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Catch 22 Brazilian Style

By doina — last modified Jun 27, 2005 09:25 AM

Published: 2005-06-27 09:25:55
Countries: Brazil

This week has been consumed with trying to extend our Customs permit for YAWARRA to cover a flight home to Australia in order to visit Nick's 94 year old (very frail) mother. Legally the boat is allowed 90 days plus a 90 day extension, so in theory it's simple. HOWEVER....the Customs man in Angra dos Reis (the closest office, which is a 2 hour bus ride from where we're moored) refused on Monday to extend it because we didn't have a visa extension. Our pleas that we didn't need an extension as, backed up by our air tickets, we were flying out before our first 90 day visa expired and would get a new visa in Australia (because Brazil doesn't issue Multiple Entry visas) fell on deaf ears. No visa extension or at the very least a letter from Policia Federal (Immigration) therefore no Customs extension! It would have been simpler to just get the visa extension BUT if we did that and left before the time was up, Brazil won't let you back into the country till the full 90 days has expired...and even then we'd need a new visa. Meanwhile our Customs permit would have expired too!!

Now the nearest Policia Federal is in Rio de Janeiro- a 4 1/2 hour bus ride away from Parati where YAWARRA was moored. We returned, very despondent, to YAWARRA, and decided to sail the 25 miles against the wind to Angra so that at least the buses to Rio were frequent and it was "only" a 2 1/2 hour bus ride away. Before we left, a Brazilian yachtie friend wrote a very formal and very grovelling letter on our behalf explaining the situation and that we would return with a new visa and would leave Brazil on the boat before the 180 days for the Customs permit was up. In it he asked Policia Federal to provide us with a letter for Customs.

Wednesday we were up at 5am to get to shore and then to the bus station in time to catch the 0700 bus. We arrived at the Policia Federal office by 1000. He read the letter and promptly said that no, he wouldn't give us a letter because we didn't NEED a letter as there would be no problem with our visas!! Armed with his name and phone number we went to Customs. The first Customs official looked at our papers and announced "Big problem." Apparently the official in Salvador where we entered had failed to date and stamp our import permit. Even though we had all the other stamps and paperwork from Health, Immigration, Port Captains, and even the other paper from Customs etc to prove when we arrived he still thought it a huge problem. Several other official then became involved including the big boss (who fortunately spoke not too bad English). Yes, he agreed, this lack of stamp and date was a huge long were we staying in Rio? (I think he planned to send it back to Salvador for stamping!!) Plus, no, he couldn't extend our permit because the boat is in not in Rio....go to Angra dos Reis Customs! Talk about Catch 22!! Policia Federal won't give us a letter because we don't "need" one and Angra dos Reis Customs won't extend our permit without it!!

As you can imagine, I was almost sick with worry that we'll have to cancel our visit home (or risk having to pay a 50% of the value of the boat fine for overstaying our Customs permit). After 1 1/2 hours of back and forth explanations, pleading (I very nearly had to burst into tears), the head honcho finally agreed to provide the 90 day extension. We think that the formal letter was what swayed the balance in our favour (along with us being dressed up to the nines... me in a good long skirt with top and Nick in long pants, collared shirt and good shoes). Or maybe they could see how close I was to tears! As soon as the extension was stamped onto our permit (and the offending date and stamp entered onto our original permit) we grabbed the papers and ran before they could change their minds! We didn't get back to the boat till 5.30pm and both felt so shattered that we fell into bed by 7pm! wonder so many boats in Brazil are illegal when they both make it so darned difficult to abide by their laws and then don't bother to move out of their offices to check if the boat is actually where you say it is!

I'm not sure that it would be any easier if you had a passport that didn't require a Brazilian visa in the first place, as you still have to get an extension of the visa you obtain on first entry if you plan to stay longer than 90 days.

We've flown back to Australia almost annually for the last 10 years from whichever country we've been in at the time. Usually our only problem is finding a safe and affordable place to leave YAWARRA and someone to feed our 2 cats. One of the marinas in Parati along with its cat-loving manager easily solved those problems, but the problem of bureaucracy gone mad was not so easily overcome.

Our advice is not to plan a trip home from Brazil or to travel in other South American countries at least not after your first 90 day Customs permit.

We love Brazil and the people and think the cruising grounds are some of the best in the world..... but for the bureaucracy!

Nick and Jan Wooller

Australian yacht YAWARRA