport.

o    Vnukovo is quite run-down.

v   Be aware that bathrooms might be unusable (even on the plane), or require payment (so keep some small change handy--the bathroom attendant generally won't have change for 100 roubles).

v   Lines are not linear (but big blobs), move very slowly, and are full of people trying to cut in ahead of you.  Getting checked in can take over an hour, even in a short line.

 

Hotels

v   The Marriott Hotels in Moscow

o    The Marriotts have an adoption rate.  It varies, of course, but at the Marriott Tverskaya it should be in the ballpark of $170 per night instead of the regular rate of more than $220.  However, be warned that this does not include extensive hidden costs like a 30% VAT, and a sneaky way they exchange the money from dollars to rubles and back again when you're billed (which will add another 10% to your total).  The telephone charges are also completely unreasonable--$8.50 per minute to call a toll-free number in the US, and big fees even to use your prepaid phone card.  All of this (not including any phone calls) makes your adoption rate actual bill closer to $240 per night. 

o    Nevertheless, the Marriotts are very nice hotels, the staff speaks English, and the food is great.  They also have cribs and high chairs for babies, and it is a comfort to stay here after living in the relatively Spartan conditions of some of the outlying regions.

o    The people at the main Marriott 800 number don't always know about the adoption rates, so you may have to call the hotel itself, which isn't a problem because they speak English (but it may cost you a bundle to call Russia if you don't have an international calling plan).  You can find the phone numbers on the web at http://www.marriotthotels.com.

v   Some Russian hotels in Moscow (all in the $70-100 range--including VAT.  And as best we know, they do not do the sneaky Marriott exchange rate trick.):

o    Hotel Budapest has received very good reviews.

o    The Hotel Ukraina has received  mixed  reviews.  Some really liked it, others complained of the staff's speaking little English.

o    Hotel Mir appears to be below most Americans' standards

 

Please send us your reviews (RussianAdoption AT byu DOT edu) of the hotels you stayed in.

 

Other Travel Notes

v   Passport control can take forever in Moscow.  Don't dawdle when getting off your plane--a few minutes at the gate may cost you two hours in line at passport control.

v   Bring something to do because you will have lots of free time between orphanage visits.

v   Don't exchange more money than you need--it's almost impossible to change Roubles back to Dollars once you leave Russia, but it is easy to change Dollars to Roubles anywhere you need them (in Russia).

v   Be careful about prepaid calling cards--they might not work outside of a few big cities in Russia.  MCI and ATT cards only work in Moscow and maybe St. Petersburg--even if they tell you otherwise. They may even give you an access number, but check for yourself that the number is really valid for the region that you will be in--the American operator has no idea.

v   There are usually no seatbelts in the back seat of cars in Russia--people remove them.  Even if seatbelts are there, drivers often tell you don't need to wear them.  You don't have to listen to them, of course.  In fact, telling the translator that you like having seatbelts might (if you're lucky) get you a car with belt on the next day's trip.   

v   It costs $110 dollars at this writing to get a Russian visa in 3 days, but your agency may charge you MUCH more than this.

v   GPS and other electronic devices are regulated in Russia--be careful and read the US State Department page on this issue http://travel.state.gov/russia.html.

v   Customs--Make sure you declare the full amount of money you have with you when you enter and leave Russia.

v   Sometimes you have very little warning before your trips, so try to be ready to go on a moment's notice.  The shortest notice we have heard of was five days'.

v   Make copies of passports and visas and keep one copy with you (separate from the originals) and leave one copy with someone you trust at home.

v   Get contact numbers for the people who are supposed to meet you at the airport--just in case.

