Credit cards

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Using a credit card at an ATM to get cash

You can use a credit card (Mastercard or Visa) at a Brazilian ATM to get cash. However, you will pay a large interest rate to your credit card for a cash advance (like 20%) and there is no grace period before interest charges begin to accumulate.

Bank access cards without the Visa or Mastercard branding also work in bank machines if the card has the Plus or Cirrus logo. See the section Bank cards and ATMs.

Avoiding interest on a cash advance

An easy way to avoid credit card interest in this situation is to put a credit balance on your credit card, i.e., a balance in your favor.

If you expect to withdraw US$1000 (which is about R$2000) in Brazil, pay an extra US$1000 onto your credit card before you go. Then there will be no interest charges until your credit balance becomes a debit balance. You will get a good exchange rate (again within 2 to 2.5% of the interbank rate) and they will charge you about US$5 as a withdrawal fee.

Although this has worked for me, you might want to double-check with your bank whether or not cash-advance interest charges are triggered if you have a credit balance. Since this is an unusual thing to do, the customer service people at your bank may wrongly tell you that cash advances always incurs interest charges. You might have to speak with a supervisor or actually try it to find out whether it works with your particular card.

Bring a chip card if possible

If possible, your Mastercard or Visa should be a chip card (also known as a chip & PIN card, EMV card, or smart card). Brazil, like Europe, is far ahead of the US in its adoption of chip cards. Canadian banks have switched over to chip cards in last 3–4 years, though they have a magnetic stripe as well.

Note that if you get a chip card, you must know the PIN, otherwise the card is practically useless despite having a magnetic stripe. That's because most payment terminals will not permit you to swipe the card if your card is equipped with a chip. The terminal will insist that you insert the card and enter the PIN number.

My understanding is that it is possible to get chip cards at some US banks if you specifically request it. In Canada, as already mentioned, almost all cards are already chip cards.

Paying by credit card

Almost every location that accepts credit cards will accept both Mastercard and Visa. American Express (Amex) cards are widely accepted as well (even in large supermarkets for example).

Payment terminals usually can still read magnetic stripes. I assume this capability is retained for foreigners (especially for US visitors) since I haven't seen any Brazilian swipe their card or sign their name for a credit card transaction in Brazil. All cards issued by Brazilian banks are chip cards, and a Brazilian will enter a PIN number.

The major payments systems in Brazil are Cielo and Redecard. They supply the portable terminals you find at shops and restaurants. Both accept Visa, Mastercard, and American Express (Amex). Both accept chip cards and swipe cards. Some Brazilian customers prefer one over the other apparently due to fees or promotions offered to Brazilian cardholders, but I've seen no difference with respect to foreign cards.

The "debit or credit" question

Debit cards that have the Visa or MasterCard logo do work in Brazil. However, when the merchant asks you credito ou debito?— i.e., Is it a credit card or debit card? — your reply should be credito. Their terminal will clear it through the Visa or MasterCard credit-card network, and your account will be debited immediately. If the merchant tries a debit transaction with your Canadian or US card (even if your card is a debit card), it won't work. As far as I've been able to determine, the debit function in Brazil is meant only for cards issued by Brazilian banks.

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