It sounds very romantic, doesn’t it? Meeting someone overseas. Various trips to get to know each other in, what feels like, exotic locations for the two of you. (It’s hard to imagine New Jersey as exotic, but it is very different from Rio.) And then, finally, you decide “We need to figure out how to be together in the same country.”
That’s when the fun starts.
Governments don’t care about love. They care about order. Even as we become an increasingly global society with many people meeting their partners and spouses overseas, the process of immigration doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.
The problem we began to run into in Brazil is that while I was allowed to visit on my tourist visa, I couldn’t stay for more than 90 days without renewing my visa. The problem is that there’s no way to track how many days you’ve been in the country. It should be easy, right? Just pull up a calendar and, well, count.
There’s a variety of ongoing debates as to whether that 90 days starts from when you enter the country for the first time (August 2015 in my case), when you enter the country for the first time that year (February 2017 for last year), or from the calendar year (I’d have another 90 days starting January 1, 2018 by this math). If you overstay while you’re in the country, you simply pay a fee for the extra time you spent here and go on your merry way.
For me, I travel a lot for work so I’m constantly in and out of both the US and Brazil. My concern was less about what happened if I overstayed and more about if I tried to re-enter the country without enough time on my current visa. What would happen then? A question to which we never actually got a clear answer.
So we decided to begin the process for me to get a permanent visa to Brazil based on our relationship with one another. While the US is still my primary residency, this allows me to come in and out of the country as much as I’d like because of my connection to a Brazilian citizen. After researching a variety of other visa options (student, investor, volunteer), we decided this was the most realistic option for us.
Originally, we had planned to apply for the visa through a stable union (união estável), which is much like a civil union in the US. This is an option that is especially helpful for same-sex couples. (Go Brazil!) The process was, surprisingly, very simple. We went to our local cartório, explained what we wanted, and answered a few questions about our relationship, primarily about when we started dating, how long we’d been together, if we share expenses, and the like. Then we signed a document stating that we were in a stable union and, voilá, that was it.
However, when we went to Policia Federal, we learned that it’s not possible to apply for a permanent visa via the stable union unless two conditions are met: 1) it’s juramentada, meaning a judge has reviewed your union and situation and deems it legal, or 2) you wait one year and provide proof of substantial investment, i.e. buying a home, furniture, car, etc. with one another.
We didn’t want to wait a year and there’s no guarantee that, after paying the legal fees and waiting, the judge will approve your stable union, so we decided to change our stable union into a marriage because this was the fastest and cheapest option. For same-sex couples: it’s important to note that because gay marriage isn’t legal in Brazil, the stable union is the best option for a permanent visa so try to either have a lawyer ready to go if you’d like to go the juramentada route or work another year into your timeline so you can wait to prove your union together.
Changing the stable union into a marriage was surprisingly easy. Essentially, you (the foreigner) need the following:
- Your birth certificate with an official translation, both the original and a copy authenticated by the cartório. This document must also be registered first.
- Your passport (ALL PAGES) with an official translation, both the original and a copy authenticated by the cartório. This document must also be registered first.
- A statement from your consulate stating that you are unmarried in your home country.
The Brazilian partner needs:
- Birth certificate, both the original and a copy authenticated by the cartório.
- ID card, original and a copy authenticated by the cartório.
- CPF, original and a copy authenticated by the cartório.
- Proof of residency, i.e. a light or electricity bill authenticated by the cartório.
If you don’t speak/understand Portuguese: you will need to have an official translator at the ceremony. Understandably, they require you to understand what you’re agreeing to and if you don’t speak Portuguese, they will not allow you to get married without the translator.
As for the certification that you’re unmarried in your home country, this was the easiest part. The American Embassy in Rio allows you to set up an appointment online. If you go here, remember: you cannot bring your cell phone inside. There’s a kiosk outside where they’ll store your belongings for you, but it’s not connected to the embassy. It’s safe, but I would have preferred to simply leave my phone at home instead.
Once inside, the employees at the embassy will direct you to the room where you can request the paperwork. It took me about a half hour in total. They ask you to fill out a small form, which they then stamp and notarize. Before leaving, you’ll pay the fee downstairs and you’re good to go!
When you have all of your documents, head to the cartório on the days they perform marriages. You’ll need to bring two witnesses with you as well who have some spare time, and registered signatures at the cartório. You don’t make an appointment – at least, not at our cartório – so you simply show up, grab a number, and wait. Because it’s Brazil, it wasn’t super straightforward and we had some last-minute fun, like when Gustavo realized he forgot his birth certificate and had to run home about two numbers before they called us.
When we got into the office, the official performing the ceremony let us know that we’d need to authenticate all of our paperwork downstairs, so we ran out to make some additional copies, register signatures, and pay the authentication fee. After we had all of that, we simply signed the papers stating we were married, as did our witnesses, and we were done. We had the option to schedule a religious ceremony as well, but because neither of us is religious, we opted out.
Here’s the hardest part: when you sign the marriage document, that doesn’t mean you’re married. That means you’ve submitted the paperwork to a judge who will then approve your marriage. When we left the official, the official gave us a case number where we could track the status of our marriage and said it could take anywhere from ten to sixty days which is akin to saying I live somewhere between Chicago and Paris. Well then.
In our case, it took about forty-five days. Yes, I was obsessively checking the website (have you learned nothing about me since my adventures with Correios?) to the extent that it would block my IP address at points. #notsorry. Once it’s approved, you need to go back to the cartório to pick up the official marriage document which, fortunately, we were able to do about three days prior to my leaving Brazil which was just enough time to finish the visa process.
When you’re in the US, it’s worth checking your state’s local laws to see if there’s anything you need to do to register the marriage. I called the NJ Department of Vital Statistics who explained to me that as long as it’s an official marriage in Brazil, it’s official in NJ as well.
So that’s how we got married! We’ll be posting more about the visa process and, after this year, taxes for those married to a non-resident alien in the US (a.k.a. someone who doesn’t live in the US and who doesn’t have an SSN or ITIN). We’re still figuring out the process, so hopefully you can learn from any mistakes we make. Though, I hope we avoid the vast majority.