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Foreigners - How to Get a CPF (Social Security Number) in Brazil


Thorn Tree Refugee
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Joined: December 2nd, 2005

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  • Added on: December 5th, 2005
Understanding and Obtaining the Brazilian CPF - A Primer for Foreigners

Unlike the United States’ Social Security cards, in Brazil tourists and other non-resident foreigners and even foreigners who are domiciled overseas are eligible for a CPF, which stands for Cadastro de Pessoa Física (Physical Person Registration). However, as explained below the process is to cumbersome to be useful to anyone who will be in Brazil for less than a couple of months and is not planning to return.

In Brazil, the Cadastro de Pessoa Física (CPF) is like the Social Security card in the United States in many ways. Each person who wants to participate in the official economy will need a unique CPF number which identifies him and his files in a variety of contexts including banking, credit applications wherever they are made, purchasing and activating a cellular phone, renting an apartment, and just about any other transaction which a person would engage in if he intended to stay in a country for more than a month.

Who Must Have a CPF?

According to a website devoted to the CPF, in a section entitled, “Who is obligated to register as a Físical Person”, among those required to register are “owners of checking accounts, savings accounts and applicants to participate in financial transactions”, plus “professionals”, “those required to file tax returns”, “participants in realty transactions”, and those “required to retain taxes paid upon transactions”. Basically, anyone who wants to participate actively and freely in the Brazilian economy will need to register as a physical person with a CPF. Before explaining how to obtain a CPF, I will explain why it is so crucially important not to misuse it.

CPF – Your Credit History in a Number

In Brazil, just as in the United States, when you offer your numeric identifier to complete a transaction, you must honor your obligations to avoid ruining your credit history. While in the United States credit reporting is essentially a private function through credit bureaus, in Brazil it is Government function. If you purchase and activate a mobile phone using your CPF (the only way to do so) and then you fail to pay your bill, the cellular phone company will report you to the Government which hold records of failed CPF transactions. The Government, in turn, will report to any institution or individual who inquires that you are not credit-worthy. In most cases, one blotch on your CPF history is an absolute bar to engaging in any of the above transactions where a CPF is required.
Unlike credit reports in the United States which are graded on a scale of bad to worse, a Brazilian CPF is either 100% “clean” and therefore useable or “dirty” and therefore an absolute bar to any transaction requiring a clean CPF. For example, if one writes a single check in Brazil that is returned twice for insufficient funds, the bank automatically reports the failure to the Government, which in turn blocks ALL CPF transactions until the matter with the bank is resolved. Anyone with access to the Internet can check his own or anyone else’s CPF to determine whether it is “clean” or “dirty”.

Yes, Foreigners Are Eligible for the CPF

According to a Webpage section entitled, “Who is eligible to register for the CPF”, “Any person, even if not obliged to have a CPF, Brazilian or foreigner, resident or not in Brazil, may apply to be for inclusion in the Physical Person Registry (CPF).

The process for foreigners to obtain a CPF is different from that for Brazilians so Brazilians cannot explain the process to foreigners based on their personal experience. Fortunately, the process is simple enough and is explained on the Internet at:
The application form can also be downloaded at that link.

Banks and Post Office Issue CPF, not the Receita Federal

The “Receita Federal” is the entity of the Brazilian government responsible for CPF’s. However, the Receita Federal does not actually accept applications for or issue the CPF. Applications for the CPF are made at other Government institutions with which the public has much more contact: the Banco do Brasil (Bank of Brazil), the Caixa Económica Federal (known as the “Caixa Económica” which means Federal Bank), and the Correios (Post Office) are the institutions designated to accept CPF applications. The fee for processing the CPF application is currently R$4.50 (about $2.00 USD).

The institutions which accept the applications for CPF’s are also responsible for replacing lost CPF’s and for conducting procedures to normalize CPF’s when they fall into abnormal status.

The foreign applicant for a CPF must bring a “national identity document”, according to the website. The best document for this purpose is the foreigner’s passport. If the document offered NOT the passport AND is not in Portguese, the foreign applicant may be required to submit an official translation of the document, which would cost about thirty dollars and is only available from a small and obscure society of government certified translators. The simplest approach is to present one’s passport when applying for a CPF.
For Foreigners, CPF Application Requires a Post-Application Interview at the Receita Federal
CPF Application For foreigners, the process of obtaining a CPF becomes more complicated once the application has been submitted at one of the above institution (the Bank of Brazil, Federal Bank or Post Office).

Unlike Brazilians, foreigners must wait for a mailed invitation (from the Receita Federal branch of the government) to arrive at their place of residence and then the foreigner must appear at an appointment at the Receita Federal (functionally like the US IRS) where a half-hour interview will be held and an interviewer will enter the applicant’s basic biographical and professional information into the federal database. Since it may take 15 days to a month for the invitation to arrive and the interview to be held, applying for a CPF is not a procedure that casual one-time tourists to Brazil will find feasible or time-effective. A week or more after the interview at the Receita Federal, the foreigner should receive his CPF in the mail at the address provided to the Receita Federal during the application interview.

Protect Yourself – Protect Your CPF

Using your CPF and another piece of identification, someone who steals or finds your wallet can: obtain a telephone in your name, purchase consumer goods, obtain credit or over the Internet, and ruin your life for the foreseeable future. Be careful, protect your CPF and your credit history, and have a good time.
Download the CPF application form:


Thorn Tree Refugee
Posts: 6
Joined: December 2nd, 2005

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  • Added on: December 5th, 2005
The following page of the Bank of Brazil website has an interactive map where you can indicate your location in Brazil and find all of the Bank of Brazil locations near to you. 
Non-Permanent Residents Not Eligible to Open Bank Accounts in Brazil

If you go to the Bank of Brazil to open an account, I believe you will discover that you will not be allowed to do so unless you have a Brasilian resident vida that by its terms permits you to reside in Brazil for at least an additional year, counting from the time when the account would be opened. However, if you are a student and have a student visa and CPF (see my CPF post on this site), there is a tiny bank at the Univesidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA) which will permit you to open a student account, with a low limit visa, checking and savings privileges.

Please note that if you open an account at Bank of Brazil, there are many account admnistration functions that can only be performed at the branch where you opened the account, such as replacing a lost card, find a forgotten account pass code, applying for loans, etc.

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