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What is the Brazil Real?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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The Brazil real is the official unit of currency in Brazil. The real has a long and illustrious history with roots which stretch back to Europe. Exchange rates for the real vary, depending on a number of factors, and generally banks can provide the most current exchange rate information by request from customers. Information about exchange rates is also readily available through online currency converters which provide real time updates.

When the Portuguese first started settling in Brazil, they brought their currency with them. The Portuguese real was the unofficial unit of currency in the new nation, although it competed with currencies from other versions of the world as well. Lack of a consistent exchange rate led people to value coins by their metal content, rather than face value, and by the 1650s, Brazil was producing money with the “real” name to compete with other currencies in wide use.

In 1690, the real was named the official currency of Brazil, and it remained Brazil's primary currency until 1942. In 1942, the Brazilian economy was struggling and the Brazil real was subject to extreme inflation. This led the nation to introduce the cruziero. After several currency experiments, the nation brought back the Brazil real in 1994 and it has remained the official currency ever since, under the supervision of the Central Bank of Brazil, an organization which also monitors interest rates and other economic matters.

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Historically the Brazil real was pluralized as “reis” by the Portuguese. The correct pluralization today is “reais.” Each real is divided into 100 centavos, and the government prints a variety of coins and paper bills in various common denominations. When abbreviating, the Brazil real is written as R$.

People who travel to Brazil generally need to exchange their currency into Brazilian reais. This can be done at Brazilian banks and currency exchange counters. Visitors should be aware that most facilities charge a fee for currency exchanges, and that these fees can vary wildly, making it advisable to inquire about exchange fees first, and ideally to compare fees between several vendors before making a decision about where to exchange currency. It is also possible to change currency at home before leaving for Brazil though a bank which handles international currency exchanges. If the exchange rate is in rapid flux, it can be a good idea to exchange while the rate is favorable rather than waiting until arrival and potentially paying a higher rate.

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