8 Tips for Dealing with International Adoption Bureaucracy

If you’re getting ready to travel abroad for international adoption, or you’re already there, this is the
advice we would pass along based on our experiences in Colombia.

8. Maintain direct contact with your local attorney. Do not allow an adoption agency to tell you the
communication needs to be filtered through one of their representatives, especially if that adoption
agency representative lives in a completely different region. You and your attorney need to be a team,
connecting in person and via telephone as many times as you need to make sure the paperwork is being
handled correctly and that all your answers are answered to your satisfaction. The idea that you need to
incorporate a middleman in a process that is already grossly bureaucratic is insulting to your time and
money.

7. ICBF can be your friend. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not okay to make friends at various offices in
ICBF. I had a handful of contacts, and even though I will not tell you it dramatically reduced our wait
time, I am convinced that the calls I made and the calls made on our behalf made the experience last
more or less six weeks instead of two months. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that. When
you’re in country, every single day counts. Besides, if you learn not to become a pest and never abuse
your calling privileges, the ICBF staff will take a personal interest in helping you out. Several times I used
this method to check up on whether or not our agency was doing their job.
(See more in Tip #1.) But, and I want to stress this point, you want to find a good balance, because it will
not do anyone any good to trip over the work your agency is trying to do on your behalf. Your personal
advocacy should supplement your adoption agency’s work, not replace or completely disrupt it. E-mail
me if you want further schooling on the point. My list included: among others, our child’s social worker,
his supervisor, the local psychologist, the regional director, and her assistant. Mind you, this does not
include the contact people in Bogota.

6. Make use of your embassy. You should register with the embassy before you travel anyway, and once
you’re there, feel free to use them as a resource if you need to apply extra pressure to speed things up.
Find out in advance the telephone hours of your agency. For the United States embassy in Bogota it’s
something limited like every Thursday morning or some such nonsense, but you should know this in
advance so you don’t wind up waiting days to connect with a helpful staff person.
Again, use, don’t abuse. We’ve all been there. Waiting is never fun, but the embassy should be used in
exceptional cases of delay, particularly for families who are already there and looking at an even longer
time than anticipated.

5. If the translator is incompetent, fire them. We had a translator who only translated half of what she
was told and inserted personal commentary where it was neither welcomed or appreciated. What’s that
saying about you not paying them to think? ICBF required us to use one despite Spanish being my first
language. I did not fight it, because my wife had to stay behind after I had to return for work. Looking
back, I would have demanded a new translator. If you do not speak the local language, don’t worry.
Follow your gut instinct. If something feels off, address it right there and then as opposed to walking
away from your meetings feeling ill-equipped an uninformed. You would never buy a house without
knowing every little detail about the property or the transaction.

4. Speak as little as possible. If you’ve met your child and you have serious concerns about their physical
or emotional health, by all means raise the issue with the local adoption team. It’s only fair for them to
be aware, but otherwise, don’t forget you’ll be going home where no doubt the child or children will be
thoroughly evaluated by doctors you can fully understand. We had some initial questions about our
child’s learning abilities. ICBF insisted on additional meetings to, well, we’re actually not sure what the
point was, so don’t start musing over little things with the team. Remember you run the risk of delaying
your departure and you wind up paying for the people’s cabs, at least we did in Bucaramanga. How’s
that for hospitality? If it ain’t urgent, keep a lid on it. Soon you’ll be home.

3. Ask your agency to provide a fully detailed roadmap for what to expect in country. If something
changes along the way, ask them to send you a revised draft. The document should include tentative
dates, contact persons, contact information, and a description of what is expected at this meeting or
stage in the process.

2. Document everything. I don’t mean keep a cute little blog where you inform friends and family back
home what you did yesterday at the swimming pool. I mean type A documentation of where you went,
who you spoke to, and their name/contact information if you know it and relevant details about what
was achieved and next steps relevant to the adoption process. Include everything from e-mails to
telephone calls and in-person visits. This will help keep things straight in your head and pinpoint specific
developments when the situation requires it.

1. The customer is always right. You’ll read this in other posts in our blog, and I can’t say/write this
enough. You are paying an adoption agency to perform a service. Yes, sometimes the quality of their
service will be hindered by factors beyond their control, and when that happens, the agency had better
go out of its way to make you feel at ease. That’s why you hired them over the agency down the street.
They know the country and the bureaucracy better than you, and I expect them to aggressively advocate
on my behalf. If this isn’t happening, something’s wrong, and you should raise hell.

