What Money Do They Use in Brazil?
The official currency in Brazil is the Brazil Real, which is pretty straightforward, but many people wonder exactly how to pronounce "Brazilian real" because when you hear a Brazilian say it, it sounds nothing like that! The answer is that "real" is pronounced "hey-al" and the plural, "reais", is pronounced "hey-ice".
Unlike in many other South American countries, the US dollar really is not generally accepted anywhere at all, so it's reais or nothing... Luckily, it's easy to get hold of the Real outside of Brazil, and most bureaux de change and many travel agents and banks will be happy to supply you with enough Brazilian currency for your holiday.
How many Brazilian Reais will you need?
Using Cash in Brazil
If you don't want to take cash on holiday with you, there is a wide network of cash machines in Brazil (they are as practically as widespread as in the UK) and you can use ATMs to withdraw money while you are there. This can be preferable as you don't have to take a large amount of cash with you. Many shops and restaurants will accept card payments, although smaller cafes or shops may not. Again, unlike some other countries in South America, the only kind of money you can withdraw from Brazilian ATMs is the Brazilian real, you cannot withdraw US dollars.
As with travel to any country in South America, if you're planning to use your cash card to withdraw reais in Brazil, we'd advise you to contact your bank before travel so that they know the dates you will be overseas. Alternatively, a pre-paid currency card can be a great (and safe) alternative.
You will find that getting change can be a real issue in Brazil, and if you've just been to a cash machine and try and pay for a coffee with a 50-real note, you'll be likely to hear "o senhor(a) tem troco?" or "do you have change?". It's a good idea to try and break large bills as often as possible, particularly in bigger shops and restaurants, so that you have plenty of change for when you need that urgent capirinha on the beach...
Paying on card in Brazil
Of course, it's also possible to use your card directly to pay for things in many shops and restaurants, and you can do this using most UK debit/credit cards. You will find that Visa is marginally more widely accepted than Mastercard, and Amex (as everywhere) is less common still. Also don't be surprised if you're asked to show ID whenever making a purchase on your card - most Brazilians carry their state or national ID card with them at all times and are very used to showing it whenever they use a credit card.
Can I Use Travellers Cheques in Brazil?
It is possible to use travellers cheques in Brazil, but it's increasingly tricky and the commission rates are highly uncompetitive. Not all casas de cambio will exchange travellers cheques, but if you do want to use them you'll find that Amex cheques are more widely accepted than other kinds, and you'll get better rates on dollar or euro-denominated cheques.
We have to say that as far as we're concerned, using a pre-loaded currency card is a much better bet than travellers cheques - you'll find it much easier and it will save you an awful lot in commission.
Haggling and Tipping in Brazil
You don't need to tip any of our drivers and guides in Brazil - at least, not unless you think they've gone above and beyond the call of duty. In general you'll find that Brazil is similar to the UK in its tipping culture. Restaurant bills will usually have a 10% Serviço charge on the bill, but technically it is optional. For drinks or a less formal meal, you might want to leave the change, but if you're paying at the counter or bar then you generally don't need to worry about tipping.
The one exception to that is hotel porters, who generally do ask for a small gratuity (perhaps around 20 reais in Rio or Sao Paulo, a little less elsewhere) for carrying your bags. Obviously it's up to you, but they tend to receive almost nothing in salary, so the tips are effectively their wages.
Haggling is much more common in Brazil than in Europe or the US, and even in high street shops it can be worth asking for a pequeno desconto. Certainly at street stalls you should be prepared to haggle to the hilt.
Setting a budget for your holidays to Brazil
Although inflation is higher than in the UK, it isn't a huge concern when planning your holidays to Brazil. However, what often does take people by surprise is the cost of eating and drinking in cities like Rio and Sao Paulo. The key is that certain types of restaurants (basically anything more formal) and bars are easily as expensive as the UK, whereas street food and drinks from shops or kiosks are very cheap. The following is a rough guide to the kinds of prices you can expect on your holiday to Brazil:
|Lunch (por kilo restaurant - mid-range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - mid-range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - high-end)
|Bottle of water
|Bottle of beer
||£1.50 (street/kiosk) / £3 (bar)
|Glass of wine
|Coffee / Tea