Adventures in Brazilian bureaucracy

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Anyone coming to live and work in Brazil will probably want to open a local bank account. People love using their debit cards here for purchases as small as a pack of gum, and person-to-person payments are often made by a simple process of transferring money into others’ bank accounts via an ATM machine. As another incentive, U.S. cards can charge nasty fees for withdrawals made overseas.

Luckily, it’s a straightforward process. Just follow these easy steps.

Part A: Get a Valid Work Visa

– You’ll need a Foreigners National Registry card to get an account, and you can’t get that without a business or work visa of some sort. So begin by printing out requirements for the appropriate one (let’s say, a Type VI Journalist Visa) from the Brazilian consulate’s website (let’s say, the one in New York).
– Gather the slew of documents listed.
– Go to the consulate. Be told by the attendant that she’s never heard of a Type VI Journalist Visa.
– Show the attendant the printout about journalist visas from the consulate’s website.
– Have her insist the printout is not from their website. Show her the website address at the bottom of the printout.
– Have her go to the back and get someone else to help you.
– Learn that the letter from your employer (based in Boston) must be notarized in the jurisdiction of the Brazilian consulate in New York, or they will not “legalize” it.
– Wonder if the Brazilians are familiar with the notary public system.
– Consider asking your new boss to fly to New York to sign in front of a local notary. Consider paying off a notary.
– Plot a third route: have boss sign in front of a Boston notary (specifically, a notary approved by the Boston consulate — a list with a lot of Portuguese-sounding surnames, hmmm…), and bring the letter to the Brazilian consulate in Boston to legalize it (a process that involves lots of fancy stamps and seals). Have it sent to you in New York.
– Deliver to consulate. Find out they must await approval from Brasilia. As trip approaches, beg consulate via phone and email. Acquire visa the day before departure.

Part B: Register your visa with the Brazilian Federal Police to get a Foreigners National Registry ID.

– Call the Federal Police in Sao Paulo for instructions on how to register your visa. Easily find simple instructions in Portuguese via an automated phone system.
– Listen several times to be sure you’re understanding them. Still, miss the word “authenticated” in front of “copy of your passport”.
– Gather the documents and go to a branch of the Bank of Brazil to pay a fee for the Federal Police that you cannot pay directly to the Federal Police.
– Take a long bus ride to police headquarters in Lapa, a neighborhood in Sao Paulo’s Northwest Zone.
– Present your documents to the attendant in the Foreigners Section, only to be told a) you have only paid one of the two fees required to register your visa, so you must go back to the Bank of Brazil — no branches nearby, sorry. And b), you must go to the “cartorio” — a massive office where all kinds of official functions take place, such as stamping and registering and signing and sealing — and get an “authenticated copy” of your passport.
– Note to the official that you have your original passport with you, so it would be easy to verify your copy is authentic. Realize you are wasting your time.
– Go to the cartorio, get an authenticated copy. Wonder if what we call tennis elbow is here referred to as Cartorio’s elbow because of the surreal assembly line of men stamping, signing and sealing document after document.
– Go to the Bank of Brazil, and pay the second fee. While you’re there, register for a CPF, a taxpayer’s ID card, another requirement for a bank account. Be told the card will arrive within two weeks.
– Return another day, via long bus ride, to the Federal Police.
– Be informed that though you have all the necessary documents, there are two problems: 1) the consulate in New York did not specify which law provides the legal basis for a Type VI journalist visa (Q: Can’t the police just look it up themselves? A: No.), and 2) your mother’s name on the original application appears with only a middle initial, not her full maiden name (Q: Can’t I just tell you what it is? A: No). to rectify the problems with the visa, you must go to the other side of the city to the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
– Ask the agent if he is kidding.
– Get involved in an argument that ends with another agent looking over and saying “At least my country doesn’t cause an economic crisis which causes suffering the the world over.” Skulk out.
– The next day, take two buses to the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Get the feeling that the nice woman at the desk knows exactly why you are there before you even explain anything. Have her tell you that she will open a case to rectify the problem, and will call you when it is resolved.
– Feel stupid that you thought writing out your mother’s maiden name and scribbling the law (Inciso VI, Article 13, Law 6815/80, if you must know) might be taken care of the same day.
– Await phone call, dubious.
– Get phone call, two business days later! Long live the Ministry of Foreign Relations!
– Return to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, pick up passport, which now has a fancy “Rectification” sticker with official stamps noting that the legal basis of your visa, and your original visa application, with a similar fancy sticker noting your mother’s maiden name.
– Go back to the Federal Police, drop off the documents, wait for an hour, be fingerprinted, receive your Foreigners National Registry ID “protocol,” a slip of paper with your photo attached, a kind of temporary ID. Be told your official ID will be available in six months or more, but that your protocol can be used for anything the final ID can be used for.
– Doubt that very much.

(The rectification of Seth Kugel's visa, noting the law under which he was allowed to have a visa.)

Part C: Get your CPF (taxpayer ID) number

– Though more than a month has passed, note that your CPF card has not arrived.
– Dig out the CPF “protocol.” (Lots of protocols in these parts.)
– Note that it says the process is “incomplete.” Recall the Bank of Brazil employee saying it was complete, and that your card would arrive in two weeks.
– Go back to the Bank of Brazil to find out what needs to be done.
– Be told you need to go to the Receita Federal, the Brazilian IRS equivalent, to resolve the issue.
– Be told they have no idea where the Receita Federal is located, but will look it up on the internet for you. Learn there is a division at the Ibirapuera Mall.
– Go another day to the nearby Ibirapuera Mall. Learn that there is not a division there.
– Discover via internet research that you can go to the Poupatempo Se, a sort of one-stop shopping location for government services, right off the subway in the center of the city.
– Go to the Poupatempo (which means “Timesaver”) and discover — to your utter shock — a marvelously efficient government machine, where you walk out 20 minutes later with your CPF number. Wonder where this marvelously efficient government machine has been hiding.