 

Blagoveshchensk

 

This is the city we traveled to, and here are a few notes about it:

v   Getting there takes 9 plane hours from Moscow, not including a several-hour layover in Irkutsk or Krasnoyarsk, depending on your airline. 

v   The orphanage is clean, and the people seemed very concerned about the children's welfare.

v   The adoption agency workers we met were very professional and helpful.

v   On the first trip, you usually only get to see your child 20 minutes at a time (usually twice a day), but on the second trip it should be closer to an hour per visit.

v   The Hotel Chyurin is good:

o    The staff speaks English, and can help you get money exchanged. 

o    The hotel is clean and well maintained.

o    Calling the US without a calling card is only $1 per minute, which is much better than in Moscow hotels.

v   Food prices are very low, and there is a grocery store across the street from the hotel that sells bottled water by the gallon, bread, juice, and many foods that you might need for your child.

v   Coming soon: A Map of Blago, showing the location of the Chinese market, the international fair (Yarmaka) , and the department store.

 

Court

What happens overall:

The situation varies from state to state, but in the state of Amur it goes something like this:

The court includes a judge, a prosecutor (no defense), a translator (from the agency), a representative from the ministry of education, the director of the orphanage, and someone from a Russian government agency called the Registry. 

  1. First each person stands up and identifies himself or herself;
  2. The judge explains everyone's rights and responsibilities;
  3. The judge and prosecutor question the adoptive parents;
  4. The ministry of education person, orphanage director, and registry person give their findings;
  5. The judge studies the dossier; and the prosecutor gives a concluding speech. 
  6. You then leave the courtroom for the judge to decide your case.
  7. After s/he decides (maybe 10-15 minutes), you are called back to hear the verdict.  

The whole process can take anywhere from 1/2 hour to 3 1/2 hours.

 

Questions we were asked in Court: 

v   Why do you want to adopt from Russia?

v   Why this region? 

v   How many teeth does your child have?

v   How much does she weigh?

v   How tall is she?

v   What diseases has she had?

v   How many times have you met the child?

v   Do you have any evidence that she is attached to you?

v   Do your children fight?

v   Will your children be jealous of her?

v   How will you keep her Russian ancestry alive?

v   How do you keep all ancestries alive of all of your adopted children?

v   Was this the first child you saw?

v   How do you know you wouldn't like another child better?

v   How do you discipline your children?

v   What plans do you have for the child's future?

v   How much will it cost you to take care of her per year? 

v   How much do you save per year? 

v   Is your income considered average?

v   What would be an average income?

v   In your home state, is four children considered a large family?

v   If serious inflation hits the US as it has in Russia--could you still provide for her? 

v   Would you get government assistance for having her? 

v   What will you feed her on the plane?

v   Follow up questions--

o    Do you think a child this age can drink from a straw? 

o    Is that all you'll feed her, crackers, juice, and bottled baby food?

v   Won't she be afraid to share a bedroom with her sister?

v   Will you homeschool your child?  Note: They seem to mean by this that the child is not sent to boarding school.  Some people have been confused by this question into thinking the Russians wanted them to homeschool (in the American sense).  We explained that the child would live at home and go to public school for a few hours, then come back home.  This seemed to satisfy them.

v   What do you tell your kids about adoption?  (Follow-up question--Aren't you sugar-coating the truth?)

v   Will the mother work?

v   Have your kids ever been mocked for being adopted?

v   (To the orphanage director) Is it safe for the baby to fly in her condition?  Note--they were referring to a minor condition they called false chord of the left ventricle--our pediatrician says this is "Pre-Ventricular Contraction."  See the section on the child's medical information.

v   What if she never recovers or gets worse?

 

Orphanages

v   Children in the orphanage are what are considered "special needs" children in the United States (for some this is only because they have been in an orphanage and are developmentally behind, but some have been abused, and others have illnesses or problems that caused their birthparents to abandon them).

v   The children are hungry when they come out of the orphanage, but they will be sick if you change their diet too quickly or give them too much food at once (they don't seem to self-regulate very well at first).

v   In our experience, children were very excited to go to a mama or papa.

v   The orphanages begin potty training very young (perhaps because diapers are expensive).  But the children aren't necessarily trained even if they are in underwear.   

v   Be sure to get all of the information you can about your child from the orphanage workers.  In our experience they know the children well--their likes, dislikes, allergies, etc.

v   How often and for how long you are allowed to see your child varies by orphanage.  We were allowed 20 minutes two times a day on the first trip, and one hour two times a day on the second. 

v   The orphanage we went to was clean, and the workers there seemed very concerned about the children's welfare.

