Let’s talk about visas for a minute. Visas are required for foreigners to enter a country and the type of visa the person has determines what they can and can’t do. Simple enough. Driving along the Pan American Highway from the United States, visas were easy to get, right at the border. With the exception of our entry to Bolivia, we didn’t pay anything for those visas and the entire process consisted of the immigration officer opening our passports and putting a stamp on a blank page. That’s it. Boom. Done. With the process so quick, easy and inexpensive, why did we have to pay $160 per person to enter Bolivia? More importantly, why do we have to pay the same amount to enter Brazil?
We will answer those questions in a few moments but first, let’s talk about entry to the United States. Security in the US is taken very seriously. Foreigners attempting to enter the US are screened for connections to terror groups, past criminal history, financial resources to ensure they can take care of themselves upon entry, etc. and collecting and obtaining this information costs a lot of money. So, who should pay for that? According to the US, the foreigners requesting entry should pay for this and I can’t say I disagree. For many foreigners to obtain a tourist visa for the US, a fee of $160 must be paid with the visa application. Well, that dollar figure sure sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, are the South American countries that charge for visas using a reciprocity fee. (Note: we did not check for Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname or French Guinea) This means that since the US charges the citizens of those countries a very high fee for a visa, they will return the favor and treat US citizens with an equally high bill. Ouch. I suppose this is us doing our part to help pay for the securities of the US. Yay security!
The process for obtaining a Brazilian visa is very similar to the process we went through in Bolivia and is summarized here:
First, find a Brazilian Consulate that is able to issue visas. We found that the closest consulate to us was in Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the consulate and we found out that the office had moved a week before. Luckily, the new office was only about ten blocks away so we hoofed it for fifteen minutes. Two security guards at the front door gave us a number and allowed us to enter the waiting room. Signs began to appear in Spanish AND Portuguese. Although we still don’t understand most of what people are saying, we began hearing Portuguese and started questioning why we were going to a country where we don’t speak any of the language. Oh well. We received a list of required documents and steps to pay our application fee and were sent away to begin the process. It was about 9:30 AM on a Friday when we set out to run the errands and were told that the consulate closes at 12:00 PM for visa applications. We ran out of the consulate and grabbed the first taxi we could find in order to beat the closing time.
The taxi took us to the Banco Brasil where we would make payment for our visa fee. It is very important to have crisp $20s as the bank will not accept bills that have small tears on the edges or large creases. It must be expensive to have US dollars shipped to South America! We made the payment and found an internet store to begin the next step.
Next on the list is filling out an internet form on the Brazilian Migration website. This form compiles personal information such as name, address, DOB, phone number, etc. as well as emergency contact information, information about parents, and occupation. Our web browser didn’t like the web site and kept popping up an error notification but we had both forms filled out and printed in less than an hour.
While at the internet store, we took advantage of having a printer to complete the remaining information on our list. We needed proof of a hotel reservation printed for review. Since we have a camper, we almost never stay in hotels but obliged and reserved a hotel, printed the confirmation and cancelled the reservation. Next, we needed proof of adequate financial resources to support ourselves while in Brazil. We just printed a bank statement but were told a copy of a credit card would be sufficient. With the printing complete, we ran out to the street and took a taxi back to the consulate.
At 11:45 AM, we arrived back at the consulate to find at least 8 people in front of us. It wasn’t looking like we would make the 12:00 PM cutoff for visas. Incredibly, the cutoff closes the door at noon and everyone that made it through the door by then would be helped. We waited until 12:15 and were taken into the back office to complete our application. The agent we worked with spoke perfect English and was a treat to work with. We handed over our stack of documents, passports and extra passport photos and were told to return the following Thursday to pick up our passports and visas.
Next, we played the waiting game. Although a copy of our passports has been sufficient for everything but border crossings over the last ten months, we weren’t feeling overly confident without our passports in hand. Several spots marked on iOverlander indicated that corrupt police checkpoints were common in the area, so we decided it wouldn’t be smart to attempt going through them without passports. Instead, we stocked up on beer and groceries, drove an hour from Santa Cruz and held tight for several days while our visas were being processed.
We found a really cool jungle camp just west of Santa Cruz while we waited:
Six days after leaving the consulate, we returned to pick up our passports with our visas. Picking up our passports was as easy as it sounds. Walk in, walk out.
With our visas in hand, we headed to the border to begin crossing at Corumba, Brazil. Much of our research indicated that this is a fairly busy border crossing as many Bolivians commute to Brazil every day. We arrived around 11:00AM as other travelers reported shorter lines at this time. Additionally, the Bolivian side closes from 12:30 to 2:30 PM for lunch so this would give us plenty of time to complete the process before closing.
On the Bolivian side, the first stop was at the customs to cancel our vehicle import permit. There were several other people in line ahead of us so we ended up waiting about 30 minutes before it was our turn. The agent reviewed our document then inspected our VIN. After this was done, she stamped our permit as cancelled and we were on our way to immigration.
At immigration, there was a long line of about 30 people. We stood in line for nearly 30 minutes before we arrived at the counter. Our passports were stamped and we were finished with Bolivia. One thing to note here, there were signs indicating we needed to pay a 155 Boliviano per person exit fee before leaving immigration. Nobody said anything so we just walked out the door and nobody checked as we drove across the border. Hopefully we don’t get imprisoned when we return to Bolivia!
On the Brazilian size, the process was similar to other countries. Instead of an immigration office, the Brazilian side has Federal Police review the visa information and stamp passports. Again, there was a line of people in front of us but we only waited for 15 minutes.
Next, we needed to import our truck at the Receita Federal which is Brazil’s equivalent to aduana in Spanish speaking countries. Now that we were in Brazil, everything was in Portuguese making the process very difficult for us. Although nobody was in front of us, we struggled with a very patient border agent who was just trying to tell us they were on lunch break and we needed to wait an hour. We lucked out when we returned and were helped by an agent who spoke English. He took copies of our auto registration and title and returned five minutes later with our import permit.
Aside from the visa process, the border crossing took three hours. The majority of this time was spent waiting in lines or for lunch to finish. The language barrier provided us a bit of grief but we kept patient and completed our 14th border crossing without too much trouble. Onto Brazil!