Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Cost of a Brazilian Visa

A visa is a document stamped into a passport indicating that the holder of the passport meets the minimum requirements of the host country for entry into that country.  Most of the time a visa is a simple inked stamp that is placed on a passport page and other times it’s a more formal higher tech document with an adhesive back that is placed on a passport page.  Ecuador has taken things a step further and laser prints the visa directly onto a passport page. 

Free visas from places like the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United Kingdom

Visas that are stamped into your passport are generally free to American citizens.  If you have ever stepped off a plane in the Bahamas or Mexico and handed your passport to an immigration officer you’ve seen them stamp your visa into your passport.  Once the immigration officer returns your passport you are at liberty to travel in that country for no more than the number of days indicated.  Most countries provide 30 or 90 day visit visas however some, like Vietnam provide a visa valid for one year in which you can enter the country only one time.  

A single-entry visa to Vietnam cost $100 US in 2006

A growing number of countries, unfortunately, are now requiring travelers to obtain a travel visa before arriving in their country.  Concomitantly for travel to those countries if you do not possess a visa in your passport you are not allowed to board the flight from the United States to travel there.  Airlines can receive hefty fines for allowing a traveler on a plane without the needed visa.

Once while standing in line to obtain a free visa before entering the Sultantate of Oman in the Middle East, a Sri Lankan man standing next to me saw my passport and said out loud, “With an American passport you can travel anywhere in the world and you can do it for free.”

Not any longer.

In the post 9/11 era the United States, under the guise of keeping terrorists out, has begun requiring citizens of more and more countries to obtain a visa before traveling here. Costs associated with a visa to the United States are ridiculously expensive in many cases.  For some time during the Bush Administration there was talk of extending this indignity even to “friendly” countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.  Luckily it never happened.  

When you arrive at the border crossing into Lesotho you pay a $10 US tax to use the highway even if you're walking then the border control person gives you an entry and an exit visa "to save you time."  Travel across the border into Namibia and you also pay a road tax but no visa fee.

In retaliation for treating citizens of their own countries like this, a growing number of countries that never used to require a visa for American travelers now do require one before traveling there.  And in further retaliation those host countries are charging American travelers the same amount of money or more to visit there.  Many times these ridiculous visa costs are marketed as a way to increase the amount of foreign hard currency entering a nation.  That might make sense for a poor country like The Gambia or Mozambique, but when Australia and Brazil are charging extortionate prices for a visa you know more than simple economics is involved.
Crossing the border from Koomatispoort South Africa into Mozambique is an experience you're not likely to forget any time soon

To obtain a visa before traveling to a country requiring one is a simple task if you live in Washington DC or New York or in a city that has a consulate for that nation.   There you simply show up at the visa section during the appointed hours when they receive applications.  Turn in the application form, a photo or two, other required documents, and the dreaded visa application fee, and then leave your much cherished passport with an officer of that nation.  In a few days you can return and retrieve your passport with the visa pasted inside.  If you reside outside of an area where consular offices are available you are reduced to entrusting your passport and the application materials to the US Postal Service or FedEx/UPS and have them deliver the application for you.  A very few countries, Australia immediately comes to mind, allow you to apply for a visa and pay the visa fee electronically thus saving you the time of standing in line or mailing in your application.
Crossing from Israel to Jordan is an experience everyone should have at least once in their life!

Several years ago when I traveled to Israel I decided that I also wanted to visit Jordan while I was in the area.  My original plans for this trip were to spend one day at Wadi Rum in Jordan where I hoped to find a Verreaux’ eagle and get a Jordanian visa in my passport.  These well-intentioned plans came to a halt when I tried crossing the Arava, Israel border for my planned day trip.  I had a rental car reserved at the Aqaba airport, so I set off from Eilat two hours early to allow time for the marathon of going through Israeli departure, getting into Jordan, and finding a taxi to the airport.

The first suggestion that this crossing was going to be eventful was the substantial Israeli departure tax that they did not charge at the Taba crossing to Egypt the day before.  Weighing this, I asked what the cost was in United States dollars for a single-entry visa for Jordan.  Checking her chart the immigration agent told me that American’s pay $85 for a visa at the border crossing, and we pay an additional nine-dollar departure tax to leave Jordan and return to Israel.  Ouch.  It was going to cost well more than $100 to leave Israel, get into Jordan and then back out again for a single day seemed a tad too much.

A Jordanian visa is MUCH cheaper if you obtain it before leaving the United States than it is paying a bribe to a Jordanian border control officer on arrival

I had checked with the Jordanian Embassy in Washington before my departure and asked about getting a visa from them.  The person in the embassy told me that it was a two-week process, it would cost $42, and that it was “much, much cheaper” to get my visa at any Jordanian border crossing.  Apparently the Jordanian Embassy in Washington does not talk often with their border crossing in Aqaba because it was more than twice as expensive to get a border there. 
To pass from Lesotho into South Africa at the Sani Pass border control station all you need to do is step over the puff adders lying in the road, hand your passport to immigration, get a stamp and continue on with your journey

Since that trip in 2001 the cost of a visitor visa in many countries has gone out of sight.  In 2004 I paid $100 US for an electronic visa to Australia and two years ago I was told it would cost $100 US for a visa to step across the border into Zimbabwe and the same amount for a visit to Mozambique.  I paid it for Mozambique but refused to give money to the murderous regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. There, instead of paying for a visa I simply walked through the Limpopo River with its Nile crocodiles everywhere and plunked myself down illegally in Zimbabwe.

