Marrying a Brazilian in Brazil – a step by step guide

Last year I married the man of my dreams. He happens to be Brazilian. I happen to be British. We had a registry office wedding in Brazil and then flew to the UK for our ‘real’ wedding. We have friends who have been through the Brazilian marrying a foreigner in Brazil stuff, so they helped us with bits and pieces, and we found some information on the internet after a lot of searching, but it would really have made a huge difference if we had been able to find all the important information in one place. So that’s what this blog post is; what I wish I knew about the process before we got married.

Let me start by mentioning that all these processes and requirements for documentation change from time to time, as well as costs, differences between offices and all the rest, but hopefully this will give a good overview of the process. I am sharing my experiences and some hints and tips that I wish I had been given at the time. This is not professional or legal advice!

Firstly, you’re getting married – congratulations! Although organising a wedding is a daunting prospect in itself, and the additional challenges of getting married in Brazil can seem overwhelming, the good news is that it is possible and, when you know what needs to be done and when, it can be much more straightforward and much less stressful that it first appears.

Registry office / Cartório

My husband and I had a civil wedding in a registry office (cartório) in Rio de Janeiro and then had our ‘proper’ (but not legally binding) wedding ceremony and reception in the UK. We chose to do it like this to avoid the challenge and cost of applying for a spouse’s visa for my husband and then having a combined civil and religious wedding in the UK. I don’t know how it works to have a combined religious and civil wedding in Brazil and there are likely to be other factors involved not covered here.

You and your fiancé/e need to go the registry office (cartório) where you plan to get married. One of you will need to provide proof of address to show your eligibility to marry in that office. It is worth checking whether your address falls within the area covered by that registry office before you go any further to avoid unnecessary expenses and time wasted.

Registering your signature / Abrir firma

You will both need to register your signature (abrir firma) in this registry office, even if you have previously done this elsewhere. To register your signature, you will need to provide your identity document. For the Brazilian, this will be the carteira de identidade with the RG number (Registro Geral / General Registry) and your CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas / Individual Taxpayer Registration Number). For the foreigner, this will be your passport, or your CIE (Cédula de Identidade de Estrangeiro / Identity Card for Foreigners), sometimes referred to as RNE (Registro Nacional de Estrangeiro / National Registry of Foreigners), which is your official Brazilian identity document, trumping your passport. The CIE ID card is issued when a temporary visa is registered, which in my case was a volunteer’s visa.

Sometimes the foreigner will also be asked for the number of their CPF. In one registry office I was not required to provide this, in another I was. To apply for a CPF number (Individual Taxpayer Registration Number), you will need proof of address (among other things).

You will then sign your name on a record card, which is then filed. The charge to register our signatures was R$29.39 per person.

Having your signature recognised / Reconhecer firma

I still find this confusing, but essentially if somebody contests that your signature is genuine at any point, then you can prove its authenticity by comparing it to the signature written on the record card in the registry office. It seems a bit illogical that you can do both of these things in the same visit to the registry office. This costs around R$14 per person. You will both need to have your signatures recognised before you are able to start the process.

Documentation

The registry office will issue you with a list of documents that you will need to provide in order to start the process. As with all Brazilian bureaucratic processes, it makes sense to check exactly what you need (this may vary from registry office to registry office). In fact, it is always worth asking questions and checking, even if the person you are dealing with gives you the impression that they hate their job and cannot wait to see the back of you. It is probably even more important to ask in these cases, which are unfortunately more common than you’d like, as by doing this you may well avoid unnecessary expenses.

I may err on the paranoid side of cautious but whenever I am issued with an official document, particularly if it is irreplaceable or extremely expensive to replace, I tend to make sure I have a scanned copy saved to my Google Drive. That way, if the document is lost in the post, Federal Police office or my bag is stolen while I am carrying it around with me, at least I can show the relevant person that I really did have a copy.

Required documents

Below is the list of documents we were required to provide in the registry office where we married. This can also be found in Portuguese on their website.

I will comment on these more fully below but leave them in list format for ease of reference later.

