I am writing this article for “gringos” (foreigners) who are seriously interested to buy a motorbike in Brazil with the intention to travel South America. Two songs are popping up into my mind when thinking back about my experience: “Think Twice” from Celine Dion and even more… “Welcome to the Jungle” from Guns n Roses.
How to buy a motorcycle in Brazil?
No doubt Brazil is an amazing country whose people are making the whole difference. I have barely seen such a joy and passion in life, for their Feijoada (typical Saturday afternoon lunch), Caipirinhas (not like the ones you get in Europe with crushed eyes, lol), football (this is not a sport but true passion and regular fireworks during the week remind me of New Year in some parts of Europe) and of course… samba (put your dancing shoes on). These are the bright sides tourists usually appreciate when doing their vacations in Brazil.
Now, let me tell you a bit about the dark sides… Facing the bureaucracy in this beautiful country (which can be suddenly showing its ugly face) and getting anything administrative done 😀 I was taking on the challenge to purchase a motorbike in Sao Paulo, the “New York” and “business capital” of Brazil. You might ask yourself “why especially” Brazil? Well, my partner wanted to meet me again in Brazil in a couple of months time and I had very good friends living in Sao Paulo. And well… I always felt attracted by the Brazilian stereotypes described above 😀
First things first: Get a CPF
Apparently, there were only a few blog entries available describing poorly the process of purchasing a motorbike in South America. One of them pretty much stressed out quite clearly to “never try it”. Of course, I found this article only after I purchased my flight tickets, haha. I should have been also aware of the pretty high import or luxury taxes, the Brazilian state is asking for goods which are imported (makes it pretty much expensive).
Great, What a start! But well, I am someone who does not give up so easily and I wanted to embrace the challenge to still make it happen. My plan B would be to fly into another country and follow up my plan there instead. I set myself 3 to 4 weeks to get things done (I already extended my deadline from 2 weeks after my friends in Sao Paulo just laughed).
Apparently, If someone wants to purchase any goods in Brazil there is a need for a so called CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas) which is nothing else but a tax payer registry identification. Basically you buy something and you indicate this number, and voila… you just opened heaven’s purchase gate (in theory at least, I will get back regarding this point later on).
However, I researched online how to get a cpf and apparently opinions can differ significantly. Some people said you should be going to a post office or alternatively to a bank and then eventually afterwards to the receita federal, the Brazilian Federal Revenue Office.
Others were telling something completely different and simply stressed out to hire a fixer, a so called “Despachante”. Despachante? What the hell is that?, I thought. Obviously, there is a job existing in Brazil which serves entirely the purpose of getting administrative jobs done. Basically, you don’t need to go to the authorities yourself anymore but send your agent, the despachante.
This seemed to be a good alternative to me, especially after I also read horror stories of queuing for many hours in the office. I could not sleep at first and my stomach started to strike. It seemed to be a never ending story. I contacted two agencies in Sao Paulo but I should never receive a reply.
Obviously, using a German email address is not the best idea and people get scared off when receiving English text messages. Same appears to be true for foreign whats up numbers which I should find out later on. However, my nightmare came true and I had to face the reality myself: diving into the bureaucratic jungle of Brazil.
A) Go to a post office, a so called “Correios”
Of course the post offices would not manage any CPF enquiries during the weekends while I had to come back during the next week – As German I already revised my project management plan and had my motorbike 3 days later – of course :D. Be aware that also not every post office is dealing with CPF enquiries and only some main ones do the job – I had to find out the hard way 😀
Apparently, there is a website available where an online form (click here) can be “simply” filled out (even in English!!!!) which needs to be printed out afterwards and brought to the post office. Surprise, surprise… the website did not work for my entire stay in Sao Paulo and I had to go to the post office without a filled out form.
My friends already warned me that without Portuguese I would be lost. I could not believe it, but… yes… they were right. No one could speak a single word English. And my Portuguese would be only sufficient for ordering a “Cerveza” or to say politely “Obrigado”, both of which has no place in a Correios.
I started to fill out the form together with an employee from the post office and all of a sudden I realised that also Brazilians can be quite unfriendly in public institutions. Talking about globalisation, lol. I managed to answer some of her questions since I was able to see some of them already online in advance (e.g., indicating the name of your mother or father are very common in order to fill out official documents).
You also need to have your passport available btw. I was doing not too bad and saw myself already crossing the finish line… almost… she suddenly asked me a question which I did not understand at all. My face expression and my tries to tell her I would not understand resulted in the same expression on her face.
