1/ What to do when you get home with your child
a/ Get your child's US Passport before their Social Security card. Take your child's passport (or Certificate of Citizenship) to the Social Security office as “proof” of citizenship. You can get a card without doing this but your child will be listed as “non-citizen - permanent resident” in the computers. If you get the Social Security number without a passport or COC go back to the Social Security office once you have one of these documents to get your child's status changed to US citizen.
b/ Have child examined by an international adoption (IA) specialist doctor. Many pediatricians are not fully aware of the challenges of internationally adopted children, are not aware of what to look for, aren't familiar with international immunizations and want to compare the IA child to a US child of the same age which can not be done.
c/ Consider occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) testing to see where your child stands developmentally. Your IA doctor can refer you for testing or you can have your child tested by your state's early intervention program, call your local school district for information.
d/ Consider a specialist if your child has ANY type of medical problems. In our case 2 different pediatricians missed just how bad our son's ears were from numerous infections. Our visit to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist revealed just how bad his ears were and the problem was severely affecting his speech.
2/ Shall I take a stroller, carrier or car seat?
The general consensus is do not take a car seat. Although required in the US it is quite impractical in Russia. It would be difficult to transport and usually not enough room in the small cars you will be traveling in, which may or may not even have seatbelts.
On a stroller there is a 50/50 split opinion. It will come in handy in airports, if you take your child site seeing, as a “high chair”, etc. On the other hand it is one more item you will have to carry with you. If you do take a stroller, buy an umbrella stroller in the US as they are harder to find in Russia and much more expensive.
A carrier like a Snugli
3/ Take 1000's of photos and hours of video tape
You can not take too many photos. Buy a digital camera and camcorder if you don't have one. Take tons of film, video tape, digital cards and batteries. You can't take enough photos of your adventure of a lifetime. Take photos of the streets, people you come in contact with, the orphanage inside and out, all rooms of the orphanage and the children if they will allow you to, your hotel, room, stores inside and out, sites riding in the car, and of course of your beautiful child.
4/ Here's a good link for preparing for court in Russia
The Foreign Court Appearance
5/ Taking money to Russia
Request new bill or bills in excellent condition from your bank before traveling. Dirty, folded, written on money is hard to pass in Russia. Take mostly $100s, also take some $20's $10's and $5's they will come in handy.
6/ Fly business class
Yes it costs more but you are in for a very long flight, and some flights in country can be 8+ hours long also. You will find business class will be well worth it especially on your way back with your child.
7/ Marriott rates
Many people stay at one of the Marriott hotels in Moscow. To get a better rate than the standard rate try these things:
a/ Friends and family rate - Do you know anyone who works for Marriott? If so then can get you a very good discount under the friends and family rate.
b/ Adoption rate - You can get a reduced rate using the adoption rate. On the internet use the code A23, or ask if the adoption rate is available when you call.
c/ Marriott points - Use your Marriott points. Don't have any or enough? Ask friends and coworkers if they would donate their points to you.
Not all of the reduced rates may be available on the days you wish to stay but be sure to ask to save yourself some money.
In Russia it's traditional to give gifts to friends and people who help you. Don't stress on it too much, it's really not that big of a deal, it's more the thought and gesture that is important . The people who typically get gifts are: the Judge, MOE, orphanage director, orphanage caregivers, facilitator, translator, and driver.
Some gifts ideas would be: Perfume, baseball caps, leather wallets, scarves, teas, coffee, Starbucks or any kind of flavored coffee, designer jewelry, large reusable shopping bags, chocolates, picture frames, coffee mugs, stationary sets, sunglasses (popular name brand) with cases, nice bracelets, cartons of cigarettes and liquor.
Fresh cut flowers are a good idea for women. Sometimes it is the only thing bureaucrats can accept legally. Inexpensive gold items like chains and charms, scented candles, smaller-sized colognes--about 1 or 2 oz, pens, briefcases, clocks or watches, stationary, interesting office supplies, pens, Leatherman, American books and magazines written in English for the translators, cosmetics, coasters, gloves and ties for the men, small handbags (purses), popular American music tapes/CDs, tape organizers, kitchen towel/potholder sets, nice key chains, car accessories. leather calendar/organizer.
This is a pretty standard list of gifts, if you come up with something along these lines you think would make a good gift it would be fine. Some judges and MOEs won't accept gifts (except maybe flowers) check with your facilitator in country for proper protocol. Money in addition to a gift would ok for the caregivers, drivers, translators, I wouldn't give money to the others. You may find that someone may help you a great deal like a driver who is the same driver or a translator so you would want something nice for them. You may want to ask your translator or facilitator what the different people are interested in or what would be appropriate gifts. Once you get to know some of the people and what they would like you could bring gifts on your second trip or even buy gifts in country. Bring a good variety of things and gift bags, you never know exactly how many gifts you will need you can assemble your gift packages once you are there.
9/ Things to pack
Pack light, pack light, pack light! You don't want to be hauling tons of luggage through airports, customs, hotels and try to cram it all into your drivers car with probably 4 people in a small car. It is especially critical when you bring your child/children home you will have your child with you. (“Oh honey can you get our 6 bags, 2 carryons, laptop, photobag and 3 boxes of souvenirs, I have to carry the baby and diaper bag : ) An excellent packing list to get you started is: Adopting from Russia - What to Pack.
Plug converters can be found here: Traveloaises and Stayonline
Buy as many souvenirs as you can afford and then some. When will you get the opportunity again? Little souvenirs things make a great gift from your child to special people like teachers. Buy your souvenirs on your first trip.
12/ Shall I go through Moscow?
In some regions (Vladivostok) you don't need to travel through Moscow. We would highly recommend a trip through Moscow even if you don't have to. The site seeing and shopping are something you will really want to do and when will you get a chance to see Moscow again? Do your trip through Moscow, your sightseeing and shopping on your first trip (on a 2 trip system). Spend a few extra days in Moscow to see the city. Your second trip you will be too busy and have a newly adopted child/children in tow which may or may not be a pleasant experience to drag them out shopping and site seeing.
13/ Calling cards
The best deal we found was ATT calling cards purchased from Sam's Club. They were the cheapest around, ever cheaper than Wal-Mart.