Let’s imagine the following situation: you are a foreigner traveling in beautiful Brazil, enjoying the beaches, meeting nice people and luckily staying out of trouble. Your only problem: you do not speak enough Portuguese and finding a person who is able (and willing) to speak English is difficult. And so unfortunately even ordinary things become difficult, for example: buying a shirt.

Checking out: CPF? Credit? Debit?

So you collected your courage and went into a store. You responded friendly to the greeting and words by one of the sales people, who let you alone after realizing that you are a gringo. You managed to find a nice piece of cloth, understood where to ask for the dressing room, managed to try on your new clothes and happily headed for the cashier. After standing in line for some minutes (you already adopted the Brazilian patience when standing in line) you finally arrived at the cashier. After the initial confusion (if you live in the state of São Paulo like I do, the cashier most likely asked you about your CPF, which is your tax registration number, because people receive a cash-back when they tell their CPF when buying an item) your purchase is rung up, you see the price at the cash machine (you are already used to looking at the machine, because it’s hard to understand the numbers with your basic or non-existent Portuguese) and you hand over your credit card to pay. You even expected the next question “credit or debit?” because Brazilians are used to have both systems on one card and answered accordingly. You think everything is over and that you are just about a second away from paying and leaving and that is the moment when the cashier looks at you and asks another question.

Installments everywhere

The cashier repeats his question friendly but you still have no idea what he or she is talking about. At this point (or a little later) the cashier might give up and proceed with the checkout, uses your credit card and finally hands over your purchase. But it leaves you puzzled: what the hell did he (or she) want from you? The answer is pretty easy: your were asked you about paying in installments. This is very (VERY!) popular in Brazil

Ever since the economic boom of the 90s Brazilians got used to buying on credit. For many formerly poor people it was suddenly possible to get credit (thanks to a governmental program) and so many people used this widely. One form is the installment (“parcelar” which means to divide into parts) of your purchase: you will pay x more or less equal parts instead of paying all at once. A shirt (or a bus ticket) for 120 Reais can be purchased at once or paying two months 60 Reais or 40 Reais for 3 month and so on.

This sharing is very popular and many stores try very hard to talk you into sharing. At Renner – one of the big chains of clothing stores in Brazil – I was once asked to share a purchase of 50 Reais seven times – meaning I would pay 7 months for the shirt, every month 7 Reais which is about 2 Euros. I don’t like sharing (I’m a bit practical and think, if I can’t afford it this month, I should probably not buy it) so I refused, but the girl at the cashier tried nevertheless very hard to convince me.

Renner might be a special case, since I had a company card there which gives you special discounts. But Renner would have also sent me a bill every month and if I had forgotten to pay on time – and they would’ve charged extra for this service (of course). So yes, they had a special interest in convincing me.

But you might pay extra for it

What makes the installments so interesting for many people is that often you don’t have to pay interest for it, which means you just get a cost-free credit. I have never tried if it es even possible to pay with installments on a foreign credit card, but unless your level of Portuguese is good enough for a lengthy conversation, I wouldn’t even try. So next time, when you hear a strange question when paying for your stuff, just smile and shake your head, or tell them a friendly “não” and you will be spared of more and more confusing questions.

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