PC 13 The Tale of a Visa Extension – not!

If you’re a tourist going to Brazil you need, not surprisingly, a tourist visa.  There are plenty of other categories of course, catering for every type of visit or sexual persuasion! According to the Brazilian Consulate website the tourist visa is valid for 90 days and can be renewed for another 90 if necessary. You simply fill out the form on your flight and hand it to the person manning the Passport desk when you arrive. Sounds good, huh? Having cancelled our planned trip out to Rio de Janeiro in September last year, we looked at dates for the end of the year, 2013 that is. We knew we had to be out for Celina’s father’s 80th birthday on the 1st January 2014 and then thought about when we’d come back. February? Nah!  March? Well! OK! The end of March. That sounds about right; come back as the UK changes its clocks to British Summer Time. So we duly book our flights.

Looking at travel insurance, we began to realise we have, somewhat inadvertently, booked to be in Brazil for 92 days. And believe me, being older than 60 and wanting to stay somewhere for more than 90 days, getting travel insurance is NOT easy. Rather than change our flights by a couple of days, we plough on with our arrangements, succeed in getting some insurance, knowing of course …… we could extend my visa.

We arrive in Rio de Janeiro International airport, which in my opinion ranks way below, say, Delhi, around 2100 (midnight UK time) on the 27th December last year. Our BA chum, Jorge San, welcomes us, well me (!), with flowers; maybe he thought my heart surgery would have finished me off and he wouldn’t see me again? We queue up to clear our passports; secretly I hope that they would give me a visa for 92 days and not simply 90. “Ē possivel estender o visto por 92 dias?”  (“Is it possible to have one for 92 days?”)  “Nao!” But the lady said we could simply extend it at any Policia Federal station/office, in fact the piece of paper stuffed into my passport reiterates this; there would be a charge (about Rs70 – almost £17). We are through.

Now I should explain at this point that I like obeying the law. Hey! I spent 20 years being paid by Her Majesty (God Bless Her) to protect the Kingdom, its laws and way of life, so it’s as ingrained in my DNA as the annual rings are in a tree. Surely my attitude towards Brazilian law should be no different. I put a note in my electronic diary to make sure we have got the extension way before the visa runs out …. and relax into the way of life in the tropics. Celina, who lets these things bother her, drops into a nearby Policia Federal office in Leblon when she’s finished at her dentist, during our first week. “Oh! No! Not us.” “ Eu nāo sei!” (Don’t know!) Try the British Consulate.” “But it’s not a British visa, it’s a Brazilian visa!” Eu nāo sei!”

We are flying down to Sāo Paulo from Santos Dumont, the ‘city’ airport in central Rio. We take the opportunity to see the Policia Federal there. “ Eu nāo sei!” The computer sits on his desk and I assume he could have found out what he should do by going onto a website, or even picking up the telephone; but no, a shrug of the shoulders and a “Try the Policia Federal in Sāo Paulo.”. Talk about passing the buck! This we do on arrival, not pass the buck, but try another Policia Federal and meet the same response! “ Eu nāo sei!” Later we have dinner with some Belgium chums, working in Sāo Paulo. They have had a nightmare trying to get extensions to work permits; sometimes they have paid a fine, and sometimes immigration passport control hadn’t noticed. “Don’t spend any more time on this; pay the fine!” I feel so uncomfortable doing this, against the grain so to speak, that I ignore this useful advice. In retrospect, stupid!

Back in Rio de Janeiro, we get in contact with our BA man, Jorge San. He would ask his chums at the airport. “Come out on Friday; I’ll introduce you to the Policia Federal and they will extend your visa.” By this time the visa has two weeks to run. Rio de Janeiro International airport is not the best place to be on a Friday afternoon, actually on any afternoon, as travelling back into the city takes forever; the traffic is horrendous. Jorge San is being kind, so we accept and spend two hours travelling out to the airport in a taxi (Rs60). We go up to the Department of Immigration. The world and his wife are ahead of us! Some have clearly camped out for days; others have that resigned look that one develops when confronted by bureaucracy. Jorge San disappears into the melee, re-emerging minutes later and waving us in. We sheepishly jump the queue and go into an inner office. I do not understand much Portuguese yet, but I’m good at reading body language and facial expressions. After the initial pleasantries ….  “Tudo Bem?” .. “ Bem! Voce?” …. “Bem!” there’s a serious conversation between a policeman and Jorge San. After a few minutes Jorge starts looking ‘worried’ and Celina blushes. It transpires that yes, he could extend it but …….. wait for it …… the computer wouldn’t connect to the printer, which anyway was out of ink, and so he couldn’t give me a receipt for my R$70. (And of course public officials in Brazil are not able to take cash without giving a receipt. Er! Is that right?)  His suggestion, and ‘he’ being a public servant and member of the Policia Federal, was to turn up for the flight and pay the fine for the 2 days – ie become illegal! Celina had blushed I suspect out of embarrassment for her country and the way things don’t work. We said: “Thanks.” and left; 2½ hours later we were home, having achieved absolutely zilch/niente/nothing/nada!

On Thursday 27th March 2014 I become an illegal ‘estrangeiro’ (foreigner) in Brazil. Do people notice? I think initially I have some sign over my head; “I’m not legal! Arrest me! Deport me!”. But then I gradually relax …… as no one notices ….. and if they do they don’t care. On the Saturday, our BA Jorge San, who by this time was probably as embarrassed as Celina about the state of the Brazilian civil service, has helpfully said he would ensure our departure is as painless as possible, so we turn up for our flight in good time. Within minutes our suitcases are on their way and we make our way to ……. the Policia Federal, full of hope that I could admit my guilt and pay my fine (two days at R$8 per day – I have it in change in my sticky little hand). The chap is really really nice ……. and once he understands the issue ….. he smiles and starts interacting with his PC. A frown crosses his forehead; he slides his chair across the office to another PC at another desk. I look over his shoulder at the PC. It shows a box with a large red cross in it; he can’t interact with the office in Brazilia ……. and can’t print the receipt. I CAN’T PAY THE FINE. I want to scream, I want to shout, …… but actually it’s more appropriate to laugh, to laugh at the ridiculous nature of the situation, stymied at every turn, wanting to be ‘legal’ but not allowed to be …… by the police!! There is more discussion, a date stamp is found in a bottom drawer ….. somehow he finds an ink pad that actually has not dried out …… and my passport is stamped; I’m, er, legal! I press my damp notes and coin into Jorge San’s hand as he volunteers to pay the fine on the Monday. We leave, go through Passport Control to get ‘airside’ and relax.

This is Latin America. The middle class criticise and rail against corruption, the poor queue. If you live in a country such as England where the administration of the law works, it’s extremely difficult to understand just how this continent and in particular this country works … when it doesn’t work. But it does …. “Amanha”!! Living in the tropics will never be easy for those of us northern Europeans where respect for the law is in the DNA, because it works. But here, it’s the way it is ….. so why bother to get steamed up about it? You need to resign yourself to waiting, maybe in the queue, like the people in the airport, or not. Turn up and pay the fine!!??

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

P.S. The irony is that Policia Federal in Brazil will have made a note that I overstayed my visa and that I paid a fine (I have a scanned and emailed receipt to prove it!) But actually the next time we fly to Rio, I’ll be on a new passport, with a different number ……. and there will be no record of me ever being in Brazil. I can imagine being told: “Enjoy your stay with us!” as I’m handed back my passport!

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