 

Medical

Travel Medical Information for Parents

Organizations with information about travel and health

International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) will give you a world directory of physicians.

417 Center Street

Lewiston, New York 14092

(716) 754-4883

 

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Gives health risk info for countries

888 232-3228 or http://www.cdc.gov/travel/travel.html 

 

Shoreland's Travel Health online web site--has health and safety information on 220 countries

http://www.tripprep.com

 

Insurance

Make sure your insurance covers you when you are in Russia.  We understand there are places to get temporary insurance if it does not, but we don't have particular information on this.

 

Immunizations for you and your current children

Be sure to talk to a travel doctor or go to a travel clinic.  Which immunizations are suggested vary.  We were given multiple Hepatitis B and A vaccinations, a polio booster, and a typhoid immunization.  Your children at home should also be immunized, in case they catch something from your Russian child after he/she comes home.

 

What to eat and what not to eat

Talk to a travel doctor or clinic!  Ours gave us advice about diseases and food and gave us strong antibiotics, just in case.  She also suggested we take Immodium for milder stomach upset. 

 

As for the food, only drink canned or bottled drinks or beverages made with boiled water.  Do not drink the tap water and avoid ice cubes.  Try to make sure the bottled water you use is not just refilled from a tap (carbonated is safer to avoid this risk).  Use bottled water to brush your teeth.  Avoid leafy and uncooked vegetables (no salads).  Eat fruits, nuts and vegetables only if their skin is intact and you peel them yourself, without contaminating the inside.  Well-cooked vegetables are probably fine.  Meats should be well-done and very hot.  Bread is probably safe, as is a dry rice dish.  Avoid cold meat platters, mayonnaise and creamy desserts, buffets and food from street vendors.  Don't eat dairy products, which are unpasteurized.  Be sure eggs are well-cooked and not runny.  Always wash hands before eating.  Airplane food on flights inside of Russia is included in these cautions. 

 

Because of these risks, we ended up eating a lot of borscht (vegetable soup) without the sour cream (because it's dairy) and bread.  We also had some well-cooked meat and rice in restaurants.  For breakfast, blini (pancakes) worked well, and eggs if they were well-cooked. 

 

Be careful not to be offensive to the Russians about this--don't talk to the people who are preparing food for you or who live in Russia about their contaminated food.  Just order only what you want to eat, and if you get something you are nervous about, leave it on your plate.

 

Medical information about the adopted child

The information that you receive about your child (if you receive any) before your first trip may be alarming.  But many of the medical conditions are not as bad as they appear.  Most children in an orphanage seem to have been diagnosed with rickets, anemia, encephelopathy, and various other diseases.  Rickets is a vitamin D deficiency, anemia is an iron deficiency, and encephelopathy is their word for being behind in development.  All of these are reversible.  Many children (50% in our orphanage) are also diagnosed with a false chord of the left ventricle of the heart, which our pediatrician believes is called pre-ventricular contraction in America, and is a very minor, common condition in children.   

Of course, some of the children do have alarming medical conditions in addition to these, and this is why you should contact a doctor in the US who is an adoption specialist.  These doctors can look over the medical information about your child before your first trip and tell you what might be a concern and what to expect.  This is very helpful, because many of the Russian medical terms translated into English don't make sense to regular American doctors.  Your agency should have names and phone numbers for these doctors (they can do it all over the phone).  Here is the contact information for adoption doctors we know of:  http://comeunity.com/adoption/health/clinics.html;  http://www.orphandoctor.com/; http://www.peds.umn.edu/IAC; http://www.russianadoption.org/; http://www.nemc.org/adoption/. 

Sometimes you might want to get additional medical information about your child before you travel.  You can request it, but it may or may not actually appear.  You may go knowing very little about the medical state of your child.

