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Sao Paulo Currency & Banking

Since 1994, the Brazilian currency has been the Real (plural: Reais), symbol is R$. There are bills of R$1, R$2, R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50 and R$100. Coins exist in values of 1 cent (R$0.01), 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 1 Real. Coins vary in size and color.

To open a bank account (“conta bancária” in Portuguese) as a foreigner in Brazil is not very easy. Typically you will need a CPF (Cadastro da Pessoa Fisica) and a long-term visa such as a work or permanent visa with the ID card (CIE, Cédula de Identidade de Estrangeiro).

There are two different types of bank accounts for individuals (pessoas físicas):
Conta corrente (checking/current account)
Conta de poupança (Savings account)

For the checking/current account you will need a regular income, and many banks ask also for a minimum income that will be deposited in the account each month, usually between R$500 – 700. With a checking/current account you will receive a checkbook and a debit card to withdraw cash via the bank’s ATM (some debit cards will have the ability to draw from linked ATMs, such as those in the Banco24horas system).

If you open a savings account you will receive a card that can only deposit and withdraw cash via the bank’s ATM. No checks, no general debit card and no credit card.

ATMs/cash machines are very popular in Brazil. You will find them in every shopping center, in boxes on streets, in commercial areas of larger cities, in Universities and many public buildings. ATMs are used to withdraw and deposit money, pay bills like phone, water, light, mobile phone, credit card or any other bill that has a bar code on it. Note that ATMs often close or reduce withdrawal limits in the early evening to reduce crime.

Of course you can check the status of your account on the ATM as well as transferring money from your account to any other account within the same bank. In the agencies of many banks there are also ATMs available to print your checks. The bank fees and charges for the service of the bank are different in each bank. Usually you pay a monthly fee that includes a certain number of checks and statements. If you print more checks or statements during a month you will have to pay extra. Note that you should try to negotiate when opening the account for the monthly fees to be waived, although this will depend on the amounts deposited and the flexibility of the person you’re dealing with.

Besides ATMs, most banks now offer Internet banking for clients. Usually you have to go to the branch where you opened the account to apply for the service. Using Internet banking you can do all the operations that an ATM offers, except for money transfers to accounts in other banks.