By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the 2014 FIFA World Cup fast approaching and thousands of American citizens expected to travel to the twelve Brazilian cities that will host the tournament, The Rio Times spoke with Consul William Dowers, Chief of the American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Consulate General, Rio de Janeiro about the services provided for U.S. travelers and citizens living in Brazil before, during and after the upcoming international mega-event.
“The U.S. Mission in Brazil has been involved in extensive preparation for serving all of the U.S. citizens resident and visiting for the World Cup,” Consul William Dowers told The Rio Times. “We have trained our staff to assist U.S. citizens while in Brazil. We have also worked with consular staff in other diplomatic missions to prepare for the thousands of anticipated visitors.”
“During the World Cup,” Dowers added “we will be sending small teams of consular staff to each of the twelve cities to assist American citizens in need.”
The U.S. Citizen Services assistance includes; passport services, notarial services for documents for use in the U.S.; reporting the birth of a child of a U.S. citizens while abroad; and help with Social Security numbers and cards.
Dowers said the two most requested services by short-term visitors in Rio, are passports and notarial services. “For the long-term U.S. citizen residents of the city,” said Dowers, “we issue “Free to Marry Statement Forms,”, which allow them to marry locally. We also provide voting information, as well as process reports of birth and deaths abroad forms.”
When asked what he thought Americans should know when traveling to Rio, Dowers said; “It’s important to me that visitors review the Country Specific Information sheet (CSI) available at travel.state.gov, as it contains lots of helpful information.”
“Just like in any other large city, visitors to Rio should stay alert to crime. Credit card cloning is a significant problem,” Dowers continued. “Americans do need visas before traveling to Brazil. Brazilian immigration frequently requires children to have permission from both parents to depart Brazil.”
“We discourage lodging or visiting unpacified favelas,” said Dowers, adding; “We also encourage U.S. citizens to enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to allow U.S. citizens abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.”
STEP also provides a Smart Traveler app. First launched in June 2011, the app works by pulling information automatically from travel.state.gov and state.gov websites, to help travelers and residents stay aware of travel warnings and alerts through their phones.
In an effort to also provide information for Brazilians, the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro recently launched a new Facebook page in late February 2014. Dowers said to the page was started “as a channel for our diplomatic mission to connect, primarily, with our Brazilian friends in the three-state consular district – Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, and Bahia.”
“We think of our Facebook page as another place to do what we try to do everyday: promote worthwhile opportunities that serve to build mutual understanding between Brazil and the United States. This includes posts, generally in Portuguese, about scholarships, study abroad, job announcements, public events, travel/tourism, and other helpful information.”
Hoping to bring Brazilians, U.S. Citizens and other friends together during the World Cup games, the U.S. Consulate General in Rio is also looking into organizing viewing parties in the city to watch the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) matches. “We are excited about the possibility of working with our Consular Corps colleagues from other countries, as well as the American Society, USMNT fan groups, and the Rio Times to help put these events together,” said Dowers, adding, “Stay tuned!”