 

After you get the child home, make sure you encourage your pediatrician to run all of the tests that the adoption specialist doctor suggests.  Even pediatricians who have dealt with adopted children before may not be familiar with what should be tested, but the adoption specialist doctor will know. 

 

One more medical note about the adopted child:  When you are in Moscow you will have a visit with a doctor before you can take the child out of the country.  This is a very basic physical exam.

 

You might consider bringing some medicines with you on your second trip.  Tylenol or Advil for pain, cough medicine in case the child is congested, lice treatment (we understand some orphanages have a problem with this), and an antibiotic cream for cuts and scrapes.  Also bring bandaids.  Be sure to talk to your doctor in the US before you go about dosages for all of these medicines if your child is under the age of two. 

 

Money

The most important thing to know about money is that you are FILTHY rich compared to most Russians.  They may not understand that you still have a budget (or are using every penny you have to do this adoption).  To them (at least those outside of Moscow) if you have a house and a car you are rich.  Some people there sell socks on the street for 5 cents a pair.  Bread costs 17 cents per loaf.  Even professionals like doctors and lawyers make $70 per month or less.

v   Exchanging money: 

o    It is virtually impossible to exchange roubles to dollars or back again anywhere except in Russia. 

o    Russian Airports usually have pretty bad exchange rates, but you may have to use them anyway. 

o    Many hotels have money exchanges, and some will arrange for a money changer to come to your room, but some of these money changers are not completely official (i.e., not legal).

v   Be careful using credit cards and ATM's. 

o    Some ATM machines are not safe to use (there are reports of ATMs that are rigged to steal credit card numbers). 

o    Giving credit card numbers to a random store clerk (making much less than $50 a month) is probably pretty dangerous. 

o    It is best to use credit cards and ATM's only in the most reputable banks or hotels.

v   You will probably want to bring a lot of cash because not everyone will accept a credit card, and because you don't want to be giving that number out to everyone.   You may want to ensure you can get this much cash at short notice from your bank.  Bills should be crisp and new, or they might be rejected by the money changers.  Generally, $50's and $100's are the most useful, although a few $20's are also useful. 

v   Consider keeping money and credit cards in waist pouches or money belts for safety.  But remember that if your pouch has any metal in it, it will ring at every airport metal detector.  Then you'll have to open your pouch for the guard, which you don't want to be doing.  

v   Remember that, as in cities all over Europe, pickpockets are plentiful--they will cut your backpack open, or lift your wallet out of your back pocket.  Take appropriate precautions.

v   Also don't flaunt your wealth, not only for your safety, but also out of consideration for the many people around you who have practically nothing.

 

Language--Russian for new Parents:

 

v   Here are both audio recodings and a written version of several useful Russian phrases for new parents, made by the Brigham Young University Slavic Section.  It gives both the English and the Russian. You may freely use and duplicate these files for personal purposes, provided this notice is attached and the file is not modified in any way.   Any commercial use requires written permission from the BYU Slavic Section.

o    Window media (662 K) Russian4NewParents.wma

o    MP3 (4.1 M) Russian4NewParents.mp3

v   A few other useful phrases that you might want to know include the following:

Russian

English

vuh-DAH

Water

gar-SHAW-cheek

Potty

COO-koo

peek-a-boo

Fsyoh huhdda-SHOW

Everything's all right.

 

 

Manners and Customs:

 

v   Whistling of any sort is rude in Russia, as is chewing gum.

v   Generally Russians do not speak loudly in public, and most do not wear brightly-colored clothing.

v   Many Americans are so overwhelmed by the differences they see between Russia and America, that they comment aloud about the things they dislike.  This is extremely offensive to your translators, drivers, and anyone else that can speak English.

v   Russians are very concerned about being respected as equals.  Anything that indicates that you do not see them or their country as such will be insulting to them.  For example, the US government seriously offended the Russians by sending Peace Corps volunteers to Russia, as if they were a third-world country.  Try to think of things that you like or appreciate about Russia to mention to those you work with.

v   Giving gifts is very common, but there are issues about corruption.  See the section on gifts.

