Traveling abroad to adopt a baby can be a wonderful, though sometimes stressful, experience. While there are no surefire ways to plan for all of the circumstances you might encounter, there are some general guidelines you can follow.
1. Talk to other parents. Adoptive parents who've recently been to the city or region you're traveling to can offer practical advice about what to pack; hotels, food, and transportation; local customs; and adoption-related matters. Your agency should be able to provide you with the names of families in your area.
2. Stay on top of health issues. If you're traveling to a developing country, you may need to get certain immunizations against diseases such as hepatitis or typhoid. You'll also want to make sure that your childhood vaccinations are up to date to protect you from illnesses such as diphtheria, which is still found in poorer countries. What's more, it's a good idea to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/travel) and/or the World Health Organization (www.who.int/en) for the latest health information and advisories on the region you're traveling to.
3. Be security minded. The U.S. State Department offers up-to-date information for American citizens traveling abroad. If you're concerned about safety issues in your child's birth country or the threat of terrorism, check out the "Travel and Living Abroad" section of the State Department's Web site at www.state.gov/travel.
4. Get a little culture. Before you set off on your travels, it helps to read some guidebooks, familiarize yourself with your child's birth culture and its child-rearing practices, and learn a few key phrases, such as "hello," "thank you," and "good-bye." Even if you're nowhere near fluent, people in the host country will appreciate your efforts at speaking their language.
5. Take a guess on size. Many times it's hard to know what size clothes to pack for a newly adopted child. She may be small -- at least by American standards -- and/or the height and weight information in her medical report may be inaccurate. (A 1-year-old, for instance, may need to wear 6- to 9-month clothing.) To hedge your bets, pack outfits in a couple of different sizes; and if certain items are too small, or extremely big, you can donate them to your child's orphanage.
6. Pack smart. When traveling to get your baby, put essential items, such as medications, glasses, travel documents, and adoption-related papers, in your carry-on bag. Also, pack a couple of changes of clothing for both you and your child, as well as some diapers, personal hygiene products, and baby products. If your luggage gets lost or delayed, you'll have some basic items to tide you over -- and your important documents in hand.
7. Safeguard your cash. Many countries, such as China, have a "cash economy," in which credit cards and travelers checks are not widely accepted. If you're going to such a country, be prepared to carry substantial amounts of cash to pay for hotels, restaurants, and other travel expenses, and to cover your adoption fees. Safeguard your cash by putting it in a money belt or money pouch that you can tuck under your clothes; and divide the money between you and your spouse or traveling companion. Places such as the U.S. Embassy and your child's orphanage may require that you pay in crisp, new $100 bills; so keep your money clean and try not to fold it.
8. Watch what you eat and drink. Getting a case of travelers' diarrhea (or worse) can put a damper on any adoption journey. To reduce the risk of getting sick, eat only carefully prepared, piping-hot foods; foods that are dry, such as cereal, bread, or crackers; or peeled fruits and cooked vegetables. Drink only canned beverages or bottled water; and use boiled or bottled water for brushing your teeth and making formula. Also, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water to avoid contamination.
9. Dress comfortably -- but appropriately. While it's important to be comfortable when traveling (particularly with a baby in tow), you should always dress in a manner that's respectful of the culture you're visiting. Find out in advance if it's acceptable to wear blue jeans or shorts while touring, for example. And ask your agency what you should wear for official adoption business and for your appointment at the U.S. Embassy. (The formality of dress will vary from country to country.) Also find out how you should dress your baby so that you're in accord with local customs. In some countries, for instance, babies are bundled from head to toe, even in warm weather.
10. Enjoy the sights. Traveling to your child's birth country offers you a wonderful opportunity to experience it firsthand, take pictures of the sights and people involved in her adoption, and purchase some important keepsakes. As your baby gets older, she may enjoy looking at photos from her early life and having some precious mementos from her homeland.
11. Bring donations to the orphanage. Find out in advance whether your child's orphanage accepts donations, and if so, what it particularly needs. You might be able to bring medical supplies from the United States; purchase toys, formula, or clothing in the host country; or give a financial donation. Whatever you decide to donate will improve the lives of the other children in the orphanage -- and engender goodwill between you and your baby's first caregivers.
12. Be an ambassador. Every prospective parent who travels abroad to bring home a baby paves the way for future adoptive parents. That's why it helps to be polite, gracious, and respectful to your adoption facilitators and hosts, even if circumstances are frustrating or difficult. In the end, it's important to remember that adoption officials (both here and abroad), adoptive parents, and everyone else involved in the process all want the same thing -- for the adoption to work out and for a child to have a permanent, loving home.
Sources: Gladney Center for Adoption; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; World Health Organization, U.S. State Department; The Adoption Resource Book (Third Edition) by Lois Gilman, The Complete Adoption Book (Second Edition) by Laura Beauvais-Godwin and Raymond Godwin, Esq.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.