Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Cartório - The Mafia of Brasil?

I've never claimed to be an expert. There's a lot in Brasil that I don't even try to understand. There's a lot in Brasil that I am content to know only enough about to get by. And then there are the occasional things that I've learned a lot about, asked countless questions about, tried my darndest to figure it out, and, still, I remain baffled. The cartório falls into the category of the latter, for sure. (Cartório is often translated as "notary's office". And I guess in some ways, their services are like that of a notary in the US . . . if all notaries were members of the mafia, that is.)

How much would you pay for the little sticker and stamp pictured?

Well, yesterday Eric paid R$4.00 for one that looks just like it. And he paid it 14 times.

"Authentication" is a big deal here. Everything needs to be authenticated. And the place to go to get something authenticated? The cartório. And even if it were exactly like the notary system we have in the US, I can count on one hand (um, with one finger, actually) the number of times I've needed to have something notorized.

A contract that you sign to get paid R$19 for editing a couple pages of English text? Not valid until you've been to a cartório, put your signature on file there, had someone take the signed contract to said cartório to pay them to place a sticker, stamp, and signature on it to verify that the signature is, indeed, yours. (And then repeat the process for each other signature on the contract. And there are a lot of cartórios in the greater Belo Horizonte area.)

The translation of your Iowa Driver's License which is on very official-looking stationary, signed, stamped, and raised-sealed by the approved office which did the translation? Not recognized as real until it is stickered, stamped, and signed at the cartório. Never mind that the person "authenticating" the document doesn't speak, read, or write English, has no idea who this translator was, wouldn't know a fake driver's license if you presented them one, doesn't even take a look over the original driver's license and compare it to the translation . . . so long as you pay the money, they place a sticker, stamp, and signature on your document confirming it as honest, true, and legal.

And it goes beyond just authenticating random documents. From the information I've received, the cartórios keep up with registering birth certificates and death certificates. They officiate weddings and issue marriage certificates (even if you have a church wedding, you aren't legally married unless you go have the civil service (and, of course, pay) at the cartório.) Ownership of everything from land to businesses is registered with the cartório too, from what I understand.

Yesterday Eric waited over 40 minutes to have 14 pages authenticated. It was totally packed in the hot, stuffy, un-air-conditioned, slightly run-down cartório office. There were roughly 30 people ahead of him in line. Once his number was finally called, it took, literally, 3 minutes for a woman to "authenticate" the 14 copies he had. (We needed authenticated copies of our visas, driver's license translations, and some other documents. 14 pages which each needed a sticker, a stamp, and her signature, all done in 3 minutes: you can guess at how closely she compared the copy (which Eric had previously made and brought in with him) to the original before signing it as legitimate.) And then he was told the charge would be R$56.

So based on the fees they charge, how busy every cartório we've ever seen stays, how many things must go through the cartório to be legal, and the actual amount of time/work that goes into what they do, Eric and I decided we should move here permanently, open up a cartório for several years, and then retire young and be beach bums for the rest of our life.

Oh, but here's the thing. Just any ol' person can't open up a cartório. Only certain families are given that privilege.

Now, my understanding of the whole system (which admittedly isn't that great) is that it started back when Brasil was a colony of Portugal. The king at that time granted permission to certain families to open up these cartórios to manage record keeping of things like births, deaths, marriages, land ownership, etc. Eventually, Brasil was granted independence from Portugal. But the cartório system (and the list of families allowed ownership of these very lucrative businesses) remained. Or rather, remains.

I think it's a little mafia-like, with the whole "family" thing and all. But when we've discussed the similarities with friends down here, they tend to laugh, shake their heads at the silly gringos, and agree that the system is kind of crazy, but assure us that it is quite "necessário". To which we, in all of our American challenge-the-system thinking, ask "por que?"

I think people get really, really tired of us always asking why!

(Of course, like I said in the beginning, my understanding of the system isn't exactly perfect, and maybe I have some facts wrong - in which case I welcome clarification and correction!)


Marcio said...

