It has only taken FIVE YEARS, but it seems as though the Brazilian immigration office has decided that it has every piece of paperwork that it needs from me to grant me permanent residency.
If you don't know the details of my absurd process, here's a very quick summary: Alexandre and I received some bad (albeit well-intentioned) advice to apply for my permanent residency visa with a união estável rather than a regular marriage. A união estável is kind of equivalent to a civil union or a little bit like a common-law marriage in the US. We'd heard that it would be easier to divorce, should we decide to split up. At the time that we had to decide, I'd only been in Brazil 6 months, and we were only 23 years old. So we were worried about the marriage commitment.
Long story short: this was a huge mistake. I'm not a person to have many regrets, because I think you can learn from your mistakes and blahblahblah, but this is one mistake that I've made in my life that fills me with rage and frustration. If time travel were possible, I think I would miss out on opportunities to travel on a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail in order to start my visa process over as a regular marriage.
Now that things are over (I may be cursing myself by posting this before I actually get my official RNE (the Brazilian equivalent of a green card)), I'd like to share what I would do if I had to do this process over. I want to give you, poor, sweet, unassuming reader (that is, if you're an American thinking about moving to Brazil to be with your Brazilian love), some much-needed advice. I'm going to focus on Americans, because I've heard that different things are requested for different nationalities. (Sounds ridiculous, but you will see that about 90% of this process is ridiculous, and questioning it will only give you stomach ulcers.)
1. If possible, get married in the US and do your paperwork through a Brazilian consulate in the US. I think this requires your partner to be in the US for an extended period of time (I've heard 3 months, but I have no official proof or experience with that).
2. If you need to get married in Brazil and do the permanent residency process here in the country, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS CHOCOLATE pleaaaasseeee just do the regular marriage process. You may be thinking, "oh, but my parents don't like the idea of me being married without having a ceremony in a church" or "I don't reallllyyyy know if I want to be with this hot Brazilian person forever, and this união estável sounds like less of a commitment." Listen. This is just paperwork. You don't really have a ceremony. If you don't want to think of yourself as married yet, then don't. But don't cut off your nose to spite your face, as my grandmother would say. And here's the crux of it: the união estável process is so long and complicated that (a) by the time you finish, the process may have taken so long that, by Brazilian law, you may already be part of a common-law marriage and you'd have to fight over assets anyway; and (b) the process is so rage-inducing that it will test your relationship so much that, if you survive it, you'll definitely stay together and you should've just gotten real married in the first place.
3. If you are in a homosexual relationship or, for whatever other reason feel that you need to apply for your residency using an união estável process, then follow my advice below.
Disclaimer: this is based on what I experienced and what other people experienced. Don't get all pissy like another commenter did if someone in the Brazilian government tells you this information is wrong. Many government employees responsible for this process actually have little-to-no experience with it, and they don't know what they're doing, but they don't want to tell you that. So some of the information I first got back in Caipirópolis was totally wrong, which is why we actually had to start our process over. I'm just telling you what I know, and I'm trying to help you, cheez.
Danielle's Newest Advice for Getting A Brazilian Permanent Residency Visa via União Estável, as of May 2013
Here is my first point of advice: Less is not more. More is more. More is better. If you don't know if you need some document, assume that you do. Below, I'm going to list all the documents that I was asked for, plus all the documents that other people have said they were asked for. It's better to be safe than screaming in frustration.
There is an official government document that lists everything you need, but it is up to the interpretation (i.e., whims) of the person evaluating your paperwork. Really. I lost count of how many different things I've been told by government employees. Here is the link: http://www.normaslegais.com.br/legislacao/resolucao77_2008.htm
Another general point of advice: Make sure everything possible has your full name, even your middle name or Jr, even if you don't use those much. Consistency is key. The belp robots in the immigration office short-circuit if one thing says "John M. Smith" and another says "John Michael Smith." Seriously.
A third general piece of advice: The monkeys in the immigration office LOVE stamps and stickers and shiny, official-looking things. The more letterheads, signatures, stamps, and stickers you can get on things, the better (except, of course, when you have to turn in seemingly unnecessary hand-written letters. See below).
Documents you might need from the US:
1. An official document saying that you are not married in the US (I got mine -- well, my mother got it for me -- from a county courthouse)
2. An official document saying that you don't have a criminal record in the US (this also came from the county courthouse)
Send or take documents (1) and (2) to a Brazilian consulate -- the one closest to your US address. Get them "legalized" (i.e., pay a fee for a stamp and a sticker on the original document). If you send them to the consulate, then you have to include a self-addressed stamped envelope to a US address. Check out your local consulate website for details.
When you get to Brazil (or get these documents to Brazil), get them translated by an official translator, known as a tradutor juramentado. I found one in the phone book; I assume you can search online with the words "tradutor juramentado" and the city you live in. This translation is absurdly expensive. But I recommend asking your Brazilian, Portuguese-speaking partner to call a few different translators to get a price. I learned that their prices vary widely, especially if the foreigner calls and the translator wants to charge the gringo price.
