One of the most difficult experiences you may have on your arrival and departure from Brazil may be your ‘run in’ with Immigration. This is not to say that they have the most inefficient immigration service in the world, but be very conscious of the fact that considering World Cup is this year, in Sao Paulo, the largest financial city in the country and where the opening of the World Cup will take place, they have not expanded the airport. Upon entering and exiting this beautiful country, you will notice that the airports have not been expanded to accommodate even the normal numbers of tourists. If it took me about 2 hours to go through the entire process and that was on a normal week day or weekend, can you imagine the nightmare of going through immigration during World Cup?
Warning: Be very clear on the immigration policies that Brazil has with your country because one problem that you may have is that not all of the immigration officers know the various policies. They will leave the area and go to consult with their Supervisors to review the immigration policies for your specific country and this can take time. Their immigration process always reminded me of a bad day at Disney World, where the lines moved even slower and seemed like they would never end.
Case and Point: I got to the airport at 8:30 p.m. for my 11:05 p.m. flight to the U.S.. I stood in line, got to the service counter to get my luggage checked-in because I already had my ticket and boarding pass. It was now about 9:00 p.m. I was ready to go through to the scanning machines and on to my gate, but I thought since it was just about 2 hours before my departure, I decided to go and exchange my money from Brazilian Reals to U.S. Dollars. The currency exchange was just a few steps away from the line to the scanners, so I stood in line. 9:20 p.m. came and went; at 9:45 p.m. I finally got to the counter. I hastily collected my funds and got on the line to go through the scanning machines and on to my gate. After joining the line for 12 minutes, I realized to my regret, that there were actually 2 lines, one for the Brazilian citizen and the other for foreigners. It was now 10:05 p.m. The line was still very long and by the time I got to the immigration officer, it was 10:32 p.m.
Now Bermudians are an exception to the rule. We are not required to have a visa to travel to and from Brazil as stated in the Brazilian Immigration Policy Book – we can travel solely on our British/Bermudian passport. Unfortunately, most Brazilian immigration officers don’t all know the same facts. What am I speaking about? With every experience I had going through Immigration, I had the reference number and the (Brazilian Immigration) policy written and signed by another Brazilian Immigration Officer. One time I completed the immigration process in 16 minutes and now this time, it took 22 minutes. By the time I made it to my gate, the Agent at the desk shouted, “Hold the door!” but the Steward refused and shut it. He then accused me of being late, so I had to deal with it. That night was not a good night for me although I was able to board another TAM flight just 30 minutes later.
Solution: When arriving in Brazil, make sure you have a cell phone or be sure to tell your friends who may come to pick you up, to come one hour after your scheduled landing time as you will have to go through the immigration process which most often is close to an hour or more, then you have to find your luggage and maybe change currency (which is fairly easy, just remember to keep your passport with you as it is always required for this process).
If you are leaving Brazil, get to the airport no later than 2 1/2 hours BEFORE your plane is scheduled to leave. Proceed as quickly as you can to the GATE. (Remember, it is not the airport you have to arrive at 2 hours before the flight, it is at your departure gate and the process from arrival at the airport to the departure gate alone can take well over an hour. Make sure you are on the correct departure line – one for the foreigner or the other for the local, Brazilian. If you need to purchase anything, check-in at your gate first and then you can wander around the area for food and other miscellaneous items.
Hear me when I tell you, the immigration process can be a lengthy one so do all that you can to prepare for it – try to keep you hand luggage to a minimum. You will meet friends on line, some who laugh at the process and others who are just plain disgusted. Regardless, I hope that we have given you some insight into ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ when travelling to and from Brazil. ‘Happy trails to you my friend!…’