Some of the tips above are tips we exercised. Others are points I wish I would have known I had the
power to apply. Now you know. Be your own best advocate. No one cares about you more than you.

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Jump rope & Balloons

Saturday was a rainy day here in Bogota, and it also happened to be my birthday.  Even though it was hard to be away from home, I got to celebrate with my sweet daughter, who’d made an extra effort to make the day a special surprise by getting the hotel involved…

First there was breakfast:

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Then lunch:

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(Te quiero mucho mucho con todo mi corazon mama)

Then birthday cake with the hotel staff:

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Followed by many, many hours of jump rope with new friends (sorry for the very blurry action shots):

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A Productive Friday

We left at 8:15 (our driver/agency rep was actually a few minutes early, and trust me that NEVER happens here) and got her emergency Colombian passport (“emergency” seems like a misnomer since the non-emergency one would have been ready Monday) but ah well, we got it.

While we were waiting we saw a nice lady from ICBF who was there with 8 kids preparing the paperwork for them to go to France’s Kidsave-like program.  I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but I hope all of the children are able to find the families they need and deserve.

Out the door with her new passport in hand, we were back to the hotel for a few hours for a late breakfast and to wait until 1:45, when our new driver was going to pick us up.

We got her TB test checked (she’s good!) and then left for the appointment with the US embassy’s doctor for her check-up.  Our driver (who spoke some English, but not much) told her she was a “lucky duck”! haha For someone with limited English I though that was an odd phrase to know. 🙂  Our driver then decided to take a detour to pick up some papers from a car dealership on a car he sold… which ended up taking half an hour.  I’m sensing a theme now that we’re not the main/only priority for drivers that we are set up to use, even though we’re paying them a relatively high rate….

Despite her asking for vaccines (what was she thinking??) the nice (English speaking!) doctor cleared us for travel, signing the certificate saying that though her vaccines were incomplete (she only has records of 1 vaccination of the 8 that she needs) that there’s no medical need for us to get them before leaving the country and that she can just get them when we get home, before school starts.  Excellent!  Another hoop cleared without adding additional time to our trip.

All looks good to be out of here by Wednesday, though I’m secretly hoping for Tuesday. Monday we have to go to ICBF headquarters to get the letter saying we followed Hague requirements (which is apparently there waiting for us) and then we’ll go to the US Embassy to apply for our Visa.  A friend who got back within the past several weeks got theirs the same day, so I’m hopeful for us that we’ll have such luck.

And then…….. we come home!!!!  Six weeks…. I didn’t think I’d ever survive and the end is finally closely in sight.  It may seem melodramatic, but it’s definitely been a serious trial for me and I am forever thankful for your (continued) prayers.

 

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Pictures from Boyaca

Here is a beautiful church in a town known for it’s cheese:

The landscape of our drive (lots of cows, mountains, and greenhouses!):

A (non-working) train we saw when we were stopping to ask for directions:

Coffee plants on the outskirts of her birth town:

Pictures from the town (which had some beautiful buildings and nice people, but on the whole was very, very small, rural, and saddled with a lot of poverty):

A few observations about the dogs in Colombia…  There seems to be quite a range in both what people own and the amount/condition of strays.  Of course, it makes sense that in areas where the people seem to be of higher SES, there are beautiful dogs that people seem to care for a great deal, and there are very few strays.  Interestingly, Bogota seems to have a lot of German Shepherds and Labs, many of which are police dogs (the ratio of police with dogs vs total police seems to be much higher here than in the us).  So far, I’ve seen very few strays here.  Where we stayed in Santander, Golden Retrievers seemed to be the most popular breed of dog, and they seemed generally well cared for.  In other areas of Santander, there seemed to be far more strays (hound-type mixes mostly) than “owned” dogs, but the strays didn’t seem particularly malnourished or unkempt.