 

Paperwork

 

Warning:  This description of paperwork requirements is based on our own experiences and information provided us by other individual families.   Although we do our best to keep it current and accurate, we provide no guarantee that your paperwork requirements will be at all like what we have described here.  Differences will occur because of changes in the law (both US and Russian), variation between agencies, and variation between regions.   Please send us information about your paperwork experience to help us make this page as useful to others as possible.

 

Notarizing and Apostilling

 

Notarizing:

Notaries are fairly common, but most notaries are unaware of the strict rules that the state office overseeing apostilles requires of notarized documents for use outside of the country.  Contact the Secretary of State's or Lieutenant Governor's office of the state in which you will be apostilling to get specific guidelines about requirements from them.  If you do not meet their guidelines (some of which are extremely strict) they will reject the document and you will have to start over.  Some states have webpages with this information on them.  Utah, which is the strictest state we know of, has a webpage covering notarial language and foreign adoption at http://www.governor.state.ut.us/lt_gover/generalinfotemplate.html.  Never white out, cross out, or make any changes on any notarized document--if the document contains an error, it must be re-executed.

 

Beware that the language that the notary must use varies from state to state--your agency may send you forms with incorrect language for your state. 

 

Also be sure that the notary's license does not expire for at least a year, or the Russian judge might consider the document to be invalid.  Be sure to check the notary license expiration date for every notary. 

Apostilling: 

An apostille is a seal for international documents that the Secretary of State's (or Lieutenant Governor's) office puts on a document, certifying that the notary has a valid license and that the notarizing has been done correctly.  States charge various amounts for apostilling, generally between 2 and 10 dollars per document, which can get expensive.  Different states vary greatly in how strict they are about the notarial language as well (see the paragraph above on notarizing).

 

 States also differ greatly in how long they take to do apostilling:  some of them will apostille 50 documents while you wait, while Utah takes five days to do one.  Some will allow dropping off in person, others only by mail.  Again, contact your state directly.  Some states may be more flexible about their rules if you have a last-minute document needed for an upcoming court date or something, but others are unflinching in their adherence to the rules. 

 

Be sure to save a copy of everything--copy it after it's notarized, and then copy the apostille after it's apostilled (and make sure you staple them together--the apostille doesn't necessarily tell you what document it refers to).

 

 

INS documents

 

You will have to fill out the INS Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition (or I-600A).  You can download a copy at   http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/files/i-600a.pdf .  This link includes the application and instructions.  First photocopy the form onto salmon colored paper (peach)--make a couple of copies just in case.  Then you will need (as of this writing--check their webpage above to be sure)

v   An original birth certificate (we did one each)

v   A marriage certificate (get five if you haven't yet--3 for the first set of Russian documents, one for the Dossier and one for this)

v   A notarized copy of your homestudy (again you'll need five of these eventually).  Make sure your homestudy agency has done one for the INS before, or has talked to someone who has, because they have specific requirements for the homestudy that are not included in the regular instruction sheet (at the web address above), and your homestudy will be rejected if it does not contain all of the requirements.

v   A cashier's check to cover your fees (see instructions for exact amount--around $560).  The INS does not accept cash or personal checks. 

 

You can usually walk these in to the INS office closest to you, but be aware they generally have no drop-box--you may well have to wait three or more hours in line to drop off your documents.  It seems that this waiting is worth it if you are in a hurry, since documents submitted this way appear to be processed much more quickly than those that are mailed in.  After they review your application, they will send you a letter about when and where to go to get fingerprinted for a background check.  Then they mail you the I-171H (advanced approval). 

