Visas and Liminal Spaces

Trip Start Aug 19, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This entry might not be of much interest to everyone.  I just told myself that I would do a post like this because I myself had a hard time finding information of this sort online. So for someone who Google searches something like "Getting a Brazilian Visa in Chuy Uruguay", I hope this is helpful for you because when I tried this same search I found very little help.

For those of you who are thoroughly confused right now: I am talking specifically about the process that a U.S. passport holder has to go through in order to obtain a Brazilian visa in Chuy, Uruguay (when you are trying to cross the border from Uruguay to Brazil).  The information here is not for those travelers among you who are more organized than I am (i.e., those of you who got a Brazilian visa before you left 'Merrica or, even better, those who got a Brazilian visa while you were in Montevideo and are taking the overnight bus from Montevideo to Porto Alegre in which they handle all of your exit and entry stamps for you).  This guide is for the clueless wanderers like myself who decided to spend some worthwhile time in the eastern coast of Uruguay and didn't exactly know when it is that you would cross over to the Land of Samba.

The answer to your first questions is YES. Yes, you, Mr/Ms U.S. passport holder, can indeed obtain a Brazilian visa in Chuy.  Believe it or not, I did not find one place anywhere on the Internets where it says this.  I am saying it here and now because I just did it myself on October 26, 2010 (as did 3 other 'Merricans and 1 Australian).

Now, on to the specific details.

Things you should know:

1) The place to get an exit stamp for Uruguay is at booth on the side of the highway about a mile before you actually get into Chuy (it looks like a tollbooth).  Those people who already have Brazilian visas - smart, organized bastards - just need to ask their bus driver to stop for a minute (they'll wait for you) at the "Aduana" to get the exit stamp (Tip: when you get your exit stamp, the immigration dude will ask you for some papers that you got when you entered the country - for me, it was my ferry ticket from BsAs to Colonia that had an immigration stamp showing the date I entered the country - you should have this ready when you get to the Aduana).  However, if you're like me and you don't already have a visa, you will likely have to walk  (or take a taxi) back to the Aduana when your visa is ready.  So, if you don't have a Brazilian visa yet when head up to Chuy, then there's really no need to stop at the Aduana on the way in.

2) The Brazilian Consulate is a small (but nice) building that's a bit hard to find.  If you've taken a Rutas del Sol bus to from one of the east coast beach towns to Chuy, here are the directions: when you get off the bus (facing the bus ticket office) take a left and walk half a block up to the main street of the town - which incidentally is also the official border between Uruguay and Brazil.  When you get to the main road, take a right. Walk down for 5 blocks - until you reach the first duty free store that has a parking lot.  When you get to that fifth corner, make another right and walk until you see a pink building with a big Brazilian flag in front - it will be on your left.  I give these directions because there aren't very many signs indicating street names.  (Tip: if you don't want to carry around your bag all day while you do all of this running around, the Rutas del Sol office will hold your bag only for 10 Uruguayan Pesos - just make sure that you check the time when they close.)  

3) The Brazilian Consulate only sees people between 9am and 1pm.  So if you want to get your visa on the same day you arrive, you'll have to get there before 1pm.  This was a problem for me because the morning busses to Chuy from Punta del Diablo were either 5am, 8am or noon - I took the noon bus and by the time I got to Chuy, the folks at the Brazilian Consulate said I had to come back the next day.  So that meant that I had to stay one night in Chuy (this presumably is not at all like one night in Bangkok).

4) Getting the visa itself is painless - it just takes a while, so relax and don't expect to get your little sticker in an hour.  You fill out the application at a computer station, then they take your passport, and then they take your picture.  The folks at the consulate are pretty awesome. They'll give you coffee and let you hang out there while you wait. They may even tell you to go out and do some duty-free shopping only to come back later to get your freshly-visa-stickered passport. (Tip: Make sure you have enough Uruguayan Pesos when you get there because (a) the Brazilian Consulate only accepts payment for the ~UYP3,350 fee in pesos and (b) there are only 2 "international ATMs" in town that give UYP and they don't always work.) 

5) Once you get your visa, it is at this time when you have to backtrack to the Aduana to get your exit stamp from Uruguay. Right? Well, before you backtrack to the Aduana, you should probably should do a couple of other things first: 

5a) Get some Brazilian Reals. At this point, you should have already used up all of your Uruguayan Pesos because they will be of little use to you once you leave Chuy.  Conveniently, on the same street as the Brazilian Consulate, but on the Brazilian side, there is a Bandesco , where there are ATMs that will magically give you Brazilian Reals (from the Brazilian Consulate, head back towards the main street - the Bandesco will be just on the other side).  You should probably do this right after you get your visa.

5b) You should buy your bus ticket to wherever it is you are going to in Brazil.  The most common ticket out of Chuy is to Porto Alegre (from there, you can pretty much connect with other busses for everywhere else in Brazil).  Chances are that your visa won't be ready until the afternoon.  There are two daily busses to Porto Alegre from Chuy: one leaves around noon and the other leaves at 11pm.  You are probably going to take the 11pm bus.  You might want to buy this ticket before you get your exit stamp because it will make the process easier when you can show the Uruguayan immigration dude that you have a ticket out.  And when you buy your ticket, you should use your newly-gotten Brazilian Reals.  The bus company will accept Uruguayan Pesos, but the exchange rate is usually rough estimate and I think you get a better deal if you use Reals.  To get to the bus station (or rodoviaria) from the Bandesco, walk three blocks back towards the center of town on the main road. On the third corner, make a right turn.  Walk two blocks and the rodoviaria will be on your right.

