Common sense dictates that travellers should always be equipped with multiple means of accessing funds in case of emergency while abroad. However, as we travel more frequently and the occurrence of banking mishaps remains nonexistent, we tend to get overconfident and forget about the travel banking dos and don’ts. Take for example, someone like myself: I’m a Royal Bank of Canada customer, and have travelled to over 20 countries ranging from the comforts of the United States to remote villages in rural Cambodia. Everywhere I go, I take my RBC debit card, my RBC VISA card, and my “in case of emergency” $100USD in cash.
Before leaving for Brazil, one of my friends, a Canadian expat in Brazil, warned me that RBC Debit Cards don’t work in Brazilian ATMs. I promptly called RBC to register my card, at which time I also inquired about this alleged problem. The agent had no recollection of any existing problems with debit card use in Brazil, and assured me that as long as I have a 4-digit pin, everything would be fine. I also called my home branch to inquire, and they provided me with the same assurance. Convinced that my friend’s problem was just an isolated case, off I went to Brazil with my usual Debit card, VISA card and $100USD in cash.
When I landed in Sao Paulo, I went to an HSBC ATM to withdraw money in the local currency, and of course, an error message popped up. As panic began to set in, and the warnings from my friend came back to haunt me, I frantically tried the next ten ATMs that lined the terminal wall, all of which gave me the same response. She was right. I called RBC’s international toll-free line to voice both my complaints and pleas for help. They gave me the usual spiel about ensuring that a 4-digit pin and an ATM with the Plus logo were being used – both of which I was already aware of. As I referenced my pre-departure call, the agent once again voiced that there was no known history of difficulty using RBC Debit cards in Brazil, leaving me back at square one without access to funds.
After some research of my own, I learned that a long history of ATM fraud in Brazil has led to inconsistencies and incompatibilities with not only Canadian banking cards, but foreign Debit cards as well. I surrendered, and accepted that it was certainly not the fault of the Royal Bank, as it was a foreign banking issue that was simply out of their control. The source of my frustration with RBC, however, was that when I specifically asked about this problem prior to my departure, no one knew about it and I was assured that everything would be fine. How could this be? I couldn’t possibly have been the first RBC client in history to travel to Brazil!
All I wanted was a travel advisory to better prepare myself, hence the purpose of this post. I’ll leave you with a few tips for foreign banking in Brazil:
- Be prepared to use your Credit Card for very small purchases. Every flea market, café, shop, restaurant, and store accepts credit, with the exception of taxis and beach side huts.
- Open a chequing account with another Bank and obtain a secondary debit card to use in Brazil
- Take cash in US Dollars, and use it sparingly. You never know when your electronic funds will suddenly become inaccessible!