Brazilian:

  • Birth certificate updated in the last six months (original and copy)
  • Identity card (original and 2 copies)
  • CPF (original and 2 copies)
  • Proof of address (energy/gas/phone bill/bank statement) (original and copy) – We used a declaration from the Residents’ Association (Associação de Moradores) because my husband was living in a favela at the time

Non-Brazilian:

  • Important – If the foreigner does not speak Portuguese, a certified interpreter will need to be present, both to start the process and during the civil wedding itself.
  • Birth certificate and translation of birth certificate which have both been registered in the Registry of Deeds and Documents (Cartório de Títulos e Documentos)
  • Valid, in date passport, with valid visa, and translation of passport, which have both been registered in the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos
  • Declaration from Consulate with proof of marital status (ie free to marry)

Birth certificates

Brazilians have birth certificates which are kept up to date and include their marital status. This can sometimes lead to confusion where Brazilians may expect a foreigner to be able to prove their marital status by producing a current birth certificate. In the UK this information is not included (and nobody would expect it to be).

Passport / CIE (Identity Card for Foreigners)

If you have a CIE because you have a temporary visa of some sort (but not a tourist visa), then be sure to mention this.

The CIE was not included in the document list we were given as an alternative identity document to the passport and the member of staff dealing with us never asked me if I had one or mentioned that this was a valid alternative until after we had had my passport translated and registered with the Registry of Deeds and Documents (Cartório de Títulos e Documentos) at a cost of R$600. She later told me that I could have saved myself some money because the CIE is my official Brazilian identity document. In these sorts of situations it is good to avoid mentioning that the unnecessary cost and stress could have been avoided if the person had done their job properly in the first place. The moral of the story? Always check, no matter how trivial it seems.

You can brief your Brazilian fiancé/e to semi-apologise for you asking so many questions because you’re a foreigner and you aren’t used to the Brazilian system. If they are able to do this lightheartedly, you are likely to succeed in diffusing any irritation.

Declaration from Consulate with proof of marital status

The website for the British Consulate did not make it clear that they performed this service (it seemed very strongly to suggest that they absolutely do not) and we ended up going around in circles trying to find out how we could get this information, including emailing and phoning solicitors in the UK in case they could access the UK records office information about my marital status. We ended up phoning the British Consulate in Rio and they emailed me an editable Affirmation of Marital Status (Afirmação de Estado Civil) template. See here for a similar PDF version.

Remember, in Brazil speaking to someone on the phone is better than the trusting information on the internet, and speaking to someone in person is better than speaking to them on the phone.

The Affirmation of Marital Status template was in both English and Portuguese, which was handy as it saves on translation costs. If in doubt, check how to fill it in. I just printed my template and took it to my appointment at the Consulate where I filled it in by hand. Apparently I was expected to type rather than handwrite it, but some of it didn’t make sense to me, so, as always, ask! The witnessing of me signing the declaration by Consulate staff and the shiny red seal stamped on it set me back £50.

You may not need to pay for a declaration like this so check with staff in the registry office. A Dutch friend who married a Brazilian in Brazil was able to use a document she already had which was issued by her local government in the Netherlands (uittreksel bevolkingsregister (BRP)) because her marital status was stated on it. She was not required to translate this or her birth certificate because both included Portuguese on the documents themselves.

It is very often worth the extra trip to ask in the specific registry office you are dealing with when you bear in mind the potential stress and additional cost that you will avoid.

Do not expect registry office staff to be familiar with foreign documentation, even if it has some Portuguese on it. Explain what the document is, what authority issued it and why you believe you might be able to use it.

A note on translations

Translations of documentation for official purposes must be carried out by a certified translator (tradutor juramentado). You can find a list of certified translators in Rio de Janeiro here. Email around to get quotes from different translators (for an estimate on cost and timeframe), their rates can vary considerably. You will need to pick up the translation from the translator so it is sensible to choose a translator in an accessible location for you. You will need to send a scanned copy (PDF) of the document when you ask for the quote.

