Petty diplomatic squabbling is about to end a travel perk that we barely had time to enjoy.
On October 1, 2023, Brazil will bring back mandatory visas for tourists from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan.
For many years, visitors from those nations who wanted to see the legendary sights of Brazil found that dreaming of that vacation was much easier than actually planning it. Tourists would have to make an appointment with the nearest Brazilian embassy or consulate, which could take weeks or months. And when the interview day arrived, they'd have to bring their passport, a photo, the money (at the time, $160 for Americans), and proof of a ticket to and from Brazil—which they'd have to purchase even before a visa had been guaranteed.
"The procedure was so old-fashioned and onerous that many tourists decided to vacation somewhere else. Brazil has been sabotaging itself for years in an ongoing fumble of colossal, foolish tourism mismanagement," we wrote in 2017.
For many travelers, that mandatory visa runaround was dropped in 2019, just before Covid-19 struck. In the four years since, most of us didn't get a chance to take advantage of the easement.
But now the days of foolish tourism fumbles are returning to Brazil.
Visas will be required once again.
Why? Because the four targeted countries had not lifted their own visa requirements for Brazilians—mostly out of concerns over illegal immigration that rarely flows in the other direction.
"Brazil does not grant unilateral exemption from visiting visas, without reciprocity, to other countries," sniffed Brazil's foreign ministry when the reversal was announced.
The move may also be tied domestic political rancor. The visa-free policy had been instituted as a unilateral decision by former president Jair Bolsonaro, a polarizing figure who narrowly lost re-election last year. The announcement of the reversal hinted at political scorn, referring to the revoked visa-free policy as "the unilateral exemption."
Tourism pros are already decrying the about-face.
"Instead of closing the door to four nationalities, we should be discussing which are the next four to release visa exemptions. And then four more. This should be the government’s agenda," Sandro Fernandes, the head of Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf Mountain's cable cars (pictured above), told the Associated Press.
On the bright side, when the visa requirement returns, at least Brazil will retain the smoother digital visa application procedure that replaced the misery of a consular visit in November 2017.