For some travelers, visiting Brazil was made a little easier in June, when a decree signed by President Jair Bolsonaro went into effect, eliminating visa requirements for citizens from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.
Residents of those four countries can now enter Brazil with only a valid passport for stays up to 90 days. Trips can be extended another 90 days as long as the total visit doesn’t exceed 180 days within a year, with days counted from the first date of entry into Brazil.
The measure was a bid by Mr. Bolsonaro, whose conservative presidency has been riddled with protests and a low popularity rating, to fuel economic progress by attracting more visitors and to build a stronger strategic alliance with the United States. For travelers, the decree comes as crime in Brazil is decreasing, compared to last year, and Zika cases are dwindling.
Initially the decision faced opposition there by members of Congress who argued the principle of reciprocity should prevail, meaning that Brazilians — who are still required to have visas ($160)— should be afforded the same benefits when traveling to the United States.
“This new government has adopted a more pragmatic approach to tourist visas, understanding that clearly the migratory flow of Americans wanting to live in Brazil is much lower than the opposite,” said Martin Frakenberg, president of the Brazilian Luxury Travel Association and founder of the travel company Matuete. “Minimizing this unnecessary visa bureaucracy greatly boosts Brazil’s chances for tourism gains.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers in the United States introduced a bill to expand visa-free travel for nine countries, including Brazil.
Brazil’s visa waiver is part of a series of initiatives instituted by the Brazilian federal government based upon research conducted by the World Tourism Organization and the World Travel & Tourism Council, which concluded that visa facilitation policies increased arrivals between 5 percent and 25 percent each year.
During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil experimented with a free 90-day visa for 100,000 visitors. For the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the government temporarily waived visas for travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, which boosted inbound tourism from those countries by 16 percent.
“If we consider that the average cost of the visa per person at the time was $160, we can estimate that Brazil would have lost $19 million. On the other hand, these visitors spent nearly $170 million in the local economy,” said Marcelo Álvaro Antônio, Brazil’s tourism minister.
These early trials led to the implementation of an e-visa program in 2018 for those same countries, which resulted in a 35 percent increase in visa applications and an estimated economic impact of $1 billion from the additional visa recipients over the past year, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.
The government projects the new legislation will increase its tourism revenue from $6 billion to $19 billion by 2022 and help grow the number of international arrivals from 6 million to a goal of 12 million in the same time frame.
“The visa waiver and other measures designed to increase competition in the airline sector are part of a larger plan to open up Brazil to more tourists and investors with the aim of strengthening our travel industry as an important driver of economic development,” said Mr. Antônio.
Recently, restrictions were lifted on foreign airline ownership. Low-cost airlines Norwegian Air and Sky Airline are now flying to Brazil; Flybondi is coming soon. Air Europa of Spain also received permission to open a subsidiary in Brazil and operate domestic flights. In 2020, Virgin Atlantic will begin operating a daily flight from London to São Paulo; its first-ever route to South America.
“A lot of the hotels in the luxury segment are located in remote areas of the country that wouldn’t normally see this kind of economic activity,” said Mr. Frakenberg.
He also projects that last-minute travel, short holiday breaks and extension tourism, where travelers combine Brazil with visits to other countries, will increase as a result of the visa waiver.
Visa-free tourists had already begun arriving to attend the 2019 Copa América soccer tournament, which ends this month. Music fans heading to the Rock in Rio music festival this fall will also benefit, as will the revelers looking to experience Brazil’s famous New Year’s Eve festivities and Carnival parade in February.
Besides these draws, Mr. Antônio said, Brazil has a temperate climate, an abundance of natural resources and incredible cities and beaches. “It’s time for the world to get to know us better.”