3 rules to know about tipping before you go overseas

Tipping is such a culture-based practice. The way you usually tip at home is not the way other people tip at theirs, and it is important to know the unspoken rules of tipping before you go overseas. In some countries, tipping is a must. Some cultures require a minimum of 15% of the total bill for their service, while others bristle at the idea of receiving cash from customers. In Japan, for example, tipping is not the norm; you might insult a person by discreetly handing them cash after they have served you. On the other hand, servers in some countries might rely on their generous patrons to augment their own pay checks.

Tips

The best way to know is to research what the tipping practices are in the country you wish to visit. This way, you will not get annoyed when a street performer pesters you for some money after you took their picture or embarrassed if you leave a tip in a fine dining restaurant.

Here are the 3 rules you should know for the country you visit.

1. Know how much to give

The amount actually varies from one country to the other, but make sure you find out the approximate amount to give a restaurant, a tour guide, a taxi driver and a hotel porter.

As a rough guide, the following are commonly expected at restaurants in each country:

Australia – give 10% for good service.
Cyprus – give a small tip, a few coins or round up the bill, for good service.
France – give 15% if your bill says ‘service non compris’ (service not included).
Germany – give 10%-15% for good service.
Greece – tips are discretionary.
Holland – a service charge is included in your bill. It’s not expected to give more.
Italy – give 5%-10% tip.
Japan – 0%; it’s often insulting in their culture to offer a tip.
Portugal – give a 5% discretionary tip.
Spain – at your own discretion, most people give a few €s or round up the bill.
USA – give 10%-20%.

If you would like to give more, then this is at your discretion, but avoid any tip in Japan.

2. Have some cash

Have some cash and break it into smaller bills so you have something to give the people who have provided you with efficient service. Most locals are wary of accepting foreign currency (come on, few people know exchange rates and can do lightning-fast maths in their heads), so have some money exchanged at the airport to tip cab drivers and porters with. To save you the trouble, though, you can find out if locals will accept US dollars or exchange some of your money at home before you leave for your international flight.

Once you have the local currency, use the larger bills for meals and souvenirs, and keep the change around for tips.

3. Be safe when service charges are included

In some countries, the total bills are presented with a service charge (and/or tax). It can be acceptable in some places not to require further tips from the customer who is presented with the service charge and tax combo. To be safe, however, leave a little amount for the server (especially if you thought the service was excellent) in places where tipping is accepted.

If you did not have the time to research local tipping practices, check out what other people are doing (or, if they are tourists like yourself, ask them about it). If there is no one to copy, a basic rule of thumb is to tip 5-10% or a couple of bills in the local currency in countries where tipping is an established local practice. Give tips to anyone who is providing you a service.

Marco Sagese is Director at Mr. Car Hire.

Comments (22)

  1. Mzuri Temba says:

    Thanks for the great tips! (No pun intended.) Travellers often ask how much to tip the support team for Kilimanjaro climbs. We would say, tip as your heart feels after the service has been delivered! Some tour operators make tipping mandatory because they do not pay their guides, leaving them to rely solely on tips to make a living. And porters are often underpaid and they too “expect” a tip after the trip. It really makes a difference to choose a reputable company that treats its staff well. Since the guides and porters are paid well and treated properly, the service and experience you get will show. Our general advice is, tipping is not mandatory, but greatly appreciated! (After working so hard and being away from their families for a week, it’s nice for the workers to bring something home.) If you come across a company that makes tipping mandatory, think twice! It may be an indication of your tour money not going into the right pockets!

  2. sabrina says:

    Don’t tip in italy. and in no way you should tip a certain percentage. God, please dont introduce this. Italy is tainted enough by masstourism. Allready i see tipjars popping up in bars and pubs. The prices in tourist places are artificially high, bloated even. No need to throw extra dollars at it. Just don’t

