On this blog I have talked a bit about Brazilian bureaucracy, mainly when it was about getting my “permanência”, the work permit or other official documents. My experiences with cartórios, the Federal Police or the Brazilian Embassy in Germany have been quite good so far. I can not complain. Service has been mostly friendly, often competent and sometimes fast. But Brazilians like to complain about their bureaucracy and after two years in Brazil I understand why. I witnessed how difficult it can be to register a car in the name of somebody else while finding proof that the leasing finance with the bank had successfully ended some months ago. The crazy part about many of these tasks: nobody seemed to know how to achieve them. There were as much different information as you asked people (something I know from Germany as well – just try to get your Danish marriage registered in Germany. But it is fascinating that in Brazil you can find professional help: the job of a so-called “despachante” is to get things done in the administration. These people know who to talk to, where to ask and which way to get things done fast. It seems crazy to me, but in Brazil this is a well established profession. Thankfully – my German side would say – something like this is not necessary in German bureaucracy, where everything is in order and well documented. But let’s make the test. I had the chance to experience German administration some weeks when visiting the German Consulate in São Paulo.

The German Consulate begs to differ

I had to visit the German Consulate to apply for a German birth certificate for my son. This seems like something that happens regularly, so I expected and found some well prepared information on the website of the German Embassy describing the whole (pretty complex) procedure and all the documents I needed. But after reading through the description for an hour or more I was confused. The description was vague in regard to two important questions. So I wrote an email to the Consulate and I was pleasantly surprised when I received a detailed and very friendly email back within just two days. As I was told the German Consulate had another interpretation of the law than administration in Germany – which is awesome because it would save me a significant amount of time and even more money, because I didn’t need to organize one more document. But: how confusing is it to have differing legal opinions about an issue as basic as a birth certificate? Your success depends on who you talk to. This experience I have also made in Brazil quite frequently. So when it comes to clarity of the procedure it’s a draw: Germany – Brazil: 1-1

German vs. Brazilian costs

With a list of documents I needed to provide – including translations from a sworn translator who was luckily a lot cheaper in Brazil than in Germany and many (MANY!) additional documents from me, my wife and my son – I had to think about making copies. Documents have to be provided as originals (from which notarized copies would be made for 15 Euros a piece at the German Consulate) or as notarized copies made in a cartório. An additional set of simple copies also had to be included.

15 Euros per notarized copy is about 60 Reais at the moment. This is for ONE notarized copy at the German Consulate. I needed about 15. At the consulate this would add up to almost 1000 Reais! Crazy. But the Consulate accepted notarized copies, so I went to the nearest cartório where I was lucky and did not have to wait for more than 2 minutes. I paid 55 Reais for ALL 15 copies. When it comes to costs, Brazil clearly wins (which is not really a surprise). Germany – Brazil: 1-2

There are rules!

At the consulate I was handed out another sheet of information that explained in detail how I had to sort the documents before handing them in. Originals first, then notarized copies, after which the simple copies had to follow. They even gave the order of the documents and I spend the first 10 minutes at the Consulate sorting documents, putting them in order before I could finally hand them in. This would not happen in Brazil, where you don’t sort. You let someone else do the sorting. Germany – Brazil: 1-3

Waiting in style – Brazil vs. Germany

The waiting-room at the Consulate felt incredibly German. The temperature was perfect – not freezing cold or crazily hot – and the TV on the wall was playing Deutsche Welle with the sound turned so low that people in the room only dared to whisper. Silence – a rare pleasure in Brazil. It was almost relaxing, and the waiting did not even take long. The only thing I was embarrassed of was a poster in the corner from the German Chamber of Commerce praising the job training in Germany with the words “Wir machen Weltmeister” (we make world champions). That´s a bit tasteless in Brazil. But in contrast to the often packed, crazily warm (or cold) and uncomfortable cartórios it was a clear win for Germany.
Germany – Brazil: 2-3

The good feeling of competence

Talking to the Consulate representative was a pleasure. He was friendly (lucky me because the Brazilian woman next to me was treated rather poorly) but most of all, he emitted this aura of competence that makes you calm and feel in good hands. He knew what he was doing, he could answer all my questions and even anticipated them. It felt more like a small-talk than the application for an official document. I am sure the process will run exactly the way he explained it to me. Oh I wish it would always be like this: Germany-Brazil: 3-3

“Das dicke Ende kommt zum Schluss”

This German saying translates literally to “the thick ending comes at the final” and it means that the worst always happens in the end. For me it was the question of how long the whole process would take. Remember: I was making fun of the application for a permanência in Brazil which took over a year. At the end of our conversation in the embassy the friendly and competent Consulate employee informed me, that the whole process would take anything between a couple of months and up to 3 years. Three years?? He explained, that all applications from around the world are being sent to a central registry office in Berlin, which handles all births, deaths and marriages of Germans outside of Germany. And at the moment there is a backlog of 12.000 applications in Berlin, he said, only for registering the births. This can only mean two things: either many (many!) more Germans are being born outside of Germany than expected, or the German administration is maybe not quite as structured and efficient as I would’ve liked to believe. 3 years for a birth certificate vs. 13 months for a permanência. Maybe the German and the Brazilian bureaucracy are not so different after all. An so the competition ends in a tie: Germany – Brazil: 4-4. Sorry about that. We have to look at a different field.

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