What is a CPF or a CNPJ? How to get one and what you should know.

26.12.17
5 minute read
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What is a Brazilian CPF?

A CPF is an individual taxpayer identification number given to people living in Brazil, both native Brazilians and resident aliens, who pay taxes.

What does CPF stand for?

CPF stands for Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (Natural Persons Register). Native Brazilians can request a CPF at any time in their lives - parents will often apply on behalf of their children when they are newborns, as CPFs are vital to living in Brazil and it’s best to obtain one sooner rather than later.

A CPF is 11 digits long, comprised of nine base digits, and two digits at the end that are the result of an arithmetic operation on the first nine numbers, meaning any typing mistakes will lead to an invalid number. Here is an example of a CPF: 231.002.999-00.

What is the difference between CPF and CNPJ?

A CNPJ is also a taxpayer identification number, but it’s used for businesses, not individuals. All businesses that are formed in Brazil must apply for a CNPJ number at the time of formation. Foreign companies that wish to invest or own assets in Brazil must also have a CNPJ number.

A CNPJ is a 14-digit number; 12 base digits and two digits at the end that are the result of an arithmetic formula of the base numbers, making any typing mistakes when entering the number lead to an invalid number. Here is an example of a CNPJ: 13.339.532/0001-09.

When do you need a CPF in Brazil?

A CPF is essential to be able to do almost anything in Brazil. Without a CPF, you cannot get a driving license, purchase a car, buy property, open a bank account, purchase plane tickets, have an online membership, or get a cell phone plan - you need it for just about any purchase beyond basic items. All native Brazilians and permanent residents need to have a CPF.

What happens if my CPF is suspended?

The Brazilian Federal Revenue Bureau can suspend a CPF for a number of reasons. If you haven’t submitted your income statement for the prior year, if you owe back taxes or government fines, if you skip voting in an election - these are all possible reasons for a CPF to be suspended. A suspended CPF is an unusable CPF, which means life in Brazil will be very difficult until it's regularised. Getting a suspended CPF regularised will require paying any fines or back taxes that are owed.

If I’m abroad, how do I unsuspend my CPF? What documents do I need?

You can request regularisation of your CPF by phone at +55 11 3003 0146, or via the Federal Revenue Bureau’s website. Requesting regularisation of a CPF online requires a Brazilian address and phone number. Also, be prepared because the site is only available in Portuguese and representatives who answer the phone may not speak English. You can also submit your request at a Brazilian consulate if you’re abroad. You will need a printed CPF form, an original and a photocopy of an ID document, and a postal request form if you are mailing your request. You can also make an appointment at a consulate and submit your request in person. If you choose this option, the postal request form is not needed.

How do I get a CPF as a foreigner or non-resident?

Whether you’re an expat or just spending an extended amount of time in Brazil, life will be easier if you get a CPF. You’ll need it for making large purchases or opening a bank account.

Step by step process to applying for and getting a CPF

  1. Fill out and print the Federal Revenue Bureau’s CPF form, which can be found online here.
  2. Gather the necessary documents (more on that below).
  3. If you are mailing in your CPF request from a country outside of Brazil, fill out and print the postal request form, which can be found online here.
  4. Submit your request at a Brazilian consulate (if outside of Brazil), or at Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal or Correios agency.

Documents you’ll need to get a CPF

  1. Your completed CPF form.
  2. Original and photocopy of an ID document. Brazilians should use a valid identity card or a passport. Foreign nationals should use a valid passport and birth certificate containing the parents' names.
  3. Electoral card (only for Brazilians between the ages of 18 and 70).
  4. If the applicant is under 18, the minor's birth certificate and identification document of one of the parents, tutor, legal guardian or custodian appointed by court decision.
  5. Postal request form if mailing your CPF request from outside of Brazil.

Applying for a CPF when you’re outside of Brazil

Applying for a CPF from outside of Brazil is much the same as applying from Brazil, except that it will have to be done at a Brazilian consulate. You can make an appointment to submit your request in person, or submit it by mail with the necessary documents.

Do I need the CPF when I want to send money to someone in Brazil?

Yes, a CPF will be required to send money to a recipient in Brazil. You should also have whatever details are required by the bank or transfer service you are using to send the money. This often includes the recipient’s full name and address, their local bank account number or the IBAN number.

How do I send money to Brazil?

There are many options for sending money to people in different countries. You can use a money transfer service or you can make an international transfer through your bank. Either way you should keep an eye out for the exchange rate they offer. As they may often advertise zero fees, but will then markup the rate to ensure a profit.

To avoid this, use TransferWise. TransferWise transfers money at the real mid-market rate, without any hidden fees. All you pay is a small, fair transfer fee that’s stated upfront. You can also open a borderless multi-currency account to store, send and receive money in dozens of different currencies with ease. From early 2018 you can also get a consumer debit card linked to your borderless account, which will make traveling all the more hassle free.

With your finances settled, living or traveling long-term in Brazil will be much easier with a CPF. And with this information, getting one will be quick and stress free. Happy travels!

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