  3. Heather says:

    This is great! Direct and to the point with little to no confusion. As a waitress in one of the biggest tourist areas in the US(a very busy breakfast restaurant in Santa Monica often featured on the news, frequented by celebrities and found in French tour books) I find it very frustrating at times when visitors say they don’t do certain things in their home country even though its customary here. When I visit other countries I try my best to abide by their rules and customs and think its only fair when reciprocated. Especially in America, the servers rely on the tips as pay. And have you seen all the people who work in a restaurant? The servers are probably tipping each of them for helping so they don’t even keep ALL the money you leave. Some states the server wages are 1/4 that of the national MINIMUM WAGE because the tips are suppose to be our pay. Even our pay checks are taxed on our tips. My last 2 paychecks were $0.20 and $0.04 respectively so I’m not working for the check. I will be honest and say that as much as I love talking to tourists about their trips I don’t enjoy losing money because they came to eat at my restaurant and left without tipping or just leaving the change because I actually lose money that way- yes, when you don’t leave money we still have to pay out based on the table’s sales and will actually end up paying for you to eat at the restaurant.
    Gosh I hope this makes sense as I just spit it out on the bus after a long day at work!

    Lack of proper restaurant etiquette is one of my biggest pet peeves.

  4. Paul Johnson says:

    Hi Heather… without explanations such as yours, I think many tourists are simply ignorant of the situation. I was aware of your system in the US and, however alien it might seem to them, hope that you posting here might make people think again if ever contemplating not tipping the waiting on staff on your side of the pond.

  5. Amy says:

    10 – 20% in the US? 20% would be a good tip, but I’m quite sure that if you tipped 10% the server would think you had stiffed them (and probably on purpose). I’ve been led to believe that 15% is the very minimum you should tip, and only if the service was average.

  6. Monica says:

    I also will say “No tipping in Italy”. They are starting to expect it in the major tourist hubs. It has not ever been part of their culture.

  7. Rich Gagliardi says:

    Your suggestions are spot on…the only issue is even when you think you are doing the right thing in your mind and following the cultural norm people change the “rules” of the road on you and you then become mistrusting…you can only do your best…
    Thanks Again…Rich

  8. David Lawrenc says:

    There’s no need to tip in Australia. Service staff in Australia are well paid so they don’t need tips. I’ve never tipped a waiter or porter in Australia and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it either.

  9. Toni Bergonzi says:

    In France look for the words Prix Nets this means that everything is included I.e VAT and Service.It is usual to leave the small change or round up the bill

  10. Mirjam Kapoen says:

    I am surprised to learn that in Holland a tip is not expected. As a Dutchman, I usually tip 10% on top of a restaurant bill when I am happy with the food and the service.

  11. Ian Phillips says:

    Some restaurants in Nicaragua actually charge tax and service there is no consistency as some don’t charge either. In mom and pop type restaurant’s in Laos and Cambodia, they seem confusedby tips. Unfortunately the practice seems to have come to Vietnam. I think for continental Europe it might be more common to round up like saying if bill was 9 euros give them a 10.
    Frankly I am happy to hear a new restaurant on my islad Vancouver Island is introducing a no tipping rule. No worries prices will be increased and staff paid a good wage. Tipping is no longer a reward for good service it is accepted as the norm. Too bad wish it would go away

  12. DougM says:

    When you go to a restaurant you EXPECT good service and the tip should reflect that. I have NEVER had what I consider exceptional service, something that would make the tip worth 20%.I tend to tip $1 per $10 inclusive.So $15 would get $2, and $25 would get $3.
    For those that don’t get minimum wage, get another job.

  13. Robert Charles says:

    As a rule, but not always the case, people who travel have discretionary income. People who work as servers in restaurants or as porters in hotels do not have discretionary income. Stop being cheap and tip accordingly if you happy with the service. Don’t worry about whether you are upsetting the system or giving too much. The one exception might be Japan, but has anyone ever asked the Japanese worker about this in private? or is this something coming from the corporate sector?

  14. simon says:

    I hate leaving a tip – it seems stupid to me that I’m the one supplementing a server’s income when the restaurant should just give them a decent wage. Having said that, when in Rome you’ve got to do as Romans do. I always leave at least 15% in America. You don’t have to tip in Australia or New Zealand.

  15. Magie says:

    I tip in Japan, I’ve never insulted any server, taxi driver, porter, etc. in Japan with a small gratuity. I have only been met with a polite bow and a thank you. Tipping is certainly not expected. Nor is it necessary to receive exemplary service in Japan but, as is true anywhere in the world where working men and women are trying to get by, a little extra helps.

