Brazil is the largest country in South America with a diverse population and vibrant culture, and remains a popular tourist destination for travelers from all over the world.
Whether you’re planning to visit Brazil for personal reasons or for vacation, you’re going to need the Brazilian real—or reais in plural form. Keep reading for everything you need to know about this unique currency, from getting the best deal to little-known facts.
Brazilian real essentials
Like most modern currencies, the Brazilian real comes in coins and banknotes. It also has its own currency code, usually used while trading.
- Currency Code: BRL
- Abbreviation: R$
- Coins: 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos, and R$1
- Banknotes: R$2, R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50, R$100, R$200
A short history of the Brazilian real
The Brazilian real was imported from the Portuguese real in the 1600s and was replaced by the cruzeiro in 1942. Named after the Southern Cross constellation, the cruzeiro evolved several times before being replaced by the cruzeiro real in 1993.
The main reason for these rapid currency variations was inflation.
In 1994, President Itamar Franco introduced the Plano Real, the Real Plan in English, to stabilize the Brazilian economy and currency. And for the most part, it worked, especially to curb rampant inflation.
That said, COVID-19 has negatively affected the regional economy, as detailed by the World Bank. As vaccinations increase and the pandemic ebbs, it’s hoped that the country’s economy will recover.
The currency exchange rate in Brazil explained
As of this writing, 1 USD was equal to 5.32 reais. To give another example, today it takes 3.73 Mexican pesos (MXN) to equal 1 Brazilian Real (BRL).
These differences in value are based on several factors. The currency exchange rate is determined by government stability, regulation, the economy, inflation, demand for foreign currency, and more.
7 facts you probably didn’t know about the real
Brazilian money has a fascinating history. Check out these seven facts to learn more.
1. One form of the R$1 is worth more than another form of R$1.
While there are still R$1 coins in circulation, the R$1 banknote is no longer printed. This makes it a collector’s item. In fact, if you find a R$1 banknote in good condition, it could be worth more than the number printed on the bill.
2. Brazilian currency changed eight times in the 20th century.
- The old real (until 1942)
- Cruzeiro antigo (1942-1967)
- Cruzeiro novo (1967-1970)
- Cruzeiro (1970-1986)
- Cruzado (1986-1989)
- Cruzado novo (1989-1990)
- Cruzeiro (1990-1993)
- The new real (1994-present)
3. When writing out the amount in reais, watch your decimal points.
With many currencies, including USD and CAD, you’d normally use a comma to separate the thousands place, and a point (period) to indicate the decimal. For example, two thousand dollars and fifty cents would be written as: $2,000.50. This is reversed in Brazilian Portuguese.
So, with reais, a comma indicates the decimal and a point shows the difference between the other numeric places. For example, you’d write the same amount above as R$2.000,50.
4. The original real came from Portugal.
The Brazilian real has its roots in 15th century Portugal. The word “real” actually means “royal.” The first coins were minted from silver, and then copper.
Since Brazil was a Portuguese colony from the 1500s, the real was introduced early on as the official currency in the region. Brazil gained its independence from Portugal in 1822.
5. The first Brazilian real wasn’t printed by the Portuguese, however.
While Portugal did import the real as a currency, the first actual reais carrying the name “real” in Brazil were printed by the Dutch.
The historical borders of Brazil were different from the modern-day country. In fact, in the 1600s, the Dutch actually controlled the northeastern portion of what is now Brazil.
6. The Brazilian real remains popular in trading.
While the Brazilian real has struggled with inflation, the Brazilian economy was still ranked the 12th largest in the world by GDP in 2020.
As a result, the BRL is currently in the top 20 most traded currencies in the world. It’s also the most traded of all the Latin American currencies.
7. The latest series of reais were released in 2010.
The Central Bank of Brazil announced new notes in 2010. Not only did these banknotes include improved security elements, but they were also printed in different sizes. Differently sized notes are used to help those with vision impairments easily recognize individual banknotes.
Converting, exchanging, or transferring Brazilian reais
The good news is that you have a lot of options when it comes to getting your hands on Brazilian reais. Outside of ordering reais from your bank or exchanging them at the airport, you can also use ATMs in Brazil. Just be sure to follow some basic safety precautions when using ATMs.
What’s more, you’ll find that credit cards are widely accepted throughout Brazil, with Visa and MasterCard being the most common.
Regardless, you’ll want some loose change for taxis, tipping for parking and tours, shopping in the market, and general emergencies. Having some cash on hand can be especially helpful outside of major cities.
Further reading: Safely Send Money to Brazil in 5 Easy Steps
Sending money to Brazil
If you’re sending money to Brazil from outside the country, you have plenty of choices, with money transfer apps gaining in popularity.
For instance, Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, and more affordable. Our reliable and easy-to-use mobile app is trusted by over 3 million people around the world.