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Roundabout Route To Brazil

First, I had to go to the consulate nearest my principal residence, in Fort Lauderdale, which is why I went to the consulate in Miami. Applications are accepted by mail, but the turnaround time is at least one month, which was too long for this trip. So I made sure to show up at the consulate at the requisite hour – applications are accepted only between 10 a.m. and noon on weekdays – with my U.S. passport, a set of recent photos, a letter from my firm explaining the purpose of my trip and $161 in cash. I fed the cash into an ATM-like machine in the consulate lobby. The machine regurgitated a receipt, which completed the necessary paperwork.

After dropping off the papers, I then had to wait five days before returning to the consulate, precisely in the designated time period of 3-4 p.m. on a weekday, to pick up my passport with the newly affixed visa.

The entire process is a pain in the tuchas, a word which, while neither English nor Portuguese, is understood by speakers of both. It would be easy to blame the Brazilians for this inconvenience. It would also be wrong.

My need for a visa, and the $161 price tag (less a $1 dollar service fee to the Banco do Brasil), is the result of policies rooted in Washington, not Brasília. If I were visiting Brazil from any European Union country, or from a long list of other nations including Israel, Romania, Russia and Turkey, I could have entered with no visa at all. The United States, however, has refused to include Brazil in its own visa-waiver program, which allows leisure and business travelers to come to America for up to 90 days with only their home country’s passport, as long as they do not accept employment during their visit. Brazil’s visa policy is simply a mirror of our own. As soon as we drop our visa requirement for Brazilians, Brazil will open its borders to Americans.

From an American viewpoint, Brazil is easily the most politically compatible of the four rapidly developing BRIC countries.(The other three are Russia, India and China.) Brazil also has a Gross Domestic Product of $2.2 trillion, making it the sixth-largest economy in the world. But despite Brazil’s proximity compared to the growing Asian economies, the United States continues to hold the country at a diplomatic distance.