South America Cruises: Brazil on Tap? Don't Delay Your Visa App

October 7, 2009
Brazil Tourist Visa (6:40 p.m. EDT) -- West Coasters booked on upcoming South American voyages have been on edge over a Brazil visa backlog at the Los Angeles consulate, brought to light last month by the Los Angeles Times' Daily Travel & Deal Blog. According to the report, a new global processing system had sparked a slowdown in the issuance of Brazil visas, particularly at the understaffed Los Angeles facility, forcing it to ban walk-ins and institute daily quotas.

Because the Los Angeles consulate covers a huge area -- Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and the California counties of Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura (the San Francisco consulate covers the state's other counties) -- our concern was that if the problems weren't quickly addressed, some booked cruise passengers might not be accommodated in time for their South America cruises.

Now, with the season just around the corner, we are revisiting the issue. Have the issues in Los Angeles been resolved -- or could residents of California and neighboring states find themselves visa-less come embarkation day?

Well, the good news is that concessions are being made at the consulate to help cruise passengers get their visas in time for their trips -- Julio Victor do Espirito Santo, Brazil's deputy consul general in Los Angeles, confirms that new procedures went into place this week to help cruise passengers after a meeting with California-based Princess Cruises -- but you may need to pay more and you'll definitely need to get started as far in advance as possible.

Here's what you need to know, and how to get your visa quickly:

Wherever you live, start the process as early as possible: The Brazilian consulate in Los Angeles has agreed to process visas for cruise passengers in order of sailing date, giving preference to travelers with looming departures; however, be aware that processing may still take up to three weeks once documents are submitted. And, even though other consulates haven't been hit as hard by the technical changes as Los Angeles, all of the consulates are undergoing the same system change, which means you may experience delays in other parts of the country. (At press time, tourism officials could not tell us why the problem is centered on the Los Angeles consulate and when it's expected to let up.) You can apply for your visa up to 90 days prior to your date of entry into Brazil.

Now's the time to spring for a third-party service: The Brazil consulate in Los Angeles has opened a special window exclusively for cruise passengers applying in person, but it's only open from 11 a.m. until noon each day. Therefore, even if you live nearby, the consulate is encouraging cruise passengers to obtain their visas through a visa service company, such as Zierer, in order to minimize work for the consulate. There is no longer a limit on the amount of third-party applications accepted daily for cruise passengers, though other regional consulates may still have quotas. The Los Angeles consulate does not currently accept applications by mail, though others (such as Boston and Washington, DC) do.

Brazil visas cost $130; if you use a third-party service, the price jumps to $150, and you'll be required to pay a fee to the service (amounts vary based on circumstances; we've seen as low as $39 and as high as $79, plus the cost of return shipping of your documents). So, if you go the third-party route, you'll have to pay more -- but you'll at least have peace of mind.

Your cruise line is aware, but not accountable: Several cruise lines visiting Brazil in the near future -- including Princess, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Oceania, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas Cruises -- tell us they have already sent letters to impacted customers to notify them of the potential delays; again, many are recommending use of a third-party service to ensure timely issuance of visas. But, ultimately, passengers are responsible for obtaining their own visas prior to sailing -- and, if they don't, they will be denied boarding.

Have you recently applied for a Brazil visa for an upcoming cruise? We want to hear from you about the process! E-mail; please put Brazil Visa in the subject line.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor, with additional reporting by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor