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Using a credit card in Brazil
Save money on your next trip to Brazil by using a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
In Brazil, you can easily pay for products and services with your credit card. While Mastercard and Visa are more widely accepted, you may find some merchants in large cities that accept American Express cards.
While plastic is accepted widely across Brazil, it’s a good idea to have some cash on you in case you’re at a restaurant or store where cards aren’t accepted or if you think using your card is risky. Additionally, some small towns and villages may run on a cash-only system.
When you decide to travel to another country, it’s a good idea to look into what fees you’ll be charged when using your credit card. For transactions made in Brazil, you could incur the following fees:
- Foreign transaction fees. Some credit cards slap you with a 2.5% to 3% fee for foreign transactions. This is relatively high, especially if you travel often. For every $1,000 spent in Brazil, you could pay up to $30 in fees. To avoid this, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. When you use your card in Brazil and the merchant asks if you’d like to pay in Canadian dollars instead of Brazilian real, you’ll make a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). Typically, the fees for these conversions are higher than if you paid in the local currency. Plus, you’ll likely get a poor exchange rate. Always pay in the local currency if offered the choice.
- Cash advance fees. If you use your credit card to withdraw cash, you’ll face a cash advance fee. Plus, you’ll be charged the cash advance interest rate from the day you withdraw the funds – there is no grace period on cash advance transactions and the cash advance APR is usually higher than the purchase APR. Avoid this by using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.
- ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw cash might have you facing an ATM fee. You can avoid ATM fees by choosing a debit card from a bank that has an international ATM alliance, such as Scotiabank or Tangerine.
Can I avoid incurring all fees?
Yes. Get a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees and decline paying in Canadian dollars if offered. Never use your credit card to take out cash and avoid ATM fees by choosing a debit card from a provider that has an ATM alliance with international banks.
Which credit card issuers are accepted in Brazil?
Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards in Brazil. If you wish to take your Amex, it’s best to also take a Visa or Mastercard branded credit card to be on the safe side.
When you withdraw cash from an ATM, you’ll pay a cash advance fee and the cash advance interest rate. Unlike a purchase interest rate, the cash advance rate is usually charged from the day you withdraw the funds and is typically higher than the purchase APR. Unless it’s an emergency, avoid using your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.
So, how should I get cash?
Use your debit card to get cash from an ATM. You can avoid ATM fees by using a credit card that belongs to an international ATM alliance.
You can find ATMs in every city in Brazil, but it may be hard to find them in the countryside. For increased security, make sure you use ATMs that are located within banks or inside shopping malls or safe areas. If you’re using an ATM that’s on the street, examine it for skimmer devices attached to the card slot or the cash dispenser. If something looks suspicious to you, skip that ATM and find another.
In general, it’s safe to use your card in Brazil, but consider these tips for added security.
- Use an ATM within a bank or a shopping mall. ATMs in the street may be tampered with, which could put you at risk of having your credit card information exposed. To avoid this, use ATMs inside a bank or a shopping mall.
- Take two credit cards. Keep one credit card stored in your hotel room safe and the other in a secure pocket on you. If you’re taking an Amex, take a least one Visa or Mastercard branded card in case Amex isn’t accepted.
- Keep your card in sight. In Rio, the most common fraud is card cloning. To avoid this, don’t let a merchant take your card and swipe it where you can’t see it. If you’re dining at a restaurant, ask for the waiter to bring the portable card reader to your table. If they don’t have one, walk with the waiter to the cashier’s station.
- Use Uber instead of cabs. You’ll get a better service, there likely won’t be a language barrier and you can pay with your card through the app.
- Keep your card physically safe. Theft is common in Brazil. Keep your credit card safe by keeping it in an inside pocket or in a safety belt.
- Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Save money by limiting the amount of fees you’re charged for overseas credit card use.
- Get a card that’s largely accepted. Keep in mind that Mastercard and Visa are widely used in Brazil, while American Express will likely only be accepted in larger cities.
- Get a backup credit card. Keep one credit card in your hotel room safe in case you lose your primary card.
- Take some cash with you, but don’t exchange it at the airport. The exchange rate and fees are considerably higher at the airport than in the city.
- Inform your bank that you’re travelling to Brazil. Let your bank know the dates you’ll be out of the country. If you don’t, your bank may consider your transactions to be fraudulent and lock your credit card account.
- Know your bank’s phone number. In the event your card is lost or stolen, you can quickly call the bank to block it from further use. Some banks will also let you do this online.
Using your credit card in Brazil is generally safe. To avoid fees, consider getting a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees and, if possible, get a backup card to take with you on your travels just in case. If you need a cab, take an Uber instead of a regular taxi so that you can pay with your card through the app. Most importantly, always keep an eye on your credit card whenever you use it.
How to use a credit card in…
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