GUIDE TO BRAZIL
Brazil’s currency is the real (hay-ow; often written R$); the plural is reais (hay-ice). One real is made up of 100 centavos. The real was introduced on a one-for-one parity with the US dollar in 1994 but had declined bit by bit to a value of around US$0.33 by 2004.
Banknotes are easy to distinguish from each other, as they come in different colors. There’s a green one-real note, a blue/purple five, a red 10, a brown 50 and a blue 100.
ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash in big cities and are widely found. In many smaller towns, ATMs exist but rarely work for non-Brazilian cards. Make sure vou have a four-digit PIN (longer PINs may not work). In general HSBC, Banco do Brasil and Bradesco are the best ATMs to try. Look for the stickers on the machines that say Cirrus, Visa, or whatever system your card uses – though this may not mean the machine will necessarily work.
A little bargaining for hotel rooms should become second nature. Before you agree to take a room, ask for a better price. ‘Tem desconto?’ (Is there a discount?) and ‘Pode fazer um melhor preco?’ (Can you give a better price?) are the phrases to use. It’s also possible to reduce the price if you state that you don’t want a TV, private bathroom, or air-conditioning.
There’s often a discount for paying a vista (cash) or for staying during the low season (baixa estafdo or epoca baixa). If you’re staying longer than a couple of days, ask for a discount. Once a discount has been quoted, make sure it is noted on your bill at the same time – this avoids ‘misunderstandings’ at a later date. You should also bargain when shopping in markets and riding in unmetered taxis (and don’t forget to arrange the price before departing).
Cash & Traveler’s Checks
Even if you are relying mainly on credit or debit cards as your source of funds, it’s a good idea to take a little cash and a few traveler’s checks too. You can change these in banks or in casas de cdmbio (exchange offices). Banks have slower, more bureaucratic procedures but on the whole give better exchange rates (an exception being Banco do Brasil which charges US$20 commission for every traveler’s check transaction). You’ll usually get a 1% or 2% better exchange rate for cash than for traveler’s checks. Checks, of course, have the advantage of being replaceable if lost or stolen.
Both cash and traveler’s checks should be in US dollars, and Amex is easily the most recognized traveler’s check. Thomas Cook, Barclays and Citibank traveler’s checks are less widely accepted, but you should be able to cash them in large cities.
You can use credit cards for many purchases and to make cash withdrawals from ATMs and banks. Visa is the most widely accepted card, followed by MasterCard. Amex and Diners Club cards are also useful. Visa cash advances are widely available, even in small towns with no other currency exchange facilities; you’ll need your passport, and the process can be time-consuming, especially at the ubiquitous but superbureaucratic Banco do Brasil. In Brazilian banks generally, it’s preferable to deal with machines than to try to make contact with human beings. Credit-card fraud is extremely common in Brazil. Keep your card in sight at all times, especially in restaurants.
Workers in most services get tipped 10%, and as they make the minimum wage – which is not enough to live on – you can be sure they need the money. In restaurants the service charge will usually be included in the bill and is mandatory. If a waitperson is friendly and helpful you can give more. When the service charge is not included, a 10% tip is customary.
There are many places where tipping is not customary but is a welcome gesture. The local juice stands, bars, coffee corners, street and beach vendors are all tipped on occasion. Parking assistants receive no wages and are dependent on tips, usually the equivalent of US$1. Gas-station attendants, shoe shiners and barbers are also frequently tipped. Most people round taxi fares up to the nearest real, but tipping is not expected.