If you head to Brazil on business or for a holiday, you’ll use the real while you are there. This is the official currency of the country and it has been in use there for some considerable time, as you will find out shortly.

The currency is known by its official code BRL; you will see this quoted whenever you look for the currency on a currency converter. The real is a decimal currency that is subdivided into one hundred centavos.

What coins and notes are available for this currency?

There are several coins in use for the currency at present. The smallest in value is the one centavo coin. This is no longer produced and is not popularly used but if you do come into possession of some you can still use them as they are legal tender. Next up is the 5 centavo coin, followed by the 10, 25 and 50 centavo coins. You can also get a one real coin.

In addition there are seven banknotes in circulation for this currency. The old one real note is no longer in production but as is the case with the lowest value coin, the one centavo coin, it will be honoured as legal tender for as long as it remains in use and in circulation. It should naturally die out completely over time.

Aside from this you will see six other notes. You’ll notice they are all labelled as reais notes: this is because the plural of real is reais. The smallest in value is the 2 reais note, followed by notes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 reais. The symbol for the real currency is the same as the dollar; it is however written differently as R$ followed by the amount.

From past to present – the history of the real

You can trace the history of the real back more than three hundred years – to 1690 to be precise. However you can also divide the history of the real into two distinct periods – the old real that was in use from 1690 to 1942, and the new real that is used to the present day.

The old real was the first currency the country ever officially recognised as its own. Brazilians have the Portuguese to thank for its original introduction, as they brought it in when the country was colonised back then. In 1942 the country said goodbye to the old real – but even then it did not introduce the modern version. Instead it brought in the cruzeiro. There were two versions of this currency that operated side by side in the 44 years that passed until 1986. The cruzeiro name came from the Southern Cross constellation of stars. In Brazil this is referred to as Cruzeiro do Sul, hence the name chosen for the new currency.

It was not without its problems though, and the country was beset with economics issues during this time. It was also known to suffer with severe inflation or hyperinflation, as excessive inflation was known then.

It would not be until 1994 that the Brazilian real as we recognise it today was introduced. Since then the currency has performed relatively well, although it did hit a period of depreciation in 1999 through to 2002. This appeared to be rock bottom though and since then it has performed more strongly on the markets.

How to get hold of Brazilian reals

Be prepared before you travel to Brazil. You can exchange your home currency for the real prior to travel, but it is also possible to make an exchange when you get there. Look out for a casa de cambio but remember that it is always best to take some cash with you in case you do not find one that offers good rates.

Another option is to take cash out at a cash machine. It is good to have more than one bank card on you – ideally one with a MasterCard symbol and one with a Visa. This gives you more than one option to fall back on in case you struggle to get cash out when you need it.

In larger cities and stores you can pay for goods with a credit card. Of course, as is the case at home, you should restrict these purchases to larger values instead of using your card for smaller purchases all the time. As you can see it is always good to have some cash on you in case you need it. Lower denomination banknotes are always best to have as not all small stores will accept larger notes.

One final tip – always be vigilant when using your bank cards. Don’t let anyone take them out of your sight and make sure you keep them safe when you’re not using them. Bank card fraud and crime is very common in the country and you would not want your trip to be ruined by becoming a victim in this way.

How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Brazilian real

You can do this in just the same way you would with any other currency. Visit your favourite online currency converter and find your own currency to start with from the drop down list usually provided. Then find the Brazilian real from the list of currencies you can convert to. You can check out the rate per unit or convert a specific sum of money. This is a good idea if you are taking a specific amount with you.

Remember you’ll get different rates when it comes to converting into the actual currency. All currency exchanges will have commission to charge, whether they charge it on top of the conversion or provide a ‘free’ service. In the case of the latter they will simply add the commission in to a less preferential rate as far as you are concerned.

If you want to know anything more about Brazil, its currency or how to travel there and whether you need a visa or not, the best port of call is the official website of the Embassy of Brazil in London. This can be found at http://www.brazil.org.uk.

Travelling safely with Brazilian reals

It is good to be vigilant when travelling in Brazil. According to the UK government website that offers foreign travel advice for all countries, there is a lot of violence and crime in Brazil. Major cities, as you might expect, are particularly prone to this.

However, with that said, most people who go to Brazil on holiday or for another reason enjoy a great visit with no problems at all. It is wise to be vigilant and to make sure you don’t wander into areas that are not safe to be in. Research the particular area you will visit prior to travelling to Brazil and go from there.

Furthermore you should take advice on any diseases you need to get vaccinated against prior to your trip. Yellow fever is typically a required jab to get.

Where to spend your reals in Brazil – and what to spend them on

At first you may not think you get a very good exchange rate on the Brazilian real. However this does not take into account the cost of living in the country. It is lower than it would be in many Western countries.

This means you have an excellent opportunity to get good value for money wherever you go in Brazil. Tourism is becoming a real growing concern in the country and they have much to offer to anyone wanting to pay a visit. Obviously the main city to focus on is Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest one the country has to offer. The most iconic sight it has to offer is the towering form of the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (you may see this named as Cristo Redentor). However there is much more to discover here as well. You can stay in a luxury hotel and go to the beach every day if you wish. Alternatively why not explore the mountainous areas that exist here as well? Elsewhere you can also visit Salvador and of course Sao Paulo. The latter is in the top ten of the most populated cities in the world.

Don’t stick to the cities though. Towns such as Sao Luis are well worth a visit too. In this case the town harks back to Portuguese times and if you have ever been to Portugal you will feel the similarity you see here. Indeed, wherever you go in Brazil you can drink in the scenery and atmosphere around you without spending a single real in the process.

Of course all this exploring can make you hungry, which means you will undoubtedly want some food and drink at some point in the process. This is a lovely way to spend some reais because you can sample some of the best food and local dishes on offer. One thing you will notice if you travel extensively in the country is that the cuisine varies according to where you are. Indeed there are five types of cuisine you will sample throughout the country in the different regions. However if you want to sample the national dish your best bet is to try feijoada, a stew which counts black beans as the staple ingredient. This is cooked for hours and a variety of meats are often added into the dish as it cooks.

Meanwhile you can also explore many of the finest natural sights the country can offer. These include Iguazu Falls, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Tijuca Forest. The best way to see the latter is definitely via a tour and you can even combine this with a visit to nearby Sugarloaf Mountain too if you wish.


As you can see, Brazil offers an amazing selection of experiences to try out. It has something to offer for those who love the outdoors as well as those who enjoy beach based holidays and exploring the major towns and cities. With a good cost of living and conveniently priced goods of all kinds on offer, it might be hard to resist the many charms of Brazil.

Brazilian Real – BRL

3 thoughts on “Brazilian Real – BRL

  • July 8, 2009 at 2:09 am

    how strong is the brazilian money compared to the south african rand

  • February 24, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I have currency in Brazil that is no longer in circulation. I’ve been to my bank and they made sure it was still good money. They advised me to take a trip to Brazil and go to National Bank of Brazil to exchange it and have it wired to my bank in USA. I use to go to Brazil often. Due to my health I cannot travel at this time. If anyone is going to Brazil and would like to make some money please contact me or let me know of a Bank in USA that I can exchange it.

  • September 15, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    Diane: What kind of notes are they? If they are cruzeiro notes, they are worthless due to inflation. If they are cruzado notes, the same applies. They are only still legal tender if they have REAIS as the value (including the old one-real note and the 1-centavo coins). To find out, just look at the note. If it says a number of cruzeiros/cruzados, they are worth nothing – if in good condition, you may get more by selling them to a banknote collector.


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