The 2016 Summer Olympics are in Rio, Brazil. Travelers all over the world are planning to get in on the excitement. Planning on being where the action is? You’ll need to get “Real” (BRL) with your money. A Brazilian dollar is called a Real, plural reais, as in 5, 10, or 20 reais.  A Brazilian real is made of 100 centavos (R$).  One Brazilian Real is equal to .27 US Dollars. You’ll need to know how to convert US Dollars to Reais to spend wisely.

Managing budgets is complex enough without calculating conversion rates. Here are a few solutions to dollar dilemmas travelers, especially students,  may face on their trips. Going prepared makes for a smoother, safer and more cost-effective trip.

Paper or plastic?

Even before you pack up your Portuguese handbook and leave for Rio, you should strategize on what kind of money to carry and use while you’re abroad. There are advantages and disadvantages to using different forms of money:

  • Prepaid currency cards are convenient and easy to manage, but may have a high exchange rate and come with fees for signing up or stolen cards.
  • Cash protects against exchange rate fluctuations, but it’s hard to carry and easy to steal.
  • Traveler’s checks are great protection against fraud, but they come with commission and handling fees. Small merchants simply refuse to accept them.
  • Credit cards may or may not have conversion rates, interest rates, or restrictions.

If you’re going to exchange your currency, choose wisely so you get a good exchange rate and avoid hidden fees. Hint: A good exchange may not be the currency counter at the airport. Your best bets are probably a bank ATM in the country you’re visiting.  If an ATM is not an option, you should check fees for service as well as exchange rates wherever you choose.

Credit and debit cards are decently secure and very convenient. They often have perks and travel rewards associated with them.  Some may even offer no conversion rates for foreign purchases, like Capital One. Others will offer protections on travel and purchases like American Express.  Credit cards can be a good value if you do your homework.

Is your credit card good for travel?

Before you buy your first bowl of feijoada, bean, pork and beef stew, please know not all credit cards are created equal. Check your credit card’s policy for away-from-home purchases. Some credit cards come with fees for foreign transactions, which can cost another 1 to 4 percent on every purchase. It adds up quickly, 4% of $400 is $16 or movie night out. Credit cards may have fraud alerts locking the card if advance notification is not received.   

Compare different credit cards and filter out the ones with foreign transaction fees. No-fee cards will get the user pretty close to the country’s normal exchange rate. You can also find the rewards best suited to your needs.  There are some benefits offering buyer protection actually insuring your personal possessions so they can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen from your hotel room.

What if a shop offers to let me pay with U.S. dollars?

Some Olympic souvenir shops might have options to pay for goods and services with your home currency rather than local money. This is a tempting offer. Budgets are much easier to manage when you deal with the currency value you recognize. As tempting as it is, do not do it.  Pay for purchases in the local currency as a general rule. When you opt for Dynamic Currency Conversion abroad, vendors can use very non-competitive exchange rates adding 3 or 4 percent to the price.

What if there’s an emergency, and I need more money?

With so much commotion around the games, anything can happen. The United States Department of State has suggestions for people who find themselves “temporarily destitute” abroad:

  1. Step one: contact your family, friends, bank or employer back home. The local United States embassy or consulate can help with this.
  2. Step two: have money sent to you. Your friends or family can replenish your bank account, or you can have an emergency contact wire money using a reputable money transfer service. The Department of State recommends Western Union or MoneyGram. Banks and credit card companies can also help by temporarily increasing your credit limit.

If all options fail, the Department of State can also help you with a money transfer for a $30 processing fee.  

What if I don’t have an emergency money source back home?

Contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the Department of State’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 888-407-4747, or from overseas +1 202-501-4444. They can give you information about other assistance options for which may qualify.

Go safe and prepared

Students should be ready for any situation – emergency, financial or otherwise, to enjoy everything the Olympics and Rio have to offer. Cheers Brazil! Felicidades Brasil!

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