Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Brazilian Bureaucracy

What follows are a few tales of our trials with Brazilian bureaucracy. Stressful at the time, amusing in the reminiscing. Maybe you’ll enjoy them, but if any sailors happen across this later while planing a voyage to Brazil maybe our experiences will provide food for thought. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

A Flight In, A Boat Out

Brazil technically requires a tourist, on arrival, to have proof of onward travel. Stating “I plan to leave your country on my yacht” is unusual enough to cause confusion. An onward flight ticket is what the bureaucrats would like you to present. Giulia was lucky to come across this by chance, having already booked a one way flight a month prior.

The Brazilian consulate in Milan were able to confirm this requirement but were unable to help further on the phone. What follows was a wild goose chase for Giulia. Calls to the Brazilian embassy in Rome suggested contacting the federal police in Brazil (the guys in charge of immigration). Sadly this was futile in practice, every officer Giulia reached spoke only Portuguese and hung up after a few lines of English or Italian. Calls to the Italian consulate in Rio or the embassy in Brazillia were also fruitless.

It was apparent that the rule existed, but officials were clueless about how it would be applied in practice. For example, would a very cheap bus ticket across the boarder be sufficient? The most reliable solution was the prohibitively pricey option: buy a flight home as well.

Finally a representative of the federal police in Rome was able to be more helpful, and after receiving a detailed list of every step Giulia had taken wrote a letter to the airline stating there would be no problem at immigration.

Therein lies a clue to the problem. If Brazilian authorities were organised enough to remember the rule, the yacht ownership documents would likely be sufficient proof of onward travel. It is the airline who would be taking no chances – they would have to cover the cost of a flight home if Giulia was turned away on arrival in Brazil.

Which is exactly what the guy at the check-in desk explained, a few weeks later, when Giulia arrived at the airport. The document from the Brazilian federal police was of no help. Nope, airline rules: “no ticket out of Brazil, no flight in.

After so much time, and so much of her heart, had been put into the Auriga project Giulia was more than prepared to fight. She demanded the manager, and the grumpy supervisor was dragged from his peaceful office. He tediously repeated the rules, and after an increasingly heated exchange the even grumpier boss was called out.

Eventually the airline relented. Without realising how much Auriga meant to Giulia they had picked a tough fight. She was never, ever, going to have missed that flight. Giulia forfeited her right to be returned home if denied entry in Brazil, and the proof of ownership of Auriga helped her case. The official letter from the Brazilian federal police was worth surprisingly little. And who would have guessed? Arriving in Rio no one even mentioned the onward ticket. Bam! Passport stamp and off you go.

How Not To Import A Boat

Meanwhile, in Brazil, Igor and I were creating a further set of tangled paperwork problems that would come back to bite Giulia and me 3 months later.

Our first port of call was Fernando de Noronha – a tiny island that lacks many of the officials required to formally sign in to Brazil. They will stamp your passport and issue a certificate from the Capitania Dos Portos (port captain), and if you understand very little Portuguese (read: none...) you may get the feeling that you are done with signing in.

You are not done with signing in. Here’s what we should have done: On arrival in Recife, our first stop on the mainland, we should have visited the recite federal (customs), the policia federal (federal police) and, again, the port captain. As a rule wherever you are in Brazil these three official departments will be spread out across the city and it is unlikely anyone will be able to tell you how to find them, let alone prompt you to visit in the first place.

In practice we didn't visit any officials in Recife. In Salvador I did try to make amends. Well, at the very least, I did pay a visit to the enigmatic 'port captain'. Who is this captain? What is his role in the bureaucratic web? I'm still not at all sure and trips to the crowded offices in several cities did nothing to explain the situation. Presented with a ticket machine I took a numbered ticket, but there was no display revealing who's turn is next. Presented with a list of desks to visit for different official functions I was equally clueless, as none mentioned arrival by sea. The captain neither speaks English nor seems to expect a visit from a foreign vessel.

After some time drawing pictures of boats I found a Portuguese translation for “entry of a foreign vessel” and started to get somewhere. I was presented certificate with a stamp on it and learned I was expected to pick up one of these bits of paper (with both entry and exit stamps) for every state. As the pile of certificates grows, you must bring the stack to the next captain wherever you go. Possibly this all represents the permission of the navy to sail in Brazilian waters.

In Rio we came a little closer to obtaining the correct paperwork. The port captain wouldn’t give me his certificate without my first visiting several other offices, and I dutifully spent a couple of days chasing about the city. I think I ended up in a tax office hat had nothing to do with boats. Elsewhere I spent two hours sitting in front of a guy watching TV, translating his waving incorrectly as: someone is coming to deal with you. I queued for three hours in the airport in what, it transpired, was the line to report a lost passport. The problem is always the same. I have not a word in common with the officials, and they are not familiar with visiting yachts. Fed up, I went back to the captain and now he gave me the certificate I wanted. Brazilian bureaucracy is a mess.

