Traveling never fails to bring memorable moments, but not many top my adventure of learning at the last moment (3 hours before our plane was scheduled to leave) that you need a Visa to get into Brazil as a US citizen.

I will never forget the moment. My traveling companion and dear friend, Ann Marie, had arrived at my house early to print our tickets. I was in my room packing when she came in with the most horrible look on her face, and held up the tickets printed with big, bold letters: VISA REQUIRED.

She and I were both seasoned travelers, but other places we had been had allowed us to pay a visa fee at entry, so we had not given it any thought – until that moment, of course. After a little research, we learned that the average turnaround time on a Visa for Brazil is 3-4 weeks. Fortunately, we both have a “nothing is impossible” attitude, and we sprang into action.

We found a company in New York that could help us get an expedited Visa in a day, but we had to be in NYC to make it happen. We cancelled our flights, rebooked flights out of NYC for the next afternoon, and jumped in the car. We drove seven hours to NYC, arrived at 3:00 am, parked at JFK airport, slept in our freezing car for a few hours, and took a train into the city at 7:00 am. We had 6 hours until we had to be back at JFK airport.

We arrived at an office building in Manhattan, went up to a one-room suite consisting of two guys, a couple desks, and a camera. It felt shady, but what choice did we have? We completed all the necessary paperwork, they took our pictures, and off we went to the embassy. We handed them $600 in the first floor lobby, and waited, wondering if we would ever see them again or if we had just been the victims of a major scam.

I didn’t know how they were going to make a four-week process happen in two hours, but I will always remember sitting there, waiting to get arrested for trying to bribe a consulate employee. It seems a bit crazy in hindsight, but at the time, our main concern was our pre-booked, pre-paid riverboat cruise down the Amazon that was leaving in less than 24 hours – whether we were there or not.

To our surprise, the guys came back, said the Visas were being processed, and suggested we go to lunch. We were wound pretty tightly, so neither of us were in a mood to be social, but we went and tried to relax.

There was additional drama that I won’t bore you with, but we made it. We literally arrived just in time to run down the dock toward our river boat. No one could appreciate our excitement upon boarding.

There are a few morals to this story that are good travel tips:

  1. Unexpected things happen when traveling, but there is always a way. Google the dilemma you are facing, and you will be amazed at the resources you can find.
  2. Always pad in an extra day at the beginning of a journey that involves a specific departure time. If Ann Marie had not thought to give us an extra day at the beginning of the trip for flight delays, we would have never made our riverboat.
  3. Always, always, always check and double check whether a Visa is required. I know I will.

Travel safely!