BRAZILIAN CURRENCY & ADVICE FOR TRAVELING
The official unit of currency in Brazil is the Real, the plural is Reais, which the Brazilian government introduced in 1994 in an attempt to control inflation. While traveling, it’s probably a bad idea to carry large wads of cash in Brazil, but it can be helpful to bring a small amount of U.S. cash ($10s or $20s only, no $100s) as an emergency supply in case that ATM is broken or your credit card isn’t working.
The best way to get cash at a reasonable exchange rate is by withdrawing money from an ATM. Brazil’s financial infrastructure is very sophisticated, and ATMs were common here even before they were used in western Europe. You will find them everywhere in Brazil, even in the smallest towns. You need to have a four-digit PIN to be able to access ATMs in Brazil. For most ATMs the limit is R$1,000, but depending on the machine these amounts may be lower.
The vast majority of travelers find they are able to use the HSBC and Banco do Brasil ATMs bearing a PLUS/Visa and Cirrus/MasterCard logo. Almost all Brazilian airports have HSBC and Banco do Brasil ATMs. However, it’s not a bad idea to bring two different cards to increase your access options with other banks.
The best exchange rates can be obtained through credit cards, which are accepted at most Brazilian shops and hotels and restaurants. Shops often also offer discounts for using a credit card. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa and MasterCard. American Express and Diners Club are also often accepted. It’s a good idea to have at least two cards as some stores and restaurants may only accept one card (usually Visa or MasterCard; Diners and Amex are less common, especially in small towns). Keep in mind that many banks now assess a 1%-to-3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or U.S. dollars). But credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in things like exorbitant ATM fees and the higher exchange rates and service fees you’ll pay with traveler’s checks. Another advantage to paying with a credit card in Brazil is that many times stores will offer a discount for paying with one! And if you pay with a credit card you almost always have the option of paying in prestações, which are installments, or monthly payments. For example, I once splurged on an expensive pair of shoes for 300 reals and the store allowed me to pay for them in installments of 100 reals (and some change because of the juros – interest) over a 3 month period!
Traveler’s checks aren’t a very good idea in Brazil. Most shops won’t accept them, hotels give a miserable exchange rate (if they cash them), and many banks have a strange policy that they will not cash your traveler’s checks unless you have an account at that branch of that bank. The Banco do Brasil is the only bank that will cash them with a minimum of hassle but will charge a US$20 service fee.
Tip: When exchanging money, be it cash or traveler’s checks, always keep the receipt. You will need it in case you want to change back any unused Reais at the end of your trip. Also, really try to avoid going to an ATM at night.
PORTUGUESE MONEY RELATED VOCABULARY
a carteira - wallet
“perdi a minha carteira” - “i lost my wallet”
os dólares – dollars
um real (pl. reais) – Brazilian reals
o dinheiro – money
os cheques de viagem – traveler’s checks
câmbio – exchange, exchange rate
casa de câmbio – place where you can exchange currency (most commonly found in malls and in airports in Brazil)
moeda – coins, change, currency
troco – change (from a transaction)
um dólar – a dollar
cartão de crédito – credit card
um centavo – a cent
uma conta – a bill, account
conta bancária – bank account
caixa eletrônico – ATM
“pode trocar…?” – “could you change/exchange….”
“aceita cartões de crédito?” – “do you accept credit cards?”
“onde posso trocar dinheiro?” - ”where can i exchange money?”
nota – a bill
balanço, saldo - balance (of a bank account)
saldo devedor – an overdrawn account