Be speedy with these: They can't be less than a year old when you submit them. A lovely govt employee interpreted that as "if a year passes and the process isn't finished, she has to submit this again." I had to get new ones because more than a year passed and I still hadn't been approved, because THEY were slow and incompetent! Isn't that ridiculous?!
3. A hand-written letter in the American's handwriting in English and Portuguese that says something like, "I certify that I'm not married in the US" or "I certify that I've never been married in the US" (whatever's true for you). Don't question the need for this document if you've gotten a much more official document in (1). Remember the ulcers. Take this hand-written letter to an American notary republic. Bring an American witness with you. Have the notary republic notarize the letter. Then have the witness write (on the same paper) something like "I certify under penalty of law that this information is true to the best of my knowledge" and have the notary republic notarize that, too. Remember the bit about the stamps and stickers.
If you're already in Brazil, it is possible to mail this to the US, have the witness write on it and sign it, and then get only one notarization. That's what I had to do, and so far, it hasn't been rejected.
4. Your original birth certificate. (Some people have had to get this translated by a tradutor juramentado, too.)
5. Your state ID/driver license.
6. Your passport (obviously).
7. Your social security card.
Documents your Brazilian partner might need to get:
1. RG and CPF
2. Proof of a job and stable salary (holerite -- like W-2s or paystubs in the US)
Documents that you might need to get in Brazil, or that you and your Brazilian partner might need to get together
1. You need a Brazilian CPF. You can get this with a tourist visa, so get it as soon as you get here. Just use the address where you're living, and they mail it to you. I heard you can do it at the post office now; I did it at a Ministerio da Fazenda.
2. A bank account with both of your names on it that has been open for one year. (Go to the bank and ask for proof of this. They will complain and tell you to use your checks. According to some govt employees, checks are not enough. We convinced the bank employee to print out the original contract we'd signed when we opened an account together. We hadn't signed the one she printed out, but it had the info and the dates. We went ahead and sent certified copies of our checks, too, just in case.)
3. A rental agreement with both of your names on it, showing that you have lived together for at least one year.
4. Bills in your names at the same address (ex: a telephone bill with your name, and a cable bill with your partner's name), ideally one year old and also the most recent bills, to show that you've been living together for a year.
5. A life insurance policy (we did this through the bank) in which you are the beneficiary if your Brazilian partner dies (according to the official govt document, either of you can be the beneficiary if the other one dies, but at our bank, it was logistically easier to open it the policy in the Brazilian's name). This also needs to be one year old.
You can probably see the flaw in this logic. You can only live in Brazil legally for 6 months, but you are supposed to have things that are 1 year old?! We had to submit things that were not one year old just to get our foot in the door, and then once one year had passed, submit them again. That means paying for the life insurance policy all year. Just do it. If you've been in Brazil for more than 1 year but haven't have these things for more than 1 year, then some jeitinhos are in order. I read about one couple who got their landlord to change the date on the rental agreement. I read about another couple that wrote up a fake rental agreement from the US, since the Brazilian had been in the US for more than a year. In our case, the lady at the bank was willing to use the date that I first opened an account alone and to say that we'd had it together since that time.
6. I've heard that some people needed to send in pictures of themselves together at different times and in different places, to prove that they've been in a relationship as long as they said they've had.
7. You (the foreigner) need to go take those little 3x4cm pictures. You'll need them to get your temporary ID. Most malls have little stores that cell camera stuff and take these pictures. Do your hair nice -- this picture may haunt you forever (I was 15 pounds heavier when I took this picture. Sigh).
Documents you need to get or certify at a Brazilian cartório:
1. Get certified copies of everything I just told you to get -- even the American stuff. Get certified copies of every page of your passport. When you send things to the immigration office, avoid sending original copies, especially of things that are hard to get (like the American documents and the legal translations). I only sent the original copies of the hand-written letters. Oh, I also sent the original copy of the document from the bank.
2. You'll get "married" (i.e., your união estável document) at the cartório, too. You might consider it expensive, so be prepared. IMPORTANT: Do this first, ASAP. You'll need this document for the other documents, like the bank account together and the life insurance policy. You need a certified copy of this document to submit. Don't send or lose your original. A second original copy is so expensive!
3. Your Brazilian partner needs to write out a letter (hand-written, of course) saying that he/she promises to provide for you in Brazil, and has "condições financeiras" (the means) to provide for you. Add in some wordy Portuguese sentences about penalty of law, dedication, etc. Then you need to get it certified. I don't think you, as a foreigner, need to sign it, but you might as well, because more is more.
4. Your Brazilian partner also needs to write out a letter with a brief history of your relationship (how you two met and how you ended up in Brazil), and you both need to sign it and get it certified at the cartório. (I never needed to do this, but many other people did.)
5. Find 3 Brazilian friends or family members to be "witnesses" to your relationship. That means they need to go to the cartório with you, and then all 5 of you sign a letter saying that you and your partner are really in a relationship. We found a great template for the letter online. I'll paste it at the end of this post so you can use it. You and your friends will have to pay to "reconhecer firme", which means you all pay the cartório to verify that you are really the people signing your signatures.
