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Tipping Abroad

Posted by Mark Gallo on

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If you ask 10 Americans how they tip in the US, you’ll get 10 different answers, right?

These days, nicer restaurants typically expect 15% to 20% on top of the bill for good service, and 18% or more is often added onto the bill for larger parties. But that doesn’t mean that’s what folks will tip.

Do you deduct tax from the total before you calculate the tip in a restaurant?

With cab fare, you might tip up to 10% or just round up the fare by a smaller amount or not tip at all.

Do you tip for a cup of coffee when facing an iPad checkout screen with various tipping percentages? With more technology comes more opportunities to give gratuities, whether there is historical precedent or not. The backlash to this phenomenon is Uber with their “no tip” model.

Outside the US, however, tipping is less generous and more predictable, although burgeoning American tourism is changing that.

To keep it in context for Americans, here are some regional guidelines gleaned from personal experience, the travel show host Rick Steves and travel-savvy friends.

EUROPE

If you’re a generous tipper in the States, then you should throttle back in Europe. Carry loose change, as it makes tipping easier.

The general practice in cafés is to round up the bill with a euro or two. At a café or casual restaurant, there is no shame in walking away from a lunch or dinner leaving no change on the table; it really depends on your satisfaction and tipping inclinations. Waiters at more formal establishments would expect a gratuity of 10%-15%, especially if it serves an international clientele.

Nicer restaurants may list a separate line item on the bill as a “service” charge (often 10%), which purportedly goes to the owner to cover staff expenses. Since this does not go to your server directly, it’s up to you whether you want to leave a euro or two, as there is often no tip line on the credit card invoice.

Round up cab fares to the nearest whole euro. If you want to do more, you can tip 5%.

Tip bellhops one euro per bag. A concierge who does a lot of work for you might get a few euros.

There are a few exceptions to these rules. In SCANDINAVIA, there is no tipping expectation in restaurants or taxis. In the UK, tipping in pubs is not customary.

MIDDLE EAST

In Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the UAE, a service charge is usually included on the restaurant bill. Tip up to 10% to cab drivers except in Dubai, where rounding up fares is acceptable. Tip one dollar equivalent per bag to porters.

In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, service charges are not included in restaurants; 15% to 20% tip is acceptable. Porters get the equivalent of $2 per bag.

SE ASIA and SOUTH PACIFIC

There are a few countries where tipping is not part of the culture and, in fact, may cause embarrassment.

Do not tip in Bali, Brunei, Japan or South Korea. Tipping is acceptable for tour guides in those countries; be discreet and put it in an envelope. In China, the posher Western-style hotels and restaurants may include a 10% service charge, but, otherwise, tipping is not expected.

In Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam, waiters might get 5% to 10%. Same goes for Myanmar and Thailand. Porters get tipped small change.

Taxi drivers in Malaysia and Singapore are not tipped, but porters and waiters may be tipped (5% to 10% for waiters).

In India, Indonesia and Taiwan, 10% is usually included on top of the restaurant bill. Round up fares for the taxi drivers.

AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

You’re not expected to leave a tip in most restaurants with the possible exception of fine dining establishments, in which case a 10% tip for great food and service is appreciated. Hotel staff and taxis do not expect gratuities. (The minimum wages in these countries are much higher than in the U.S.; New Zealand's minimum will increase to $17.70 in April 2019.)

EAST AFRICA

In Kenya and Tanzania, a 5% to 10% cash tip in a restaurant is acceptable. Taxi fares are negotiable and not metered; foreigners will typically get quoted a higher fare, so it pays to go with a local. Guides get $15 per day.

CANADA and the CARIBBEAN

Our neighbors to the north and south have similar gratuity expectations as in the US. You’re expected to leave 15% to 20% on top of a restaurant bill. Add 10% to cab fares and one dollar equivalent per bag for bellhops.

Of course, additional tipping in “all-inclusive” Caribbean resorts is not necessary.

CENTRAL and SOUTH AMERICA

In Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Ecuador, the restaurant bill typically includes a 10% service charge; no tip is necessary.

In Argentina, Peru and Nicaragua, restaurants do not usually include a service charge, so tip up to 10% if warranted. In locales where taxi fares are metered, just round up the fare for a tip. Where fares are negotiated (e.g., Peru), then there is no need to tip. It’s safe to assume porters in all areas should be tipped the equivalent of one dollar per bag.

In Mexico, if the restaurant includes a line item for “la propina,” then no additional tip is needed. If there is none, then tip 10% in cash or 15% for parties greater than five. Normally, cabbies do not expect tips unless they’ve helped with baggage, in which case 20 pesos (about $1) per bag is adequate. Same goes for porters.

TOUR GUIDES

With organized tours, safaris and cruises, whether or not gratuities for the guides and staff are included in the tour price should be spelled out in the pre-travel documents. Make sure you know before you go.

Pretty much everywhere in the world, hired drivers and guides expect a tip at 10% to 20%, depending on the quality and duration.

As you may have concluded after reading these guidelines, much is left to your discretion when making decisions about tipping overseas. There are few absolutes, except perhaps for the “no tipping” cultures in Bali, Brunei, Japan and South Korea.

Just remember that the rules that apply in North America are not relevant in much of the rest of the globe. Take the time to learn more about your destination and the local culture of tipping before you go.

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