In early May, I arrived in Brazil for the 5th time since 1998. I prefer to believe that every ticket is really one-way only but I know that’s not the way things work. This is my 3rd time actually living in Brazil (and by “living”, I mean staying the length of my tourist visa).
The nitty-gritty, though, is that I accidentally overstayed my tourist visa by 2 days the last time around. Since tourist visas are good for 90 days at a time, I absent-mindedly converted that time into 3 months and forgot about the actual days, which is what really matters. Upon leaving Brazil, I was caught at the airport by the Federal Police and had to promise to either pay the fine of R$8/day for each day I overstayed or pay upon my next trip to Brazil.
By the way, “being caught” generally involves signing a promissory note either by entering the airport office of the Federal Police or by signing at the general entry/exit window.
Not wanting to leave the secure part of the airport I was already in so that I could find a bank and pay the R$16 fine, I decided on the “pay later” option. After all, who really is going to care about what amounts to US$8 anyways? Well, the Brazilian government does, apparently.
One week before returning to Brazil, I contacted the Brazilian embassy in Washington DC to make sure I wouldn’t run into any kind of problem upon reentering the country and, in so many words, they assured me it wouldn’t be a problem at all. It seems they hadn’t been introduced to the Federal Police officer I met last Friday at 8PM who, by the way, threatened me for over an hour with the prospect of sending “the gringo” back on the very next return flight to the US.
His main argument was that, first, I shouldn’t have overstayed at all and, second, that I shouldn’t have booked a flight that arrives after-hours when everyone has gone home for the day. While I agree in principle, I hardly see how I should pay US$1400 in airplane costs to make up for US$8 in fines that could have been easily solved when I returned for my connecting flight the next morning. Where was the famous jeitinho that I had heard so much about?
Of course, I had the measly fine in dollars in my pocket but what was needed was Brazilian currency and a receipt that it was deposited in a nearby ATM in order for me to be allowed officially into the country. After an hour in the hot-seat, a TAM airlines baggage employee named Hugo happened to wander into the office and overheard my state of affairs. Upon being filled in, he very kindly offered to pay my fine out of his own pocket, even though he was just about to clock-out after a long day at work. All I had to do was to promise to pay him back.
At that moment, the under-the-table and often illicit jeitinho went out the proverbial window and I found myself saved by a simple act of kindness from a total stranger. When he came back with the required receipt, I thanked him profusely and he told me, “it was nothing, don’t worry about it”, after which he let me know who to give the money to once I exchanged my dollars on the outside.
Little did Hugo know, for some odd reason, I ran into every problem conceivable when trying to plan this latest trip. Any and every roadblock a person can run into, I ran into it. Being sent right back after finally stepping foot in Brazil would have been the last straw and I don’t know how I would have handled it. He definitely colored my return in the right light and I owe every experience this time around to him.
Welcome to Brazil.
Originally written for Street Smart Brazil