Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Deported from Brazil?

If I was one of the only happy people in Lima Airport on the start of the journey back to Brazil, with flight vouchers and a day of shopping and hotel spa under our belts to finish our Peru trip, all for free, the Gods of Travel didn’t allow me to be smug for very long.

I can’t say that it was a big surprise to be honest. An outstanding fine from a previous overstay that I thought I’d paid in Buenos Aires was not the problem - being unable to pay it in any way when arriving in Guarulhos early on a Saturday morning certainly was. Brazil has many ways when it does not consider things from the estrangeiro angle. I didn’t really deserve much favour, but there might be people in the same situation who do and they’ll be stuck too.

If you have any fine to pay on your return to Brazil for overstaying a visa, my first advice is to use another entry point. Certain other borders around the edge of Brazil are a little more lax, with late night arrivals met by a one-man immigration team typed into a system with one finger on an archaic computer that doesn’t look like it will be connected to any kind of network. Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo is not so accommodating, and one of the only places where you are certain to get stopped, all details being electronically processed and listed.

So having been stopped, what can you do? The first frustration is that you can’t pay the fine by card, which I was happy to do. Most people re-entering Brazil with a fine to pay are unlikely to have many reais on their person. The immigration team were quite friendly, certainly not what you would find at Heathrow or any of the big US airports, and accompanied us around the airport, even removing their pig-proof gasmasks. No joy though. The second frustration is that you cannot buy local currency at the cambio houses with foreign cards. Both of these could easily come with a credit card surcharge on top, problem solved, taxi caught outside, sat in the house an hour later. My problem was that the shopping spree in Lima had been paid for with cash, and the withdrawals only arrived in my account the following day. I couldn’t take any more cash out that whole day. You can’t use foreign currency either, so anybody arriving alone and without the necessary Brazilian money would not have any way of paying without being able to enter the arrivals terminal.

With no friends in Sao Paulo having easy access to the cash I needed help from further away. Something like this sounds like a job for Western Union, or any other money transfer company. For some reason they don’t seem to like having offices in the airport. The nearest one was in the area, but you try convincing a taxi driver to take you 2 miles down a highway where walking is impossible when he could be taking people right across the city instead. They refuse, point blank. After all the morning’s fun, Blondie would never be able to walk there in time before it closed at midday. I was totally stuck. It began to look like I was going to have to live in The Terminal, at least until the Monday. I laughed to myself as we returned, thinking that living in the airport for a couple of days would make a good little travel story for me, and I had no problem with that. Accompanied by my laptop and with English football on the departure lounge televisions, this would not be a big hardship.

Things took a turn for the worse when Blondie left to try and organise the money, and I had to return to the holding bay. The Big Boss had arrived and was shouting at the staff for letting me out and for not sending me back to Lima immediately. He wanted me out as soon as possible, and my nerves started to jangle as all of a sudden my time in Brazil looked like it was coming to an end...

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