How to Survive the Polícia Federal in Brazil
A trip to the Polícia Federal is no walk in the park. Experienced expats, and even Brazilians, cringe at the thought of visiting this bureaucratic stronghold. Resolving immigration issues is a daunting task for new comers so take note of these tips and you'll find it all less painful than rumored to be.
Going to the Polícia Federal (PF) is not a matter of life or death. You may, however, find yourself wishing for the latter after a few visits. Processes are either done correctly with little unnecessary time spent, or done incorrectly, resulting in fines, wasted time, and even voided visas. The key to accomplishing your goals at the PF, and in Brazil in general, are the 3Ps, Patience, Persistence, and Pleasantness.
1) Do not show your frustration
This tip belongs at the end of the list, but it is so important it comes first. You're going to get frustrated at the PF. It can simply be a stressful, difficult, and irritating place to go. The important thing is to not take your frustration out on the PF personnel. The mood and goodwill of the PF employee that you're dealing with can greatly influence the outcome or resolution of your situation. Keeping in mind the 3Ps is essential here so stay composed.
2) If you fail, try again
As mentioned, the outcome of whatever process you're trying to resolve can depend on how the person you’re dealing with feels that day. If they turn you away, say they can’t help you, or reject you for any other reason, don’t give up. Try another day and hope for a better outcome.
3) Speak Portuguese
If you’re fluent in Portuguese, great. If you’re not fluent, then bring someone with you who is. NOBODY at the PF speaks English or any other language for that matter. There may be a good samaritan willing to translate for you, but don’t count on it. The more difficult the process, the more important it becomes to bring someone who speaks Portuguese.
4) Show up early and often
Get to the PF early because there will be a line depending on the city you’re in. Arriving early not only insures you a good spot in line, but it will also give you time to resolve issues that you may have forgotten or didn't think you had to do such as print documents, pay fees at the bank, and/or notarize documents before the PF closes.
5) Take the whole day off
Don’t make any additional plans the day you go to the PF. Any one process can take from 1 to several hours to sort out. It’s better to dedicate the whole day to the PF and be pleasantly surprised when you’re done in the early afternoon.
6) Bring all your documents
Bring EVERY document you have even if not required or you think it’s not required. Passport? Bring it. Entry slip? Bring it. Proof of residence? Bring it. RNE? Bring it.
Many have gone to the PF thinking they were just picking something up or dropping something off to find out they also needed to produce a document or ID. Bring anything and everything relevant just in case, even when not specifically requested.
7) Make sure the documents are in order
Make sure the documents are notarized, forms filled out, and passport pages ready. Double check that you have everything in order. You don’t want to lose your spot in line because you need to pay that GRU fee or print one last form.
8) Schedule an appointment, or don’t
Some processes require you to schedule an appointment. If you can schedule one within the process deadline, do so at the PF website.
However, sometimes the only available appointments are after the deadline of the process you are trying to complete. In this case, schedule the appointment for the nearest available date and then go to the PF as soon as possible, not necessarily on the appointment date. Don’t bother explaining your situation to the people that check you in, they don’t care and they can’t help. Go to where they direct you as if you had an appointment for that day. When you get to that area, explain to the person there that the only appointment you could get was after the deadline and ask if they can see you that day. Whether you can be attended or not will depend on the person’s mood and how busy they are, both equally important. If you can’t be helped ask what would be a good day to come back and try again, preferably before the deadline. Then come back and remember #2 and the 3Ps.
9) Pay Attention to Deadlines
Many processes have deadlines or take more than one day to start and finish. Work and student visas need to be registered within 30 calendar days of arrival. RNE and student/work visas need to be renewed before they expire, preferably well in advance. It is better to try and get turned away because you’re too early than being told you waited too long and now your document, and subsequently your stay in Brazil, is void. Visa extension can take a couple visits as you may be required to turn in some documents and then come back another day for a stamp in the passport.
10) Pick your PF location wisely
All PF locations are not created equal. Residence determines which respective PF will serve your immigration needs. If you can choose your location then do a little research on which ones are less awful than the rest. The PF of the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are notoriously bad whereas Florianópolis and São Sebastião are slightly better.
11) Bring extra form copies
Always carry an extra clean copy of the forms you filled out. It is easy to fill out the form incorrectly since they are complicated and in Portuguese. Fill out a copy beforehand to avoid holding things up at the PF but also bring a clean copy just in case.
If you don’t bring an extra copy, the guys hovering around the PF will sell you one or print a copy for some ridiculously high price. Don’t ask how price gougers are permitted to pray on foreigners and Brazilians alike, right in front of a law enforcement agency.
To give you an idea, a photocopy goes for around 50 cents in São Paulo. However, at the São Paulo PF, the conveniently located copy center will charge you 10 BRL per page. You have to have the document ready to go on a pen drive. If you don’t have the document digitally stored, there is a guy who has all the forms you could ever need. By law, he can’t sell them to you since they're free online. He can fill it out for you for 25 BRL per form. Don’t count on him for advice on filling it out though, he just types in the info you tell him. So bring an extra clean copy and save a buck!
12) If they say it, do it
If the Polícia Federal tells you how do something, you should do it that way. Of course, there are some expceptions, but in general you should follow their step-by-step instructions. You may think, well, I have already given them a notarized copy of my passport on 2 separate occasions so they can’t really need an additional copy. Wrong, give them the additional copy. Do not try to apply this sort of logic to the Polícia Federal or you will find yourself making more trips than necessary.
If you made it to the end of the list and aren't panicking in a cold sweat, then you're at least on your way. Before you go, seek support from your work, school, or friends to help make the trip a successful one. Use the bathroom prior and don’t forget to bring water, snacks, and maybe a magazine as the PF amenities are not to be relied upon.