Thursday, June 10, 2010

Passports and Visas: Our Adventure to Get Into Brasil

(Random Note: The BabyBjorn is tough for me to wear a long time with 19 lb Gabs now - too much strain on my shoulders. I bought the Baby K'tan right before we came down. It can be used in 8 different positions, spreads out her weight a lot more, and can be used up to 40 lbs! Eric says he feels like a hippy wearing it, but I'm in love!!!)

I have a newfound respect for the United States Postal System. The Policia Federal in Brasil and I are getting along pretty well. But I am more annoyed than ever with the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago.

Eric's last minute 2-week business trip to Brasil and our decision for Gabs and me to tag along made for some hustle and bustle and the need for a laid back Brasilian attitude (to avoid shaving years off our life from the stress of it all). Eric already had a business visa valid for 5 years. I, on the other hand, had nothing. And Gabriela's Brasilian Passport had just expired.

We were going to be cutting it close with getting my tourist visa back from the consulate in time, but Gabriela's passport renewal was supposed to be quicker. After a little bit of busting our butts the Friday morning before my brother's wedding, we got all the necessary paperwork sent off. All we could do after that was wait and hope everything arrived back to us before Memorial Day, since we were leaving for Brasil on Tuesday.

We spent Memorial Day weekend at Eric's parents' house. His sister, Tanya, and her family were up from Florida and his baby sister, Kelly, had her high school graduation party that weekend. It was a fun, busy weekend! As of Saturday afternoon though, there was no sign of anything from the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago. Their website showed that both my visa and Gaber's passport had been processed and approved, but as of Sunday there was still nothing about our two Express Envelopes showing up on the USPS tracking website. (I had called the consulate on Friday during their "call center hours" to check and make sure they had mailed out our stuff, but I was informed in no uncertain terms that they do not answer any questions about visas over the phone and I would need to email them instead. Which I did. Without any reply.)

It's important to note here that to do anything through the mail with the Brasilian Consulate, they require that you send everything in an $18 USPS Express Envelope - they won't accept anything else that arrives there. They also require that you send a self-addressed and stamped $18 Express Envelope for them to return documents to you. No matter your time frame, they will not process anything from you unless you spend $36 on overnight mail. (Granted, in our case, we needed it to be rushed, overnight mail.)

By Monday afternoon, we had just about decided that our documents must not have been mailed yet, and we were going to need to skip our flight out of Cedar Rapids, drive early Tuesday morning to Chicago and be at the consulate when they opened to pick up our visa/passport, and then jump on what was supposed to be our second flight of the journey in Chicago. Eric and I both were amazingly calm about the whole situation and began calling the airline and seeing what it would take to change our itinerary.

We checked the USPS website once more and were ecstatic to see both envelopes in the system! Mine was in Iowa, and Gabriela's was lacking exact tracking info but did show up as having been through the Chicago sorting facility already. It appeared that it was going to work out just fine, just in time!

However, since we needed to leave Center Point by 11:30 the next morning, we needed to intercept the packages before they got sent out with the mail man for delivery. After a couple phone calls to people Eric knew who worked at the post office, we were told to call about 6:00 am and someone would be there to talk to us.

Tuesday morning at 6:00, we talked to someone at the local post office to alert them to the situation. By 8:00 am they confirmed that my envelope was there and they would hold it for us to pick up. They hadn't received Gabriela's though and suggested we call Cedar Rapids, since it would go through there on its way. As of 10:00 am, Cedar Rapids hadn't received Gabriela's but assumed it must be on a truck from Chicago scheduled to arrive at 1:00 pm. This is when we were informed that the reason our envelopes weren't being tracked properly is because the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago did not handle the Express Envelopes correctly. Instead of being handed to the mailman or taken to the post office counter so that the paperwork could be done and everything entered into the system to guarantee overnight delivery, they had just dumped them into a random drop box somewhere on the street. When that happens, the post office does its best, but your $18 envelope gets more or less handled as regular, first class $0.44 mail.

So Gabriela's passport was expected to arrive on a truck in Cedar Rapids at 1:00 pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:35. Much to our surprise, the guy we were dealing with at the post office said that he would do everything he could to help us out. He promised to have someone on hand waiting for the truck the second it arrived, and if our envelope was on there it would be immediately delivered to us at the airport. Talk about service!!! We were convinced it was all going to work just fine now.

So we jollily loaded up and left Eric's parents' house at 11:05 to go by the local post office and pick up my visa then drive down to the airport and get checked in for our flight. That's when we discovered that the post office in Center Point is closed from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm every day. Seriously. Locked up tight, no one to be found anywhere. My passport with my Brasil visa somewhere inside. That's the moment the vein in Eric's forehead started to bulge a little.

We couldn't wait until 12:30. So we went ahead down to the airport and asked Eric's folks to please pick up the envelope at 12:30 and bring it to the airport to us. The entire 25 minute drive to the airport, I'm pretty sure Eric had decided taking his family with him to make the two weeks more enjoyable was completely counterproductive. Combined with the unexpected 1 hour conference call he ended up on that morning where he learned that the progress he thought had been made the previous week was pretty much invalid, I can safely say my hubby's blood pressure was probably as high as it's ever been the entire almost 5 years I've known him. Had it not been for the giggles suddenly coming from the back seat, oblivious to the vein quietly bulging from her father's head, I'm pretty sure Eric would have had a coronary right there on I-380. Instead he smiled, maybe even laughed.

