Once a match is made and accepted by the family (or the family has asked to adopt a pre-identified child), additional Thai government processing must occur. Most importantly, the Child Adoption Board must sign off on the placement. The Board has a heavy schedule and generally meets only two or three times a month to review adoption cases. Cases are often repeatedly delayed; this can go on for weeks or even months. Do not despair; your case will ultimately reach the top of the pile.
Once the Board approves the adoption, your family will be assigned a date to meet with the Board in Bangkok, and you will be issued the “To Whom It May Concern” letter, indicating that you have the Board’s permission to take custody of the child, pending an adoption. Again, the assignment of this document and Board interview date can be subject to delays. You may receive a copy of the “TWIMC” letter (via your agency) before you travel, or you may be given it after you arrive in Thailand. Only when your agency has given you a firm appointment date can you finalize your travel plans. (Sometimes you only have a few weeks notice of the actual interview date, but your agency will have alerted you during the preceding weeks or months that your case should be coming up soon.)
If you live in a state different than that of your placing agency, approvals may also have to be arranged between the state adoption officials of both states, according to the rules of the ICPC (Interstate Compact on Placement of Children). Your agency should handle this paperwork for you and will let you know when your state’s relevant adoption official has signed off on the placement (if your state requires it) so you can travel.
Thai rules state that both parents in a two-parent family (or the single in a one-parent family) must travel to take custody, meet with the Board, and complete required adoption and immigration paperwork. If you have previously adopted a Thai child, it is possible to have a DSDW social worker escort second and subsequent Thai children to the U.S., if the family pays all travel expenses for the official as well as the child. Using the “escort service” may add extra weeks or even months to the adoption cycle, however.
Families usually travel alone rather than in groups, as is common with some other inter-country programs. Agencies offer varying levels of ground support in Thailand. Make sure to ask about this when selecting an agency.
The typical trip length for families who travel to Thailand is 10 days to two weeks. If your child is in a location other than Bangkok, intra-country travel and perhaps a longer trip will be necessary, since you must go to Bangkok for the Board/DSDW interview after taking custody of your child. Only after this interview can you get the adoptive custody document that lets you obtain a visa–so even if your child is in Northern Thailand, you must get the visa at the embassy in Bangkok rather than at the American consulate in Chiang Mai. (There is no consulate in Southern Thailand.)
Most Thai orphanages ask adoptive families to visit several times before taking custody of a child. This undoubtedly makes the transition easier for the adoptee, though it may temporarily frustrate the parent to-be. Sometimes parents are allowed to take custody on the first day, but this is not a given. During the visiting period, families adopting an older child may be allowed to take the child on outings before returning him/her to the orphanage. Again, this privilege may or may not be extended, depending on the child’s individual situation. If the child is in foster care, you will likely meet with the child’s foster parents, in the presence of an NGO staff member. A series of meetings may be arranged to ease the child’s transition.
As with every aspect of Thai adoption, the legalities and paperwork features of your process in-country may vary. Trust your individual agency for detailed instructions. If you have to do all the legwork, including shuttling papers, making copies, having translations made, and finding your own transportation between your hotel, government offices, the orphanage, photographers, clinics, etc., your time for sightseeing and relaxing with your child will be more limited. Take this into account when scheduling your trip, perhaps adding extra days if sight-seeing is important to you.
Legal activities in Thailand include visa paperwork, including filing the I-600 form (if you have not already done so stateside) and filing the accompanying I-864 Affidavit of Support form. You will normally make an initial visit to the embassy to schedule a visa appointment, and then make a second visit to actually obtain the visa. You’ll need to obtain visa photos of your child, using the photo instructions provided by the CIS. (Your agency, NGO, and/or orphanage should have photographer recommendations for you, or may even provide suitable photos that have been taken in advance.) A medical exam of the child is also required for visa approval; talk with your agency regarding clinic/hospital recommendations and how to obtain the form that the doctor must use to report medical findings. If your child is in the Chiang Mai area, you may be able to get this step out of the way there before traveling to Bangkok, as there are doctors there who are familiar with the required process. The medical exam required for the visa is typically cursory and brief. Some homes/foster families may even take care of this step for you before you arrive – but it’s more common for the adoptive family to take the child for the exam.
The Thai orphanage or NGO should provide a Thai passport for the child; a separate fee for this may be assessed. You will probably receive some kind of birth certification document, but this may not necessarily take the form of an official Thai birth certificate. Some families get a photocopy of the Thai birth certificate and are then presented with the original when the adoption is registered under Thai law many months later (see “Post-Placement Activities”). You may be asked to have a certified translation made in English while you are in Thailand, if your agency, NGO, or orphanage has not already arranged for this. Some families never receive an official Thai birth certificate but instead are given a substitute document certifying the child’s birth date, signed by the orphanage director or some other official. (After you’ve adopted stateside, your state can provide you with a “certificate of foreign birth” or some similarly named document that should serve fine, even if you never receive an official Thai document.)
The actual interview meeting with the Child Adoption Board/DSDW is usually short at about 15 to 20 minutes on the average. Meetings just usually serve to confirm the details of the application. If serious questions about the match exist, they will have been ironed out before you are ever invited to come for the interview. Families will be asked if they are sure they want to adopt the child, and may be asked to review some of their dossier information with the Board. You then may be asked various simple questions about your job(s), child care plans, other children in the family, schooling, family life, how you intend to offer the child cultural links to Thailand, how you will provide for special needs, and so on. You attend the meeting with the child you are adopting. (Don’t be alarmed if your child acts up; the officials have seen it all before).
After the meeting, you receive the “Memorandum of Agreement” – the important document that allows the U.S. government to issue a visa so you can legally bring the child home. The memorandum provides provisional custody, but does not represent a finalization under either Thai or U.S. law. You must obtain the Memorandum before your final visa appointment; the embassy may in fact ask you to deliver it before your final appointment date, to make processing on that date go faster. Typically you’ll be asked to attend an early-morning visa appointment (including paying the requisite fee), and then return that afternoon to pick up the actual document. With passport and visa in hand, you are free to leave Thailand with your child.