For my recent trip to Brazil, I knew that as a US Citizen, I needed to get a visa. The only person going on the trip who was exempt from this requirement was my friend who was a Singaporean citizen.

I looked up the requirements. The fee for the visa was $160, payable in USPS Money Order. Due to a new reciprocal agreement, it would be valid for 10 years with multiple entries allowed. It was still 6 weeks out from my trip, I had plenty of time, right?

Well apparently, the Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco only takes visa applications by appointment. And the first available appointment was… a mere 3 days before my scheduled departure flight, even looking 6 weeks ahead of time. And that wouldn’t give them enough time to process the application and for me to pick it up. And apparently the Brazilian Consulate was known to be somewhat slow and finicky about submitted documents. Uh oh.

Further complication: due to my world traveling habits, I had completely run out of pages in my passport, so there was nowhere to put a visa. My passport also had an expiration date in May 2016.

my old beat up passport :)

my old beat up passport 🙂

To solve the visa problem, I looked for various Brazilian visa expediting services. I settled on Roberto from Aardvark Brazil Visa Expediters due to great reviews on Yelp. Despite being somewhat unresponsive initially by phone and email, Roberto promised that he could get the visa back to me in 3 weeks, for a $180 fee, which was faster than any other service and the fee was much less as well. No other service gave a guarantee that they had appointments with the consulate earlier than those available online.

I wasn’t sure what the turnaround time would be on renewing my passport vs. adding new pages. Renewing my passport would be a $110 charge + a $60 expedited fee and would be guaranteed to take a couple of days. Adding new pages would be a $82 charge + a $60 expedited fee, but maybe it could be done on the same day, or so I thought.

Also, I needed to submit the online visa application form at the Brazilian embassy website to even get the process started with Roberto, and I wasn’t sure I could update my passport information on the application after I submitted it if I renewed my passport, as the number and the expiration date would change.

Furthermore, the San Francisco Passport Agency requires proof of international travel within two weeks, or proof of need to obtain a foreign visa within four weeks.

Fortunately, things sort of worked out. To get around the passport agency requirement, I booked a flight the day of my appointment for 3 weeks out to Brazil, and cancelled it right after my appointment. Also, renewing a passport and adding new pages would take the exact same amount of time. It would be processed over the weekend and be available on the Monday after the Friday I submitted my renewal application. Thus I opted to renew my passport instead, as apparently you can update your passport information on your visa application after submitting it.

The other minor complication was that I wasn’t around on Monday, as I was off in the desert for a week for Burning Man! Fortunately, you can designate a person to pick up your passport for you, so I got a friend to pick up my passport and mail it to the visa expediter, as well as update my visa application online. I got my visa back 2 weeks before my scheduled departure time and everything was good!

my new shiny Brazilian visa

my new shiny Brazilian visa!

Lessons learned:

  • Apply for a Brazilian visa way in advance if you don’t want to pay $$$ for a visa expediter.
  • You can update the Brazilian visa application online before the documents are received by the consulate.
  • Renewing a passport and adding new pages takes the same amount of time. Expedited service is very quick and in my case, was finished over the weekend.
  • To prove need of expedited passport service, you can book refundable flights or take advantage of the 24 hour cancellation policy of most airlines. I do not officially endorse this method, but it works.
    • In my case, since I am literally out of the country every month, going through the normal 4-6 week mail processing time for passport renewal would not have worked.
  • You can designate someone else to pick up your passport.

Trip report to follow soon!