We managed to get Eric and Gabriela checked into our flight and bags checked, but they couldn't get my boarding pass issued until I presented a passport and visa. We barely managed to get Gabs through the system with her US Passport and her RG (Brasilian ID card). They asked for her visa, we told them she was a Brasilian citizen and didn't need one. They asked for a Brasilian passport, and we said she didn't have one. We were quite certain if we explained that it was held up in the mail somewhere they wouldn't let her board the flight, so we withheld that info.

The Cedar Rapids post office called us back at 1:00 to say the truck hadn't shown up yet but that someone was there waiting to rush the envelope to us the moment it arrived. Then they called again just as our flight was about to board to say that the truck was there, but the envelope was not. They had no idea where the envelope was.

We had already decided that so long as I had a visa, Gabs and I were going to go. We figured that a citizen, especially one in diapers, isn't going to be denied entry into her own country. We were quite certain the lack of a proper passport would get us held up in immigrations and it would probably cost us some money, but ultimately we knew there had to be a way around the passport. Especially since I had a copy of her birth certificate (the original had to be sent off with the passport application) and her RG (Brasilian ID card).

So on our way to Brasil we went. Flights were on time and fabulous. Gabriela did great the entire trip and slept most of the 8-hour overnight flight (waking occasionally to roll over and whimpering when she realized she was buckled into her carseat and couldn't, but then drifting right back to sleep.)

I got nervous for the first time as we approached the immigration desk in Belo Horizonte. Eric's passport was stamped, no problems. Mine got the Policia Federal Supervisor called over. Apparently they still had me in the system as holding a Temporary Resident (Type V) visa, which was expired. They also had no record in the computer of me ever leaving the country in December (their quick search for the stamp in my passport was in vain, as there are A LOT of stamps in that bad boy now.) Eventually they typed in some stuff, clicked a few buttons, and decided I was legal and okay. Then they flipped through Gabriela's US passport (we presented that along with her RG) looking for a visa. Eric pointed out her RG and said she didn't have a visa because she was born in Brasil. They looked at her RG and then asked for her Brasilian passport. Eric explained that her old one had just expired, that we had to send it to the consulate to have a new one issued, and that it was all currently lost in the mail somewhere. The Policia Federal guy said that yeah sometimes those things happen, looked at her RG again, and explained that it wasn't valid for international travel. Then he sort of shrugged, told the girl at the desk to give us back our documents, and told us to have a nice day. I wanted to kiss him. Instead I grabbed our stuff and skipped over to customs with a gigantic smile on my face.

The following day, Eric's parents received Gabriela's envelope containing all her documents in the mail. We're having it sent down to us so that we have it when we leave the country next week. I'm not sure we're lucky enough to have it so easy with Brasil Immigrations a second time!

The passport department at the consulate did email me back, after we had arrived in Brasil, to tell me they had mailed her passport on the previous Thursday. The visa department never bothered to get back to me. When I return stateside, I plan on getting something in writing from the post office saying that the Express Envelope wasn't mailed out properly, and then I'm filing a complaint with the consulate. Not that it will do a bit of good, but I'll feel better if I can scold them a little. I don't care if they want to just throw everything in a drop box, but it's ridiculous to require an expensive Express Envelope if they aren't willing to handle it appropriately.

But what matters most is that I'm in sunny Belo Horizonte. I'm eating fresh tropical fruit, pao de queijo, and having fresh juice for breakfast every morning. I'm having a R$2 (US$1.10) hand dipped ice cream cone at my favorite ice cream shop every afternoon (flavors like lime mousse, passion fruit, white chocolate, yum, yum, yum). We had an ultrasound for R$100 (US$54) and found out the gender of Baby Dois (to be revealed tomorrow!!!) I'm catching up with good friends. And most importantly, I get to spend each night with my Sweetie! Life is good.


Casie Parrott said...


BTW, I absolutely loved this blog post! Very entertaining, your life is! :)


Bruno said...

Oh my... I'd have a heart attack.
I´m glad you didn't have problems at the Brazilian Immigration... Well, after all, they must let a brazilian enter her own country, no matter which documents she has :D
Nice to read new adventures in MG. I can see you went to Ouro Preto in the weekend!

Corinne said...

just description of the helpful post office vs. the unhelpful consulate really demonstrates the difference in public service of the two countries. Not that there are not helpful Brazilian public servants or lame US ones (DMV anyone). But more than once I have been trully BLOWN AWAY by the helpfulness of public servants in the US. GO USPS!!!

Beth O. said...

I love living vicariously through your blog. I take so much comfort in my daily routines and 9-5 job. Part of me is thankful I don't have those extra added stresses (but I do wish we had the extra time and money to visit when you were there!), I do sometimes wish for your fun adventures!

Nani said...

haha, you guys learned the "jeitinho brasileiro" pretty quick. Went with your guts and indeed they let her entry the country. Awesome!!