A few practical tips from Brazil

We have been in Brazil the last few days and here’s our experiences:

  1. ATM Situation
    • We recently wrote about the 300 Reais daily limit from ATMs and the challenge in general with international ATM cards in withdrawing cash. We found that ATMs at Banco Bradesco are the best. It has English menus and works there were no problems with withrawing money. We tried a lot of banks — Santander, ITAU, etc. Bradesco was the best. The 300 Reais limit is still in effect.
    • When we landed at Rio de Janeiro, we could not find an ATM machine that worked at the airport. Bring some cash change in Reais (but not too much since f/x counters are a rip-off) just in case. Once in the city, go to a Bradesco to get cash out of their ATMs.
  2. Christ the Redeemer
    • Christ the Redeemer is one of the main tourist attractions in Rio. Tourist attractions generally make a good profit except, in Rio, it’s pretty backwards. They recently passed a law that requires you to buy tickets to Christ the Redeemer on the Internet. The ticket office in town does not sell tickets. There been almost no mention of this on the internet in English that we could find — we went and of course, were not admitted because we had not purchased tickets prior. At 48 Reais per adult, they left money on table. We did not see it since our stay was short.
    • Locals say this might change as it has really hurt. Trams are reportedly going up the mountain mostly empty. To be on the safe side, buy it online first at http://www.corcovado.com.br.
    • Update 6/16/2013: You can now buy tickets on site. No need to buy them online first.
  3. Food prices
    • A lot of people told us food in Rio and Brazil in general is expensive. Prices are similar to New York City’s — not really a sticker shock for us, but it may be if you are not used to New York prices. Portions are larger though.
  4. American Express acceptance
    • We did not run into a single issue with American Express acceptance in Brazil — that’s right, not a single one anywhere. If the merchant has a Cielo machine, you are good to go. Even if they don’t have one out, it might be hiding in a drawer (this was the case for us in Buzios at a small shop — they only had the Visa Redicard out). We asked if they had a Cielo machine and they did and our American Express charges went through. Cielo machine = American Express acceptance. We like using American Express abroad because we don’t have to deal with Dynamic Currency Conversion shenanigans with Visa and Mastercard.
    • Fraud alert – American Express has set its fraud alert to be extra sensitive in Brazil. We got alerted multiple times for legit charges even after we called American Express multiple times to let them know we were in Rio.
    • Using our American Express charge card without f/x fees, our rate was within 0.01 Reais of Interbank Rate when our charge went through. American Express gave us 2.04 and Interbank was 2.05. Yes, we understand it fluctuates in real time and 2.04 might have been the actual rate when it went through. Just pointing out that the rate was fantastic.
  5. Shopping
    • In general, everything is more expensive than what we can get in the US. But if you are into two things, they are cheaper here in Brazil – flip flops from Havaianas. (Someone on the team might have purchased a lot. Just saying) and bikinis from Salinas. (Just like flip flops)
    • If you do shop, you will often see a price with 5x or 8x or 10x next to them. Brazilians often buy things in installment plans with 0% interest. If you see a multiplier next to a price, the final price is the multiplier times the price.
  6. Traffic
    • Crazy! Take that into account going from point A to B.
  7. Safety
    • If you stay in Leblon, Ipanema or Copacabana, you will be fine. As with any major city, keep your city wits about and you will be fine.
  8. Beaches
    • Awesome. Every single one! There’s more than just Ipanema and Copacabana. If you have time, there are some really nice, secluded beaches in Barra. We were lucky that a great cultural ambassador to Brazil, Eloy showed the beach below to us. The beach was secluded on a Saturday! How nice is that?
Secluded beach in Barra. (c) The Flight Deal 2013

Secluded beach in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janiero, Brazil. (c) The Flight Deal 2013

It was a great holiday.  Take these tips with you for your own adventure!


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18 Responses to "A few practical tips from Brazil"

  1. @goeverywhere says:

    Very good post!
    In regards to the redeemer– others may disagree, but I found the redeemer to be a low point of my 5 days in Rio, and DEFINITELY not worth the 5 hours it required for getting there by bus, getting to the top, sweating in the sun, and getting back down and across city traffic. I much preferred sugarloaf mountain, and you can hike up the bottom part for free and take the cable car from there, it’s fabulous and there are places to get a snack, etc.
    My opinion is that they started making people pay online because the employees were ripping everyone off at the ticket booth! Just like in many places, COUNT YOUR CHANGE. I noticed they shorted me by a Real in change on my ticket, so I stood there with my hand out until she did a “whoops” and gave me my change. The guy behind me walked away from the booth and I asked him to count his change– they did the same thing to him, so he had to go back for his.

    I’m sure there were other unscrupulous things going on there…

    Another point to note:
    EVERYTHING can get stolen on the beach. Beware of so many distractions on the main beaches that thieves plan or take advantage of. I had a guy selling the sarongs that everyone lays on on the beach, who wouldn’t leave me alone. I told him I didn’t want anything and he showed me every single sarong (I guess the only way around this is to bring your own, as I had a towel instead). When he finally got the point, he cursed something at me about not liking anything, and slowly packed up every piece of cloth. Shortly thereafter I noticed my bag was missing. It’s very easy for these folks to walk off with your belongings, so the moral of the story is not to bring anything of any value at all to the beach. Lucky for me it was just a guidebook and some clothes in that bag.
    A girl next to me noticed her old navy flip flops were missing when she went to leave! Even with three of us watching our belongings at all times, things went missing.

