Soccer / Sports

Visa obstacles hurting World Cup before it starts

MIAMI -- If you plan to travel to Brazil for the World Cup and don't have a visa, drop everything and get the application process going immediately. Time is running out.

Turns out obtaining a visa -- all U.S. citizens need one -- can be a tedious, time-consuming experience, as frustrated soccer fans are finding out every day on the 26th floor of a downtown Miami office building.

For the past several weeks, Miami's Brazilian consulate has been swarming with desperate World Cup travelers who are given a number and crammed into an overflowing waiting room with three service windows. They wait as long as four to five hours clutching an envelope of documents only to find out they are either missing a required document or their $160 money order from a bank or Publix is unacceptable.

(Tip: They take only U.S. Postal Service money orders for the visa processing fee. No cash. No credit cards. People who show up with the wrong money order are sent on a 10- to 15-minute walk to a post office. It has become such an issue that an entrepreneurial woman in a Brazil T-shirt has been seen selling the post office money orders on the sidewalk outside the consulate parking garage.)

Waiting period

Even those who have the proper documentation must leave their passports and face a 15-business-day waiting period before they can pick up visas. Pick-up is only on weekdays, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. There is a three-day free expedited "Special Category" World Cup visa, but that requires either original game tickets, which most fans opted to pick up in Brazil, or a specific FIFA ticket certificate, which many fans say they never received.

Soccer fans are flocking in from as far as Orlando and Tampa because there are only 10 Brazilian consulates nationwide, and Miami is the closest. When they arrive, they find the consulate is accepting visa applications only between 10 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday. Everyone who gets a number by noon will be waited on. Anyone who arrives after noon has to return another day.

Despite the efforts of helpful, friendly security guards, there is much confusion.

Kevin Knox, 34, and Tim Gunther, 46, took Thursday off from their jobs at an Orlando tech company, drove four hours to Miami on Wednesday night, stayed in a hotel, and showed up Thursday morning at the consulate. Both former soccer players and high school coaches, they are giddy about traveling to their first World Cup.

They went through the FIFA online ticket lottery and spent $3,680 to order four tickets for five matches in Rio. They have flights booked for June 13. They figured they would invest a day in Miami to get their visas and head back to Orlando ready to pack.

No copies or e-mails

They figured wrong. They found out upon arriving at the consulate that in order to receive an expedited free World Cup visa, they would need to present their actual tickets or an official FIFA ticket certificate, neither of which they have. They have an e-mail confirmation of their ticket purchase, including their name, address, credit card information and ticket numbers.

The consulate website states: "No copies, e-mails or other types of proofs of purchase are being accepted at the Miami consulate."

The consulate, anticipating a heavy influx of visa applicants, recently added staff and they are working weekends to process the applications.

"As a fan, this whole process has been very disappointing," Knox said. "We were truly excited to come down and get our visas because it's the final part of our trip planning. This was a huge letdown. The information is not clear on the website, there is nobody answering questions by phone or e-mail, so everyone is confused. It's 2014. They are hosting the biggest event in the world. It's inexcusable."

Added Gunther: "It's very frustrating. I am really excited about the World Cup, but this visa process ruined my mood."

No visa needed

Not all visitors to Brazil require a visa, only ones from certain countries. Brazil does not require a visa from citizens from more than 100 countries, including Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, Russia, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. The United States requires a visa and a fee from Brazilian visitors, so Brazil requires the same of American tourists.

"I thought it would be easier," said Randy Jonda, who drove in from Orlando early Thursday morning and spent the day at the consulate. "It bothers me that there isn't a uniform policy for the visas. I have a friend in Boston who got his in 30 minutes, no trouble at all. He didn't need the certificate, just a receipt. Would have been easier for me to fly to Atlanta or Boston and get it there."

Other people in the waiting area confirmed that their friends in other cities had a much easier time getting visas. A message board on BigSoccer.com includes complaints from fans about the Miami visa process.

"The whole visa process has been overwhelming," said Taylor Engelman. "It has added more stress to an already stressful trip. But I hear it's beautiful there, so I guess it will be worth it."

(c)2014 The Miami Herald

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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