On our trip to Boyaca however, my heart was definitely saddened by the amount of dogs and their general condition.  They were emaciated, dirty, and scared (though they seemed generally friendly).  Even the dogs that had owners were tied on short ropes and most were many meals past skinny.  It was all I could do to keep from loading them up in the car and finding a way to bring them home with me.  Honestly, if it had been my car, I probably would have brought at least a couple.  I can only imagine what a difference a strong spay/neuter program would make in situations like these.  Still, I realize that emaciated stray dogs are only one of the consequences of extreme poverty.

But, it was a reminder to me that in places like the US, where low-cost spay/neuter programs are plentiful and generally easy to find, there is NO excuse not to spay or neuter your pet.  C’mon people!  The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the US.  Please don’t add to the problem.  *stepping off soap box now* 🙂

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Pictures from Our Trip

While we were still in Santander, there was a protest of cigarettes by one of the nearby schools.  Lots of noise, signs, and folks dressed up as cigarettes….

Why, yes, that is a lizard in my room…..

The day we got here we went to lunch with some friends of ours who are adopting a girl about Vicky’s age.  They met over Christmas and have become fast friends!

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A Long Day and a Little Progress

We got our sentencia on Wednesday (finally, yay!) and were able to go and get Vicky’s TB test done.

We still needed to get her birth certificate which had to be picked up by hand in a small town in a different department- Boyaca.  The driver was planning to leave Wednesday night, pick the new birth certificate up on Thursday morning at 8am when they opened and then return around 1 or 2 in the afternoon.  Well, our agency person called Wednesday evening and said the driver offerred to take us with him if we wanted.  I was on the fence, but leaning towards no (3am departure time, 10 hours + in a car, etc) but decided to ask Vicky what she wanted to do.  She was beyond excited about the opportunity, so we decided to go.

Well, after night 3 of almost no sleep for me and a delayed driver, we finally left around 4:30am.  After a few detours because the driver got lost, we made it to the outskirts of the town at 8:30 am.  The drive was long but beautiful:

 

We quickly found out that the only way to reach the town was a 30 minute drive down a dirt/mud road.  The driver, who clearly loves his car a LOT was not so amused.  Suffice it to say by the time we left that afternoon, his white car was no longer white.

See this itty-bitty building?  That’s the town’s registrar office.  It holds the records of everything that’s happened in the town from at least 1940 in little binders, including her original birth certificate.

 

 

After spending 30 minutes waiting for the only person that works there to return (from what, I don’t know) we got started.  He reviewed our documents, typed up the new birth certificate, and we reviewed to make sure it was correct.  Every time a mistake is found, the whole document is recreated from scratch and after hearing horror stories of how one item would be corrected only to have a new one crop up that was missed, I was feeling particularly “detail oriented”.  So we went through the process, and again, and again, FIVE times he had to re-do the birth certificate because each time he corrected one mistake, he made another.  Finally on round six, it was all correct.  As an aside, the whole process is a bit odd to me– completely replacing her true birth certificate with one that lists us as her birth parents.  Apparently, instead of enjoying Spring Break my sophomore year of high school, I was giving birth to a daughter in Colombia 😉 

Anyways, we then had to go to the bank to make 8 deposits (one for each copy of the new birth certificate), walk around the town and try to find someone who could take her photo for the new Colombian ID, return to the bank to pick up the receipts, and then return to the registrar to spend another 45 minutes reviewing and finalizing everything and getting her new ID card with her new last name.  Finally we left at about 10 till noon.  After calling the agency representative and there being some issue with the fact that I no longer use my maiden name and it isn’t on any of my documents (but Colombia insists that Vicky include it in her name) we went back to the registrar.  I’m not sure what happened, but it was resolved and we were on the road after about 10 minutes.

The first two hours of our trip back were fine (though I was miserably car sick the entire day since we were driving through the mountains and on roads that badly needed maintenance.  After stopping at half a dozen places so he could buy various things (fruit, cheese arepas) and a half a dozen places that didn’t have what he was looking for, plus taking phone call after phone call, it was getting late and I was getting sicker and more anxious to be home.  Finally at about 5 he stops at a place in a city about half an hour from Bogota to try and mail the birth certificate.  But, they wouldn’t transport things to Santander, so he says, not to worry, we’ll find a place in Bogota.  So, we’re off to Bogota.

