Question: When we tried to apply for a visa to Brazil, which seemingly needs tourist dollars, no appointments were available that would allow us to make our trip, booked one month from now. We have our flights, our hotels, our in-country flights, etc., all to no avail. What can we do?
Answer: Mom always told me not to go looking for trouble, but I suspect that advice applied, then and now, only to provoking older and bossier sisters, not to travel in general and visas in particular.
In the case of Brazilian visas, look for trouble. Before you begin the process, check out the instructions on the consulate's site: losangeles.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/. Even the tone suggests trouble.
If that doesn't raise your anxiety level, other signs may:
— The U.S. and Brazil, which haven't been on the best of terms in recent times, have been tussling over visas with no results other than the diplomatic equivalent of tongue-sticking-out. The U.S. charges Brazilians visiting the U.S. a $160 visa fee and requires a lot of paperwork, so Brazil does the same. So there.
— Visa services, which save you the hassle of visiting the consulate in person, say the process is slow. Visa services often can accomplish things that mere mortals cannot, but Brazil's reputation among visa providers I spoke with isn't top-notch. In fact, one visa provider said he no longer handles Brazilian visas.
—ItsEasy (www.itseasy.com/visa-expediting/Brazil) visa service suggests that getting a visa isn't so easy: "Obtaining [a] Brazil visa can be a cumbersome and complicated process." It goes on to say, "It is recommended that you apply for your Brazil visa several weeks before your travel date.... Although the visa itself may only take a few days to process it is always best to add as much of a buffer as possible in case any issues arise during the process."
That, one could argue, isn't a sign but a big warning signal.
Indeed, when I checked on Aug. 25 for an appointment, the earliest I could get was Sept. 29.
In Cady's case, the consulate did tell him to keep checking back for an earlier appointment (something its website also suggests) in case of cancellations. He found one and was scheduled for an appointment late last week.
But note this: Brazil will not be rushed. It does not offer expedited service.
The moral of this story: Don't book your trip till you have that visa in hand. It may take three weeks through the consulate in Los Angeles and even longer through San Francisco. The visa should be good for 10 years, so getting a visa now isn't going to mess up future travel plans (unless you plan very, very far in advance.)
Brazil's visa situation may become an even greater issue — for Americans, at least — in the coming months as the 2016 Summer Games (Aug. 5-21 for the Olympics, Sept. 7-18 for the Paralympics) approach. Almost half a million visitors are expected in Rio de Janeiro, the Rio Times reported. (That's total visitors, not just from the U.S.)
Henrique Eduardo Alves, Brazil's minister of tourism, has said he hopes visa requirements can be relaxed before the Summer Olympics begin.
For that to happen, Brazil needs to be a member of the Visa Waiver Program, the State Department said in an email, which requires that certain criteria be met.
It's unclear how likely that is, but I wouldn't count on it. What I would count on is trouble. In this case, the power of pessimistic thinking just might save your trip.
Updated: 2:24 p.m. March 24: Updated to reflect that It's Easy is not currently affiliated with the Brazilian consulate.