Even in 2020, there is no way to avoid using the ATM in Brazil.
Salvador still relies heavily on cash. While most restaurants take credit cards, if you want to catch the bus, take a taxi, pay for a dance or percussion class, buy a coxinha, or get a beer on the beach, you will need to have cash.
While things are improving, and more and more street and beach vendors have portable credit card readers, but Salvador, Brazil is still far from being a cashless society.
Choosing an ATM in Brazil
As a foreigner, you are limited to two banks in Salvador— Banco do Brasil and Bradesco. While two banking networks may sound quite limiting, there are branches all over the place, so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.
- Don’t…Use standalone ATMs. The red Banco 24 Horas machines accept foreign cards and are well-maintained, but also charge a $20+ reais convenience charge. Any of the other standalone ATMs I would say use at your own risk — the locals don’t use them, and that is all I need to know.
- Don’t…Take money out after dark. If it is absolutely necessary, go into a mall and use the bank branch there — Shopping Barra has a Banco do Brasil, for example. Or if you can’t get to a mall, take a couple of locals you trust with you to the bank.
- Don’t…Go to the ATM on Fridays. Fridays during the day as well as the first day of the month are terrible times to go to the bank. The bank lobby is filled with people depositing paychecks and getting their pensions. In the US, we’re all quite accustomed to online everything, but it’s not that way here.
Brazil ATM Dos
- Do…Have patience and persistence. Just because one machine in a bank won’t accept your card, don’t assume your card is blocked. Assume, instead, that that machine isn’t working and try another. Having said that, Brazil is a high fraud country, so if you didn’t tell your home bank you are traveling and this is your first withdraw, you may have been blocked.
- Do…Take advantage of the English language ATM menus. The ATMs at both Banco do Brasil and Bradesco have English language menus.
- Do…Pay attention. If you think someone is scoping out the bank or is following you — they probably are. I have never had anything bad happen, and don’t personally know stories of anyone that has. But, if I’m heading to the bank, and see a couple of guys just loitering outside looking like they have no place to be, I’ll either go to another bank branch or run other errands first and come back.
Use that cash to head to the Pelourinho
The Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, is a true must-not-be-missed experience for every visitor to our magical city. It is the is the heartbeat of the city.
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Daily Cash Withdrawal Limits
Bradesco has a daily limit of 2,500 reais per day. Sometimes you are limited to smaller withdrawals per transaction — which seems to depends upon the bills available in the machine. But, you can stay at the machine and do multiple transactions without a problem until you get to 2,500 reais. The machine you are at will always tell you at the top of the screen what the transaction limit is.
Banco do Brasil has a daily limit of 500 reais — which drops down to 300 in some places, like the Pelourinho, after dark. Yes, I have done it, and yes, I was with a very large local. And no, you can’t go to multiple Banco do Brasil branches and try to get out more. (Not that I’ve ever tried that in a fit of desperation.)
Even though Banco do Brasil has a smaller daily limit, one of the things I really like about Banco do Brasil is that most of the time the ATM will ask you how you want your bills. While this doesn’t seem like much, the ATMs here stock 50 and 100 note bills, which are just as difficult to break as 50 or 100 dollar bills in the States. So, for example, if you are taking out 200 reais, the ATM will let you choose between a 100 and two 50-note bills OR a 50, five 20s, three 10s, and four 5 note bills. Always, always, always take the smaller note bills — trying to get more than 20 reais in change is a non-starter most places.
Withdrawing Cash at the Salvador, Brazil Airport
Unless you are arriving with reais or have arranged for a car that accepts a credit card, you will need to get cash before leaving the airport. Fortunately, the Salvador airport has a couple of Banco do Brasil machines.
Assuming you come in through domestic arrivals, you will exit the baggage area and there will be a very long hallway running left to right. Turn left and head down the long hallway. it’s a bit of a hike, but it’s there. You won’t see many travelers heading that way, but there are some government offices and I always see police officers patrolling. From there, you can safely get enough money for your taxi ride and dinner — 100 reais will easily get you Barra, Rio Vermelho, or the Pelourinho/Santo Antonio.