As you would expect, the process of actually buying the car in Brazil is somewhat complicated! Before starting the trip we investigated what would be needed and still we had the need to sort some last minute difficulties while in Rio and later in Florianopolis.
The documents and official process
Besides the obvious need for a valid Passport, you need the CPF (“Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas” or Individual Taxpayer Registry), a proof of address or someone that has one and can help you.
We started by getting the CPF in the Brazilian Embassy in Dublin where we were leaving before the trip. It required the filling of an on-line form (here) that we printed and brought to the embassy, a Proof of address and the Passport. With the form correctly filled in, the CPF was issued immediately.
Then, after we performed the payment of the car to the dealership (see below), we found out that having a CPF with a valid address was insufficient and you would need to provide an address in Brazil where the documentation and/or any fines can be directed. This requires having a bill or other document in your name with the address you provide. Since we did not have this, we had to have someone that would go to the notary with us and say that we were living in the address we provided. In our case, we were fortunate to have Ricardo (a cousin living in Florianopolis) that was available to do this. The only problem was that we would need to do the registry process in Florianopolis which meant that we had to drive the car from Rio de Janeiro to Florianopolis (with a detour to Iguaçu Falls) within 30 days from purchase. In that time we only had the former proof of ownership and the contract signed with the dealership as a proof that we did not steal the car.
When we got to Florianopolis, our cousin advised us to get a forwarding agent (“Despachante”) to take care of the process in DETRAN (the official agency to register the car). He took care of the entire process in one day, took our car to the mandatory official review (done in every car registration) and changed the plates to indicate the Florianopolis registration. All this costed us only 500 Reais. The only thing the forwarding agent asked from us was to go to the notary to get the proof of address (as explained before).
Making the payment
Making a large payment to buy a car in Brazil was also a step in the process. This is a part we could have done in a better and easier way if before the trip we had known (or anticipated) that the dealership did not accept a credit card payment.
Since we did not have a Brazilian bank account and the dealership did not accept cash or credit card payments, we had to find an intermediary to make a payment. For that we used Munditransfers (an international payments provider based in Portugal that specializes in payments to and from Brazil). We chose this one because we did not have an account in other international payment services (i.e. Western Union); it was recommended in on-line review sites; they provided a simple/no fee service with guaranteed exchange rate; and we easily got in phone contact with them from Brazil using Skype. The only requirement was to get a person to physically go to their office and make the payment using a regular debit card.
The final step to be able to drive in Brazil (besides the usual international driver’s license) was to get insurance. As a foreigner, in order to do this (as well as in other Mercosul countries) you are required to have basic insurance called “Carta Verde” (literally “Green letter”). However, since it was our first experience driving in South America, the car was just bought and the way people drive in Rio de Janeiro, we thought it would be a good idea to have full coverage. This full coverage is very extensive but the things we specifically wanted to have guaranteed were accidents, theft and natural occurrences.
Since we bought the car at an official dealership, we were able to contract with the help of one of the local insurance agents’ on-site. As we were told by André (our very friendly insurance agent), car insurance in Brazil is required to be contracted for one full year. However, André quickly pointed out a cheaper workaround: We could agree payment in 10 instalments (which increases the yearly cost by around 10%) and only pay the first instalment in cash. Then, by not paying the following instalments, the insurance would automatically cancel. This would fit us perfectly since we planned only one month in Brazil and in remaining countries this insurance would not apply.
Although the contracting process does not differ very much from insurance in Europe, it was much slower (not unlike other things in Brazil)… We had to have 4 (four!) different quotes on-site due to issuance problems, namely typos, incomplete information and wrong nationality.
In the end we paid 350 Reais for this insurance and felt that it was a good deal for us.
As for the Green letter, we decided to only get it near the border since the local agent in Rio did not seem to be very knowledgeable about it. In Pelotas we found a local agent that got us a one year long insurance that covers Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay for 435 Reais. As he explained with this deal we got a better price than we would get for 6 months in a normal Green letter process. The only problem was we had to pay cash...
And this is how we did it! We have now crossed 2 borders (Uruguay and Argentina) and have had no problems with being a Portuguese couple driving a Brazilian car in Uruguay or Argentina. Hope this story helps if you are thinking about doing something similar!