I have been to Brazil 2 time this year (2014, and 4 times in 2014, and this post still accurate. As of 31 July 2015, you can get more than R$ 3.4 for $1.00 US
What should you do for money for money is always an issue in a visit to Brazil? Of course, you can use credit cards, but you cannot use them for everything. This will most likely be an issue in stores that do not accept credit cards, and in all local taxis. I have ridden in taxis throughout Brazil, and have never seen one that allowed for payment by credit card with the exception of the on airport taxi companies in Porto Alegre (POA), and the São Paulo International Airport (GRU), This still leaves one going to Brazil pondering where to get money either before you leave the US for Brazil, or after you get to Brazil.
I will regress for one moment about changing money in the US. I live in Alexandria, VA, very close to Washington, DC. I have found money exchanges in Washington, DC, but when I talked with them on the telephone, it always seemed that the exchanging money with them was quite costly. It was costly because after checking the rate for doing the exchange, I would always have lost about 10% doing the exchange. I believe that some banks will exchange money for their customers, but never checked their exchange rate. I do have experience returning with Euros, or Reals from Brazil, and depositing them at a local bank in Alexandria. It cost me large about 10% of the value of the foreign currency I had to deposit into my bank account.
I will also assume that when you are going to Brazil that you are not a resident, and are just visiting, on vacation, or a short-term business trip. Four options will be discussed for getting money for your trip to Brazil:
- Getting money at an airport money exchange before leaving the US,
- Getting money at a money exchange in the airport upon arriving in Brazil can be very expensive for a small amount of money. While larger amounts are OK.
- Bank ATMs in Brazil, and
- Money exchanges in Brazil.
Use this blogs currency converter to see how much you will receive after converting your money
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US Airport Money Exchanges
I have checked several times when leaving the US either at Los Angeles (LAX), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), and Miami (MIA). It always seemed to me that for where I was going in Latin America, that I would have lost between 20% and 30% on my money that I wanted to exchange. It is just too much for me to lose this much to have money when I arrive in other country. If you absolutely have to exchange money before leaving the US, I suggest that you keep the amount to be exchanged to the smallest amount that you will need when you arrive in Brazil. I am not saying that these companies are doing anything illegal. What I am saying, is that you are not getting a good deal, and that is not that much harder to do better. Below is a picture of the currency exchange you might see in many US international airports. They will give the worst exchange rates.
A few times I have exchange money upon arrive in Brazil. In both Rio de Janeiro (GIG) and São Paulo (GRU), you can exchange money before going through customs, or after going through customs. I have found that these money exchanges to be quite expensive (as a % of the amount exchanged) for small amounts of money. Brazilian airport money exchanges charge a fee to exchange money. For amounts less that $100 US, this fee might be 10% of the amount you are exchanging. For larger amounts of money (say over $500 US), this fee will only be a fairly small percentage of the amount exchanged. The only time that I think you might want to consider using an airport money exchange in Brazil is if you do not have an ATM card, and you need money for a taxi or bus. Again, only us a Brazil Airport Money Exchange / Cambio if you do not have an ATM card. Below is a picture of one of the GRU money exchanges.
ATM’s at Brazil Airports, and other locations throughout the country
These ATM’s are located with 50 feet of the money exchange at São Paulo International Airport (GRU) outside of the customs / International Arrival Area in Terminal II. I believe that it is similar in GRU Terminal I. In Rio de Janeiro, ATM’s are also similarly situated just outside the International Arrival Areas in both GIG Terminal 1 and GIG Terminal 2. Below is a picture of ATM’s in GRU Terminal 2 just outside of the International Arrival Area.
You will normally only suffer a 5% / 6% cost to exchange money through an ATM in Brazil. This applies at all ATM’s in Brazil. Note, the greatest you can extract from an ATM daily seems to vary between R$ 800 (about $ 330 US) to R$ 1,000 ( about $ 415) in 2013. Please note this assumed an exchange rate of $ 1 US dollar to R$ 2.4 Reals, and was the about rate in August 2013, and can change-up or down.
While in São Paulo this trip, I use the ATM three-time at these banks with the following results:
- Citibank – I tried with two different ATM cards because the first one did not work. I tried B of A debit card and it did not work, however, my HSBC card did work. I got R$ 200 (about $ 83 US) with the HSBC card. Of course.
- Banco do Brasil – One my first try, I got R$ 400 (about $ 166 US) with my B of A debit card.
I have previously used ATM cards for withdrawals at Citibank, Banco Itau, Bradesco, and Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro on other trips.
So, using ATM’s to get money in Brazil is a good option that should work most anywhere in the country.
Cambio’s (currency exchange) In Brazil
In general, you will the best exchange rates for US $’s (other currencies also) at a cambio. They can normally be easily in larger cities in Brazil. Your hotel should know where currency changes are located.
American Express / Another Option
With an American Express card, you can get money by writing a personal check at Amex offices in both Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. On several occasions I have gotten amounts up of $1,000 dollars by writing a personal check in these offices. Note, your American Express card has to be a regular AMEX card. American Express cards issued by Costco, Citibank, or other institutions do not give the benefits provided by regular American Express cards.
If you have an American Express Platinum card, you will receive a 1% better exchange rate. I have cashed personal checks many times in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, and this has proved to be a good what for me to get money in both Argentina and Brazil.
A Note on credit card usage in Brazil
Most US credit cards will charge you a 3% fee for any transaction you make in Brazil. Also, prior to leaving the USA, you should call your bank and let them know the dates of your travel to Brazil. This will insure that your transactions are not declined while you are in Brazil. There is nothing more embarrassing that trying to pay your bill in a restaurant, and having you dinner payment declined. It is possible to get credit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees. American Express Platinum cards do not have a foreign transaction fee, and this is the card I carry when traveling internationally.
Use Caution In Brazil
Remember to use caution with your money in Brazil, and do now show large amounts of money in public. In my personal opinion, you should not carry large amounts of cash either in Brazil. While I have personally, never had a problem, the several robberies in Brazil is quite high. So just be extremely careful when carrying money anywhere in Brazil.
- Avoid using US and Brazil airport money exchanges.
- Use ATM for money when possible.
- For large amounts of money, use a Cambio to exchanges $s US ti R$, Reals.
- Try to have just enough money with you when so that you do not have to convert R$, Reals, back to $s US
Please feel free to post any question you might have. I will do my best to answer them within 24 hours. Comments and suggestion are also welcomed.