I recently decided, quite last minute, that I would be traveling to Brazil, and that, to do this, I would need start the process of getting a Brazilian Visa.
The idea of going to Brazil presented itself just a week and a half prior when my Egyptian friends invited me to join them for an already planned half work/half vacation to Brazil, starting in Salvador. I scrambled to immediately submit my passport and visa forms to the nearest Brazilian Consulate, located in Houston, via the Travisa passport/visa agency on Monday, 26 Sep. It cost about $400 to expedite the processing at the Brazilian Consulate, plus the Travisa fee, plus the Brazilian visa normal fee. I needed to expedite it because time was of the essence – my friends were already booked to arrive in Brazil on Oct 3. I knew that 5-8 days projected turnaround wouldn’t allow me to meet them at the beginning of their trip, but the plan was to join them somewhere along the way, depending on the eventual ETA I received from Travisa.
It turned out that ETA was Oct 7. Although the passport and visa application made it to Travisa via overnight Fedex Air Mail on Sep. 27, the appointment for the documents to be received/processed from the consulate was not until the following week – Tuesday, Oct 4. That was the risk I took by not paying for expedited Travisa processing. The good news was it was slated to be processed by the consulate and picked up my Travisa by Thursday, 6 Oct and again FedEx’d overnight AirMail so that I would get it Friday by 1030AM. Once I found out this timeline on Thursday Sep 29, I was able to start making bookings.
The Catch-22 was that one of the visa requirements was to provide a booked itinerary, showing the arrival and departure (most importantly departure) dates from Brazil. Since I’m not a travel agency, and can’t magically book and then hold or book and then cancel an itinerary, I had to ask my friend’s travel agency to jin up an itinerary with my name on it. Unfortunately, the departure date had Oct 2 on it, which seemed reasonable at the time of submitting all the paperwork Sep 26. But, it took so long to process, that the day before it was going to b submitted to the Brazilian consulate, my Travisa case worker notified me that I would have to provide a new itinerary/booking that had not expired. So that meant I had to actually book my flights (and pay) on Monday night, and take a huge risk that my Visa may not be approved, or that it may not get back to me in time for my scheduled arrival in Rio. I did it and had faith the universe would reward me (even though at this point I lacked confidence in my Travisa case worked since she missed this when I had asked her earlier in the day when I called to make sure everything was in order).
Since the Brazilian Consulate also required that I fill out an electronic visa application, the good news was that I was able to track the progress and at least make use of both United and American’s 24 hour hold policy (AA has it available through the website, where you can cancel within 24 hours with no penalty; United makes you call in to do it). This could clearly be used as a way to game the system and I may cover it in more detail on my tripchi blog. Lesser known fact: US law mandates that US airlines MUST allow a free and in-full cancellation within 24 hours (although not all airlines make it easy or known). I used this technique as way to book both my outbound to Rio on Oct 7/8 and my inbound from Manaus to Denver on Oct 17 with less risk. When I saw Tuesday evening my visa status change to “approved” on the Brazilian Consulate’s online tracking system, I left my reservations in tact and added a form of payment to my AA booking online. Now it was just a matter of timing – would the visa make it back to me by my flight at 310PM on Friday?
It did. Travisa received it as expected on Thursday October 6th, and turned it around overnight as promised for receipt by 1030AM on Friday. As soon as my passport with a shiny new Brazilian visa showed up Friday morning, the stress finally melted away and for the first time I became excited for the trip. Kudos to my Travisa caseworker Sarah Paniagua for making this all happen as planned, despite the Snafu around the expired itinerary.
Some key links if you are also in need of a Brazilian visa: