Tipping Tips around the World
By Cynthia W. Lett CEP CPP; Director, The Lett Group & International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals
According to all the dictionaries, tips are something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service. What we experience however is the expectation of a tip, whether or not the service has been exemplary. In the United States we are used to tipping in restaurants and taxi cabs. We tip for personal services such as deliveries, doormen, massages, manicures and hairdressing. If we live in a large city we generally tip between 15 and 20%. In smaller towns 10% is often the norm but 15% is especially appreciated. However, when we travel, the rules change and if we are not aware of them, our experiences may be less satisfying and more expensive than you needed to pay. Generally, if you do some research before you go, you will find your traveling spirit more confident.
In Europe, tipping isn’t automatic or as generous as in the United States. In restaurants, 5- 10% is the norm but of course if someone was particularly attentive, you can give more. Check the restaurant bill. Often the gratuity (15%) is figured with the total and it will be stated at the bottom of the menu. A couple of extra Euros is appreciated if the service has been outstanding. In France gratuity is often not included (service non compris or s.n.c.), tip 5-10% by rounding up or leave the change from your bill. It’s best to hand the tip directly to the waiter rather than leaving it on the table, especially in busy restaurants. Especially In Austria,Belgium,Denmark,Iceland,Germany,Liechtenstein,Luxembourg,Netherlands,Norway,Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, you should be discreet and well-mannered and say the total number of Euros you’d like the waiter to keep (including his tip) when paying. For instance, if the bill is €75, you hand him €100 while saying, “€85”. You will have €10 returned and he has his tip. If you are paying by credit card, the rule of thumb is to pay the tip in cash so you can be sure the wait person receives it. If the service is bad and you have the choice what to tip, it is considered poor manners not to tip something. 5% is the minimum. Be sure if it has been a really bad experience that you let the manager know the trouble discreetly, not bringing attention to yourself. Loud and boisterous is not looked upon well in restaurants and is often the catalyst for the “Ugly American” moniker.
For taxis in the US the standard is 15% but in Europe tip 10% or round up the fare and you should be alright. Tour guides expect something extra. At the time of booking your tour, ask the company if gratuities are additional. If they are, plan on a euro or two.
At hotels, a Euro or two per bag is generous for the porter. For the room maid, a couple of Euros at the end of your stay is appropriate if your room was kept clean. I have found that if you give the tip on the first day, the service you receive is friendlier the rest of your stay.
Hairdressers in France and Britain are generally tipped 15%. In Denmark and Sweden tips are not usual. When I gave a tip of the equivalent of $5 US to my shampoo attendant in Paris, she told me that she is often forgotten when it comes to tips, especially from foreigners. She said my gesture changed her thinking about Americans as being cheap. For the accepted standards where you are, the hotel concierge knows best what is considered apropos when it comes to personal attendants.
Public restrooms in Europe are rarely free. If you see a plate with a coin in it, match whatever that coin is. The attendant may be there handing you a towel or soap. About 30 Euro cents is an appropriate tip for him or her.
In South America: A tip is a propina in Spanish, gorjeta in Portuguese.
Like in Europe, a gratuity of 10-15% is usually added to your restaurant bill automatically. Keep in mind that a small additional gratuity given directly to your server is much appreciated. Don’t leave money on a restaurant table. When I was in a restaurant in Santiago, Chile several years ago, I learned a valuable lesson. It was an upscale restaurant and the meal was wonderful as well as the service. While I left a tip of about 14%, the waiter was most grateful. He was more grateful for my other tip because I told him he could have the book I was reading. (I had just finished it and was happy to pass it along rather than tote it back to the US). He told me that books from the United States are very expensive there and he and his wife will really enjoy this treat. Sometimes, the best tip to leave is something other than money.
Each country in South America has its own standard so a blanket statement about how much to tip won’t work. However, keep in mind what city you are in (sophisticated like Buenos Aires or San Paolo or less so such as Quito or Sucre). The higher the sophistication – the greater the expectation for a big tip. (Especially from Americans)
In Argentina: In restaurants in the smaller cities and villages leave 10%. It is normal to leave 15% in Buenos Aires for restaurants and lounges/clubs.
