The Brazilian unit of currency is the real (pronounced “hay-AHL”), plural reais (“hay-ICE”), abbreviated BRL, or simply R$. One real is divided into 100 centavos. To illustrate how prices are written, R$1.50 means one real and fifty centavos.
Foreign currency such as US dollars or euros can be exchanged at major airports and luxury hotels (poor rates), exchange offices and major branches of Banco do Brasil (not other banks), where you will need your passport and entry form.
Look for an ATM with your credit/debit card logo. Larger Banco do Brasil branches (which charge R$6.50 per withdrawal) usually have one, and most Bradesco, Citibank, BankBoston and HSBC ATMs work. Banco 24 Horas is a network of ATMs that accept foreign cards (and charge R$10 per withdrawal). Withdrawal limits are generally R$600 (Bradesco) or R$1,000 (BB, HSBC, B24H), per transaction and, in any case, R$1,000 per day. This last point can be circumvented by making several consecutive withdrawals by choosing different “accounts”, i.e. “credit card”, “current account”, “savings account”. Note that most ATMs stop working after 10pm or only dispense R$100.
In small towns, there may not be an ATM that accepts foreign cards. You should therefore always carry enough cash with you.
Money transfers to Brazil can be made through Western Union [www], which can be withdrawn at a Banco do Brasil branch in most cities, as well as at some exchange offices.
Travellers’ cheques can be difficult to cash where there is no bureau de change.
The majority of Brazilian shops now accept all major credit cards. However, some online shops only accept cards issued in Brazil, even if they carry the international logo of these cards.
The coins are R$ 0.05, R$ 0.10, R$ 0.25, R$ 0.50 and R$ 1. Some denominations have several different designs. Notes are available in the following denominations: R$2, R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50 and R$100.
There are many government regulations regarding the handling of foreign currency. Trading in any currency other than the real is considered illegal in Brazil, although some places in the major cities and neighbouring towns accept foreign money and many currency exchange offices operate in a shady area. In addition, currency exchange bureaus are almost impossible to find outside the major cities. Currencies other than USD and EUR are difficult to exchange and the rates are ridiculous. If you want to exchange cash at a bank, be prepared to pay a high commission. Banco do Brasil, for example, charges US$15 for each transaction (regardless of the amount).
While tips may sometimes be given for certain services, supplies or tourism, gratuities are very rare. It is not generally expected in taxis, although rounding up is sometimes done. It should be noted that many restaurants charge a 10% delivery fee on the bill, with no further gratuity. This charge is often community-based. Tipping bartenders is not common.
As in the rest of Latin America, you can find handmade jewellery everywhere. In areas largely populated by Afro-Brazilians, you will find more African-influenced souvenirs, including black dolls. Havaianas jandals are also affordable in Brazil, and supermarkets are often the best place to buy them – small shops tend to carry fakes. If you have room in your pockets, a Brazilian woven cotton hammock is also a nice and functional purchase. Another interesting and fun item is the peteca, a kind of hand-held shuttlecock used in the traditional game of the same name, similar to volleyball.
It’s not a bad idea to pack light and build up a Brazilian wardrobe a few days after you arrive. It makes you less conspicuous as a tourist and gives you months of satisfaction when you return home to brag about the bargains you’ve made every time you get compliments on your clothes. Brazilians have their own sense of style, which allows tourists – especially those wearing Hawaiian shirts or sandals with socks – to stand out in a crowd. Have fun shopping and blend in. Another good reason to buy clothes and shoes in Brazil is that the quality is generally good and the prices are often reasonable. However, this is not true for all foreign brands, as imports are subject to high import taxes. So don’t expect cheap prices for brands like Diesel, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. To find your Brazilian trouser size, measure your waist size in centimetres, divide by 2 and round up to the nearest even number.
Shop windows often display a price followed by “X 5” or “X 10” and so on. This is an instalment price. The price shown is the price per instalment, i.e. “R$50 X 10” means for example 10 instalments (usually monthly) of R$50 each. The actual price is often lower if you pay in cash.
Make sure the appliances you buy are either dual voltage or the same voltage as in your home country. Brazil has a 60 Hz frequency, so don’t buy electric clocks or motorised appliances without batteries if you live in Europe or Australia. However, the voltage varies from state to state and even from region to region within a state.
Brazilian-made appliances and electronics are expensive. If not, they are usually of poor quality. All electronics are expensive compared to European or American prices.
Brazil uses a hybrid video system called “PAL-M”. It is NOT at all compatible with the PAL system of Europe and Australia. Television started out in black and white with the NTSC system of the US and Canada, then years later with the PAL system for its analogue colour – a totally unique system. Today, most new television sets are NTSC compatible. However, the recently introduced digital television standard is not compatible with that of most other countries. Digital video devices such as DVD players are also compatible with the NTSC system (all digital colours are the same worldwide), but make sure that the regional code(s) on the DVD, if any, correspond to your home country (Brazil is part of region 4). Prices for imported electronics can be quite high due to the high import tax, and there is not much choice of domestic electronics. Also note that the term “DVD” in Brazil is an abbreviation for both the disc itself and its player, so be precise to avoid confusion.
Although the strength of the Real means that shopping in Brazil is no longer cheap, there are still plenty of bargains to be had, especially in leather goods, including shoes (but remember that sizes vary). Clothing in general is a good buy, especially for women, for whom there are many stylish pieces. Street markets are also a very good option, but avoid brands like “Nike” – you will pay more and it will probably be fake. Don’t be afraid to ‘smell’ an item. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not a fake! Beware of the dreaded “Made in China” label. If it’s not there, it’s probably Brazilian, but beware: some products made in Brazil are less robust than their American or European counterparts.