Rio Holiday Vacation Rental Homes
The Houses

The Mirante de Itacoatiara

This is the house that started it all.  It has 5 bedrooms and can accommodate 10 in beautiful Itacoatiara.

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The Mirante de São Francisco

For those that prefer a more urban setting, this house features fantastic views of Rio and Cristo both day and night.  It has 4.5 bedrooms and sleeps a maximum of 14.

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The Mirante do Atlântico

Our most popular home with honeymooners or those wanting to get away from it all.  This house is also in Itacoatiara and can sleep up to 10.

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Managing Your Money on Your Trip to Rio de Janeiro

Everyone always has a lot of questions about money for their vacation.  How much should I take?  How do I take it?  How do I convert it?  How do I get it if I am in Rio?  Can I use credit cards?  There is a lot of information here.  If you don't want to wade through all this, skip to the Summary.

Brazilian currency is called the Real

The Brazilian currency is called the Real, pronounced “hay-al” when singular.  Plural is Reals in English, but Reais in Portuguese, pronounced “hay-ice”.  You will need these as the dollar is not legal tender in Brazil.  It can still be used for small tips in a pinch or to buy items at certain tourist locations.  The exchange rate for the Real is pretty dynamic and has fluctuated from R$ 4.00 = US$ 1 to R$ 1.7 = US$ 1 over the past year and a half.  The rate as of October 23, 2007 is about 1.80 Reals to the Dollar.  The Real can be pre-purchased before you leave the US, but I do not recommend this.

Prices marked in $, US$, U$, or USD are in US dollars.  Prices marked as R$ are in Reals.  Pricing in Euros is not common in Brazil.  Note that in Brazil, they reverse the use of commas and periods from US style when writing money.  For example, one thousand Reals would be written R$ 1.000,00 .

How much money do you need?

How much should you take from the US?  Use the cost estimator below.  Be sure to take a few small bills in US currency, especially one dollar bills that you can use in a pinch for tipping and the like.  There will be a time at the beginning and end of your trip when you will be transitioning to and from the Real.  Money that you want to exchange in Brazil can be in larger bills, $100 or $50.  Just remember that you will probably have to exchange the entire bill.

The United States limits your transfer of US cash across the border to a value of US$10,000.  In excess of this, you must register the money with customs.  The Brazilian government has the same limit, and they also require registration of specie entering the country with a value in excess of US$10,000.  Since this is one of the few methods of legally bringing money into Brazil that are available to foreigners, it is done, but not frequently.  Of course, it is slightly dangerous to carry large amounts of cash anywhere and you should do so only if you take adequate precautions to safeguard your possessions.  You will need to enter the line for Goods to Declare in customs and fill out a special form.  There is no fee or tax on the excess funds!  However, if you are caught with money that you have not declared, they may treat you as an unfriendly visitor because you lied to them.  In such cases, there can be fines, more searches, and in the worst cases, deportment or imprisonment.  This last would be reserved for smugglers of stolen articles, jewels, drugs, and the like.  These rules apply to everyone in principal, but to only the rare tourist in practice. 

How much should you exchange?  You lose whenever you exchange money, whether it is to buy Reals or to buy back Dollars. Try to estimate your requirements accurately and then only exchange what you need.  You will need to balance the inconvenience of going frequently to the ATM or to the Casa de Cambio (Exchange Shop) with the cost of selling unused Reals back when you leave.

You will use cash for street purchases, beach purchases, taxis, small shopping, some entertainment, and tipping.  You can use credit cards for your hotel, stores in a shopping mall, and some major restaurants.  See below.

As a rough rule of thumb, I would allow about US$ 50 per person per day.  This should get you food, entertainment, and transportation for a relaxing and worry free vacation.  Take more if only the finest restaurants will do.  You should also allow more for planned purchases and special entertainment, e.g. a sailboat rental, etc.

A Backup Plan.  I would not trust my vacation to the availability of an ATM that I can use, is open, and is functioning (this is one of the recommended strategies below).  I think it is prudent to take a cash cushion.  You can always return with the dollars unspent (and un-exchanged).  Take the money that you will budget for your trip, plus US$ 500 extra in cash.  The extra $500 is different from your spend rate – it is just an insurance policy and ideally will return with you to the US.  Hopefully, it goes without saying that this money travels in your pocket or money belt, NOT in your luggage.  At the hotel, it should be in the room or hotel safe.  A purse is not as safe as a pocket since straps can be cut and purses can be left behind.  This cash gives you the option of using your cash card or a Casa de Cambio depending on which offers the best rate.  See Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil below.