Porters in 1-3 star hotels in Buenos Aires: $.50 – .75 per bag to porters and in the smaller cities, the same. $1.00 per bag in 4 & 5 start hotels in Buenos Aires.
In Bolivia: Typically 10% in restaurants and taxis. $.50 – .75 per bag to porters. Other types of tips (gifts )are also appreciated if they represent your country – think postcards.
Brazil is really two economies – big city and everywhere else. In the big cities, 10% in restaurants which may already be stated on the menu, if not, leave 15%; 10-15% in hair salons; For porters in 1-3 star hotels – $.50 – .75 per bag., in 4 & 5 star hotels, 15% is normal. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips except in Rio, where 10% is normal. If you choose an unmetered taxi, settle on the fare first.
In the smaller towns a 10% tip is fine. For hotel porters the standard is $.50 per bag (even though when I was in Olinda, the hotel I stayed in didn’t have porters. I gave the tip to the helpful front desk clerk who helped me)
Tipping in Chile is simply 10% of the bill in restaurants and $.75 per bag in hotels. I found that the 1-3 star hotels often didn’t have porters but the front desk clerk would help with bags. They get a tip. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip.
In Colombia, it depends where you are. In Barranquilla where I spent a few days with my college roommate who was a local, we tipped 15-18% at upscale restaurants. In Bogota, 10% is the standard in restaurants. If you get your haircut, tip 10%. In the finer hotels the porters get a $1.00 per bag; but in the 1-3 star establishments, $.75 per bag is fine. Taxi drivers don’t expect anything.
In Ecuadorian restaurants, generally tax and gratuity are added to your restaurant bill, but if you have been treated well, an additional 10% is enough. In all hotels, the acceptable tip is $.50 – .75 per bag to handlers. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips. If you take a guided tour and you loved it, $3.00 per person is generous.
In Paraguay, restaurants that do not automatically add gratuity (it will say if they do at the bottom of your menu) then a tip of 10% is enough. I found that my servers delighted in the other- than- monetary- tips I gave them. Paperback books, picture books (postcards) and compliments to their managers were high on their list. In taxis no tips are necessary. The standard of $.50-$.75 per bag to handlers was the norm.
In Peru gratuity is added to your restaurant bill. More is appropriate for great service – your discretion how much. If you get your hair done at one of the ritzy salons, 10-15% is a normal tip. Baggage handlers should get $.50 – .75 per bag . Taxi drivers don’t expect tips but I gave my drivers 10% because they spoke English and gave me commentary while they drove.
Venezuela has two standards I found. In the establishments catering to locals, 10% tip was common. In the tourist-focused establishments, 15% is expected. This is due to the locals’ conception of how rich tourists are. If you use unmetered taxis, agree in advance on the fare. If the taxi is metered, 10% is standard. In all levels of hotels $.75-$1.00 per bag was expected as a tip.
In Asia: While for some protocols, each Asian country has their own, tipping is fairly uniform across the region – there isn’t much of it done. But as in any sweeping generalization, there are exceptions.
In BANGKOK if you are in an establishment that is more westernized, then tip as you would in the US or in Europe. If it caters mostly to locals, then a tip is not expected. I have yet to see someone turn one down though. Tips are especially expected for massage services and 15% is common.
Some upscale restaurants will add a 10% service charge to the bill. If not, waiters will still expect a tip of 10% given directly to them. However, if you’re eating at a restaurant catering to locals a tip is not necessary.
If you stay at one of Bangkok’s many five-star establishments, expect to tip the porter 20 to 50 baht, depending on how many bags you have; the more bags, the higher tip per bag.
Bangkok cabs are metered, so there’s no haggling over your fare. Local custom is to round the fare up to the nearest five baht.
While in Mainland China you will not usually be leaving a tip as it is generally frowned upon, gratuity is absolutely necessary in this money-focused city at all but the lowest establishments. Even bathrooms in hotels have followed the European custom of having gratuity dishes. If you see one, mimic the highest coin for your tip.
Most restaurants automatically add a 10% service charge to the bill, but the surcharge is often kept b the owner. If the service is good, add another 10% to the bill, up to HK$100 if you’re in an especially nice place. Remember to give the additional tip directly to your server.
