Applying for my Visa in Brazil

If you think paperwork and Brazilian bureaucracy sounds daunting, let me tell you something: you’re absolutely right.

I kid, sort of. Because I travel so frequently between the US and Brazil, Gustavo and I decided to apply for my permanent visa this year. As I mentioned in my last post about getting married in Brazil, this visa means that I’m able to come in and out of Brazil as much as I need, without worrying about any limitations on the amount of time I can spend here.

As a good, Type A American, once we decided to look into the visa process for me, I began researching while I was still in the US. I wanted to do my research early because I was certain that there would be some documents that I would need to bring from the US to Brazil in order to begin the application process.

First things first, you’ll want to get very comfortable with the Polícia Federal website. PF is in charge of immigration to Brazil, so they’re the folks you see when you had over your visa at the airport. They’re also the folks who examine your packages from foreign countries. I have some feelings about PF.

Because Brazil is Brazil, there’s not a lot of information you can find online, except from other bloggers who’ve also been through the process. I recommend finding a few good articles from folks who’ve been through the application, such as myself, compiling as many similarities as you can. Then take it all with a grain of salt. The process will vary depending on your state, city, the airport you go to the Polícia Federal, the time of year you apply, and whether or not the person you’re talking to just got back from vacation or is just about to leave for one. It’s a crapshoot.

To prepare, before leaving Brazil, definitely do the following:

  • Get your original birth certificate apostilled, which certifies that it’s a legal document. In New Jersey, this took about six weeks so sooner is better than later.
  • Bring your passport, of course!

Surprisingly, that’s it. Most of the documentation we needed, we got in Brazil. Similarly, most of the documentation we found out we needed, we found out while in Brazil.

As a note: I’ve seen people request a background check as part of the process. This did seem to be required for anyone applying for the visa via a união estável, but for a marriage it was not. If you’re unsure, I’d suggest checking at your local police office where you can get your fingerprints done prior to coming to Brazil and then send the results for an apostille as well, just in case.

Once we were in Brazil, we had the my apostilled birth certificate and passport translated by a juramentado, or official, translator and then registered both documents. (In Rio, you can do that at Cartório do 6º Ofício de Registro de Títulos e Documentos in Centro.) Originally, we were planning to apply via a união estável, or stable union, but we ended up going through marriage instead. Once we had the marriage paper in hand, we were able to confirm all of the required documentation at Polícia Federal.

For us, this took about four trips to PF at Galeão Airport in Rio. Unlike the United States, immigration in Brazil is less strict. Rather than actively trying to keep people out of the country because of a high demand, Brazilian immigration requires you to jump through hoops and pay a variety of fees to detract anyone who’s not actually serious about it. In other words, as long as you’re willing to do the necessary, they’re not really trying to keep you from coming here.

While at PF, it’s important to be polite. Yes, the process is frustrating. Yes, it’s impossible to find information. Yes, you’ll hear a different answer each time you go. However, PF is the highest authority in the Brazilian government, so it’s wise to try to smile and move through each step with grace. I’ll admit, I didn’t always do this so well, but it’s part of life.

The first few times we went for information, we didn’t get any clear answers and part of it, in my opinion, is because we didn’t seem serious enough. Until we actually had the marriage certificate in hand, the officials gave us a lot of non-answers because, had we applied via the stable union, it would’ve taken at least a whole other year to get our paperwork together so it wasn’t worth their time to really sit down and talk us through what we needed.

Once we had the marriage, they finally gave us the following list of documentation. If you go through this process, I recommend specifically asking for a list of required documents on your first visit to try to save some time.

In short, you need:

  • The visa request form, which you can find on the PF site.
  • An authenticated copy of the foreigner partner’s passport.
  • An authenticated copy of the marriage.
  • An authenticated copy of the Brazilian partner’s ID card.
  • A signed statement that you’ve never been charged with any criminal conduct within or outside of Brazil. (You can Google sample language for this.)
  • Payment, which you can also do on the PF website under “Gerar GRU.” You can pay these boletos at any nearby bank and bring the receipt with you when you go to apply for the visa.
  • A photo of the person applying. This needs to be taken in front of a while background and you cannot smile. It’s also worthwhile to confirm the sizing since I can’t remember as it was in centimeters. Just know it’s smaller than the usual US passport photo size!

Once you have all of this paperwork together, you need to set up an appointment to apply. We made the mistake of assuming that once we had the paperwork, we could walk in, hand it over, and leave victoriously. Not so much.

To set up an appointment, go to the agendamento section on the PF website and select a date and time that works for you. Keep in mind, the time really means nothing. My appointment was supposed to be at 10am and I didn’t see anyone until 2pm. Again, Brazil.

On the day of our appointment, we showed the proof of our appointment and then handed over all of the documents. It was then brought from the front desk back to one of the immigration officials. Apparently on this day in particular, the computers went down and then there was an unplanned meeting mid-day which bumped everyone back. Remember to stay patient. Really, I don’t think there’s a better way to practice any zen/yoga/Buddhist patience philosophies than coming to Brazil.

Finally, the immigration official called my name and we went back into a small room where he fingerprinted me and took my photo. After, they gave me a piece of paper stating that my visa was pending and stamped my passport with the application number. This meant then when I entered and exited the country, the immigration officials would see that I was a permanent resident who just hadn’t received the official visa card yet.

For me, it only took about one month to get my card. I received a notification via email and was pretty shocked considering how long so many other aspects of the process took. Plus, it took over a year and a half to get the visa for a colleague of mine. All in all, the process took me about five months from start to finish and, I’d estimate, $2000 total. I don’t believe it needs to be that expensive, but we made a few mistakes, unnecessarily registered and translated certain documents that we didn’t use, and also paid for both a marriage and a stable union. The visa itself only cost about $100 in the application fees.

In hindsight, the process wasn’t as stressful as I expected. The hardest part was finding all of the information, since it was something we had to do in person. However, as I look at the PF website now, I see that it’s in maintenance for updates so hopefully all of my shouting and complaining somehow energetically inspired the government to bring the website into the new millennium.

If you’re going through this process and have any additional insight — or questions — please leave a comment!

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