Co-author Maddie Clarey
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world by both population and area, and is the only Portuguese speaking country in South America. Described by the Lonely Planet as ‘post-card perfect’, Brazil offers lush jungles, colonial villages, unique wildlife and beautiful landscapes. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism, in 2017 approximately 6.6 million tourists travelled to the country.
Brazil also boasts almost 7,500 kilometres of coastline, from the Amazon basin in the north to Rio Grande do Sul in the south. But whether you’re planning to lie on Copacabana Beach for a couple of weeks, or you have a more adventurous itinerary in mind, it might be helpful to plan ahead for how you’ll access your spending money.
One way of withdrawing cash and making card payments with retailers during your Brazilian holiday is to use a travel money card.
Compare travel money cards for Brazil
The following table displays a snapshot of travel money card products on Canstar’s database that can be used for travel to Brazil and with links to providers’ websites, sorted by the maximum number of currencies loaded (highest to lowest) then by provider name (alphabetically). Check upfront with your provider to confirm the details of a particular product, and whether it meets your needs, before deciding to commit to it.
How do travel money cards work?
Typically travel money cards work like this: you exchange your Aussie dollars for Brazilian reais (singular is ‘real’) – or whatever eligible currency you need – and load them onto your card before your trip. Then, when you arrive, you can expect to use the card to withdraw Brazilian reais and make card payments in-store and online at selected outlets. You may also be able to reload your card with extra funds if you need them. Bear in mind, though, that some cards may only offer some of these features.
Is a travel money card the right option?
Depending on the type of traveller you are, travel money cards can be useful for a number of reasons. For example:
- They allow you to lock in the exchange rate in advance of your trip
- They are designed to be easy to use – similar in function to a debit card
- They can be used with multiple currencies
- They aren’t connected to your transaction account, so you can only lose the amount that’s on the card if it’s stolen
There can also be disadvantages to using a travel money card:
- You may lose out if the exchange rate improves after you’ve locked in your rate
- Travel money cards can come with various fees, such as currency conversion fees, ATM fees and inactivity fees
- They may not be accepted everywhere
- Some travel cards have a reload delay – that is, it may take several days for you to be able to access extra money you load onto the card
Travel money cards aren’t perfect for every situation, or every traveller, and so it can be smart to consider a combination of different travel money options for your trip to Brazil, such as loose cash, as well as a travel credit or debit card.
What exchange rate will I get?
The exchange rate you might get when converting your Aussie dollars into Brazilian reais is likely to vary depending on when you load your card, as exchange rates generally fluctuate regularly due to a number of factors. Check with your travel money card provider as to what the current rate is when you are loading money onto a travel money card.
It’s important to note, however, that the exchange rate quoted by your card provider may be different to the official exchange rate quoted by the RBA.
This is because travel money card providers typically charge an ‘exchange fee’ on top of the quoted exchange rate. This fee can vary from card to card, so it’s worth comparing what each one offers for the Brazilian real – as well as considering the other features and terms offered by the provider – to see which card best suits your needs. It’s worth considering that some travel money card providers may not list an ‘exchange fee’ as such – instead the cost of the exchange to the cardholder would be factored into the exchange rate they offer.
What to be aware of when travelling to Brazil
Major credit cards such as Mastercard and Visa are often widely accepted in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. However, credit cards may not be accepted by smaller vendors and market stalls or if you travel to smaller towns and rural areas. You may also need cash on hand for major tourist attractions like for trips to the Amazon rainforest.
Like credit cards, ATMs are also widely available in main cities but you may run into difficulty finding them in smaller towns. It is also important to be aware that credit card cloning is an issue in Brazil. According to the Lonely Planet, this has been a problem with Bradesco ATMs, so you may want to avoid using these.
Bargaining is a common practice in Brazil but remember to use your common sense. It may be less likely to be a successful strategy in chain stores, supermarkets, restaurants or bars, but you might save yourself a fews reais by haggling for a deal at markets or if you’re buying from street vendors.
While bargaining is typically not welcomed by taxi drivers in Brazil, some journeys, such as those from the airport, may be unmetered so you should consider agreeing on a fixed price with your driver before you start your journey.
While tipping is not a large part of Brazilian culture, in some circumstances it may be appropriate. Restaurants will often add a 10% servico charge to the bill, and while it is generally not mandatory to pay it, it is customary to do so.
Where there is no service charge included and you do want to tip for good service, 10% is generally adequate. In some bars and nightclubs, customers are given a paper ticket that tracks their drinks during the night, and pay what they owe before they leave. Usually a 10% service charge will be added to this ticket.