It was during our sail from Maceió to Cabedelo while chatting on the Brazilian Task Force WhatsApp group with another yacht we had met in Fernando de Noronha, then in Recife and again in Salvador that we realised we had a major hiccup in our hands. One that could blow up in our faces especially and cost us many thousands of euros.
When we arrived in Recife and finally completed our formalities with Customs they had explained that the yacht could stay in Brazil for two years without being due duties of any kind (provided we didn’t take up residency of any kind), but whenever the owner of travelled out of the country without the yacht there was an immobilisation process that had to be taken care at Customs before travelling.
What the Customs officers forgot to mention was that during those two years of duties exemption, the yacht could only be used for a period matching our entry visas (three months) before we were required to do that same immobilisation process mentioned above. So technically speaking, we could only use our yacht for 3 more days!
We had applied for a visa extension of 90 days on top of our original 90 days visa exemption, a period well in the two years exemption from customs we had thought. But no, they had not mentioned this small detail of the use period matching our original visas, and now we had 3 days to avoid having to pay 10% of the boat value in fines plus 100% (?!) import duty!
The problem was we were still under sail trying to get to Cabedelo!!!
Upon our arrival to Cabecelo, a quick conversation with Nico (Ocean Cruising Club Port Officer) from Jacare Village Marina confirmed our discovery. We needed to get to Customs urgently the following morning (when we had only one more day left on our temporary import document) to fix this situation. Nerve-racking!
The following morning we jumped on an Uber and rushed to Cabedelo commercial harbour, we got a bit lost trying to find the right building because we had originally understood it was just outside the harbour instead of just inside, but once we got confirmed it was inside the harbour it was easy.
The entrance was heavily secured including a metal detector gate similar to airports, but they were so baffled by my Portuguese accent that we simply went through backpacks on, iPhone in one hand, water bottle in the other, alarm ringing and no one caring about it. The security guard again with a bulletproof vest and machine gun was so happy for the honour to guide us through the narrow corridor and point at the right building.
We entered the building he pointed us to, and it looked like it no longer was a working office, but an officer immediately showed up, relieved I spoke Portuguese. He checked our papers, passports listened to the soap opera of a story we had to tell and said yes, we had a big pickle in our hands, but we were in the right place, and we would just have to wait for his boss was in a conference call with a European Union agency and he would fix this as soon as he got back.
When was that happening? Sometime that morning.
We prepared ourselves for the long wait in this empty boring office, while this officer disappeared to one of the back offices.
We waited and waited, wondering if we would be able to still get to João Pessoa to the Capitania before 11.30 am, eventually a guy walking very fast towards the office with a laptop bag, and a safety hat but normal clothes showed up, and it looks this is the guy we had been waiting for. He entered the office and apologised for keeping us waiting, collected our original documents and the copies his colleague had already made, and we told the soap opera story again, he shook his head at his colleague's lack of clarification and said that in any case if we had been a day or two later he would have tried to help us, but he was glad that somehow we had received the correct information in time. He explained that, in fact, if the owner gets an extension to the original visa, Customs needs to issue an extension as well matching the new visa date, an annoying bureaucratic moment but a pretty straightforward one. He goes into one of the back offices and comes back with a minute or two with the new document and our originals.
A bit of chit-chat, where are we from, my accent is lovely, his family emigrated to Brazil from Portugal just before he was born, and someone in his family lives in Australia. Safe travels etc, and we are out the door rushing to get an Uber to take us fast to João Pessoa to the Capitania.
It was while in the Uber that the inexplicable sense of relief hit us, we had managed to dodge a huge curve ball literally on the 11h!
We dropped by Jacare Village Marina to pick up our friends from Sv Noah on the way to Capitania, and luckily our driver seemed to be in a bit of a rush and got us right on time in front of the Capitania building. We managed to get inside at the last minute before they closed the doors at 11.30 am.
Once inside, I sorted out the arrival pass after a few queries from the officer, which included where was our departure declaration from Polícia Federal, the one that Polícia Federal in Recife insisted was only to be filled on departure from the country, with that explained the office simply replaced ok and proceeded with preparing our arrival declaration. I tried to negotiate with him to have the departure pass section done with a pre-set date, but he was not having it we would have to come back before leaving to get that done. I then helped our friends translate the same process for them, and shortly after we were returning to Jacare Village Marina.
One week later, we returned to get the departure pass section filled. Again, the same question about the departure declaration from Policia Federal, again the same explanation from our side and stating we were going to Belém the officer was still a bit confused until I realised that we were having an issue with the accent, so I repeated we were not leaving the country we were leaving to Belém but this time with my best Brazilian accent. The officer just blasted laughing, now he understood we were just going to Belém.
In a moment he returned with our departure pass filed and a request for me to repeat the word Belém in Portuguese from Portugal because it was so different to his ears.
Confused? Yeah, I keep telling people that in Brazil they speak Brazilian, in Portugal we speak Portuguese. I know people want us all to believe it’s the same language, but until you struggle with the problems of different accents in simple words and completely different vocabulary that can lead to very awkward moments and confusion you won’t understand how the struggle is real on a day to day conversation.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community. In this post you can find information regarding check in and out procedures with location for the Capitania and Receita Federal that will assist and organize the entire process