Money & Banking
We suggest that you travel with several sources of money (ATM/debit card, credit card, and cash). This will ensure that if one of your means for accessing money fails, you will not be stranded without money. ATM/debit cards can be used to obtain cash if they have a major credit card logo (Visa, MasterCard) on them, but they should not be relied upon as a consistent option, since they are subject to breakdowns, fraud, and other scams. If you do plan to use debit or ATM cards while overseas, be sure to check with your bank regarding applicable fees, which can sometimes be quite steep, but this is the most convenient way to access your funds. Also, be sure to notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling so they do not freeze your account and to insure that your PIN will work while you are abroad. If you choose to bring cash with you, please examine your money carefully before departure to make sure it is in good condition.
HSBC has branches throughout Brazil and using the card from your HSBC account while in Brazil will save you the most in fees. Visa and MasterCard are accepted in Brazil, and you will see signs for them at automatic tellers all over the country (in cities). Check with your bank to make sure your card is activated for overseas use and that your PIN will work overseas. There are numerous ATMs in the major cities, but more spotty coverage in provincial regions. The exchange rate for ATM withdrawals is usually the best available since it is the bank’s own bulk rate plus a 1-2 percent charge. The normal service charge is between $5-$7 USD per withdrawal. It is recommended that you consult with your bank about the variations and rules or charges for Brazilian branches and carry the phone number of your local bank in case you lose your ATM card.
To withdraw small amounts, you might use gas stations with Banco 24Horas. For large amount, choose the nearest Banco 24Horas inside a shopping mall and take a cab or Uber home. Do not walk with any valuable in the streets.
Visa and MasterCard are widely used in Brazil; American Express is less recognized. They are accepted more and more, although not to the same extent as in the U.S. Do not, however, make the assumption that you can use a credit card in every establishment. Often you will be asked for identification in order to use the card. In many cases, you can give them the number without the card. However, notice that in some stores, the price of items can be up to 10% more if paid with a credit card.
BEFORE you leave, you should discuss with your family a plan for getting more money during the program. The best way to be sent money is to have an American Express money order mailed through a reputable express mail carrier such as Federal Express, Courier, etc. Western Union is also available.