Money & costs
How much to budget depends on where you stay and how much ground you plan to cover. Some cities, like Rio, have grown particularly pricey in the last few years. Rural and less-visited destinations are often significantly cheaper. Bus travel costs about R$8 (US$4) per hour of distance covered. Flights, which sometimes run fare specials, might not cost much more for long hauls. Decent accommodations and particularly rental cars (which cost about R$100 per day) can quickly eat up a budget.
If you’re frugal, you can travel on about R$100 (US$50) a day – paying around R$40 for accommodations, R$30 for food and drink, plus bus travel, admission to sights and the occasional entertainment activity. If you just stay in hostels and plan to lie on a beach, eating rice, beans and fish every day, you can probably scrape by on R$70 a day.
If you stay in reasonably comfortable hotels, eat in nicer restaurants, go out most nights and book the occasional flight or guided excursion, you’ll probably spend upwards of R$250 a day. Those planning to stay overnight at particularly comfortable guesthouses in resort areas, eat at the best restaurants and not stint on excursions or nightlife can easily spend R$500 a day or more.
Bear in mind that during the December-to-February holiday season, accommodations costs generally increase by around 30%. During Carnaval accommodations prices triple, but a week afterwards, the prices drop to low-season rates. Another thing to remember: resort areas near major cities are often packed on summer weekends. There will be fewer crowds – and sometimes lower prices – if you visit during the week.
Brazil is fair value for solo travelers, as long as you don’t mind staying in hostels. Otherwise, a single room generally costs about 75% of the price of a double room.
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 R$2. Gas-station attendants, shoe shiners and barbers are also frequently tipped. Most people round up taxi fares to the nearest real, but tipping is not expected.
Brazil’s currency is the real (hay-ow; often written R$); 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 after 13 years of modest fluctuations reached a value of around US$0.50 by 2007.
Banknotes are easy to distinguish from each other as they come in different colors with a different animal featured on each. There’s a green one-real note (hummingbird), a blue two (hawksbill turtle), a violet five (egret), a scarlet 10 (macaw), a yellow twenty (lion-faced monkey), a golden-brown 50 (jaguar) and a blue 100 (grouper fish).
ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash in big cities and are common. In many smaller towns, ATMs exist but rarely work for non-Brazilian cards. Make sure you have a four-digit PIN (longer PINs may not work). In general HSBC, Citibank, 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. Do take care when using ATMs; there have been a number of scams, where criminals have managed to hack into bank accounts of ATM users and subsequently drain them. See also Dangers & Annoyances.
Cash & traveler’s checks
Even if you are relying mainly on credit or debit cards as your source of funds, it’s not a bad idea to take some cash and traveler’s checks in reserve. You can change these in banks or in casas de câmbio (exchange offices). Banks have slower, more bureaucratic procedures but on the whole give better exchange rates (an exception being Banco do Brasil which charges R$40 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 either in US dollars or euros, 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 bureaucratic 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.