Holy Moly! That's a lot of paperwork! Now what?!
OK. Now that you've gotten all of that, you take it to the Policia Federal closest to your house in Brazil. (You can't go to a more efficient PF office if your address is not in its jurisdiction. We tried.)
Then you ask the employee responsible for immigration to open a file for you and start your process. You'll have to pay a fee, and then include proof of having paid that fee in your packet of paperwork. This fee is the "taxa individual de imigração" (Art. 4 VII on the official list). If you've waited so long to do this that your tourist visa has expired and you're technically illegal in Brazil, you'll need to pay a fine and the PF employee will stamp your passport saying that you paid the fine. I don't remember if you need to include proof of having paid this fine in your packet of paperwork, but I think you do.
The Polícia Federal employee might insist that you need to submit something else. They might be wrong, but they are the gatekeepers to your process and you are at their mercy. If you've tried arguing a little or asked them to just check with other employees and you haven't been successful, then just bite the bullet and get whatever they ask for. You need this person on your side.
This PF employee will give you a protocólo. This number is your lifeline to your process. The employee will also give you a little slip of paper with your picture and your protocólo number on it. YOU CANNOT LOSE THIS PIECE OF PAPER. It's the only proof that you have that you're in the country legally until you get your real RNE. You'll need it whenever you go to an airport. I bought a plastic passport cover and I put it inside the back plastic slip.
The PF employee will take all of the paperwork and submit it to Brasilia -- more specificially, to the Ministério de Justiça. Your PF employee might insist that you don't need to submit certain things. Ask to send them anyway, just to be safe. If the employee won't let you, don't worry. After this point, you are able to submit things directly.
You can track your visa's progress on this site:
Choose "estrangeiros" on the left-hand side bar.
Choose "Consulta a processos" on the next side bar.
Type in your protocólo in the box that comes up.
If you have any questions about your status, it's sometimes better to email the MJ than to ask your local PF. You can email them at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. They reply within a couple days.
Since you're doing a união estável, the MJ will send your process on to another department -- the Conselho Nacional de Imigração. This department is more involved in your process.
If the MJ site says "protocólo não encontrado" (not found), then your documents might have already been passed on to the Conselho Nacional de Imigração. You can try searching their website, too:
It's fundamental that you check these links weekly to see if anything is needed for your process. They're supposed to snail mail you updates, but we only ever got 2 of those letters. If your data is coming up on the Conselho's site, then you can email the department if you have any questions. You're not allowed to call, but they actually reply very quickly to emails. The email address is email@example.com.
A tip on how to read this site: if it says "exigência", then you need to send in more stuff. If it says "deferido", it means you were approved!
If you need to send any more documents to the CGIG, you can email them to ask for the exact address you should use. I had to send things to different addresses at different times.
Once you're approved, the CGIG sends your documents back to the other department, the MJ, and I don't know exactly what happens after that because I'm not there yet. I've heard all kinds of things, like that you need to submit your birth certificate at the Polícia Federal office, or that you need to get fingerprinted and take a picture. I've also heard a horror story that, at this final hour, the PF will ask for a document that has your (the foreigner's) parents' names on it. If it's from the US, it has to be officially translated (by that expensive tradutor juramentado). The PF employee kept telling the woman that it had to be her birth certificate, but then she went back the next day with her união estável certificate (since it has her parents' names on it, duh) and it was enough for another employee.
OK! PHEW! Did I convince you to do the regular marriage process yet? Were you inspired to buy me a caipirinha for all of my suffering and good will in typing all this out?
If you've had to turn in other documents or do other things (I've heard horror stories of needing to go to before a judge), do share in the comments! The more information, the better!
Speaking of more information, here's a post on gringoes.com where a guy writes out what I just wrote out, from a UK perspective. He's much more succinct.
And I'll finish with that template I told you about. Good luck, godspeed, patience, my young grasshopper, &c.
Template for Cartório document (5):
DECLARAÇÃO DE UNIÃO ESTÁVEL
Eu, _________________________________________, nacionalidade:_______________,
estado civil:_____________________, profissão:______________________, portador da
Carteira de Identidade nº______________________, emitida por____________, inscrito no
Cadastro de Pessoa Física sob o nº___________________, e
estado civil:_____________________, profissão:______________________, portadora da
Cadastro de Pessoa Física sob o nº___________________, ambos domiciliados nesta cidade
e residente na _________________________________________________, n°__________.
Bairro:___________________________, CEP________________, juridicamente capazes,
DECLARAMOS, cientes das penalidades legais, que convivemos em UNIÃO ESTÁVEL
desde _____/_____/_____, de natureza familiar, pública e duradoura com o objetivo de
constituição da família nos termos dos artigos 1723 e seguintes do Código Civil. Assim
sendo, por ser o aqui declarado a mais pura expressão da verdade, assinamos esta
Declaração para que surta seus efeitos legais.
[Cidade], _____ de ___________ de _______.