 

When you go on your second trip, you will fill out the I-600 form--http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/files/i-600.pdf .  This needs to be photocopied onto light blue paper, and filled out when you get to Russia for the second trip.  You will also need to bring (again this was true at this writing--but you should check for yourself before you go)

v   Extra copies of the first two pages of your passport

v   A copy of your employment verification

v   A copy of your homestudy

v   The INS approval form (I-171H)

v   Copies of your tax forms for the last three years

v   And possibly two passport-sized pictures (although we brought them and never used them). 

In our experience, none of these needed to be notarized or apostilled, but some people say the tax forms should be notarized.

 

Russian documents:

We did the Russian documents in three main parts.  The order might vary from agency to agency, from region to region, or from agency to agency, so check with your agency. 

 

First Part

 

The following documents are submitted to the central office of the Ministry of Education in Moscow, then copies are sent to the Ministry of Education office in the region and the city of the orphanage where you will adopt.  This is essentially an application for you to be permitted to look for a child to adopt.  Once the Ministry of Education approves your application, you can make your first visit to the orphanage (theoretically to look for a child to adopt--see the section on Referrals).

 

For this part, you need 3 identical sets of the following documents, each notarized and apostilled:  (See the section above on notarizing and apostilling)

 

Your agency should give you the following--

The following documents should be provided to you by your agency or social worker.  Get four of each in this section (because you will need an extra for the Dossier), all must be notarized and apostilled: 

v   Originals: 

o     Certificate of approval from the homestudy agency

o     Certificate of approval from the placing agency

o     Homestudy:  Get five notarized originals--three for set A, one for the Dossier, and one for the INS.  The homestudy for the INS need not be apostilled, but the others must be.

v   Copies:  (still four of each)

o     Homestudy agency license

o     Placing agency license

o     Social worker's license

 

See Notarizing and apostilling for information about notarizing copies.  To save yourself difficulty in Russia, be sure that all notaries' licenses are current and will not expire for at least one full year from the date that you execute the document.

        

You fill out the following forms yourself

The agency should give these forms to you, and you fill them out.  Then get them notarized and apostilled:  (Three each again, unless otherwise noted)

v   Petition to conduct a search

v   Affadavit to register a child in the Russian consulate (do four of these, one for the          Dossier)

v   Power of attorney (general)

v   Power of attorney for each spouse.

Get the following yourself: 

v   Marriage license (this must be an official copy from the city where you were married--get five--three for the first part, one for the Dossier, and one for the INS.  Consider getting your birth certificates (one each) for the INS at this time too, if you haven't already)

v   Family photos (your agency should give you a list of what should be photographed, along with a cover page that must be notarized.  Then you can color copy the pictures, notarize each cover page and staple--do four sets (one for the Dossier). 

v   Notarized copies of the first pages of your passport--do four for each of you, on separate pages (one for the Dossier) (see notarizing and apostilling for how to notarize copies).

 

Make sure you keep the extras you made for the Dossier and don't mail them off too soon--only send three notarized and apostilled copies of everything for the first parg.

 

 

Court Dossier (again, different agencies have different names for parts of the paperwork)

Documents you should have left over

You should have the following documents left over from getting extras in the first part:

v   Home study

v   Copy of social worker's license

v   Copy of home study agency license

v   Copy of placing agency license

v   Certificate of approval from placing agency

v   Certificate of approval from homestudy agency

v   Copy of marriage certificate (if you are married)

v   Copy of the first page of your passport(s)

v   Family photos

v   Affidavit to register a child in the Russian consulate.

 

New documents for the Dossier: 

v   Financial statement--fill this out and have it notarized and apostilled.

v   Employment verification--your employer must fill this out and have it notarized, then you have it apostilled.  Make sure that your yearly income is the EXACTLY  the same in the homestudy, the employment verification, the financial statement, and any other place you might have mentioned it.

v   Proof of Real Estate Ownership/Rent--If you rent, have your landlord fill out the form and have it notarized, then apostille it.  If you own, you need to get an official copy of the warranty deed of your property from the city where you own--be sure they notarize it.  

v   Copy of 171-H form--immigration approval--This is just a notarized photocopy of the form the INS sends you pre-approving you for international adoption.  See the section on notarizing.

v   Police Clearance Report--This is a letter from the state or local police department where you live stating that you have no police record and are not wanted for any crime.  We had to get this from two places--one of them knew exactly what we wanted and had a form letter notarized quickly in the police station.  The other one had no idea what we were talking about, and we had to write the letter ourselves and bring our own notary to the police station to witness the policeman's signature.