Cost Estimator

Here are some general guidelines for what things cost to help you estimate your cash requirements.

When shopping, things that are related to labor costs are usually much cheaper in Brazil.  This includes clothing and textiles, jewelry, and art.  Other Brazilian exports are precious stones.  Anything that had to be imported into Brazil will probably cost more than in the US, especially electronics which can be up to three times as expensive.  Wines from Chili and Argentina are reasonable, but French wine and US wine costs more than in the US.

Item

Where

Cost in Reals

Coca Cola 12 oz can (350ml)

Street or beach

R$ 1,50

Coca Cola

Minibar

R$ 2,50 - R$ 3,00

Coca Cola

Restaurant

R$ 2,00 - R$ 3,00

Beer 350 ml

Street or beach

R$ 2,00 - R$ 3,00

Beer 350 ml

Restaurant

R$ 2,00 - R$ 4,00

Water – 350 ml

Street or beach

R$ 1,00

Water – 1 liter

Supermarket

R$ 0,90

Bacardi – 1 liter

Supermarket

R$ 18,00

Cachaça – “51” 1 liter

Supermarket

R$ 4,00

Jack Daniel’s – 1 liter

Supermarket

R$ 95,00

Smirnoff Vodka (Brazil) 1 liter

Supermarket

R$ 18,00

Veuve Demi-Sec Champagne

Supermarket

R$ 150,00

Cocktail

Street or beach

R$ 4,00 - R$ 6,00

Cocktail

Restaurant

R$ 5,00 - R$ 10,00

Lunch/snack

Street or beach

R$ 5,00 - R$ 10,00

Lunch

Restaurant

R$ 10,00 - R$ 20,00

Dinner (Steak)

Restaurant

R$ 20,00 - R$ 45,00

Wine (Glass)

Restaurant

R$ 7,00 +

Pizza (for two)

Restaurant

R$ 15,00 - R$ 20,00

Taxi

Copacabana Area

R$ 10,00 for two.

Taxi

Copacabana to Corcovado

R$ 40,00 - R$ 50,00

Taxi

Copacabana to Airport

R$ 90 - R$ 120

 

Tipping

Almost all restaurants include a 10% to 12% gratuity on the bill.  Tipping above this amount is not expected or necessary.

Cab drivers do not expect a tip.  A few cents remaining in a real is OK, but don’t spoil them.

Bellman - R$ 1,00 per bag.

Doorman - R$ 1,00 (sometimes)

Maid - R$ 5,00 per day (max)

Cash Machines (ATMs).

In Brazil, cash machines are used very differently than in the US.  You will practically never find a machine in an isolated spot.  Instead, you will go to a bank where they have a room that is more or less filled with cash machines.  Stand in line and wait for a machine, but be sure that you are waiting on the machine that you want.  Some machines dispense up to R$ 50 and others only up to R$ 5 bills.  Others are used primarily for paying bills or by old people (idosos) or pregnant women (gravida).  If you are confused, just step aside and watch a minute.  Some of these cash machine areas require you to swipe your card for entry.  You can also find cash machines in shopping malls and at some other shopping areas.  I recommend that you avoid the single ATM in a secure box style.  It is not that hard for someone to watch you withdraw funds and then follow you.  There are signs that say this everywhere (in Portuguese), but do not allow any friendly strangers to assist you with the cash machine.  It is just common sense.  During banking hours, there may be a uniformed attendant with a name tag and photo ID that can help you, but don’t expect them to speak English.  Don’t stand around and count your money – put it away immediately.

There are a few important notes about ATM availability that you should keep in mind so that you can plan ahead:

  • Due to power shortages in Brazil, many machines that are marked 24 Horas will actually shutdown between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM.  No one has every explained to me how this actually saves energy, since the machines seem to remain on and lit.

  • If you can find a machine that functions after 10:00 PM, perhaps at the airport, you can only withdraw R$ 100.  Between 7:00 AM and 10:00 PM, the limit is R$ 1000 per day.

  • Not all machines are created equal, in that not all machines will accept the same cards.  By far, most machines are designed for locals and accept mainly the local bank card.  However, there are many that accept Visa and Master Card if you wish to make a withdrawal on your credit card.  Some even take cash network cards like Exchange, Cirrus, Plus, Pulse, Star, etc.  These are generally available only at the airport and at Banco do Brasil.  Look for a machine that carries a logo corresponding to that on the back or front of your card.