Baggage Handling: HK$10 should do at most hotels. However at a 5 star hotel, a crisp HK$20 bill would be more acceptable. From Americans $5 per bag is usually expected.
Taxi drivers often round up to the nearest dollar when making change. They keep the difference between the actual fare and the next even bill. If you are paying with exact fare, you should do the rounding up too.
While tipping is not the norm, many who serve tourist and international business clientele expect a little some extra. It is alright though if you don’t tip.
At major hotels and high-end restaurants, a service charge and tax are added to your bill (10% service and 10% tax). You don’t have to tip for porters at hotels or wait staff unless you feel the service is exceptional.
At the airport, you could get through on your own but to make your life easier, I suggest paying a porter about 5000rp per bag and letting them help you through customs. Your trip will start off happier if you do. If you just want them to get your luggage to your transport, 2,000rp for small bags and 3,000rp for large bags is expected.
Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip but if they are helpful to you with luggage or with directions, a 1,000rp tip is appropriate. If you use a car-hire service, a 3,000rp tip is more appropriate. Be careful though. Some taxi drivers will claim they have no change in order to “encourage” you to give a tip. Don’t allow more than a 1,000rp markup.
Bali is the only island where tips are they expect to be tipped for all services. But even there, if you are not used to tipping or have run out of change, they will not snub you for not tipping.
Like its neighbors, tipping is not generally expected. However as in everywhere, if you have received particularly good service, a tip can go a long way the next time you see them. In the best establishments, a 10% service charge is added to both your meal and hotel room.
Partying in pubs/bars/clubs is a common evening pastime. You will find the better ones quite crowded and tips can go a long way towards your comfort for the evening. A tip of RM5 or RM10 can get you chair and better service from your waiter. This is a perfect example of “to insure promptness” or “to insure pleasure” as your incentive.
At five-star hotels, one or two ringgit will suffice for baggage handlers. At lower-end establishments, don’t feel compelled to tip.
Taxis: Many taxis are now metered, so you can just round up to the nearest ringgit. In unmetered taxis, expect hard bargaining with your driver for the ride. Include your tip in your end of the bargain.
Tipping is common in Manila, and anything above 10% will gain you a new best friend.
Even if a service charge is included in restaurants, add another 5%-10% to tip.
Service in high-end hotels is good and tips 20 pesos per bag are common. In lower class hotels 5pesos is common.
Most cabs are metered so round up to the next five pesos. If you don’t say anything, the taxi driver will do it for you.
Tipping is not part of Korean culture. International hotels however will add a 10% service charge to your room bill. During my last trip to Seoul I ate at a small neighborhood restaurant run by a family. I was tired and forgot my cultural sensitivity and left 700 won on the table as a tip. The owner of the restaurant ran after me down the street to hand back the money not knowing it was a tip for his son who waited on me. I was embarrassed and took back the money but said great things about his son’s work.
If you’re at a Korean barbecue restaurant, a tip is not necessary. However if you dine with white tablecloths a 10% tip would be expected.
If you’re at a 5 star hotel, international standards apply, so expect to tip 500-1,000 won per bag.
Taxi drivers will give you quizzical looks if you hand them a tip and will probably give it back.
The government orders proper behavior from the residents and visitors alike in the Lion City and tipping is no exception. They say no tipping and so it is. It’s outlawed at Changi Airport and officials encourage tourists not to add to the 10% service charge that many high-end hotels tack on to the bill.
In Restaurants: Singaporeans won’t leave tips and it is taboo to add more. Sometimes nicer restaurants charge 10% to the bottom line. I have slipped a few extra Singaporean dollars in the hand of my servers at really nice restaurants and all I received in return was huge smiles and nods. I would only do that if you are sure no one from management is watching.
Porters: Hotel staffs are the one exception to the no-tipping rule. As a general guide, S$1 should be adequate for baggage handling. I have also given small gifts like postcards from America to my porters if during conversation they mention they have children. I often learn the personal history of many of the people who serve me when I travel. I always take 40-50 postcards from Washington, DC (my home town) and use them as special tips. I have always been thanked most enthusiastically.
Taxi drivers are not supposed to accept tips, but they didn’t refuse when I rounded up the fare to the next Singaporean dollar.