    I rarely tip in France, especially Paris, regardless whether it’s expected or not. The occasion for thanking someone for excellence, in any class of service, is rare. I do round up the bill, mostly so I don’t have to wait an eternity for change. Also, in France, service is ALWAYS included in the bill. However, tips are discretionary and paid by the consumer, having nothing to do with wages.

  16. John says:

    A lot of people can’t believe that in the richest country in the world restaurant owners pay third world wages to servers. I think that is why there is confusion.

    Then we get to the philosophical aspects of tipping, what are we rewarding-why is it dependent on the size of the bill? If I buy a $100 meal with a $10 bottle of wine and the person on the next table buys a $100 meal with a $100 bottle of wine, what should the tip be in these cases? And Why?

    When I get the bill it contains 9% tax-do I pay a tip on the tax?

    Then I get the worst tasting meal ever, I send it back, I complain, I am not particularly excited by the replacement meal. The server was wonderful, she didn’t cook the meal-so do I tip?

  17. Alexandra M says:

    In New York, the bare minimum for a tip in a restaurant is 20%. Most people leave 25% if the service is good to excellent. 25% is a minimum tip on taxis in New York especially since all cab drivers are required to accept credit cards without passing along the service charge. I agree that service is included in nearly all restaurants in
    Paris. It is the custom to leave a little extra in cash. I think it is nauseating for one to expect to use one’s own currency (or US dollars) in a different country. It’s positively ridiculous. Nearly every city in every country has an ATM at the airport or close by. Last time I arrived at LHR, I asked the taxi driver to kindly stop in front of a bank so I could quickly use the ATM. I am not keen on leaving tips at hotels where there is a blanket service charge levied on your entire room bill. I recently stayed at Claridge’s in London for two weeks and the hotel added on 5% on top of the thousands of £££, as a service charge to divvy up amongst porters, housekeepers., doormen Etc. all in all, I also hate tipping. It’s annoying and stress producing. Too much or too little. It would be much better all the way around if the prices were just a bit higher from taxis to hotel rooms and no tipping ever. Oh, in New York it is customary to tip 20-25% for manicures, hair dressers, etcetera. Wherever I am I always tip the doorman for getting me a cab. When in doubt it is best to leave or give too much. Nothing more off putting than a stingy tipper.

  18. Paul Johnson says:

    “It would be much better all the way around if the prices were just a bit higher from taxis to hotel rooms and no tipping ever.”

    I’m not sure I agree wih that statement, Alexandra. Waiters and the like could lose the incentive to aim to please if that was the case.

    Personally, I prefer to tip only when service goes above what you might expect as standard, but at the same time recognise that in some parts of the world, this is not the norm. It just strikes me as logical, though, to tip for good service rather than just tipping regardless for tipping’s sake.

  19. Krysti says:

    This is such an important topic. Thanks for posting this advice. In Prague, 10% is more than enough in nicer restaurants. In pubs and more casual places, the custom is to round up the bill and leave a small tip. So, if your bill comes to, say, CZK 175, you would make it CZK 180, leaving a CZK 5 tip.

  20. Fran says:

    There was a time when this topic incensed me because of the different attitudes and perceptions, i.e. cheapskates who will happily spend big bucks on a meal but balk at a tip for good service. Now, I’ve learnt to actually love hearing and learning about the different habits throughout the world.

    For the record, US travellers to my country are the best and most consistent tippers and we adore them for it!

  21. J says:

    As a server in the US, people need to understand that every item that’s rung in the server owes money in a tipout at the end of the night. So 10% is NOT acceptable.
    To clarify, servers tipout there assistants (bussers) and bar, sometimes even the host, on the total amount sold. Up to 5% of the total. So when you leave 10 bucks on a $60 tan the server is getting about $8 when all is tipped out…
    Let’s not think about walkouts as they owe the total bill plus the % of sales and could lose their job if they tell management.
    All that being said servers do much more than just bring drinks and food, depending on the establishment and most for tipped wages that is still federally $2.13. Which means little or mostly no room for wages on a check and most likely paying of state taxes and/or federal if all tips are claimed and they are darn good at the job.
    So be kind and remember they are in hock for everything until you pay and do not keep all you give…

  22. Fabian says:

    As a native Dutch man I can only say Tipping 5-10% is very common and not tipping is considered rude in Holland. I have never seen a service charge added to a bill anywhere in Holland. Ever.

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