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
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.