The translator may not be able to give an exact cost until the translation has been complete. This is perfectly normal and happens because translation costs are based on their length (measured in lauda (pages)). The translator may ask for payment by deposit into their bank account (make sure you get a receipt (comprovante de pagamento) and then email them the photo, or by cash or part payment when they start the translation and the second part when you collect it.

The translator can complete the translation from the scan, but you must take the original document with you when you collect it. This is because the translator must see the original, and also because they will need to stamp the original document and add the corresponding translation number to it.

For translations of passports, send a colour scan of the main page to the translator. When you collect the translation, take your original passport and a colour copy of the main page which they will stamp and add the translation number to. It is not permitted for the translator to stamp the passport itself.

Checklist for translations

This is really important. Always do this, no matter how rude or awkward it makes you feel!

  • Check the translation line by line against the original document
  • Check the spelling of important information like your name, your personal information, date of birth and so on
  • Check that nothing is missing
  • Check that the translation number has been added to the original document (or colour copy in the case of the passport)

I have learned the hard way about just how important this is. I have had four documents translated while I’ve been in Brazil and the three different translators made four mistakes between them (not putting the translation numbers on the originals, misspelling my surname and missing out the only line from my marriage certificate which had my married name on it). These are simple mistakes made by experienced professionals so do your own checks!

In the penultimate step in my application for a permanent visa on the grounds of marriage to a Brazilian citizen, I submitted all my documentation to the Federal Police and received a form that I need to use in the interim until my visa is processed. I checked the information before leaving the department and realised that they had written the wrong passport number on it. After all the time and effort getting that far I didn’t want any possibility of confusion later (or to run the risk of being blamed for an official mistake) so I took it back to the desk and they changed the document while I waited.

A note on visas

You must have a valid, in date visa. This means that you can get married in Brazil if you enter the country as a tourist, but the wedding must take place before the visa expires. Holders of passports from certain countries are not required to apply for a tourist visa before entering Brazil. You can find a list on The Ultimate Guide to the Brazilian Tourist Visa by Brazilian Gringo (an extremely helpful and thorough look at tourist visas), although this list is subject to change. In this case, you will likely receive a 90 day stamp on your arrival card when you pass through Immigration Control. The full 90 days may not be granted, as this is at the discretion of the Federal Police Agent dealing with you.

It is possible for nationals of certain countries to extend their stay as a tourist for a further 90 days. This is called prorrogação do visto and must be done in person at the local Federal Police Department. This must take place before the initial 90 days (or lesser number of days issued) is up, as you risk being asked to leave the country. It is also worth noting that you may be required to produce confirmation that you will be travelling around Brazil during the following 90 days (flights or bus tickets). A friend from the UK was asked for this information when she applied to extend her tourist visa in May 2016 and she was not granted a further 90 days because she could not provide this. However, this additional requirement may have been in place because of the Olympics.

Brazil does not permit the extension of tourist visas for nationals of some countries for reasons of reciprocity (ie visa limitations applied to Brazilian nationals by those countries). The Entrance Visas in Brazil document (December 2016 edition) issued by the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations has more information about which countries may or may not extend their tourist visas (Note the asterisk – * means Maximum stay of 90 days every 180 days). This information is subject to change, depending on the reciprocal agreements in place.

Important – as a tourist you may spend a maximum of 180 days (if granted) in Brazil during a 12 month period. It is essential to understand how the 12 month period is calculated. For more on the 180 days rule and for lots of excellent explanation of tourist visas, how they work and how to extend them, check the Brazilian Gringo page.

If you already know that you will only be granted up to 90 days and that this cannot be extended because of the reciprocal agreement in place, you might want to try and reduce the amount of time you’ll spend getting your initial documentation ready before you start the process (habilitação). You will have to wait for the 30-40 days to run in any case, but there may be some options for at least making a start on some of the documents so that you can hit the ground running once you arrive in Brazil.

