Most Americans pretty much know whom they want to tip and how much to give each person, but tipping is something of a conundrum once you leave the U.S. One reader recently asked:
“I’m curious about the going rate for tipping tour guides and bus drivers/assistants in cities I plan to visit. The tour operator’s suggestions sounded high but this is my first escorted tour. What can you tell me?”
I can tell you, first, that I sometimes share your concern and, second, that tipping varies sharply among various countries and situations. Here are some sources for more detailed information.
Tour guides and drivers
The best source I found was online at Gate 1 Travel. This site recommends that each traveler tip $6 to $7 a day for the tour guide, $3 a day for the tour bus driver, and $2 to a separate local tour guide for each half day of sightseeing. Those sound like reasonable guidelines to me, but maybe a little high for developing countries and for countries where tipping, in general, is not as common as it is in the U.S.
Other sources recommend 10 to 15 percent of the total price to the tour guide, about half that to the driver. Beyond that, my search didn’t reveal any useful repositories of info on tour tipping.
Cruising has always generated the largest amount of confusion, writeups, and comments about tipping. To make life easier for unsure travelers, several large cruise lines now assess an overall “service” charge designed to replace individual tipping. Rates run $7.50 to $15 a day, with most clustered around $10 to $11 a day. On one of those lines, you don’t need to tip any further unless you receive exceptional service from someone.
Lines that don’t set an overall service charge usually post “suggested” tipping schedules, which are probably at the high end of the normal range. Here are suggestions from other sources (all figures are per person, per day unless otherwise noted):
- Cruise Critic, a site that provides lots of cruise information and ship reviews, goes into great detail. It recommends $5 per cabin for the room steward/attendant, whether double or single occupied; $2 per visit for room service; $2 for a deck steward; $1 to the table “captain” for each visit to a restaurant; $5 a dinner visit for the waiters/stewards, total, for them to divide; $10 a week to the wine steward; and $1 to $2 a bag to porters. Most ships add a routine 15 percent to bar bills.
- Cruise Tip Calculator provides a comprehensive online tip calculator: You enter duration, party size, and cruise line, and the site immediately displays recommended tips—daily and for the entire cruise—for the usual list of staff. The test numbers I saw came out to a bit less than Cruise Critic’s recommendations.
- The Gate 1 Travel site recommends $8 to $10, total, apportioned between cabin attendants and restaurant waiters. Jane Engel, a well-known travel writer, suggests $3 to $4 each for cabin attendant and primary waiter, $1.50 to $2.50 for assistant waiter/busperson, and $0.50 to $1 for head waiter—which works out to about the same as Gate 1 Travel’s figures.
Your toughest tipping quandary seems to be when you sail with one of the few lines that nominally say “tipping is not required.” That’s fine on the few lines that say “absolutely no tipping,” but others provide the maddening policy, “Tipping is not required, but if you feel like it, it’s OK.” What are you supposed to do in that case? My guess is that most travelers add an additional tip, but less than the suggested guidelines.
Restaurants, hotels, taxis
Independent travelers face tipping questions anywhere they travel outside the U.S. They know that some people who serve them expect tips, while others find the offer of a tip insulting. Individual country, region, and city guidebooks usually include tipping customs and expectations as one of the standard items to cover. For an overall guide, the most comprehensive I’ve seen is posted by the online travel store Magellan’s. Here’s are some of the highlights:
- No tipping in Denmark, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Australia (except in “fine” restaurants), and a few others.
- In Europe, even though restaurants nominally add a service charge, most travelers add an additional five to 10 percent.
- Elsewhere, where restaurants do not add service charges, tipping is generally 10 percent.
- No tipping in Fiji, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, a few others.
- Elsewhere, the general recommendation is $1 to $2 per bag. Given the weak dollar, I suspect that $2 would be more appropriate these days, at least in euro countries.
- No tipping in Chile, China, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, and a few others.
- Round up to the nearest even figure in most of continental Europe, Argentina, Australia, Egypt, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Iceland, Turkey, and a few others.
- Elsewhere, tipping is generally 10 percent; occasionally 15 percent.
In the U.S.
Presumably, you’re on surer ground here, In case you aren’t, FindALink posts a tipping guide that covers just about any situation you could think of—plus quite a few you’ve never even considered.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com and Cruise Critic are both members of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc.)