Well, she did not react at all but constantly repeated her message which I did not understand – without any expression on her face. Lucky me… next to me was an English foreigner in the queue who translated her Portuguese: “This makes 7 Reais 50”. Hahahaha… Cmon! She could have used her hands or even shown me some cash in order for me to understand. However, I was glad this was the last piece of the puzzle. I payed the price and received a piece of paper in return.
B) Go to the Receita Federal, the Brazilian Federal Revenue Office
Be aware that also here not every receita federal is responsible for handing out cpf’s.
I would politely try to ask the friendly post office employees for the next best place, just say “Receita Federal?????” and hopefully she will be able to write down the address 😀
Pumped up by adrenaline and super excited that I overcame the first hurdle, I went straight to the next Receita Federal (of course by then I did not know that not every Receita Federal would be responsible for that, lol. So I had the pleasure to also see two different Receita Federals in Sao Paulo.
When arriving at the second Receita, a looooooooooooong queue was awaiting me. Haha… merda!!!!!! I was not bothered to queue up again for hours and told myself: one adventure a day is enough. Next day I changed my strategy and went there during lunch time (this is what I used to do back home in my swimming pool of choice when people preferred to eat instead to exercise).
BINGO! Only a few people queued up and was nothing compared to the day before. I told the amazingly friendly employees (again – my hypothesis just got confirmed) that I would need a CPF and received in return another piece of paper. It showed a number and a time I should return.
Just another hour of waiting… I asked myself how long I would have needed to wait the day before. Anyways… after returning one hour later I went into the office where another friendly employee asked me for the receipt and my passport. He typed something into his computer, showed me a print out with my name on it which I should proof read. Thereafter, he sent me with the documents across the office to the next employee. She typed again something on her computer and handed me out the holy grail… the CPF… basically a normal DIN A4 print out.
C) Get the print out “plastificado”
Basically, a guy will cut out your cpf card and plastifies it. Either directly next to the receita federal or in any other “copy shop”. Here we go…
D) Celebrate your success
(as long as it lasts) and drink a Caipirinha.
The CPF is after all not too difficult to organise. Embrace your fear and just do it… without despachante.
Finding and purchasing a motorbike
After I sorted out my CPF in 4 days including the weekend, I was absolutely euphoric… nobody could stop me now!!!!! My victory against the famous Brazilian Bureaucracy was so close… NOT!
Well, the next challenge I had to face was to either buy a motorbike from a private person or from a motorbike dealer. I was looking first for seminovos, used motorbikes. Surely, there would be something on the market and especially BMW of the GS range were super popular in Sao Paulo. I saw already 2 motorbikes at two different professional dealers which were raising my interest. After visiting them on Wednesday, I came in both cases too late and they were already sold. Damn it…
Sales person are in contrast to employees from official institutes a “bit more friendly” and surprisingly do speak English pretty well. My “amigo” from the second motorbike store recommended to see another dealer which would be very close by and they might have also used bikes available.
The third store I was visiting the same day had a BMW 650 GS in the back of the store which was currently brought back to life after standing for 2 years in the garage. Furthermore, it only had 2’500 km on the clock and was looking brand new… 19’500 Reais.
WOW! I could not believe my luck and told him to reserve the bike until it is ready for a test ride and was seeing myself already after a bit more than a week on the road. Well, again I was wrong. The following week, the sales guy called me only to let me know that they are struggling with the documents of the previous owner.
It needed to be changed on the name of the bike dealer and apparently it would take unforeseeable time since the owner diseased from a heart attack and things would be messy. Bad omen…
Any other motorbike on the market at this point of time had either too many km on the clock or was brand new. After a while I got desperate and started to look also for used bikes from a private person. I even test drived one and was pretty much close to buy it until suddenly I found again an almost brand new BMW 650 GS with AGAIN only 2’500 km on the clock.
It had everything… even the support for the luggage and crash bars. I immediately called the guy who was surprisingly speaking the finest English. Learning from my past mistake I was starting to be more careful this time and asked already in advance for the process regarding the transfer of the documents.
“No problemo, amigo!!!!!” You just need your CPF, the driving license, the passport and a proof of address… and the money of course. Hmmm… “perfect” I thought, I can check them all. After a look at the bike and a test ride I negotiated the price and came a step closer to my dream. I was the owner of a very well equipped BMW and could start buying my equipment.