    You’ve been warned! 🙂 But Brazil was beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of the Caipirinhas and the sunset from the rocks between Ipanema and Copacabana.

  2. harvson3 says:

    Regarding Christ:
    It appears that the city government issued a decree allowing only internet ticket purchases. The train operator, however, has a concession with the (federal) environmental institute to run the train, and argued that the city’s actions were arbitrary and illegal. The train operator recently got a temporary judicial decision (a liminar) to again sell tickets at the station. At this point, it’s probably worth checking with a hotel front desk or local, as the situation doesn’t appear to be fixed. Source: http://oglobo.globo.com/rio/liminar-libera-venda-de-ingressos-para-trem-do-corcovado-na-propria-estacao-8492623

  3. Leon says:

    I’ve just returned from Rio yesterday.

    I was able to extract 600 and 800 Reais from ATMs without any issues. The airport ATMs on the second level of the airport did not work for whatever reason. I attempted to use machines from 3 different banks.

    I was able to purchased tickets for Christ the Redeemer at the station. When I arrived at 1:30PM, the only available tickets were for 4PM. There was not a shortage of people waiting to accent the hill to see the site.

    AMEX was accepted everywhere without issues. I too received email alerts about possible fraud but the card was never deactivate. I did notify AMEX that I would be in Rio before leaving home.

    The beaches are beautiful but the people selling items destroy the experience. I will have to find more deserted beaches on my next trip.

    I didn’t feel unsafe in any of the places mentioned in your post. My wife wanted to visit Santa Teresa but a quick Google search yield too many daylight robberies using knives over the past 2-3 weeks. There seem to be a pattern with a group of kids on a red motor bike.

    • TFD says:

      @Leon – good to know that you were able to get more out of the ATM. Do you remember which bank? As for Christ the Redeemer, we went on the 24th and it was definitely still internet only. We have been hearing reports that it is now available at the ticket office again. And yes to secluded beaches, definitely worth it!

      • Leon says:

        Yes, I used an ATM operated by “Tecban” (Tecnologia Bancária S.A). Looking at one of my receipts, I extracted 600 Reais with a 12 Reais fee. The exchange rate resulted in $298.75 and a $3.98 fee.

        We went to Christ the Redeemer on May 25th.

  4. Mike says:

    I did not know the ticket via the internet thing, but I was able to ride the train on May 28 without any issues. The trains were full!

    The HSBC ATM on the 2nd floor at the airport worked! Though it was very confusing, since some message was still in Portuguese even I selected English. As a result, I tried twice and it did not work. There’s an American wait after me, and it appeared that he could read Portuguese. So I asked him to walk me through one he got cash. It turned out that the HSBC ATM needs to read the card twice. At the 2nd time it needed the card, the message was not in English, so I did not know and the machine cancelled the transaction twice. I also tried an HSBC ATM downtown, it worked as long as you put the card in again when it needed.

  5. Leon says:

    Add one more “experience” to my Rio trip. My ATM card was compromised and I had to cancel the card a few minutes ago. I noticed a couple of withdraws this morning that I did not make. Too many crooks in Brazil. I think I will only convert the money I bring into the country in the future or use my credit with the chip.

  6. Mike says:

    Damn, my card was compromised too! I saw 13 transactions posted to my account. They also told me that there were several denied transactions. I only used the debit card on ATM. How horrible!

  7. Justin says:

    Re 1: Banco do Brasil charges no ATM fee and takes Visa ATM cards. There is one in the Rio airport, but it is somewhat hidden away from the other ATMs on the 2nd level of the airport in a separate room that is hidden behind a wall or partition. As others have said, many ATMs require you to insert your card twice. I know enough Latin-based languages to get by without an English ATM so I can’t really remember if there was an English menu or not.

    Re 2: The tram is only one way to get to the Christ the Redeemer statue. There is a road the entire way up and you can take a taxi for a fraction of the cost of the tram. From the base, it should be less than 20 RL, while the tram is nearly 50.

    Re 8: If you have time, the beaches in the areas surrounding Rio are much more stunning and accessible by a cheap 4-5 hour bus (which is about as long as you’d spend in Rio traffic during a day anyway). Arraial do Cabo was my favorite, but there’s also Buzios and Cabo Frio to the north, and Paraty and Isla Grande to the south.

    • TFD says:

      @Justin – great tip on the the tram. And you are absolutely correct about the beaches outside of Rio — so nice. We went to a few.

  8. Mike says:

    Got my money back without much of a drama. Lesson learned, which never happened to me abroad. Both of my own transactions were on HSBC ATM, one on the 2nd floor at the GIG airport and the other was inside an HSBC branch. I believe that the crooks got my bank info on the ATM at the airport, as the other ATM was inside a bank branch.

    There were several ATMs on the 2nd floor at GIG, so be aware.

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