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One of Brazil’s Visa Requirements Could Get You Kidnapped, Consumer Group Says

This post, originally published December 26, 2023, has been updated with new information.

As Frommer’s has previously reported, Brazil’s electronic visa for travelers from the United States, Canada, and Australia is set to return in 2024. 

Previously expected to launch in October 2023 and later postponed to January 2024, the current target date for the visa’s reinstatement is April 10. 

After dropping the visa in 2019, Brazil’s government decided earlier this year to reinstate the requirement for those countries, mostly because Brazilian tourists have to obtain visas to enter the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and officials in the South American nation figured fair is fair. 

To apply for the visa, which remains valid for 10 years for U.S. citizens (or 5 years for Canadians and Australians), would-be tourists will have to go to the official online portal and pay a fee of US$80.90 per person after supplying several key pieces of information.

Much of that documentation includes what you’d expect, such as passport details and a flight confirmation. 

But one of the visa’s application requirements has prompted an alert from a Washington, D.C.–based consumer protection organization focused on travel.

The requirement in question: a “printed bank statement showing transactions for the last 30 days and showing balance of US$2,000.00.”

In a warning released online, Ned Levi, a columnist for the consumer advocacy group Travelers United, describes the bank statement requirement as “seriously problematic for U.S. citizens wishing to go to Brazil.”

Levi argues that providing that sort of financial info to obtain Brazil’s e-visa could result in identity theft and even, in the worst-case scenario, kidnapping. 

Bank statements on their own don’t provide enough information to steal someone’s identity, Levi writes, but those documents can certainly give a good head start, providing scammers with the account holder’s full name, address, account number, record of recent transactions, and other details. 

“All it would take is the criminal action of one clerk,” Levi warns.

Far worse than having your identity stolen or getting your bank account wiped out, though, would be falling prey to kidnapping—a crime more prevalent in Brazil than anywhere else in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the German data platform Statista

In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, Brazil was hands down the leader in kidnapping cases, with 4,390. That’s more than the total racked up by the next 10 countries on the list combined

How could providing a bank statement for a tourist e-visa result in getting kidnapped? 

Per Travelers United, “a clerk in the Brazilian government with access to the bank data could easily classify each tourist … as being wealthy or not and identify top candidates for kidnapping to collect a ransom after their arrival in Brazil.”

Such a scheme may not be as far-fetched as you’d think. We already know from a 2022 study that the vast majority of kidnappings in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo (whose Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge, aka Ponte Estaiada, is pictured above) arise from fake profiles on dating apps. 

“With that level of sophistication already in use to lure people into being kidnapped,” Levi writes, “it’s not a leap to assume that a kidnapping group would try to recruit a government clerk with access to e-visa information, leading them to be able to ID wealthy tourists for ransom.”

To be fair to Brazil, it’s not the only country that requires tourism visa applicants to provide financial info. Notably, the United States itself asks many would-be visitors to prove an “ability to pay all costs of the trip.” (What’s more, the U.S. makes Brazilian tourists pay a fee of $185, while the cost of Brazil’s e-visa will be significantly cheaper at $80.90). 

Still, Levi of Travelers United concludes that Brazil’s bank statement requirement makes visiting the country too risky for U.S. citizens. 

“If I absolutely, positively had to go there,” he writes, “I’d use a statement from a bank account that had moderate total activity at best, with a balance under $5,000 to hide my actual wealth. I’d ensure that my statement had the most minimal identity information on it possible. I’d likely close the account after I had my e-visa approved.”

Otherwise, you might want to skip that trip to Rio de Janeiro for now, the consumer advocate advises, reasoning that the threats of identity theft and kidnapping carry too high a toll.