Like Japan and China, Taiwan is not a tipping society.
In restaurants focused on serving locals tipping is not expected. However, that rule is changing as American-style eateries and those which cater to international tourists. I have given up to $5.00USD as a tip if warranted. US Dollars go over very well.
For your baggage handlers, you can offer NT$50, but the hotel staff won’t be overly offended if you don’t tip. I discretely tip by putting the money in their hand anyway. So far, I have received only smiles.
For taxis, a gratuity is not expected, although rounding up the fare to the next NT$5 helps avoid unnecessary change.
While I have traveled throughout Africa, the tipping situation in Nigeria and Ghana stands out for me. In Nigeria, tipping is expected to be able to check into the hotel, get your luggage into the hotel and then again to your room. If you didn’t tip, your luggage assumed the role of hostage until you found a dollar or two. To do anything normal during your day, a dollar here and there for everything that includes another person who serves you in any way was the norm. When I had to pick up my plane ticket at the airport in Accra, I almost didn’t get a chance to go home. I had run out of dollars and had to find someone American and friendly enough to borrow from. The airline personnel didn’t want their currency, they wanted a US Dollar in exchange for my already paid for ticket. Fortunately I found a friend who had come for his ticket too and because of his generosity, we both were able to get our tickets. I have never visited a continent where money talks so loudly!
During my travels in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, U.A.E., and Turkey, I heard the same mantra from taxi drivers. While they expect Americans to tip the best because we are generous and rich, often they are stiffed. This was less so in Israel. In general, the same tip of 15% or rounding up to the next whole sum is considered proper.
In the restaurants, the tip is usually automatic and is stated on the bottom of the menus. The same global rule works here too. If the service warrants it, then leave a little extra – the equivalent of a couple of US dollars in addition and don’t forget to give it to the waiter directly. The management is guaranteed their tip from the bill.
The most fun I had with tipping was my trip to Russia in 1990. While there is no standard for tipping in Russia, service people expect tips for helping with luggage, for service in restaurants or any other substantial help. Hotels and restaurants occasionally add a 5-15% service charge to your bill as well as a 20% value added tax. Porters should be content with about $1/bag, but porters at stations expect outrageous tips in US Dollars from “rich foreigners” in part because they have to share them with the “dispatcher-guy”.
I planned my tips before I left home because I wasn’t planning on just offering money. I packed 50 small bags of samples of Caswell -Massey toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, and body gel), 10 pairs of blue jeans (slightly worn), 35 bottles of nail polish and other rare and expensive items on the Russian store shelves. Tips were not just necessary to get out of a restaurant or hotel, they were necessary to get anything done while I was there. When I needed to make a phone call home, I offered three toiletry bags to the hotel operator and my call went through in 20 minutes (the standard at the time in those days was three days). For my guides I gave blue jeans. For my interpreters I gave blue jeans and nail polish. One gave me long stem roses and tears good-bye at the airport.
Tipping isn’t always just about money when you travel. You can offer more valuable items such as books, clothing, and toiletries – really anything that their economy holds dear. As you have read, picture postcards of your hometown or state are my particular favorite because they pack well, don’t weigh much and can’t be found in the country you are visiting.
A couple of final “tips” –
- don’t tip on the tax. Add up your bill without tax and then figure your tip.
- If you ordered wine through the suggestion of a wine steward or sommelier, add 10% of the cost of the bottle as a tip just for them. Don’t forget to give it to them directly if you have the cash or to mark it on the bill to go to them.
- If you are entertaining friends or for business, try tipping before you start being served. Look at the menu, see if an automatic tip will be charged, figure out an additional per person tip based upon menu prices and give it to your waiter before you start ordering. I have done this several times in Europe and in South America and the service couldn’t have been better.
- The hotel pool is a great place to offer small tips to the staff. You will probably get a better lounge location and maybe your desired “cold drink” will be brought to you quicker.
- Housekeeping staff should be tipped the equivalent of $2-3 per person per night’s stay. I tip at the beginning of my stay so the housekeeper knows I appreciate a clean room.
- TIP is supposed to mean “To Insure Promptness”. Sometimes giving it before might actually do that in the end.