 

Dossier items to wait on until after the first trip:

v   HIV report

v   Physician's report

v   Copy of a valid physician's license--again notarize the copy. See the section on notarizing copies. 

 

The medical results are only good for 3 months, so if you don't want to have to redo all of the blood tests, wait until less than 3 months before your court date to do this.  (Of course, you will be guessing about the time).  When you do them, make sure there is a notary in the doctor's office, or bring your own (they have to witness the signatures).  Apparently the physician's reports vary from city to city, but ours was pretty extensive.  There seems to be some variation of opinion about how many of the questions on the physician's report require blood tests.  We suggest asking the agency representative in the city you travel to on your first trip which ones require blood tests and which ones can just use a physical exam. 

 

If you are single

If you are single you will also have to have a copy of your birth certificate, divorce decree (if applicable), two reference letters, and a guardianship affidavit.  These all must be notarized and apostilled, of course.

If you have ever changed your name

If you have ever changed your name (more than just at marriage),  you will have to do a name change affidavit as well.

 

Final Part

 

After everything else, the last documents are easy.  You just need to fill them out and have them notarized and apostilled before your second trip: 

v   Petition to Adopt a Child

v   Power of Attorney for the agency representative in the region (probably more than one)

v   Petition to waive the 10-day waiting period. 

v   You may also have any number of additional documents your particular judge or city requires (e.g.,  an additional physician's report on the children, a letter from your insurance company saying the child would be covered, or a letter from your home state saying your agency is licensed to do Russian adoptions).

 

You should receive the forms you need from the agency representative in the region after your first trip.  You may even want to request these while you are on your first trip so you don't have to wait.

 

Post-Court Paperwork

When you get to Russia, you also have to get photos of the child for her passport, and you will get additional documents after the court date that you need in the American and Russian consulates.  The agency will help you with all of these.

 

You will visit a doctor in Moscow for a basic physical for the child, then go to the American consulate for some brief and easy paperwork, then make a quick visit to the Russian consulate.  Again, your agency will help you.

 

On your way home with the child, if you leave an airport (if you stay overnight somewhere in transit, for example) you may have customs problems with your child's passport, which will be Russian.  In Amsterdam, we just had to fill out some paperwork at their customs office as long as we weren't staying more than 24 hours.  We hear it's a little more difficult in some other cities.  Talk to the airline that books your flight about this issue.

 

When you enter the US, you will get a stamp on your child's Russian passport that shows he/she is an American citizen.  They will also give you paperwork that explains how you can get a US passport for your child instead of waiting a year for the INS to send citizenship papers.  You can also get a social security number for your child with the stamp in the passport and the Russian court documents (adoption decree and birth certificate).  We understand that it is possible to get an American birth certificate in addition to the Russian one once you return, but laws about this vary from state to state.

 

Post-Placement Visits

At this writing, post-placement visits for Russia have to be done 4 months after adoption, 10 months after, 20 months after, and 30 months after.  There are very specific guidelines for these visits that your agency must meet.  You may also have additional post-placement visits required by your state.

 

 

If you have further information about Russian adoptions, please e-mail us with your information so that we may share it with others who are involved in the process.

 

Disclaimer:

These pages are provided as a public service.  Opinions expressed herein are solely those of its authors and are not those of Brigham Young University, nor of the Mathematics Department of Brigham Young University.  Although we work hard to keep these pages current and accurate, no guarantee of their accuracy, express or implied, can be granted. Differences or errors will occur because of changes in the law (both US and Russian), variation between agencies, and variation between regions.   Please send us information about any errors or differences you notice so we can these pages as useful to others as possible.

 

 

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