This is the third in a series that is part of WTTC’s Ease of Travel campaign, titled ‘I Am Travel’. We are publishing a series of perspectives from travellers of different nationalities on what travel freedom means to them and their own experiences travelling with restrictions. The following is Luciana’s experience of travelling the world with a Brazilian passport.
“Airfare prices are much more affordable, we can book a hotel almost anywhere with a few clicks, but there are still these bureaucratic barriers called visas in our way.”
Ask any Brazilian traveler about a visa horror story and you will be sure to hear a few. Growing up in a developing nation where a lot of middle class teens dream of traveling to Disney World, you start hearing these stories while still quite young. You will inevitably have someone tell you about someone else who has had a visa denied: a friend of a cousin, an Aunt’s neighbor, the English teacher’s sister…etc. More often than not, the visa was unjustly denied, ruining a family’s long-anticipated trip. So when the time comes and it’s your turn to request a visa, you can’t help but be nervous, and then breathe a giant sigh of relief when it’s finally approved.
I remember my US visa interview: I had just wanted to go to Disney World like everybody else, but since I was a young adult, unmarried, and recently graduated from college, people were terrifying me saying the Consulate employees would surely think I was trying to immigrate to the United States (It’s funny that I’m an American citizen today, but that’s a whole different story and definitely not related to my innocent first trip to Disney World!). Anyway, despite a lot of advice to hide the fact that I had just graduated and didn’t have a steady job (which I didn’t), the Consulate employee was having a good day and told me my visa was approved with hardly any questions. And that’s one of the reasons why people feel so weird about getting a visa: it can seem so random, pure luck sometimes. You might have all the paperwork and never get asked to show anything, getting approved right away; or you might have to show everything and still get a visa denied. It shouldn’t feel this random.
Getting your dreams denied shouldn’t feel like it’s because someone is just having a bad day.
The United States is one of the top destinations for Brazilians and it still requires a tedious visa, even though Brazilians have spent billions of dollars every year on American soil. There’s been much talk about Brazil joining the visa waiver program - the businesses in Florida pushing hard for the change - but so far real plans have yet to be seen.
We still hear about visas being denied, and me being a travel blogger who writes mostly about the US, where I live, I end up getting my share of emails from Brazilians asking for advice about what to do to convince US officials they just want to take their kids on a fun trip to the US. Sometimes they spend years saving money for a trip, or have a birthday vacation planned, and it breaks my heart when I hear those plans get cancelled due to denied visas.
When I was living in Michigan, waiting for my green card, I couldn’t cross the border to Canada without a visa. My in-laws used to go to Canada all the time, for dinner, since Windsor is right across the Detroit River. The first thing I did when I got my green card was to cross the border to Canada and have dinner there, just because I could! When we drove back into the US, the immigration officials gave my American husband a hard time because he didn’t have his passport — there was a time when Americans didn’t need a passport to go to Canada. Too bad this has changed.
Brazilians don’t need visas to visit the European Union countries, but the border crossing can be tense. When I visited Portugal, ancestral home of my family before they immigrated to Brazil, I was arriving alone, and although the immigration officer was polite, he surely wanted to know a lot about me and why I was there. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of prejudice against Brazilian women arriving in Europe alone, as I would learn later; border officials sometimes are quick to assume prostitution. Not a problem I had when visiting European countries with a US passport — no questions asked at all. I’m the same person, and yet the treatment each one of my passports got me was very different to say the least.
The first time we went to Mexico, I already had my American passport, but my parents came along and at the time Brazilians needed a visa. Good thing that has changed and we all visited Mexico again as a family a few years later, no visas required this time. We will be visiting Mexico many more times in the future and it makes a great place to meet my extended Brazilian family if they don’t feel like going through the process of getting an American visa. Mexican tourism wins, while the United States probably loses many others as well because of this.
The opposite sometimes happens as well: I always wanted to visit Cuba, which several Brazilian friends have done and raved about, but until very recently my American husband couldn’t go. And even though we have been married for 13 years, my husband still needs to renew his visa to go to Brazil and take our Brazilian-American kids to see the other half of their family. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a different visa category in this case? When you have a multicultural family, having different passports with different requirements adds unnecessary challenges to what should be a simple family trip.
We need a better way to see our family and friends. Airfare prices are much more affordable, we can book a hotel almost anywhere with a few clicks, but there are still these bureaucratic barriers called visas in our way.