(Seth Kugel's Foreigners National Registry "protocol" on top. On the bottom is the CPF protocol that he didn't notice said “incomplete" until weeks later.)

Part D: The Bank Account!

– Stop by the closest bank to your apartment. Let’s say it’s the Bradesco one block away.
– Ask about opening an account. Be told that you need a proof of address (which you knew), and your apartment lease is not good enough because the signatures on it are not “recognized.” “Recognized” signatures must be registered at — where else — a cartorio, you are told.
– Call your landlord, whose signature is on file with the neighborhood cartorio, it turns out, and get a new copy of the contract.
– Go to the cartorio to register your signature.

(The top half shows the "recognized" signatures, signed, sealed and stamped on the back of Seth Kugel's rental contract; the bottom half shows the famous visa.)
– Be told that foreigners who only have a protocol of their Foreigners National Registry card must appear with two Brazilian witnesses, each with national IDs, to prove you are who you say you are.
– Consider that the cartorio is only open Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, and try to identify two friends who live nearby and do not work regular business hours. Consider dragging along the guys who are painting your apartment, or begging passers-by by to help. But eventually find two friends.
– Register your signature and take your friends to lunch.
– Hear from Bradesco that they will not accept your Foreigners National Registry protocol, just the final ID.
– Go to the other local bank, Santander, and ask if they will accept a protocol. They will not.
– Get a tip that the Bank of Brazil might allow an account with just a protocol.
– Go to the nearest branch of Bank of Brazil (not close). Be told that you can open an account with a protocol, but only at the Sao Bento branch, which opens accounts for foreigners.
– Take two subways to the Sao Bento branch. Ask a pleasant, sage-looking man about getting an account. Have him ask whether your protocol has a photo. Say yes. Be given a number.
– Be called to an agent. Be informed that you cannot have an account with just the protocol. Call over the pleasant man, who is no longer as pleasant. Have him tell you it was “absurd” that the person at the other branch told you that you could open an account with a protocol.
– On way home and in significant despair, note an Itau branch near your apartment. Wait five minutes in line to go in because a woman cannot figure out what in her purse is making the revolving door metal detector block the door every time she goes through.
– Talk to a very, very pleasant agent who says, yes, Itau does accept the protocol. Consider hugging her, but resist.
– Hand over all your documents. Yes, your CPF is fine. Yes, your proof of residence with its colorfully sealed recognized signature is fine. Yes, your passport with its fancy Rectification will do ... oh, no it won’t. It does not list your mother’s and father’s names?
– Consider slugging her, but resist.
– Explain with fake calm that U.S. passports do not list parents’ names. Explain that the only document you have ever had with your parents’ names is your birth certificate has your mother’s and father’s name, and that you did not bring your birth certificate to Brazil (or away from home after high school, for that matter).
– Learn that you must, in that case, acquire a SINCRE, a document that states your “filiacao,” a fancy Portuguese word for your mother’s and father’s names. The document is available at … you should have known, the Federal Police.
– Ponder: How do the Federal Police know who your parents are? From the visa application form you yourself filled out four months earlier at the Brazilian consulate in New York. So the bank needs proof of who you said your parents were three months ago, which apparently carries much more weight than who you say they are today. Stop pondering, not worth it.
– Call the Federal Police, skip the automated phone system, and speak to an operator. Learn that all you need for a SINCRE is your National Foreigners Registry ID protocol. Wonder what you really need.
– Take the subway to the commuter train and get to the Federal Police headquarters 30 minutes faster than the bus for the same price — you’re learning.
– Be stricken with fear when your realize the guy attending to the line is the same guy who cursed you and your country two months ago. Pray he doesn’t remember.
– Present your protocol. Ask for a SINCRE.
– Watch him disappear into the back.
– Thirty seconds later, have him hand you the one-page unofficial-looking SINCRE. Walk out, stunned.

(The SINCRE — official proof that Seth Kugel told the government what his parents' names are.)
– Return to the bank.
– Hear the good news: In one or two days, your account will be open. Oh, and if you need to deposit U.S. dollars, there is a branch on Avenida Paulista that does that.
– Take a bus to that branch. Be told they do not accept dollars, nor does any Itau account.
– Go to a currency exchange office, change money.
– Return to bank, activate the card in a machine, and make the deposit. The bank gladly accepts your cash. You have a bank account!
– No you don’t. Try to transfer money to the accounts of two people you owe money. Find it doesn’t work.
– Receive call from bank: The electronic copies the bank made of your lease were too light, so you need to bring them back and have them re-scanned. Note absolute lack of contrition on bank representative’s part.
– Bring in document to bank, have it scanned over and over again until it is legible.
– Be told the account will be “liberated” in two business days.
– Receive a call in three business days. Turns out you now need a copy of your rent receipt to further prove your address. Or something.
– Pay your March rent early, get a receipt, bring it to them to scan a copy. Make sure the scan is dark enough.
– In two more business days, you will have an account. Probably.

Finally ... Go back two days later and try to make a deposit. No luck. Ask the agent. Be told you actually need to give a landline phone number, not just a cellphone, to get an account.
– Provide landline number, which you strongly considered not installing, in which case this would have all been for naught.
– Finally elicit an apology, and a promise the account will be activated tomorrow.

Note: Individual results may vary; for example, knowing the right people in the right places may reduce wait time by up to 99.99999%.