You might want to ask for fiancé/e to speak to the registry office to ask all the questions before you arrive. This would be a good time to check whether you, as a foreigner, will need a CPF in order to register your signature and have it recognised. If having a CPF is not a registry office requirement for you, then this will save you a bit of time now and then register for one at your leisure once the process is underway. If you do require a CPF, bear in mind that, depending on the time of day you start and whether there are any national holidays coming up, you may (or may not) be able to pick this up on the same day as you start the process.

Your fiancé/e will not be able to start the process at the registry office without you present. However, s/he may be able to show the registry office staff printed copies of scans of your documentation to check whether they will be acceptable (once translated and registered). It would be a good idea to do this with any document you think might be accepted but is not on the list of required documentation. Examples might be showing staff an official government issued document proving that you are not married, like the Dutch uittreksel bevolkingsregister (BRP) or equivalent from your country.

You might also consider getting ahead with the translation of your birth certificate (unless registry office staff have confirmed that a translation is not required). As the original copy must be produced when the translation is collected, some options might be either emailing the scan to a certified translator in Brazil before you fly and collect it in person when you arrive, or you could post your birth certificate to your fiancé/e and ask them to have it translated and then register it at the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos. You would only be able to do this with your passport once you arrive in the country, but if you are in a hurry, I would imagine that if your fiancé/e has already managed to have a document translated and then register it, at least you will have the reassurance that you know how it all works.

Registering documents with the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos (Registry of Deeds and Documents)

The non-Brazilian needs to register their birth certificate and translation, and their passport and translation in the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos (Registry of Deeds and Documents) before you can start the process in the local registry office. You will need to take the original documents, the original translations and the colour copy of your main passport page to the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos. They will ask you for a further black and white photocopy of each. If you are in Rio, there is a copy/scan shop just across the road.

As far as I understand, the document and accompanying translation are treated as if they were one document, ie you are registering your birth certificate but you must provide a translation to go with it because it’s in another language.

Once you submit the documents, you will be issued with a print out of the bill to pay, which you pay at a different desk while your passport is being checked. Once you have paid the bill, (R$568.39 per document – ie R$1,136.78 in total for the registration of your birth certificate and passport), you hand back your receipt, collect your passport and will be instructed to return the following day to collect your documents.

Starting the process / Habilitação

Both you and your fiancé/e must be present to start the process. You also need to bring two witnesses with you, who can be relatives and must be over-eighteens. The two witnesses will need to register their signatures (registrar firma) and have them recognised (reconhecer firma) in the registry office so they will also need to bring their identity cards and CPFs with them. The registry office sent our witnesses to print out their CPFs with that day’s date on them.

Ask your witnesses to check that there are no errors on their identity cards or CPF information. If there are errors (and the registry office staff notice – in our case they thankfully didn’t notice that, according to his CPF, one of our witnesses was significantly younger than his identity card suggested), you may well have to wait until the errors in the paperwork are resolved, or ask someone else to be your witness.

Once you have started the process (starting is called habilitação), you will need to wait 30-40 days. Once you are notified that this period is up, you will be able to return to the registry office and arrange the date of the wedding, which must be carried out within 90 days.

When we started the process we were issued with a Certidão de Tramitação on 10th May. At that point we asked if we could book the date for the registry wedding for September 1st because we needed a fixed date so that we could book flights to the UK and arrange our wedding ceremony and celebration there. The member of staff dealing with us initially said that it wasn’t possible to book a date before the 30-40 day period had passed, but after we explained why, she pencilled us into the calendar.

Comunhão parcial de bens agreement / Partial sharing of goods agreement

When we started the process we were given a form to sign, in which we agreed to the partial sharing of goods. As far as I understand, there are four different types of agreements about the division of property and you are required by Brazilian law to sign one of these, but you have the right to choose which one you sign. Neither my husband or I recall being told by staff at the registry office that there was an alternative to the form put before us.

It would be worth your while to decide with your fiancé/e which sort of agreement you wish to sign before you start the process at the registry office. It will be easier to discuss the pros and cons of each agreement when you are not sat in front of someone who needs your signatures before they can proceed!