Two weeks already passed since my arrival in Brazil and another weekend was in between myself and the bike. I received a call on the following Monday from the dealer telling me to send him my RNE.
“RNE? What The F?!* is that? Never heard of…” It is the registration number for foreigners, living in Brazil. GREAT! Not only would it take weeks to get such a number but it would be impossible since I was only a tourist and not a resident.
He was suggesting to let despachantes deal with the situation and apparently rules might be different depending on the person you are dealing with, and also in which kind of district the documents would be transferred. I was talking to several despachantes only to learn that they would a) not even response and b) not able to help me with this request.
It seemed to be impossible to get my motorbike! I could not believe it! Another weekend was waiting for me… at least the Caipirinhas were damn good!
I did not give up! Another possibility would be to register the bike in my friends name and let him write a confirmation that the bike is actually mine. Ahm… My gut feeling and also my rational thoughts told me to leave the fingers off such an idea. In Brazil it would be most likely possible I have heard, but at latest the border crossings would be a pain in the ass! NO WAY…
My ultimate possibility seemed to purchase a brand new motorbike.
On Monday I went to BMW Caltabiano and checked out a real beauty: a BMW 700 GS with the latest technology on board, in black AND a red frame construction. I felt in love!!!!!!! WHAT A BIKE!!!!!!!
I also had a 2 year premium guarantee included which would cover all countries of South America. I just needed to call and they would pick me up from anywhere… Again, I test drived the bike and was amazed to see the significant difference between the 650 and the 700.
It was heaven on earth and I knew this would be my matter of choice!!!!!! I signed the deal immediately after the ride and the dealer promised to get things done within a week. First, the bike had to be ordered which would take 3 days and if I am lucky the papers would be ready until Saturday.
Another hurdle I did not take into consideration yet was how to make the money transfer.
The bike was obviously more expensive than I originally thought and not possible to purchase with my credit card. There was just one possibility remaining, a bank transfer from Europe.
Problem was there is not such a thing as an IBAN or Swift Code and different numbers and abbreviations I never saw before. After a while I figured out the meanings and started the transfer of the money until I received the request to indicate the CPF of the other persons bank which was ONLY for private individuals and not for commercial companies. Damn it…
Another couple of days passed and I was not a single step closer. The motorbike arrived at the store in the meantime, at least something I thought.
The bike dealer suggested to transfer the cash from my friends bank account in Brazil which seemed to be a good idea. I transferred the money to them and they transferred the money to the dealer… this was the plan, lol.
Apparently, the bank account of the motorbike dealer was a special one and needed to be approved in a face to face meeting directly at the bank. Weird! Said and done… we made it!
Another coupe of days later the motorbike dealer came back and asked all of a sudden for a confirmation of my friend, stating the money actually belongs to me. OMG!!!!!! REALLY?????? Ok, ok, let’s get this in writing and “simply” confirm it.
Well, apparently this is not just so simple! Jesus…!!!!! WHAT? WHY? The documents need to be officially approved in the notary’s office… ARGHHHHHHH!!!!! I knew in the meantime what it means to “get things done” in Brazil and the only thing which helped me to survive was patience AND the great South American variety of red wine.
After 2 days I received the papers and forwarded them immediately to the dealer who already installed the additional accessories to the motorbike.
Fernando, the Sales person told me to have the documents ready by Saturday or latest Monday. I checked with him on Saturday to see if I could already pick it up on the weekend. He mentioned to have had problems with the receipt of the motorbike and that the papers would not even be with the traffic authority yet. Takes unfortunately until Wednesday… or Thursday.
Trying to keep my anger under control I was begging him to speed up the process wherever possible. Somehow I lost the trust in him, especially since mentioning he took a holiday at the beach the day before.
Following the recommendation of my friend Chris I went straight to the motorbike dealer after the weekend, instead of calling them. What a wise decision… All of a sudden things started moving and step by step I was a bit closer to my goal.
The motorbike was just looking gorgeous and I could not wait to start Operation Steppenwolf. But wait… what was that? The windshield was missing I gave them to attach. After asking everyone in the shop and even a phone call to the manager, the part only appeared after a couple of hours. Luckily it appeared at all… The motorbike was ready to roll and I finally… finally… started my journey.
My recommendation for adventurers who are looking for a bike in Brazil is to bring sufficient time along, a local network of friends who can help out, patience, capability to speak Portuguese (or minimum Google Translate:), a sense for adventure and most important… the necessary cash! I would personally not do it again but was grateful for the experience.