Financing and Banking in Brazil: A Comprehensive Guide

Brazil’s banking system has evolved into a sophisticated and efficient network, with the emergence of fintech companies revolutionizing the industry. While major banks now offer web and mobile options for their products and services, in-person banking continues to play a significant role in Brazil. With approximately 15,000 bank branches across the country, Brazil maintains a strong presence in traditional banking. However, international operations are typically centralized in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, with major branches in larger cities handling routine trade finance operations. Brazilian banks also have correspondent banks worldwide, facilitating connections to the Brazilian financial market for exporters.

Foreign Banks in Brazil

Brazil’s banking landscape comprises a mix of domestic and foreign banks. According to the Brazilian Central Bank (BCB), the top 10 banks in Brazil by net equity (as of December 2021) include two state-owned banks, Banco do Brasil and Caixa Economica Federal, five private Brazilian banks, Itau-Unibanco, Bradesco, Safra, BTG Pactual, and Votorantim. In addition, one foreign bank, Banco Santander (Spain), also make the list.

Among the top 50 banks in Brazil, 14 are foreign-owned or controlled. Notably, the United States has a significant presence in Brazil’s banking sector, with major U.S. banks such as Citibank, JP Morgan, BofA Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs ranking among the top banks in terms of net equity. Fintechs have also gained traction in Brazil, with digital bank Nubank now ranked fifth, surpassing Santander in terms of the number of clients.

The Brazilian Currency

The official currency of Brazil is the Real (BRL$), which comes in seven banknotes and six coins. The banknotes are available in denominations of BRL$ 2.00, BRL$ 5.00, BRL$ 10.00, BRL$ 20.00, BRL$ 50.00, BRL$ 100.00. To obtain Reais, both banks and approved foreign exchange shops offer currency exchange services. The exchange rate between the US dollar (USD) and the Brazilian Real (BRL$) fluctuates daily. As of June 2023, the average exchange rate was approximately US$ 1.00 = BRL$ 5.05.

While there is no limit on the amount of money that foreign visitors can bring in or take out of Brazil, amounts exceeding BRL$ 10,000.00 require documentation. In such cases, a Currency Carry-on Electronic Declaration must be completed.

Payment Methods in Brazil

When it comes to imports in Brazil, the most commonly used payment methods are traditional letters of credit (L/C) and collections through established banks with correspondent banking agreements overseas. However, U.S. exporters may also consider operating on an open account or cash in advance basis, provided they have established a reliable relationship with their Brazilian buyers. It is important to note that due to high-interest rates and intermediary spreads, Brazilian buyers often prefer open accounts or upfront cash payments. To mitigate payment risks, U.S. companies are advised to work with EXIM Bank insurance or guarantees.

For more information on payment methods and other trade finance options, U.S. exporters can refer to the Trade Finance Guide provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Credit and Collection in Brazil

To assess the creditworthiness of Brazilian companies, credit information is available for a fee from reputable commercial information service providers such as Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, or Serasa. In the event of a commercial dispute or non-payment by a Brazilian importer, U.S. exporters should seek assistance from a reputable legal firm experienced in international collections. It is worth noting that local collection agencies in Brazil do not handle international disputes. The U.S. Commercial Service in Brazil can provide lists of law firms through their services.

Foreign Exchange Controls

In Brazil, accounts can only be maintained in the local currency. To remit funds to a seller in the United States, a Brazilian importer must purchase the corresponding foreign currency through an exchange contract with a bank authorized by the Brazilian Central Bank. The exchange rate and related fees are negotiated directly between the importer and the bank. The Brazilian Central Bank plays a vital role in implementing policies aimed at improving and stabilizing the national financial system, including the control of foreign capital flows.

For more detailed information on financing in Brazil, including foreign exchange controls, it is recommended to refer to the Investment Climate Statement provided by the U.S. Department of State.


Brazil’s banking sector has undergone significant transformations in recent years, with the rise of fintech companies and the increasing adoption of digital banking. While in-person banking remains prevalent, major banks now offer web and mobile options to cater to the evolving needs of consumers. The presence of foreign banks, including those from the United States, further contributes to the diversity of Brazil’s banking landscape. Understanding the Brazilian currency, payment methods, credit and collection processes, and foreign exchange controls is crucial for businesses looking to engage in trade with Brazil. By staying informed and leveraging the available resources and services, international exporters can navigate Brazil’s financing and banking systems with confidence and maximize their success in the Brazilian market.

Remember, whether you are a local business or an international exporter, having a solid understanding of Brazil’s financing and banking landscape is essential for navigating the market successfully. By familiarizing yourself with the available options, payment methods, and the role of foreign banks, you can make informed decisions and ensure a smooth financial process.

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