The history of Brazil currency is quite tumultuous and has undergone many name changes over the years. The very first currency used in Brazil was the Spanish silver coin, brought into the country by the Portuguese people.
In the year 1654, the Dutch were the first people occupying Brazil who used the real for currency. It must have been received well because by 1690, it was accepted officially as Brazil's currency.
The Cruzeiro was adopted as Brazil's currency in 1942, effectively replacing the real. The Cruzeiro had two bills: one was the Cr$10,000.00 and the other was the Cr$5000.00.
In 1967, another form of Cruzeiro, the Cruzeiro Novo, replaced the Cruzeiro.
The Cruzeiro Novo was only circulated for a short time and by 1986; the Cruzado became Brazil's currency. The Cruzado Novo replaced the Cruzado by 1989.
The Cuzeiro is back by 1990 and it was then adapted to what is called the Cruzeiro Real, but that currency is used in Brazil for 12 short months.
By 1994, the real returned and replaced the Cruzeiro once again. This move was made in hopes to reduce the ever increasing and out of control inflation. At this point, the real was equal to exactly $1 U.S. currency. During a two-year span, 1994 and 1995, the real reached a value equal to $1.20 U.S. currency.
Current day Brazil currency coins and real, pronounced hey-all, bills are in denominations similar to the United States currency of the dollar.
Real Brazil Currency Denominations in Bills:
The front of the Brazilian real bill is an effigy of the Republic, which is a bust of a woman. On the reverse side of each bill there is a different image to distinguish one from another denomination.
The R$ 1.00 bill has a Sapphire-spangled Emerald Hummingbird. This bill is no longer being printed, but is still accepted throughout the country as legal tender.
The R$ 2.00 bill features a Hawksbill turtle.
An image of a Great Egret is on the back of the R$ 5.00 bill.
The R$ 10.00 bill has a colorful Green-winged Macaw.
An image of a Golden Lion Tamarin graces the back of the R$ 20.00 bill.
The R$ 50.00 and the R$ 100.00 bills have a Jaguar and Dusky Grouper on the backs of the bills respectively.
Coins have dominations of R$ 1.00, R$ 0.50, R$ 0.25, R$ 0.10, and R$ 0.05. The first series of coins minted in Brazil were struck from stainless steel in 1994.
Their coins are called centavos and at that time they minted coin denominations of 1 centavo, 5 centavos, 10 centavos, 25 centavos, 50 centavos and a coin worth 1 real. They were the only coins used in Brazil until 2003, at which time the Central Bank began to slowly withdraw them from circulation.
The Brazilian coin design changed again in 1998. The 1 and 5 centavos coins were made from copper-plated steel, the 10 and 25 centavos coins were brass-plated, the 50 centavos coin was a combination of copper and nickel, and the 1 real coin was made from a two-colored brass, nickel, and copper. The 1 real is still accepted as legal tender in Brazil, but no new coins were produced after late 2005.
Each coin front has the Southern Cross in the upper right side of the coin along with the number denoting the amount the centavo is worth. The backs of the coins are each unique.
Brazil will gladly exchange Brazilian currency for the United States dollar as long as you have your passport with you.
You can go to many hotels and most banks in Brazil to switch out your currency, but if you want to exchange at the airport, there are cash dispensers available at the larger airports.
Try to complete your transactions during the weekdays as most banks and hotels will not exchange currency on the weekends.
Automatic teller machines in Brazil recognize the US dollar and travelers checks. You can find ATMs conveniently located throughout the country. Fees are very high for taking out cash at a foreign ATM, so it's probably wise to take out some cash before leaving home.
Smaller town establishments such as hotels and restaurants or shops may only accept cash, so it's a good idea to have some Brazilian currency with you as well as credit cards.
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards in Brazil and sometimes it's possible to get the best exchange rate by using a credit card. Keep this in mind: some establishments will take one or the other exclusively, so it's best to take both with you.
Banks can send along a percentage of their cost to you in the way of transaction fees for charges you incur outside of the United States, so be prepared for those on your bill when you return home.
Unless you want some Brazilian currency as souvenirs, be sure to exchange all Real currency prior to crossing through airport security or else you're out of luck. The Real cannot be exchanged outside of Brazil for other currency. Once you pass airport security at the Brazil airport, you must use the United States dollar to make purchases.
As of March 2011, the exchange rate is R$ 1.66 to $1.00 U.S. currency.