On a recent visit to my house my mother presented me with a large box of keepsakes. In it were my report cards, letters home, and duplicates of my college applications. Remember those? Essays about your hopes and dreams. Neatly written paragraphs of what you aspired to become. I remember the hurdles of paperwork, both with college and graduate school, and how tough it was to navigate each step. Looking back, the journey to higher education was a piece of cake compared to international adoption. It is a grueling process but having gone through it twice–with two different countries–I have become an Olympic paperwork submitter. Here are some tips to help you go for the paperwork gold!
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Managing Your International Adoption Paperwork Guide
You can become a wizard with international adoption paperwork.
Whether you love ‘em or find them to be a duplication of data you already know, excel spreadsheets were vital to our adoption process. I recommend making at least four different spreadsheets to track:
- Payment Due Dates – Having an idea of when each payment to your agency and/or foreign government is due helps to budget and set financial expectations for every step of the process.
- Expiration Dates – Keep a close eye on when your home study, fingerprints, I-800 forms, and passports will expire. The adoption process can take a long time and many documents have a six-month – one year expiration.
- Finances – Keep a log of every expenditure from agency and FedEx fees to USCIS and embassy fees. This is particularly helpful when filing for the Adoption Tax Credit.
- Documents Acquired – This one is a biggie. For each step, home study, dossier compilation, and travel, keep a list of what documents you will need and when they have been acquired. There may be additional steps such as notarizing, state authenticating, and DOS authentication. If so, your document list will prove vital.
The day we decided to adopt from China we gleefully came home and filled out our first application to adopt. Then came the “Congratulations! You’re accepted into the program” email. Attached was a list of no less than 15 forms which had to be completed. From your vehicles’ blue book value to your medical history compiling such documents can seem daunting. Take a deep breath and follow these tips:
- Budget Your Time – Before you begin assembling, go over your list and decide what will be easiest to accomplish and what will take more time. Birth and marriage certificates may take longer to process, particularly if you have to request from different states. Start with the items that will take the longest to do (such as clearances, fingerprints, etc…). When you have your list, make your spreadsheet!
- Set Up Appointments – If it takes two months to get in to see your doctor, call and schedule an appointment as soon as you begin your home study. If you know it will take a long time to get an employment letter from HR, reach out as soon as you begin the process.
- Find Your Photos – This seems like an easy one, but ensuring you have a few photos of you and your home on file can help expedite the process. And those same photos can be used when you send a photobook to your new son or daughter!
When we began assembling our dossier for China, and later India, I felt like I was trapped in the movie Groundhog’s Day. Yes, you will have to acquire the same documents again and again, but thankfully you will have your spreadsheets to guide you!
- List of Steps – I mentioned it above but having a list of each document and if it has been obtained, notarized, state apostilled, and US government apostilled expedited our process exponentially. Remember, dossier documents are time sensitive. Use your expiration list to ensure you don’t have to redouble your efforts.
- Follow to the Letter – Your agency will undoubtedly help you, but make sure to follow your adoptive country’s preference to the letter. This can mean the look and/or wording of an employment letter, a health record, or a financial record. Country officials are very precise so cut and paste verbatim.
When the call came that it was finally time to go to China I looked at my stack of documents and panicked. What if something happened in country? My solution? Bring everything.
- Have a Thumb Drive – Or two! Before you travel, scan all documents (including your travel itinerary, tickets, hotel reservations, etc…) and place them on a thumb drive you carry along with you in country. Lawyers advise against storing such sensitive information in the cloud, so carrying everything on a thumb drive is a good way to back up your physical documents.
- Find a Sturdy File Folder – You will accumulate more paperwork in country and the paperwork you accumulate will be vital for your son or daughter’s entry into the US and re-adoption.
You did it! You’re home! Your paperwork can be a thing of the past, right? Not so fast. Remember all those important documents you received in country? You’re going to need them again to obtain your child’s social security number, US passport, or to begin the process of re-adoption to provide your child a US birth certificate. Luckily you will know what to do because every document has been scanned, filed, and entered into an excel sheet ready to use at a moment’s notice.
Jennifer S. Jones
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.
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