Suddenly, at 5:30 he pulls to the side of the road, stops the car and start talking rapidly in spanish to Vicky.  All I hear is the word “policia” over and over, so I’m getting worried since he’s clearly freaking out.  He hastily whips the car into an empty makeshift parking lot of rocks jumps out and tries to flag down someone on the freeway to give us a ride.  Again, I’m horribly confused about what’s going on, and he’s definitely not in a state of mind to explain.  Finally after about 5 minutes, a bus filled to the rim with people pulls over and lets us on board.  It’s standing room only and makes riding our metro in rush hour look like an evening stroll.  Lurching every which way with people pushing, we finally arrive at a mall (??) and he takes off running, telling us to follow.  Feeling even worse after the bus ride, and carrying a back-pack, portfolio, purse, and Vicky’s hand, we take off after him.  He briefly stops to ask directions (again, I have NO idea where we’re going or why at this point) we take off sprinting across the huge three story mall.  We finally catch our breath at the escalators (and he’s relieved when I tell him that it’s only 5:50) and he says he has to mail out the birth certificate tonight and it needs to be overnighted and they close at 6.  He stands in line getting it mailed for about half an hour, and then we’re off to find a ride back to his car.  He starts talking to taxis and finally finds one he likes, and we cram inside the backseat.  The driver drops us off on the side of the highway (it’s dark of course at this point and no street lights) and the driver says “okay now we walk back to the car”.  So we walk the 3 blocks or so along the dirt shoulder of the highway in the dark, finally arriving at his car.  By now it is seven and we can’t drive on the road until 7:30.  (I finally am able to figure out this is why he was so worried – only certain cars can drive on the busy road during rush hour, and his wasn’t one of them) So, we join the line of cars stopped along the shoulder and wait half an hour until the restrictions are lifted.

Finally, we arrive back at the hotel a little after 8.  After being gone for 16 hours and still feeling miserable, exhausted and hungry, we get ready for bed and have a delicious dinner of carne asada, salad, beans, rice and plantains delivered in our room.  Although I think staying in an apartment was the best decision for us in Santander, staying here and having food included has been worth it for our time in Bogota.

Overall, I think the experience was good in many ways for Vicky.  She hasn’t been back in several years and I know it brought up a lot of feelings of missing her family and I think highlighted what a huge transition this is going to be.  I don’t think she’s fully processed the permanence of this transition, but I do think this trip helped.

I’ll do another post with pictures and today’s festivities later…….

 

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Hot water, cool weather, and the floor to sleep on.

We made it to Bogota.  A stressful morning (but the airline ticket agent spoke English!) and a lot of time on the tarmac and waiting on luggage in Bogota but the driver was there and no craziness like our Bucaramanga airport experience.

We made it to the Zuetana and it’s nice.  Nothing fancy but a rather large room with 2 beds, a tv, mini-fridge a microwave, and a bathroom.  This is key because even though our apartment in Santader had 3 bathrooms, I was lucky if I could get 30 seconds of hot water.  And here?  No issues at all, it’s fantastic.  The weather is nice (not remotely cold though, in my opinion), but I was told it was 5-10 degrees warmer yesterday than it had been.  It’s very dry here, a welcome change from the serious humidity in Santander.  The only problem is the bed which is hard as a rock.  Firm is fine, but this takes that a step further and is only minusculey better than the floor.  Still, over all the change of scenery has been good for my mood, though I’m very anxious to be home.

Yesterday we spent the day with friends of ours from home who are adopting a girl 11 months (to the day) older than Vicky.  They met over the winter and we’ve been letting them email and Skype since we got here (their entrega was the day before ours) and they have declared that they are going to be friends forever.  It was definitely great to see them playing and interacting together 🙂

They made pizzas from scratch (and I had Mexican pizza — with jalapeños! Yum!  Finally, something spicy!), got flour on their faces, and then we went back to their hotel and they did some crafts together.

Then, we walked home… including walking on the teeny tiny walking space on the overpass.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if there weren’t gaps in the sidewalk going straight down to the cars zooming by (with cars flying by directly on our left as well).  Definitely put my fear of heights into full speed.  If the streets hadn’t been shut down on our way there for ciclovia, I probably wouldn’t have mustered the courage to walk it in the first place!

Well, we’re off this afternoon to get her TB test and to pray, pray, pray (and pray some more) that the sentencia is signed and mailed this morning so tomorrow can get us our birth certificate…..

 

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