  • Banks, and even their mechanical lobbies, are closed on Holidays and some are closed on weekends.  Plan Ahead.

  • Of course, all ATMs in Brazil dispense only Brazilian currency.

One inexpensive way to get cash in Brazil is via your cash machine card at a Banco do Brasil.  (Be sure to see Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil).  These can be found at only certain branches in Rio and only in Icarai in Niteroi.  Fortunately, many of the branches in the tourist areas of Copacabana and Ipanema have these machines, but it may be only one or two machines out of 40 at that location.  Look for machines with special stickers for Cirrus, etc.  These machines should also have instructions in English.  Check with your bank prior to leaving to determine if they charge a lot extra for international usage.  This will give you the most favorable exchange rate, too.

You can also get cash by using a credit card in ATMs.  These machines are available almost anywhere.  Look for the Visa or Master Card stickers.  Fees for cash advances will apply so these transactions cost more. 

You don’t need or want to go to the bank every day.  The lines are long for the machines and the wait can be over an hour if you need to speak with a teller that probably doesn’t understand English.  If you ask for R$ 1000 from the machine, this is about US$ 300 and should last you a while.  When you get back to the hotel, be sure to put most of this money in your room safe.  See exchange rates below.  It’s not all that scary – just be prudent and not too friendly while at the bank, and en route to and from your room safe.

You can also get money from a credit card by going into a bank and filling out forms.  This is very tedious and it will probably require waiting at least an hour.  A English speaking person may be hard to find except at larger bank branches.  This is a last resort.

Exchanging Dollars

There are many ways to exchange Dollars or Euros for Reals.  Be sure to see the section below on Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil.

At Your Bank.  If you bank at one of the very large banks in the US or around the world, you can purchase Reals prior to leaving the country.  They may have to special order these bills from another branch and many fees will apply.  I think you are better off in Brazil.

Thomas Cook Exchange.  There are many airports with these money exchange kiosks.  If you want to get $20 or $40 exchanged before you leave, go ahead; however, these places, while convenient, are very expensive.  While the exchange rate will look favorable, they charge an additional transaction fee that really affects the rate in a bad way.

Airport Exchange Shops in Brazil.  You can use the exchange shops at the airport to get Reals for dollars – in fact, you will need some Reals prior to leaving the airport.  These are located as you leave customs and immigration at the airport and have relatively pushy sales people.  These places will take US bills up to $100 denomination. These places are safe and the rate is not too bad.  You can also get money at the bank ATMs on the top floor of the airport.  See Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil.

Other Exchange Shops in Brazil.  You can use exchange shops or exchange houses to exchange your money.  In fact, you really can’t do this at a normal bank.  These Casa's de Cambio are tucked away in many places that tourists frequent, including some shopping malls and travel agencies  They are usually privately run and the exchange rate is not too bad.  If you want to exchange US$ 1000, the rate they offer should be better than exchanging US$ 100.  These places will take US bills up to $100 denomination.

Don’t exchange money on the street.  This is just not necessary and it is too easy for someone to cheat you, pass counterfeit bills, or just watch where you go and tip off their “friend” that you have a lot of money.

Exchange rates

You may see information in the newspaper or on the TV  or Internet about the exchange rate, which fluctuates daily.  The rate generally quoted is the commercial rate, or Dolar Comercial.  The rate offered to tourists is not as good and is called the Dolar Turismo.  You can get the latest rates from the Central Bank (Banco do Brasil) website at cotacoes.agronegocios-e.com.br/investimentos/conteudoi.asp?option=dolar&title= Dólar .  You want the rate at which a tourist can buy Reals, or Turismo Compra.

Credit Cards and Debit Cards

I recommend that you have at least one debit card and at least one credit card with you.  Either memorize the pin numbers for these or keep them in a separate place.  Never keep them together and always place cards you are not using in the room safe.  Unless you are specifically going to get cash or a place you know you will need a credit card, don’t carry them at all – use cash.

Never use your cash card to pay for purchases.  This is only for the cash machine.  The reason is that many banks do not offer the same coverage for your cash card as they do for lost or stolen credit cards, so you could lose a lot of money.

Credit cards are accepted at many places, but you should only use them at places where they are not out of your site and where they use electronic transactions (not an old fashioned imprint machine).  This means that most restaurants are NOT safe unless you are paying the cashier directly.  Certain very high end restaurants, like Porcao Rio, are safe, and your hotel, most high end mall shops, and known car rental agencies are safe if they use electronic transactions. Other than that, use cash.

