There seems to be something about me and rushed trips to Brazil that causes a chaotic mess and almost heart attacks.
Back in February 2013, I bought a ticket to Brazil on a whim in order to surprise my then-future wife. It was a decision made in haste and out of excitement. I remember the feeling of my heart sinking when I told her that I was going to be there the next night, which caused her to ask, “WOW, how’d you get a visa so quickly?!”
Visa? Visa? Visa? Americans need a visa for Brazil?
I had traveled to Mexico, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Korea, and Japan with no visas. Brazil was our friend. We don’t need visas to visit our friends, do we? Yup. We sure do. I had to postpone my flight and pay an agency to rush a Brazilian visa for me. Lesson learned. Now I make sure about visas before I book.
Fast forward to November of 2018. My wife was visiting her family in Brazil and I missed her. I had no plans to go to Brazil because of work. That’s until I was informed that I had a four day weekend due to a holiday. This opened up the opportunity of me being able to join my wife in Manaus and to see my in-laws. So, hastily, I booked a ticket to Manaus. I did it out of excitement and enthusiasm. Everything seemed good. My wife booked a hotel for us, I arraigned a few responsibilities of mine to be taken care of and was all prepared.
I got a notification on my phone from American Airlines to check into my flight. I went to the app and entered my passport information and submitted.
“Unable to check in, see attendant.”
That was the message that popped up on my screen. I thought nothing of it, so I tried again.
“Unable to check in, see attendant.”
This time, I realized there may be something wrong with my passport. I got my passport in April of 2009, before I went to Mexico to study. That was almost 10 years ago. When I looked at the dates on the passport, I realized that it expires in 5 months.
I thought of a travel article I had seen that stated that valid passports sometimes aren’t valid anymore if there are fewer than 6 months of validity to the passport before travel. So I did a quick search of countries who apply this 6-month rule and at the top of the list, Brazil. Site after site said that Brazil abides by the 6-month rule. My heart, my poor heart, sank again, just as it had done in 2013. When this realization that I may not be able to get on my flight that leaves in 24 hours hit me, I happened to be near some students of mine who are from other countries. One of the students told me that there is a passport office in Miami that can often do same day passports with an appointment. I hoped on the computer and made an appointment. I looked at fees and they charge an extra $60 for the rushed passport, not too bad of a price to pay.
After my class, I called American Airlines to see if maybe there was a waiver, because I would have to miss my class for the appointment to get a new passport. The agent from America Airlines gave me a “oohhh” when I said my passport expires in 5 months. Apparently she was aware of the 6-month rule, too. She entered my information into her system and told me, in a timid manner, “I don’t think that’s the problem, but let me talk to my manager.” When she returned to the line she informed me that the problem with checking in via the app had nothing to do with the expiration date, but with my middle name on the ticket not matching my name on my passport. I was relieved, until she said, “So I think you should be able to get into Brazil with this passport.”
I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I decided to go talk to AA in person. I drove to the West Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), which is just minutes from my house, to go to their desk and get some answers.
As I entered PBI, there was a creepy emptiness. There was not an employee in sight. All the airline desks were empty. There was nobody to ask in that area, so I began wandering the airport to look for an AA worker. Eventually, I found a baggage claim office for AA. They didn’t have an jurisdiction with ticketing, but they made a call to MIA for me. When she handed me the phone, a man at MIA asked about my situation. I told him that was flying to Brazil in 18 hours and my passport expires in April. He said, If you’re not Brazilian, you need 6 months,” all but confirming my suspicion of my inability to travel on my impromptu trip.
I told him that I had talked to someone on the phone and that she said since it was valid for the extent of my trip that I should be ok. He said, “Oh, so it’s a short trip? You should be fine.”
I don’t want “should be’s,” I want answers!
I left and immediately got on the phone with AA again. This time, I told the agent that I needed clarity. She informed me that airlines enter passenger information into a nationwide system which tells them if the passenger meet requirements. She entered mine again and said that I meet all requirements to board the plane, but that the ultimate decision is customs in Brazil and if they deny me, because they have some requirements that I didn’t meet, it would be my responsibility to get myself home without entering the country.
I still wasn’t satisfied. So I called my wife as I researched and told her that I may have to do the rushed passport option. As I was talking to her, I came across the US government travel website about going to Brazil. This was the first website that said that the only passport requirements was for it to be valid for length of stay.
That was a relief. My wife, got off the phone with me and called an immigration office in Brazil and the overnight worker confirmed that it just needs to be valid during the length of stay. She also called the Manaus airport in the morning and received the same confirmation.
So, I could breath!
I still had the issue of not being able to check into my flight on the app and I was going to be cutting it close in regards to getting to my flight on time after work. I went to PBI in the morning and went to the AA counter, I’m glad they were open this time, and the worker there checked me into my flight to Brazil from MIA, so that also rescued me.
What an experience!
Here are useful things I learned.
1. It’s not required to have 6 months available on your passport to travel to Brazil.
2. If you’re in a hurry, there is an office which helps get a US passport the same day. (These are only in certain cities.)
3. You can check-in and get a boarding pass at a different airport.
4. You should check all documents and expirations before booking a flight that is very soon.