Tipping abroad requires more than cash and generosity; a little research is essential for travelers to know exactly who deserves a tip and how much to give. Generous travelers shouldn’t hand out gratuities like Halloween candy to cover their bases. In some countries — like Japan, where giving someone a wad of cash is often considered rude — tipping can be an insult. On the other side of the coin, traveling tightwads shouldn’t try to save money by stiffing their service person, because millions of waiters, bellhops, tour guides and other workers in the tourist trade rely on tips to feed their families and pay the rent.
The happy medium between spendthrift and scrooge is a well-informed traveler! Below, we’ve listed some solid-gold tips for handling the tricky practice of tipping in a foreign country with often different and sometimes confusing customs and codes of behavior. Take our advice and tip wisely.
Tipping Abroad: Know Before You Go
Here’s the most important tipping tip you need: destination-specific tipping information is vital if you want to avoid an awkward or offensive encounter with a service person during your trip. For help, see A Guide to Tipping Across the Globe, in One Map.
You’ll also want to pore over a good guidebook for more detailed information on local tipping practices; this way you won’t be caught off guard when the colorfully dressed musicians in Marrakesh’s Jemma el-Fna square want a few dirhams for letting you snap their picture, and you’ll know you don’t need to leave a tip at that trendy restaurant in Malaysia.
Cover Your Bases
Whom you should tip (as well as how much you should give and how often) varies by destination. But here’s a list of the types of folks you may have to present with some extra euros or pesos when you’re jetsetting around the globe. Yes, the list is long, but remember that you will probably not need all of these services on a single getaway (unless you have some kind of elaborate around-the-world spa and boat trip planned — in which case we’re jealous!).
– Hotel cleaning staff
– Taxi/van driver
– Tour guide
– Restroom attendant
– Local who is posing for a photograph
– Tour boat captain and staff
– Maitre d’
– Childcare staff/day camp counselor
If you’re taking a cab or shuttle from the airport to your hotel, in most countries you’ll have to tip. This means that you will need some local currency almost as soon as you get off your plane. Although some countries, like many Caribbean destinations, accept U.S. dollars in addition to their own local currency, it’s important not to tip in dollars if it’s not an accepted national currency.
Most airports have ATMs and currency exchange counters — even if you’re not planning on exchanging all of your money at the airport, you need to get enough local currency to cover your taxi fare and tip before you get in that cab. Research your destination airport before you leave to find out what banking or money exchange facilities it offers.
Make sure you have plenty of small bills on hand throughout your trip, too. Use larger bills to pay for souvenirs, meals and other expenses, and keep the change to use as tips. If you run out of small bills, your hotel’s front desk can often make change for you.
Follow the Leader
If you forget to research the acceptable tipping practices of your locale, or simply don’t know what to do, look around and see what other visitors are doing. Is there money on the empty tables in your restaurant? Did everyone else on your boating excursion offer the captain and crew a few dollars? You get the idea.
If that doesn’t work, here’s a basic, common-sense rule of thumb: tip 5 to 10 percent, or a few dollars (in the local currency), to anyone who is providing you with a service — like arranging an excursion with a tour company, bringing you a meal, or handing you some mints and a warm towel in the bathroom — when you are visiting a country where tipping is generally an accepted practice.
A common mistake made by travelers is asking their service person if he or she requires a tip. Not only does this present a conflict of interest to a cash-strapped service person who doesn’t normally take tips, but in countries where saying what you mean is not the social norm, a clueless traveler may end up stiffing a polite waiter or bellhop. For example, in India, a service person whose income is mostly generated by tips may say that he or she requires no gratuity out of modesty and good manners. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip if it’s the acceptable practice in your destination! Know before you go (see above) and you won’t have to ask.
Beware of Service Charges
You may think that a “service charge” on your restaurant bill indicates that the tip is included. This is true for most countries; for others, not so much. In destinations such as Greece, Guatemala, Italy and Hong Kong, you should leave a tip in addition to a service charge. This is because the service charge may not necessarily go to the waiter — and your tips make up a significant percentage of your server’s salary.