I decided to walk by Nile crocodiles lining the bank of the Limpopo River and enter Zimbabwe illegally than to pay $100 for a visa from the government of Zimbabwe's murderous dictator Robert Mugabe

In preparation for an October 2014 trip to Brazil I checked into the current visa requirements.  The last time I was in Brazil legally was in 2003 when I paid $100 for a multi-entry visa through the Brazilian Embassy in Washington DC.  The new requirements for a Brazilian visa, reprinted below border on harassment.  Why does some civil servant in Brasilia need to see my water bill or my phone bill or my bank statement?
A five-year multi-entry visa to Brazil now costs $180 US plus a processing fee of $89 US

Required Documents
Attention: The Consulate General of Brazil in Miami may require additional documents.
·         Original passport valid for at least 6 (six) months prior to its expiration date. The passportmust have at least 2 (two) blank visa pages. 
Obs: Notice that a passport is considered a valid document only if it is signed by its holder. Therefore, make sure you sign your passport before bringing it to the Consulate General of Brazil.
·         One recent individual passport photo, full-frontal, white background;
·         One electronic visa application form. Please, make sure to provide full information. When you finish filling out the electronic visa application form, print the application receipt, glue your picture and sign on the appropriate field.
·         Letter addressed to the Consulate with detailed information on your trip: tentative dates of arrival and departure, places to visit, contact information, hotel or any other place at which you will be staying. Please, don't forget to sign your letter;
·         Yellow Fever International Certificate (when applicable);
·         Participants in athletic competitions or performing arts events must present copy of letter from sponsor/organizer with detailed information on the event as well as conditions of attendance (informing clearly that there will be no admission fees neither payment of appearance fee, prize money or any other monetary prize);
·         Proof of income from the last 90 days (bank statements, credit card statements showing the available credit line or paystubs). If you cannot provide any of these listed documents, you may have a sponsor who must provide such documents AND an affidavit of support letter assuming full responsibility for your trip. Parents, even if Brazilians, must provide their financial documents to support an application for their children.
·          Those applying by mail or third party must present proof of residence within the jurisdiction of this Consulate (Florida, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Island): copy of Driver’s License or any recent utility bill – issued within the past 90 day).
·         Those applying by mail must enclose a self-addressed pre-paid U.S. Postal Service Express Mail envelope for the return of original passport. Send your application and paperwork to:

Consulate General of Brazil
80 SW 8th street suite 2600
Miami, FL 33130

·           Applicants under 18 years of age must present:
1. Both copy and original of the birth certificate;
2. A Letter of consent signed by the parents or legal guardians: Parents must present original ID document or passport along with the application. If Brazilian citizens, they must submit their original Brazilian ID (Carteira de Identidade) or Brazilian passport along with the application. Remember that a passport must be signed. 
·         Brazilian citizens must travel to Brazil on a Brazilian passport. Those who have renounced the Brazilian citizenship must present proof.

The fee has to be paid by US Postal Money Order or receipt provided by the deposit  machine located at the Consulate's main lobby. The machine only accepts cash and charges US$ 1.00 for the service. The US Postal Money Order should be payable to Brazilian Consulate General.

Most annoying of all however is the cost of a Brazilian visa.  Now the embassy fee is $180 US and if you go through a visa broker/expediter they add an $89 charge bringing the total to $269 for a piece of paper with an adhesive back to be placed in my passport. Not surprisingly the cost to a Brazilian wanting to travel to the United States on a visitor visa is also $180 US. What a coincidence.  This cat and mouse diplomatic game has thoroughly soured my desire to ever travel again to Brazil.  Five times in the country already is more than enough for me despite there being 257 species of birds in the country that I have never seen before and most of them occur only in Brazil. 

The right of a country to require someone to have a visa before entering their nation is certainly a valid one.  And if they choose to charge someone for that visa then so be it.  However charging an extortionate amount of money is ridiculous.  I simply cannot believe that the cost to type my name on a piece of adhesive-backed paper and slap it in my passport costs $180 in salary and benefits to the Brazilian civil servant who does the work.  At the same time a GS-7 passport clerk in the US Embassy in Brasilia doesn’t eat up $180 in salary pumping out visas for Brazilians every 15 minutes either. 

A visa for an American to enter Brazil now costs more than a 5-night Caribbean cruise.  We can thank heavy-handed US policy toward the world post 9/11 for this lovely charge.  AND if you pay in cash at a Brazilian consulate the machine accepting the money charges $1.00 for the service. Such bullshit.

To put the $269 fee for a Brazilian visa in perspective consider this.  A season ticket for the minor league Bradenton Marauders baseball team gives you 70 games directly behind home plate for $310.  A ticket from Tampa to San Juan Puerto Rico on Jet Blue Airlines is $226 roundtrip.  An upcoming five-day cruise from Tampa to Grand Cayman and Cozumel Mexico is $224 per person for five night’s accommodation, transportation and all meals.  Yet Brazil wants to charge me $269 to fly there and sweat in the tropical heat for a few days?  I think not.
It is cheaper to purchase a 5-day Caribbean cruise and sail to Jamaica to get this free visa in your passport than it is to obtain a visa to enter Brazil

It’s unfortunate that nations have to engage in these diplomatic pissing matches however in a lot of these cases I can’t really blame the host nation. After all it was the United States that started laying its heavy hand on them first and they can’t be blamed for striking back.
Friendly, smiling, Thailand doesn't charge an arm and leg for a visa to enter it. In fact entry to Thailand is free. I think I'll go back to where is that Thai Airways website?

However as for me - screw you Brazil.  I’ll find another country that does not charge an arm and leg for a visa and go birding there. Visas for Americans traveling to Thailand and Malaysia are free and I have not been in either country since 2006.  Both are looking better every day.