Traveler’s Checks

Don’t bother with these.  They are hard to use, rife with fraud problems, and if you really need to cash one, you may have to stand in line at a bank for over an hour.  Only use these if you do not have a credit card or a cash card and then you just have to budget your time to allow for the bank queue.

Cash Management

Most things that a tourist will encounter are cheaper in Brazil.  These include food, drinks, entertainment, transportation, and snacks.  You should pay for these things in cash if at all possible.  Don’t carry a lot of cash with you and only leave it in the room safe or hotel safe.  Carry only what you will need for the day.    Keep most of your larger bills in one pocket, and the smaller in the other.  When you pay for things, don’t flash a lot of money or big rolls of bills.  Use the pocket with the small change for purchasing snacks and the like.

In Brazil, they have denominations of bills familiar to Americans.  R$ 100, R$ 50, R$ 20, R$ 10, R$ 5, R$ 2, R$ 1.  In addition, they have coins like .01, .05, .10, .25, .50, R$ 1, and R$ 2.  Although the R$ 100 bill is available, it is not that easy to change, so most currency exchanges and cash machines will only dispense up to R$ 50 bills.

Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil

Well, now that you know the lay of the land, it is time for recommendations.  Generally, the best rate is obtained by converting dollars in cash at a Casa de Cambio, or in withdrawing from your checking account using your cash card at an ATM.  Unfortunately, there is not one method of obtaining cash that is always the cheapest.  Due to market fluctuations, bank fees, and the like, you will sometimes get a better deal using one or the other methods.  So here is what to do:

First, ask your bank what fees they impose on cash machines in Brazil and what exchange rate they offer for both debit card withdrawals and cash advances on your credit card.

On the day before you leave for Brazil, check the exchange rate given at the Banco do Brasil (link under Exchange Rates above).  This represents the average rate for purchasing Reals in Brazil at a Casa de Cambio.  When you exit the secure area of the airport with your baggage, there will be Casa de Cambio Booths.  Do not confuse this with the Banco do Brasil booth inside the baggage area.  They charge an enormous transaction fee, making it the worst deal around).  Compare the rate they offer with the rate you obtained before you left so that you will know if you are getting a good deal or not.  Do not pay any transaction fees.  If the rate seems wrong to you, or you know the deal is better at the ATM, proceed to the top floor of the airport where all the banks are.  The Banco do Brasil has bright yellow and blue signs.  Locate one of the machines that has a cash logo like on your card, e.g. Cirrus.  Withdraw the maximum - R$1000.  If this doesn't work, return to the Casa de Cambio and exchange US$ 100 and be sure to get some small bills for tipping and taxis.  Then ask you hotel for a reputable Casa de Cambio close by.

Emergency cash in Brazil can also be obtained from Western Union.  Contact someone in the US and have them wire the money to the nearest Banco do Brasil that is cooperating with Western Union.  American Express has a similar service.

Special Notes for Guests of Rio Holiday

If you are staying with us, we offer additional services to make this process simple for our guests.

  • Our driver will know the latest exchange rate and can advise you when you are being picked up.

  • If you tell us in advance, we can have your cash waiting for you at the house.

  • If you need more cash during your stay, we can exchange Dollars or Euros for you.  You don't have to wait in line anywhere.

  • If you have excess Reals when you leave, and you obtained them from us, we will buy these back from you for what you paid in the first place.  In short, a no loss buy back for you.

  • In an emergency, we can advance you cash on your credit card.  Cash advance fees will apply.

Summary

  • You should budget about US$ 50 per person per day for food, taxis, drinks, and entertainment.  Take extra if you are paying for lodging in cash, plan on shopping, have very expensive tastes, or have excursions planned.

  • Take your budget and at least a $500 cushion in case you can't use your cash card.

  • Pay cash for everything except hotels, shops that use electronic terminals, or major restaurants.  Don’t let your credit cards out of your site.

  • Read the section above on Recommendations on Getting Cash in Brazil.  Use your cash card to get Reals from Banco do Brasil ATMs with Cirrus, etc. logos or use a Casa de Cambio, depending on which offers the best rate.

  • Use your credit card to get cash from almost any machine with a credit card sticker.  You will need a PIN and this will cost more than a debit transaction since cash advance fees will apply.

  • Try to exchange only what you need, but its silly to visit the bank every day.

  • Carry only what you need for that day with you.  Everything else goes into the room safe.