On our return North we made a final stop in the marina in Salvador, Clube Nautico, and here the litany of mistakes we had made tried to catch up with us. We met Marcelo who spoke perfect English, and was able to explain exactly what we should do to formally exit Brazil.

Firstly he told us to visit customs, and take them the form we were given when we arrived.
I was confused, “Sorry, customs!? I have never been to any customs office so we have no forms…”
His eyes widened, “never been!? Impossible! You’re in a lot of trouble!”
Yea, ok, whatever. No one will check anything, I thought to myself.
Marcelo continued, “see that boat there, the big motor vessel? They're impounded. Chained to the dock, until they pay the fine for trying to skip customs.”
We learned the fine for failing to declare import of a vessel was 10% of the value of the boat. The cost for Auriga would not be as serious as for as a multimillion pound super-yacht but still more than we wanted to lose.

Nervously we entered the customs office and explained, “Hi, we would like to leave Brazil. Could we have the exit document, please?”
Leafing through our stack of boat papers the lady, predictably, asked for the customs entry document.
Ah, we don't have that…” I mumbled. “We didn't clear in with customs when we arrived”. I was looking at my feet and trying to remember the wild excuses Giulia and I had planned.
She looked at me quizzically then flicked back to my passport, and came across the stamp marking the date of entry.
This is very irregular! You have been here for 3 months! I need to see my boss about this”, and with that she scurried off with our documents. Sometime later she came back looking stern.
What you have done is very illegal! But to sort it out is difficult. So go away now. Disappear from Brazil. Let's pretend I haven't seen you and you never arrived.”

On the one hand, brilliant, no fine from the customs office. On the other hand, we still had no customs exit document. In theory to get the other necessary stamps and clearances you need the customs exit document first, a little like needing a tax disc to get an MOT. How do you explain to the federal police that the customs officials couldn't be bothered to fine you, and that is why you don't have the exit form?

So, still a little worried we headed to the federal police, to get the exit stamps in our passports. It's anyone's guess how, without Marcelo’s directions, we would have found the obscure office, unsigned, behind a rusting crane at the back of the dock behind the dangerous warehouse district.

Fortunately the officer of the federal police was about the most helpful official we encountered, as we were short of yet another form. Let alone the missing customs documents, he patiently explained to us that when you arrive by boat you need, as well as the passport stamp and visa, a separate immigration document for the yacht. However, he understood that we were not criminals and that easing our path to exit was the simplest option. What else was he to do? Lock us up? He quickly printed a new, backdated, entry document, filed it away and gave us a photocopy. All we had to do was come back on Monday, when we planned to leave, and his colleague would stamp our passports.

Somewhere between Friday and Monday we lost the photocopy of the new entry document. Plainly sometimes we are just idiots. The federal police officer on duty on Monday was an officious, belligerent old lady. When we opened our document wallet and found the photocopied entry form missing she would go no further, would not stamp our passports. We argued back and forth for a bit behind the language barrier.

At some point, to clarify what she wanted, she brought out the most recent document. What luck! It was our freshly faked document for Auriga. All the data matched, of course: the boat name and serial number, our names and passport numbers. And yet it was no good; without our photocopied version she wouldn't budge. Why? Darned if I know.

After an hour she did eventually yield and give us the stamps we needed. Presumably she got bored and wanted to get rid of us. Finally, with everything in place we had all we needed and bade mainland Brazil our farewells.

As my visa was due to expire in 5 days we had lied. As far as the officials were concerned we excited Brazil heading for Uruguay, in the South. We turned up 'accidentally' a week later at Fernando de Norohna, a Brazilian island to the North of Salvador. If we had revealed our intended destination the federal police would not have closed my visa, and it would have expired by the time we reached Fernando de Noronha. I would have not been allowed onshore. Fortunately the federal police on the island accepted we had made a gross navigational error and re-opened my visa, giving me five days in paradise.

There are those who say, why bother with any of the bureaucracy? Why not just avoid visiting any officials, and talk your way out of the problem if they catch you without the correct paperwork? In my opinion, you could ride your luck for a while. But in the end I think things would catch you up. For example, the first document they asked us for in Barbados was the exit document from the federal police in Brazil. Although we were always lucky, the authorities do have teeth. Look at the incident last year when three yachtsmen were fined 1000 EC$ each in Antigua for simply staying ashore one night before visiting customs. German friends of ours were given a huge fine for a customs misdemeanour in Canada I myself had my passport held for 2 days in Agadir, Morocco, for having a photocopy of the yacht’s registration document.

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