7) OK, with your cool visa stickered onto your passport and your bus ticket in your back pocket, now is the time to backtrack to the Aduana for your Uruguayan exit stamp.  Since you are on the 11pm bus to Porto Alegre, you have plenty of time to do this.  The walk back to the Aduana really not as bad as some others make it out to be. It's really not that far.

8) So even after spending most of the day on this crazy multi-step process, you will probably still find yourself with many hours before your bus leaves for Porto Alegre.  Chuy is a dingy little city, but I don't think it's that scary.  Just find yourself a nice cafe to sit in for a while or do a little duty free shopping in the meantime. The rodoviaria looks a little sketch, but I found everyone in Chuy/Chui to be very nice people and I don't think anyone in that town is out to get you.  One of the benefits of 'getting stuck' in Chuy for a night is that the hostel I stayed in let me hang out there all day until the 11pm bus left.

9) But wait. What about the entry stamp into Brazil? Well, don't worry about it (BTW: you only get the visa at the Brazilian Consulate, you don't get an entry stamp there).  The Brazilian immigration office, where you get your entry stamp, is located about a mile or two north of Chui.  All of the busses leaving Chui for points north will stop at the Brazilian immigration office so you will be able to get your entry stamp with few problems.  You should tell your bus driver to stop there anyway - just in case.

So that's it.  It's definitely not the most straightforward border crossing (i.e., it was nothing at all like crossing from Argentina to Uruguay on the BsAs-Colonia ferry - see one of the earlier entries on this) but it's also not that painful.  It just involves more steps than normal.

I personally liked that I got 'stuck' in Chuy for a day.  All I heard about Chuy before I got there was that it was a horrible town and there's nothing worthwhile to see there.  And I suppose there's some truth in that.  But I did find the town itself very interesting for several reasons.

First, the official border between Uruguay and Brazil is the main road that bisects the town. There's that whole cool factor about being in two countries at the same time (try doing that along the US/Mexican border - especially if you're brown like me). Standing in the middle of the main road is kind of like a Four Corners moment.

Second, since the town straddles both countries, many duty free shops have located themselves there.  Even though the town is a little run-down, the shops carry most of the same things you would see at the nicest duty free shops in airports all over the world.  But even better than that, some of the shops even carry normal, everyday stuff.  If you're traveling for the long-haul and you (a) find yourself low on personal care products; and (b) find that the novelty of trying werid "foreign" stuff has worn off and all you want is crap you normally get at CVS or Walgreens, then Chuy is an excellent stop. Some of the shops look like duty free versions of CVS.  I found a bit of comfort in seeing/buying stuff that was 'just like back home' - I know, totally lame, right? It's like I've killed a bit of the traveling spirit when I said that.  But honestly, seeing all those 'Merrican products on the shelves made me feel like I was taking a big lo' bite of apple pie.  Either way, Chuy/Chui is a good stop for restocking toothpaste and other stuff because it's all tax free.

Third, and probably the most interesting thing I found in Chuy, is just the feel town itself and the attitude of its people.  Even though the border itself is in the center of town, the immigration offices of both countries are located a mile or more from the center of town (in opposite directions).  While you are in town, you can pretty much cross the border (i.e., the street) as much as you like without showing any passports or any sort of ID. Uruguay doesn't even have a "Welcome" road sign until you leave the city limits of Chuy.  The 2+ miles in between the two immigration posts make up this kind of interesting liminal space that truly is a mix of the two countries.  Most people in Chuy speak Portuguese in addition to Spanish, and the same goes for residents of Chui (which is what the Brazilian side is called).  Most of the shops in Chuy will accept both Uruguayan and Brazilian money, and many of the stores show you prices in both currencies.  And, as nationalistic as both countries are (partly because Uruguay was once a Brazilian territory), none of the residents assert themselves as particularly Uruguayan or Brazilian - they're just residents of Chuy. The people of Chuy welcome travelers wholeheartedly; I'm not entirely convinced that it's solely because their entire economy is based on people traveling through the town to cross the border or traveling to the town in order to take advantage of its duty free shops - I truly think that the folks living there are just warm and friendly people.

So that's my one-day adventure in Chuy. Probably wouldn't go back, but as much crap as I heard about it before I got there, I actually enjoyed the time I spent in the town. But then again, I am the sort of (lame) person that would think that the most interesting thing about the town is its sociology.


Reading list:  my Rough Guide to South America (Brazil chapter).  Before I got to Chuy, I (shamefully) knew nothing about Brazil, so I read what was in my Rough Guide.  It's sad to think that the only thing I did know about Brazil when I finally did cross the border was whatever was contained in the 2 pages of introduction to the Brazil section of my guidebook.  Anyway, it was good for me to pick up the guidebook since I haven't really used it until now and I've been carrying all 2 pounds of it in my bag this whole time.

Playlist: Interpol, but only the first two albums and a couple of songs from the third one (click here - can you believe PDA is like 10 years old? It still sounds so modern and next, especially the last minute and a half).  I lamented their fourth album released a few months back.  But I don't care, Interpol (between 2002 and 2007) is still my favorite band of all time.  I don't know how to feel about the band since Carlos D's departure earlier this year (I've said it before and I'll say it again - if I could magically trade persons with anyone else, it would only be with Carlos D), but it's so hard for me not to like them.

Until next time.
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