In very loose terms (I don’t have legal training but this is what I understand to be the case), signing the comunhão parcial de bens form means that you are agreeing that anything you owned before the wedding remains yours afterwards, whereas anything that you are given or acquire after the wedding belongs to both of you. This is apparently not the same as a prenuptial agreement.

Name changes

It is a good idea for you to discuss (early on) whether you plan for the fiancée to change her surname, particularly if she is the foreigner, as there are consequences that you may wish to take into consideration. Certainly make sure that you have discussed this before you start the process (habilitação) in the registry office, as you will need to inform them about whether you wish to change your name or not.

Factors to consider when thinking about name change

If you, the non-Brazilian fiancée, intend to apply for a permanent visa on the grounds of marriage to a Brazilian citizen at a later date, all the documentation you submit must be in your name as it is after your wedding. If you have taken on your husband’s name, you will need to submit all your documentation for the visa application in your married name.

You may be required by your own national government to immediately update your passport if you change your name, as in the UK, in which case you will need to apply to change your passport. For UK passports this can be done from overseas. You will need to send your original wedding certificate, a translation by a certified translator, proof of address or residency, and translation of your proof of address.

We were issued with two wedding certificates after we married. These are called long-form marriage certificate (Certidão de Casamento de Inteiro Teor), and normal marriage certificate (Certidão de Casamento Simplificada). The translator who translated our wedding certificate into English explained that you would normally only need to translate the long-form marriage certificate. Check that your married name is included on the translation! The UK passport office accepted the long-form marriage certificate and translation when I applied for a new passport in my married name.

When you apply for a permanent visa, you will once again need to translate the passport in your new name and register the new passport and new translation in the Cartório de Títulos e Documentos (Registry of Deeds and Documents), change your CPF (if you already have one) and so on.

The UK government allows you to change your passport into your married name up to three months before your wedding date (see here for more information), and your country may have a similar structure which might allow you to change your passport into your married name before your wedding, so this might be worth checking with the relevant passport office and the registry office where you plan to get married.

Passports and flights

Bear in mind that the name you book your flight in must be your name as written in your passport, so if you book return flights to your home country using the passport issued in your maiden name, you cannot then change the name on your passport while in your home country, as this would mean that the name on your passport would no longer match the name in which you booked your return flight.

The cost of our civil wedding in Brazil

  • Translation of UK passport – R$47
  • Translation of UK birth certificate – R$47
  • Registration of UK passport – R$533.28
  • Registration of UK birth certificate – R$533.28
  • Affirmation of marital status – £50
  • Registration of signatures – R$29.39 per person
  • Recognition of signatures – R14 per person
  • Updating Brazilian birth certificate – R$100
  • Proof of address – R$20
  • Photocopying and scanning costs – R60
  • Civil wedding – R$819.43
  • Total cost  – R$2442

Wedding day

The people who must attend the wedding are the bride and groom and the two witnesses. It is best to check early on how many other people would be allowed to come along too.

In the registry office where we got married, weddings are only held on Thursday mornings, so the timings are a free for all and couples are married on a first come, first served basis. We arrived at around 8:15am and were fifth in the queue, which by the 9am opening time was already stretching well along the street. Some of the wedding parties in front of us were still missing key people by the time the doors opened so we ended up being called in third.

I was taken aback by the uncharacteristic efficiency at this point as the whole registry office had been transformed into a production line. After signing documents and making various affirmations, we were called in front of the judge, who asked if we really did want to marry one another, and it was all over by 9:17am. We were issued with two marriage certificates; the normal one and the long-form version.

Hopefully this has made things more straightforward for you. It is perfectly possible that the process might be a bit different in different states, registry offices or that it is changed over time. But hopefully this will give you enough of an overview to get you both heading in the right direction!

Are you planning on getting married in Brazil? Or have you already celebrated your wedding here?

Please feel free to comment on any differences that you found or make any suggestions that you would have found helpful when you were in the thick of it!

This post was originally published on the 7th of February 2017 (our civil wedding took place in September 2016) and has been transferred from my previous blog (Brazil from the outside in hosted by Blogger) after some technical difficulties with the site.

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