Hmmmm, sei pouco sobre o assunto. Primeiro, os cartórios não são dados mais às famílias. O Poder Judiciário agora estuda quando uma localidade demanda um cartório e aí abre concurso público para todos os brasileiros. Algumas coisas são gratuitas no cartório, como os citados certidão de nascimento e óbito. Parece-me que de casamento também ou está em vias de passar a ser. E o Governo Federal declarou semana passada que está em andamento uma lei para grande parte dessas coisas de cartório deixarem de ser necessárias!

AcesHigh said...

Emily, just translating what Marcio said...

cartórios are not anymore given to families.

when a locality needs a new Cartorio, the Judiciary opens a Concurso Publico (dont know how to translate this into english), to which any citizen, as long as he not only passes the tests, as he also fullfils the requirements, gets the right to open a cartorio in the locality.

Corinne said...

I have some terrible cartório stories. Like the time I called one and asked for the list of documents needed for a civil wedding and was told emphatically that they could not give that information over the phone and I would have to come in person to get it. Or the time I needed to send a notorized copy of an agreement for sale for something Stateside. Well, since I live here, I asked my husband to take it down to the cartorio where we are registered and have it authenticated. They would not do it unless I was physically present, which sort of defeats the whole registering the signature in the first place, right? Well, their reason was that the document had a large monetary value in the text. Now, this is a text IN ENGLISH and it just said I was ok with the sale in said amount, and no one could read the document and figure that out. They just saw the figure in the text and argued that they would not take responsibility for verifying my signature without me giving the ok. When I asked to see some legislation or rule written down that confirmed this, all I got was a shrug. Cartórios remain a totally mystery to me and I try to avoid them at all costs!!

Ray Adkins said...


It really is a system that allows abuse, no doubt.
Just so you know, this system is not totally foreign...
We owe property in Pasco County, Florida, just north of Tampa and they have a very similar system to Brazil's cartorios, google Mike Olson's Tax Collector, they will charge you for all kinds of things.
Just last week we needed to pay U$15.00 dollars each to obtain a "certificate of domicile", they gave us the certificate with a little stamp and someone's signature confirming what we said.
They charge for a number of things related to property ownership, sale, purchase, birth certificates, marriage certificates etc...

Claudia said...

So that you know "cartorios" can't be handed down in the family anymore. Now there are specific tests that only graduate lawyers can take in order to be granted the ownership of that place. And when he/she dies another test takes place to find a substitute. This test is about law and "cartorio" related stuff and it's kind of difficult to pass it. The salary of one of the "cartorio" owners can get to about 200 thousand reais a month! But as a Brazilian I think that having everything notorized is just a way to get our money and state that they are the law.

Fabrício said...

Hey guys,

Here my two cents.

Cartórios still work in the same traditional way, and that is a reflection of Brazil's legal system. Brazil is a Civil Law country, on steroids - that means everything is only valid if reflecting exactly what laws say. Common sense is devoured by old traditions, really, therefore the need to authenticate anything. That said, the (old) system resembles a mafia in many ways. There is a new system in place that improves the situation, but seems to be far from what is desirable.
I think cartorios which are still on the hands of the families under the "old system" are the property of this family until the owner dies - but descendants are no more entitled to receive the most profitable cartório. In that sense, the new laws that bring a concurso publico in order to choose new cartorio owners are welcome. If I am not mistaken, you also need to have studied law before you can apply to take the test. Of course, these exams are in their own right a Brazilian specialty, full of corruption stories plus I am not sure the exams choose the right people for the job. The main problem with the new legislation is this: even though now anyone can pass the concurso publico test (provided you were not victim of exam corruption and had the means to study full-time for that for a few years without having to work as it is super hard to pass), they are then entitled to hold the position as long as they live. That in itself is a bad deal. The other problem is charging for services that could or should be considered public services and delivered free of charge by the government - or with a admin fee. At least for poor citizens. My guess is cartórios aren't the mafia anymore, but still are the gangsters in place.
Cheers from Australia,

Anonymous said...

Earning money online never been this easy and transparent. You would find great tips on how to make that dream amount every month. So go ahead and click here for more details and open floodgates to your online income. All the best.