The History of the Brazilian Real

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The official monetary unit of Brazil, known as the real, first appeared alongside Portuguese colonizers in the early 16th century. It has since undergone drastic changes that have paralleled the internal evolutions of the nation in which it circulates.



The Brazilian real is the standard national currency used for both private and commercial commerce throughout the 26 states of Brazil. All currency is maintained by the Banco Central do Brasil, or Central Bank of Brazil.


The use of metal coinage as a monetary unit first appeared in Brazil in the 16th century with the Portuguese colonizers. The real underwent changes in name, appearance and value until 1942, when it was replaced by the cruzeiro unit. The cruzeiro circulated until 1993, when it replaced by the short-lived cruzeiro-real. The modern-day real was introduced on July 1, 1994.


The modern real , and plural reis, come in coin and paper forms of various numerical value. Coin denominations are one centavo (1/100 real), five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, and one-real coins. Coins vary among copper, bronze and nickel; they are engraved with either the image of the Effigy of the Republic, or with a national historical figure.


Aside from traditional coinage, the real comes in a variety of paper notes. The first paper banknote appeared in 1810, issued by the Banco do Brasil. The modern notes range from one real to 100 reis. Banknotes are colorful and universally host the image of the Effigy of the Republic with a variant image of indigenous wildlife on the reverse.


The monetary value of the real against the U.S. dollar fluctuates regularly, though it has never reached nor passed the U.S. dollar in value. Therefore, conversion falls to the dollar’s favor. The Portuguese word “real” holds two meanings in English: royal and real.


Mallory Ferland has been writing professionally since her start in 2009 as an editorial assistant for Idaho-based Premier Publishing. Her writing and photography have appeared in “Idaho Cuisine” magazine, “Spokane Sizzle” and various online publications. She graduated from Gonzaga University in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and French language and now writes, photographs and teaches English in Sao Paulo, Brazil.


  • Mallory Ferland

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