On Saturday, I'm leaving for São Paulo and Rio, Brasil.  But this is a trip that almost wasn't, because getting a business visa for Brasil is a cumbersome and lengthy process.  The lengthy part I knew -- the Chicago Brazilian consulate says that it takes them eight working days to process the visa request.  This is after you fill out an electronic application, book your travel and print out the itinerary, get a letter from your in-country host, get a letter from your employer, provide a passport-sized photo, sign a form and an affidavit, and pay.  Oh yes, it's not cheap, either.  The fee for a business visa is US$190.  As a bonus, the consulate here in Chicago will only take that payment in the form of a money order from the US Postal Service, for the exact amount.

So all of that would have been fine, though being without my passport while processing the visa meant that I wasn't able to go to Germany this week for customer meetings.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do this sooner.  I returned from Paris and London on June 24, and sent my passport all of the required paperwork to CIBT's Chicago office via FedEx for arrival on June 27.  CIBT is a visa "expedite" service, and they bought out Express Visa, who IBM used to use and was very good.  This was my first CIBT experience, and will likely be my last.  After correcting one bit of my submission (I left out a form that wasn't on their checklist), CIBT waited three business days before attempting to process my application.  Supposedly, the Consulate told them sorry, not enough time to process, and rejected it.  Nobody from CIBT told me this until I called a week ago Monday...just barely eight business days before my trip.   Now, Brasil is unique in that there is simply nothing that can be done to "expedite" an application -- for other countries, you can pay extra for faster service, for example.  Such is not the case here.

I rushed into the city in a last-ditch effort to handle the whole thing myself -- which it appears is what I should have done in the first place. This wasn't particularly easy -- I had to navigate the CIBT office, to the Post Office, to the Brazilian Consulate all in the span of about an hour.  I walked into the Consulate at 11:50 AM, feeling like I had just dodged a bullet.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it.  CIBT had told me the money order should be for US$210, so that's what I had.  The Consulate informed me that because I was there in person, the charge was only $190.  Could they keep the change?  No, of course not.  I needed a new money order.  The good news was that they are open until 12:30, so I was able to rush back to the Post Office, fix the amount, and back to the Consulate.  She processed the application and gave me a claim check for pickup -- on July 23, the day I'm supposed to be teaching at Lotus Top Gun in São Paulo.  I explained that I was leaving on the 19th, and that the website says eight business days.  She responded that the website also says that it can take longer at the Consulate's sole discretion, and that the pre-printed claim check indicated 12 days.  But she gave me a glimmer of hope, saying "you can come by on the 18th to see if it is ready.  But if not, no complaints!"  (Yes, this was a direct quote).  

Dejected, I made arrangements for my presentation to be covered by others, and stopped reading tour book descriptions of places like Embu that I'd like to visit over the weekend.  Still, a part of me held out hope, since after all, my itinerary said that I was leaving on the 19th, and she took the application anyway.  Yesterday, I checked the Brazilian SCEDV website for status, where the word "Pronto" appeared.  In Spanish, that word means "soon".  But a tweet later, and I learned from Pedro that in Portuguese, it can also (and more generally) means "ready".  

Image:Everyone has a Brazilian visa story

I printed out the status and made arrangements to head into Chicago this morning.  It was earlier than the 18th, but hey, "ready" is "ready", and I needed as much time as possible to confirm customer meetings.  I arrived at the Consulate at 9:05 and handed over my claim check and the print out.  She looked at them both and said, "the thing is, 'ready' does not mean 'ready', this is a problem we have with the website".  She looked through her drawer and said sorry, not here, we told you the 23rd.  But then she decided to dig through the drawer one more time, and woot -- there it was, ready to go.  I guess "pronto" really does mean "ready".

I realize that my situation is somewhat unique, in that it has been really hard this year to be without my passport for any sequence of more than a few weeks -- business is good, everywhere, a good problem to have.  In the end, it looks like I'll be on that plane on Saturday after all, and looking forward to five great days in Brasil.  Now the only complication is that I'll be going back and forth between São Paulo and Rio, alternating days and cities -- maybe also a good problem to have.

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