Let me tell you about something tremendously stupid I did over the weekend. I flew to São Paulo, Brazil without a tourist visa, a document U.S. citizens are required to have if they wish to traipse around that beautiful country. Why did I do this? I was under the false impression an amnesty was occurring. During the Rio Olympics, Brazil waived tourist visas to encourage more traffic to the games. That was in June. I had no clue the policy had been reinstated in September. I thought it was relaxing until January 2017. It’s been a while since I’ve been this wrong about something so important.
I never blamed anybody but myself for this debacle. My brain just atrophied on confirming in the absolute anything beyond my passport. That said, the Brazilian pal who was picking me up from the airport Sunday morning also hadn’t been aware of or concerned with a potential visa problem. That made me feel better. Furthermore, as I was apologizing for my bold stupidity to the Latam employee who was helping me get back to the States, she countered: “No, it’s our company’s mistake. We should include this information in our booking procedure.” Couldn’t argue there.
So this is what happens when a U.S. citizen arrives in Brazil without a tourist visa: they let you stand around customs while they take your passport into a back room (where I imagine they run the numbers on the off chance you’re a known fugitive); eventually customs officials turn you over to a representative from the airline you flew in on, who makes you sign a document saying you understand why you’re not being allowed into the country; then, after going through security, the rep leads you to one of the gates so you can wait with some other airport official while the airline gets you on the next available return flight; once you’re rebooked, you may roam around the airport, thinking about what you’ve done as you wait for takeoff.
All I got to see of Brazil. Carnaval!
This entire episode stretched over six hours. Everyone I encountered at São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport was as personable and professional as you’d expect airport folk to be in the sunrise hours of a Sunday morning when suddenly presented with an out of bounds idiot like me. The worst part, aside from the all-consuming embarrassment, was how badly I had to go to the bathroom while they were reviewing my passport in their office. To be honest, there’ve been far more dreadful mornings for me here in Florida.
So what happens now? Well, in the same breath as her apology, the Latam Airlines employee said the company would make up for their error by flying me back to Brazil for free once I obtain a visa. Fantastic, right? Getting this visa, that’s the new problem. Unless you want to pay exorbitant fees for the help of a third party online service, you must apply for and obtain a tourism visa in person at your local Brazilian consulate. Orlando got Disney, Orlando got the Magic, but Orlando ain’t got Brazilian consulate. The nearest one is half a state away in Miami. Good thing I love adventure.
Remember, friends, when planning a jaunt abroad, take a gander at a dot gov website or maybe this Wikipedia page to make sure you’re not about to fuckin’ bone yourself. Also, watching The Blues Brothers with Portuguese subtitles will not give you enough handle on the language to communicate properly with Brazilian customs officials. No one will care that you’re “on a mission from God” or that you “traded the car for a microphone.”
UPDATE: Following a week and a half of truly Grade F customer service, Latam informed me they would not honor their employee’s promise of free passage back to Brazil. The writing was on the wall before that, though—literally, on Latam’s Facebook wall, an endless stream of customer service complaints. Reading through them, I feel lucky. Some people have stuff in writing Latam won’t honor. Some folks have been waiting for hundreds of days for resolution. So, you know, fly with them at your own risk.
Would have dropped this update sooner but it kinda depressed me. Then I momentarily forgot what life was after the presidential election.