The saga of the foreigner visa

Last week was special. The reason: after nearly ten months in Brazil, my husband Mark was granted permanent residency here, as well as an RNE (Registro Nacional de Estrangeiros, the foreigners’ ID) number. Viva!

As we left the Policia Federal (Federal Police, the department responsible for visa processing) building on Tuesday, we felt almost as if we had won the lottery, because I can tell you, it was not easy! Actually, it’s an extremely bureaucratic, tiring, time-consuming and boring process. You really have to remind yourself several times that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Now that we finally got there, here is our summarised saga…

Where to start?
First of all, we had to apply for Mark’s permanent visa on the grounds of marriage to a Brazilian citizen, this is the first step of the process and has to be done within 30 calendar days from the date of arrival in Brazil. We were particularly short of time since he arrived just before Christmas and all the public offices were shut until the second week of January.

For starters, I searched a list on the website of the Ministry of Justice for the necessary documents that we would need to gather and it all seemed quite straightforward, but it proved to be quite the opposite. The website lists some of the documents that you would need if you are trying to get your partner sorted out with the authorities, but not all. For example, the website does not say that you need the original entry card that the border police stamps and gives to foreigners upon arrival in Brazil. Or the two letters from two people you know (it can’t be your relatives) saying that they know you and that your marriage is not a scam, plus their documentation and proof of address.

We only found out about those extra documents after a wasted trip to the Federal Police, where they kindly supplied us with the “correct version” of the list of documents required for the visa. Note to self: do not trust the information on Brazilian visas that is available on the web!

The Federal Police office in Lapa

Cartório life
Once we had the list of documents needed to get Mark’s visa sorted, we needed to produce a Brazilian version of our UK marriage certificate. This entailed trips to three different notaries, plus the several authentications of signatures, documents and whatnot.

The other thing is that, in Brazil, a signature or a photocopy of a document does not have any official value in Brazil unless it is verified and stamped by a cartório (register office).

We spent A LOT of money in that process. But at least we didn’t have to pay any bribes. I have to say that we were lucky in that the people who helped us in the countless dull offices we had to go to were mostly helpful, especially when we said that we only had a few days to get everything done.

After chasing all over the city for documents, we gathered all the paperwork for Mark’s visa. We went through all the bits again and again in order to get it right and avoid another trip to the PF in vain and realised we had 48 sheets of paper. Forty-eight pages!

The plain clothes policeman
Finally, we submitted the whole thing and it worked. We were told that it would take a year or 18 months for the visa to be processed and that we should be checking the status of the application online. It seemed like an impossibly long time to get a visa processed but alright, we went home feeling strangely happy for having managed to tick all the bureaucracy boxes.

A month or so later, a guy wearing trainers and ripped jeans knocked on our door, asking for Mark. He said he was a Federal Police officer checking on his visa status and ensuring it was all genuine. I found it a bit strange until he showed his badge, but he said I didn’t even have to open the gate, instead he asked a few questions through the bars (there is a gate with iron bars between the street and our front door, for ‘safety’ reasons) and left.

The policeman said to us that the whole thing, about 18-month processing, was not really the norm and that we should expect it to go through in the next three months or so. He was right: in May, we found that Mark’s application had been accepted, hooray! We then needed a whole load of other documents so that he could request his ID and get the permanent resident stamp on his passport. We went to the Federal Police and, yes you guessed it right, we got it wrong again.

In the name of the mother
We got it wrong because we needed a document that showed the name of my husband’s mother. In Brazil, we are supposed to inform the names of our mother and father for all sorts of purposes, whether you want to buy a fridge or get health insurance.

But in the UK that is just not the case, so we had to request Mark’s detailed birth certificate from the UK and go to the British consulate to get a letter, which cost over R$ 180 (£63) and simply repeated the information that is already on the birth certificate in Portuguese.

According to the woman at the Policia Federal, “you could have typed that letter on Microsoft Word.” Huh?

Inside the Federal Police

The final destination
Expecting the worst but hoping for the best, we made our sixth visit of the year to the Federal Police. The trip itself is not so bad for us, just because there is a bus right in front of our place that drops us right in front of their dreadful office in Lapa (west of São Paulo).

What is really horrible is the place, and its total lack of organisation and respect for people. From the moment the doors are open, there are hundreds of foreigners – mainly South Americans and Chinese – queuing up outside the office. Then once you are inside, it is just total madness.

You are supposed to book an appointment online, but often people wait 30 minutes to an hour longer than they were supposed to, since the whole thing is not streamlined by time slots (although it is supposed to be that way) and there is not enough staff to deal with these masses of people. Then there is the information queue, which could be dramatically reduced if information leaflets were made available… you overhear the questions, how can I get a replacement ID? How can I pay for this and that processing fee? Surely that could be made available on the web!

We didn’t have an appointment this time around, since the boss of the department had told us to come with the consulate letter as soon as possible. But when we got there, surprise surprise, she wasn’t there. In fact, the bosses at the PF (police officials) only arrive two to three hours after the doors open at 8am. And only the bosses can make decisions about what can be processed or not – and you have to hope that they will remember you and your case.

After two hours in the queue to hand our papers in, we were told to wait for the boss, since it was her who told us to come back without an appointment. So we waited for another three hours by the counter until it became obvious that the boss wasn’t going to show up. Eventually, a deputy took pity of us, the clerk took Mark’s documents away and he was directed to another queue, so that his fingerprints could be taken for his ID (yes, they do collect all your biometric data here in Brazil and that has always been the case).

Another half an hour (five hours after we arrived at the police) and voilá! Mark left with his RNE number and his ID card should be ready within 180 days. Unbelievable. Anyway, at least it is all done now, and Mark can actually do things like getting a driver’s license in Brazil (more to come on that).

This whole thing sounds a bit extreme, but after we left that horrible building in Lapa, suddenly we forgot all about the seemingly endless bureaucracy to get his paperwork sorted and all we wanted was a nice cold beer!


  1. Hayward

    In brazil and in englad bureaucracy exist and the government has the power in our lifes! I was refused to get a marriage visa visa here (london) due to my age, that proves to me that here you don’t have human rights.

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