Banks are monitored by the Central Bank of Brazil (Banco Central do Brasil). Brazilian banks offer current accounts, savings and investment accounts, credit and debit card services, personal loans and overdrafts, and in some cases, foreign exchange services. Local banks will also set up standing orders, accept payment of utility bills and local, state and federal taxes.
Banking usually costs a monthly fee for basic services, including a check book containing 20 checks. In many bank branches there are checks dispensers. These function like an ATM, but they issue cheques, usually in sheets containing four checks.
It is very difficult to open an account without first being able to read and write in Portuguese. All applications and forms are written in Portuguese. If you do not, it may be possible to consult a friend or hire a translator or lawyer.
In the past, it has been impossible to open an account unless you obtain either residence or you start a business. This has changed a bit and laws change frequently so be sure to contact an international attorney or the Brazilian consulate for details.
To open a bank account:
You must first obtain a CPF number by registering with the Receita Federal (refer to our section in Taxes on how to get this). Once you have applied, there is about a two day waiting period.
You will need to provide a Brazilian address
Proof of your identity like a CIE (Cédula de Identidade de Estrangeiro, or Brazilian Identity Card for Foreigners). The CIE is a permanent work visa or a visa with permanent rights to live in Brazil.
Provide cash deposit. On average, Brazilian banks require a deposit of R$500 to R$700. They may ask for proof of earnings or income in addition
ATMS are located all around the city and most accept Visa or Mastercard (look out for their logos on the machine). Few ATMs provide cash from American Express cards. International banks like HSBC and Citibank will almost always accept foreign cards.
Some ATMs are located out on the street, but most are protected within locked doors and are closed between 22:00 to 6:00. For your personal safety as well as to avoid theft, use the ATMs secured inside banks or convenience stores and shield your pin number.
Travellers should contact their home bank about partnerships they may have with Brazilian banks and which ATMs have the lowest fees. It is also wise to let them know when and where you will be travelling so foreign activity does not arouse suspicion. In an attempt to protect you, your bank could lock the account if they think the card may have been stolen.
Brazil's currency is the real, often written R$. One real is made up of 100 centavos. Banknotes come in many different colors with 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).
If you have some cash or traveller's checks to exchange, most banks or exchange offices casas de câmbio are able to complete this transaction. Banks tend to be have slower, more bureaucratic procedures, but better exchange rates (except for Banco do Brasil which charges R$40 commission for every traveller's check transaction). Cash and traveler's checks should be either in US dollars or euros for easy exchange. Amex is the most easily recognized traveller's check.
Debit and credit cards can be used for most 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.
Credit card fraud is extremely common in Brazil. Keep your card in sight at all times, especially in restaurants.