WARNING: This is a very long tale of Brazilian bureaucracies. If you haven’t the heart to read all this, please just have a look at our last pictures of Brazil (Parque da Cidade, work of the well known Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx) and wait until I write about something else. 🙂
One of my student who was learning German in Brazil told me one day that he had family relatives in Angola. Some of them were trying to move to Brazil, some of them to Portugal, but it was particularly difficult for one cousin who was born during the civil war and could not get a birth certificate… That person couldn’t travel because she couldn’t prove that she was born. I can’t even imagine in what state of chaos the country must be to not be able to provide vital documents to its citizens!
Our problem (if I can say such a thing in comparison) is other. My children were born with three citizenship ; Canadian (their native land), French (because of me) and Brazilian (because of their dad). When we want to travel, not only do we need to decide which passport will be the most useful, check if it’s not expired (like any normal person), but we also need to make sure that we have all accompanying documents because it is required of all travellers to comply with the laws of all countries, where you come from and where you are going.
In my case it was a nightmare to figure out what was needed to leave Brazil with the children to come back to Canada.
Since Canada now demands its dual Canadian citizens to always travel with a valid Canadian passport when traveling to or transitioning to Canada, we were happy to have those passports ready since the children’s Brazilian passports were expired. However I also learned that Brazil has now the same law, which means that if the kids ever want to travel from Canada to Brazil for a visit one day, each one of them will need to have both passports valid to travel. Luckily renewing a passport is about the same price as asking for a visa (Canadians need a tourist visa to visit Brazil). (Not that we are planning to travel again any time soon).
D was already here in Canada, when I realized that in order to leave Brazil, the federal police requires Brazilian children to have an authorization from the other parent to travel. So at first, since we were going to travel back to Canada with our Canadian passports, I checked for the Canadian consent letter form to travel with children. I filled it, emailed it to D for him (and a witness) to sign, and asked him to mail it back by regular mail (we had plenty of time then), because the signature has to be original to be certified by a notary public…
While I was freaking out because after 2 weeks the mail had still not arrived, I was also in doubt about which form was going to be asked of me. Was the Canadians form good enough for the Brazilian federal police? Would they stop me from boarding if that was not the correct form? Did the signature need to be recognized at the cartório (notary public) only por semelhança (by similarity) or by the more expensive authentication (in which case the person who signs has to be present — not possible) ??? I emailed the Canadian consulate in Sao Paulo to ask these very specific questions, but I got a standard reply of “check with the Brazilian authorities”.
The problem with the Brazilian authorities is that with a great air of certainty everybody tells you something different, even if they don’t know what they are talking about. What I wanted is to get the information in written somewhere online, which was very difficult to find indeed, but here is what I found. So, yes, I needed to have the Brazilian authorization form filled and signed by the other parent (D who was in Canada) and go to the notary public to have the signature recognized, thankfully, only por semelhança.
All this preparation finally concluded in the very last week before departure. I received the Canadian form (by the extremely slow air mail that took one month to arrive) and the Brazilian forms (by FedEx which took 3 days instead of 2 to arrive because the Brazilian customs were on strike — again). Just in time to have them recognized by the notary public. Thankfully I had my awesome in-laws to look after the children and I had no more job or home responsibilities because I was otherwise already running around like a headless chicken.
The same week, I also had to go to the veterinary with the cats, get their health forms filled, stamped, travel to the Guarulhos airport (2 hours of bus travel, to and from) to leave the forms at the Vigiagro (Vigilância Agropecuária Internacional) and go back to pick them up two days later. They certainly could have simplified the process and saved all travelers with pets from a second trip to the airport in the week before traveling… But that would be too convenient in the eyes of the Brazilian bureaucracy. (Don’t tell me they need two days to put a stamp on a form!).
So, until the day we were to travel I had no certainty to have all the necessary paperwork to travel, but at least I did all what I thought could be done…
So, what happened the day of departure?
We arrived well ahead of time at the airport. My in-laws had paid for a small bus with chauffeur to bring us all at the airport, our tearful good-bye committee and us, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and us. I was the one with the three children, two cats, 7 luggage, 1 small carry-on bag and a heavy back-pack. When the lady at check-in asked me for our traveling documents, I showed all our Canadian passports. Then she asked what was our status in Brazil and which documents we showed upon entering the country (5 years ago) (what does it have to do we anything, I don’t know, since we were LEAVING THE COUNTRY!). Start of panic attack here. I said that I am permanent resident and the children were born in Canada. I showed their official Brazilian transcription of their birth certificates. She had to call another guy from behind to double check. That wasn’t good enough. Breath in, breath out. My heavy backpack was full of all our documents, a dozen passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates (French, Canadian and Brazilian — ALL THE SHIT). What could I possibly show the lady that would suffice?!!! Luckily I remembered, in the midst of my very jumbled thoughts, that I had the children’s (expired) Brazilian passports. Hey, that’s what we showed when we entered the country, no?! “Yes, that’s fine, you can show this at the federal police agent when you pass through customs – Even if they are expired?, I asked – Yes, even expired.” she replied.
Ok. Big sigh of relief.
After leaving the 7 pieces of luggage and paying for the cats, now was time for good-byes. There wasn’t a dry eye around, even if the men pretended to be looking elsewhere. The kids quickly caught on the emotion, and Uriel was soon sobbing profusely. It was the saddest thing.
After passing through security, where I had to take each cat individually OUT of their cages, take off their collar, and put them back again (thankfully they were both too scared to try to escape), we arrived in front of the Brazilian Federal Police officer. Now I was prepared and showed him the boarding passes, the Brazilian letters of consent (dully signed and certified), and the children’s Brazilian passports. After 10 WHOLE MINUTES, he exclaims, “Ah, but these passports are expired!”, “Well, yes, but we are traveling with the Canadian passports! Those are valid!”. Then I showed him the Canadian passports, I mean, the lady at the check-in had already explained that in order to LEAVE the country I didn’t need to show the Canadian passports, but rather the Brazilian documents. They were driving me crazy! Anyway, so the guy had 7 passports, 4 boarding passes, 3 consent letters and photocopies of D’s Canadian passport in front of him, he read EVERY SINGLE LINE of the passports very slowly, checked, and double-checked the names on the passports with the names on the boarding passes, and the consent letters, and after what must have been 45-minutes or one hour (a very long time to hold one’s breath), he gave me back all the documents (except the consent letters) and nodded his head ever so slightly. I wasn’t sure. “Esta tudo bem?” (Is everything alright?), I had to ask, just to make sure. Yes, yes, we could go!
After this I felt as if I was flying to the gate, even with the heavy backpack, the two cats, the cumbersome winter coats (please, carry your own coat, I only have two arms), the extra carry-on bag which kept knocking on one of the cat’s cage, and the three children that I was trying to herd… We made it!
And then a couple of hours later, after waiting in a very disorganized boarding area (nothing new here), and piling up in a bus shuttle, we somehow boarded the plane!
I will never more complain about the headaches of Canadian or, even, French bureaucracies.