The currency used in Brazil is the real and it is made up of one hundred centavos. Notes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100real and the coins in use are 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos and 1real.
The official language is Portuguese but in most of the tourist areas you will find somebody who speaks English. If you are in the more remote areas, however, it is difficult to find people who speak anything other than Portuguese so it is handy to learn a few words and phrases to help you get by.
Winter in Brazil is between June and August with temperatures reaching lows of between 13 and 18 degrees. It only gets really cold when you travel south of Rio. Summer lasts from December to February and again the extremes are only to be found in the south when the humidity can become difficult to handle if you are not used to it. Brief rain showers are common compliments of the country’s tropical climate but the interior of Brazil has only a few months of heavy rainfall. The Amazon Basin is the wettest area with almost constant damp moist temperatures which average about 27 degrees.
Three principal time zones are observed in Brazil. The east, northeast, south and southeast are three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, the west is four hours behind and the far west is five hours behind GMT.
Most shops are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 9.00 until 1.00pm on Saturday. Some of the bigger shopping centres and shops in the bigger towns and cities open later, many until 10.00pm and they also open on Sunday. Government offices open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and also open on Saturday mornings and banks are generally open between 10.00am and 16.30pm from on weekdays.
The electrical current in Brazil varies from region to region so it is a good idea to check it out before you go. For example in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the current in is 110V or 120V, 60Hz AC while in Salvador it is 127V and in Brasilia it is 220V.
The majority of European nationals need nothing more than a valid passport and either a return ticket or proof of the means to pay for one to enter the country. You will need to fill in an entry card on arrival which will allow you to stay for a period of up to ninety days. The immigration officials will keep one part of this card and attach the other to your passport. Make sure you don’t lose this part as your departure will probably be delayed. Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and US citizens do need a visa which you can acquire from the Brazilian embassy in your home country. Residents of all other countries should also contact your local Brazilian embassy to see if you need a visa to travel.
Once you have your tourist visa, you can extend it for up to another ninety days if you apply at least fifteen days before the first one expires. You can only do this once. After this you need to leave the country and re-enter if you want to stay on. While there are no rules stipulating that your return cannot be on the same day, it is customary to wait at least one day before re-entry.
Post offices in Brazil are called correios and you will recognise them by their bright yellow postboxes and signs. In the bigger cities you will always find the Correios e Telegrafos in the city centre but there are also smaller offices scattered throughout. One thing you will need to be prepared to do on a trip to a Brazilian post office is queue as most offices deal with a great deal more than just post. The easiest way to avoid this is to use a franking machine to purchase stamps as this usually moves along much more quickly.
The main office of the Brazilian Tourist Board is located in the country’s capital Brasilia at Setor Comercial Norte, Quadra 2, Bloco G and there is also another branch in Rio de Janeiro on the eighth floor at 174 Rua Uruguaiana. Elsewhere in the country the tourist offices are sponsored by the individual states so in many places they are quite limited in the information which they provide. Ideally, you should not depend too much on the offices in the more rural areas so it’s probably a good idea to do plenty of research before you travel to the country itself.
When changing cash or travellers’ cheques you will usually find the best exchange rates in a casa de cambio. The only problem is that outside of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo you will not find that many of them. The other option is any of the major banks but in the larger cities only the head offices offer an exchange facility. It is also worth noting that the foreign exchange departments often close at 1.00pm, although some do remain open until 2.00pm or 3.00pm. Certain branches will only change a minimum of US$100 while others impose a fee of $20 no matter how large or small the amount being changed. Therefore, it is worth looking around before exchanging any foreign cash. You should also try to take US dollars as you can only change other currencies in a casa de cambio. Once you travel outside the larger towns and cities it is difficult to change money at all so you should probably do so before heading further afield.
All major credit cards are accepted but in the more rural areas the cards which they accept can be quite limited. Also, in places which don’t have a swipe machine you should be prepared to wait quite a while as the phone lines in the country are extremely overloaded. Finally, you can use your credit card to obtain cash advances in most banks in the bigger towns and cities. In smaller towns only the Banco do Brasil will provide this service. If you wish to do so, you need to look for the sign which says Cartao or Saques por Cartao. If you can’t see a sign, ask a manager. Or, you can also use one of the increasing numbers of ATMs which is usually a much easier and much quicker alternative.
The country code for Brazil is 55 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 55, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country.
Public telephones in Brazil are known by the locals as ‘orelhões’ or ‘big ears’ as a result of their distinctive covers. There are two different types, red for local calls and blue for inter-urban calls and they use either tokens (fichas) or phonecards (cartao telefonico) which can be bought at newsstands, kiosks, pharmacies and grocery stores. The cards range in value from thirty centavos to three reais but the former is really only useful for local calls.
To make long distance and international calls you will need to go to the posto telefonico but for collect international calls any phone will do. Also while there are no economy rates for local calls, long distance calls are cheaper after 8.00pm.
Tipping in Brazil is not compulsory but a tip of ten to fifteen per cent is generally expected. Most restaurants, however, include the service charge in your bill but if you are very pleased with the service which you have received you should also leave a little extra. Taxis are not usually tipped although most people do tell the driver to keep the change.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Brazil they take place on January 1st, February 24th to 28th, good Friday, April 21st, May 1st, June 14th, September 7th, October 12th, November 2nd and 15th and December 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.