Exchanging to the Real – 3 Money Savings Tips

Real, Reais, Dollars, Money, ExchangeIf you are like me, you hate wasting unnecessary money on fees, especially when exchanging money.

I mean the 20% I lose by exchanging money at the airport could be put to MUCH better uses!

But what if all you have is a bank account full of your national currency and you want to get the highest possible – what do you do?

In this blog post, I will explain to you 3 ways that you can effectively and easily get the best bang for your buck when converting to the .

This is intended to be a help to people who are looking for more immediate and/short term money exchanging solutions, if you are looking at moving large sums of money then that will have to be another blog post!

I personally remember the first time I arrived in Brazil, before I left I exchanged some money so that I had some Reals in hand upon arrival.  But once I arrived, I realized that not every place takes credit/debit cards like back home, I needed an easy and secure way to withdraw and exchange money from my American bank account.

After some networking with other foreigners in Brazil, I figured out 3 effective ways to get some good old cold, hard Brazilian cash.

But before going over these three ways to exchange money, let me quickly explain to you how exchange rates work and why you get under the exchange rate amount normally.

Exchange Rates and How they Work

The first thing I do before exchanging any money, is to check out the latest current exchange rate on the source currency, this can be done by going to . Once you have gone to x-rates.com:

  1. Choose your source currency
  2. Choose BRL – Brazilian Real
  3. Leave the amount at “1”
  4. Click on “Currency Calculator”

You should see a box that looks much like this one below:

At this moment, 1 dollar equals 2.017 Reals (or 2 Reals and 2 cents – rounded up).  This means that the value of the dollar has been increasing against the Real, it was 1.70 not too long ago – this is a good thing for foreigners!

So now that we can see how much 1 dollar (or your currency) equals in Reals, we can move onto the next step: seeing how you can get the closest exchange rate to that as possible.

Why You Get Less Than the Exchange Rate

When you go to exchange your money to Reals, you will notice that you always get under the current market amount.  This is because:

  1. It is measured by millions of Reals at a time
  2. The Bank, Travel Agency etc adjusts the rate based on fluctuating rates and competitor rates.
  3. They make a bit off the top.

This is just how things work, so our objective is to try and get as close to possible to the market exchange rate in order to get most bang for buck. With no further hesitation, here are the 3 ways I recommend.

1. Exchange at Your Local Bank

At most all banks, you can arrange to order Reals ahead of your trip, this is done by either going to the bank’s website or calling your local branch.  It will usually take a few days or couple of weeks for them to get the money to you, so make sure and give it plenty of time if you go this route!

For comparison sake, I went to to see what exchange rate they are offering from USD to BRL (US Dollars to Brazilian Reals) in order to see how much they are taking off the top.

Here is what I dug up:

Remember that the current market rate was 2.017 reals?   Well they will give you R$1.84 reais per dollar.

This means that they are taking close to 9% off the top of the rate plus additional exchange fees (if any) required by the bank.

You will need some Reals in hand when arriving in Brazil, so it will be a good idea for you to exchange at least to a few hundred Reals in order to give you a buffer until you can find another option for getting a better exchange rate after arriving.

But I don’t recommend exchanging all your money at the bank, you will lose a lot of money!

2. Exchanging at a Brazilian Travel Agent

Another good option is to exchange your currency at any Brazilian travel agent after arriving.

This functions by you showing up and telling them how much of your currency you would like to exchange, they will then give you their rate and you can make the exchange.

You could of course use the large exchange houses at the airport, but I guarantee you that the you will receive will be pretty bad compared to a travel agent.

I would not recommend withdrawing large sums of money in your home country to physically exchange those sums in Brazil!  It is never a great idea to carry tons of cash on you at any time in any country…

Here is what you need to know if you would like to exchange at a travel agency:

  1. They are everywhere, so they are easy to find (called “Agência de Viagens” in Portuguese).
  2. Their rates differ from agency to agency, so it pays to shop around a bit.
  3. They have two different rates for the same currency.
    1. Buy rate: the rate when you buy a currency with Reals (better)
    2. Sell rate: the rate when you sell them your currency to get Reals (worse by usually 15-20%).
    3. You can only exchange major currencies (i.e. USD, EUR, YEN etc)

This is only a viable option if you have foreign cash in hand and need to exchange it after arriving in Brazil.

3. Withdrawing Reals at a Brazilian Bank

When you find a local bank in Brazil to withdraw money at, you will receive Reals and your account will be deducted directly.

Sounds easy enough, but is it the best option?

One word, YES!

Here is why:

The bank sets the exchange rate when you exchange at your local branch, but when abroad, , or sets the rate.

And that is a great thing because you get a very competitive rate!

Here is how it works:

  1. Visa/Mastercard gives you their rate.
  2. The bank usually charges a fee that varies from 1-5% per transaction
  3. You will receive in Reals what the Credit Card company’s rate is minus the small Bank fee.

I went to Visa’s and calculated this for you.  The website will show you how much it will cost in your currency to purchase 1 real.

So I chose “United States Dollars” to “Brazilian Reals” and added a fee of 2% (you can contact your bank to find out what your fee is, usually it’s around 2-3%).

Here are the results of the calculation:

To me it is a bit irritating that I can’t see how many Reals I get for one Dollar like everywhere else, so I will cover a little trick to help you figure it out.

I went back to the main screen and switched the currencies around!

Go from “Brazilian Reals” to “United States Dollars” and put 0% in the “bank fee” section (this is important!).

Here is what it looked like for me:

Now we take the amount (2.021 Reals) and substract the bank fee percentage of 2% by:

  1. Getting a calculator
  2. Entering the amount in (2.021 Reals – notice that it’s higher than the market rate?)
  3. And pushing subtract (-) 2%.
  4. The result in my case was 1.98 Reals

This means that my exchange rate if I withdraw Reals at an ATM in Brazil is 1.98 Reals per dollar compared to the market value of 2.017 Reals!  That is a wonderful rate that no other place can match.

Not all banks will allow you to use your foreign card to withdraw money in their ATM’s!  Keep this in mind.

The one’s I know of that work are the following:

  1. Banks
  2. Banks
  3. Banks

Here is a video I made on how to find a Banco do Brasil location if you don’t speak Portuguese:


(Click here to watch  on YouTube)

Final Words

As you can see, the best option to get Brazilian Reals is to exchange a few in your home country so you have a buffer and then just withdraw them directly from a bank’s ATM after you get to Brazil.

I didn’t mention anything about making purchases at places that accept credit cards this time, but the exchange rate mentioned in number 3 applies for this. My hope is that this little blog post brought you a bit of value and help in your adventures.

Make sure and share this with any foreigner you know in or travelling to Brazil so that they can benefit from this as well.

Like and share away :)

Valeu – cheers! Kevin

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  • Iwontbefooledagain

    Don’t know if it’s the best way, but I send money via Western Union to my boyfriend who then deposits it in his bank account since I don’t have a bank account here yet. The bank takes a fee of only a few reais.

    • aidan

      western union charge a small fee, sometimes, but like the point kevin is trying to make, the exchange rate offered is very important. western union normally have pretty crappy rates.
      if you are in the UK, especially london. check out mastertransfer. i used them recently to transfer a small amount of money to brazil. their rates were about 1-2% off x-rates.com with no fee.

  • Sthevan Rohwedder

    Hello. I have a doubt. If I go to Banco do Brasil do buy some Reals, can I use my credit card to pay for it? Or the only way is to deduct from my bank account back in the US? Thanks!