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Worldwide Tipping Information

We’ll keep this section short because you shouldn’t spend a lot of time memorizing rules about tipping. For the most part, they’re pretty simple and you should not be made to feel uncomfortable. Yet, most people are confused when traveling in foreign lands and worry that they’ll do dumb things. To over-tip can make you feel stupid; but you also don’t want to seem like a cheapskate. And you may wonder why you have to tip at all. Shouldn’t that be included in the price of a meal and not an add-on (either voluntary or added automatically to your bill)? But it’s standard practice that you can’t change.

In the U.S., tipping is voluntary. It should be a reward to someone who provided good service, either at an acceptable standard or above and beyond the expected. Thus, if you do not get the courteous, helpful service you expect, you may want to leave a smaller amount. A colleague made it his personal cause one year at Christmas time to give most of his friends a set of wooden nickels with the inscription, “No, I didn’t forget to tip. You deserve this for the service I got.” We should all think about varying our tipping, giving more to the best people and less to the inadequate ones. Otherwise, we have not done our part to improve service levels as we travel, or eat out at local restaurants.

Tipping in the U.S.

Although this section is about tipping in foreign countries, we have to start with the U.S. since American standards are gradually being adopted in various parts of the world.

It’s rather easy to follow U.S. practices. Tip waiters/waitresses 15 to 20 percent of the meal price, before tax is added. Fancy restaurants often give a bill with separate places to tip the waiter and the captain. That adds confusion because who should get what portion of your tip? Leave 15 to 20 percent for the waiter and 5 to 10 percent for the captain. But you still don’t have to exceed 20 percent for the total. The high meal price in these restaurants inflates tips, so they’ll both do O.K. whatever you leave (captains oversee more tables than waiters).

Cabbies get about the same amount–15 percent of the bill, not counting bridge tolls and other extras. Again, if service levels don’t measure up, think about giving less, especially if they took you out of the way to run up a fare.

For doormen, usually give a dollar for helping get out of you a cab, and two dollars to get a cab, especially on a rainy day when the task is more difficult. If he carries your bags in when you arrive, a dollar or two, depending upon the quality level of the hotel, will suffice. Bellhops get about a dollar a bag, sometimes less in smaller hotels, but never less than a couple of dollars overall. In fancier hotels, you’ll usually want to tip two to three dollars, even if they carry only one bag. Remember, you don’t have to use a bellhop in most hotels.

If you travel light, with only an over the shoulder valet pack or a single bag on business or leisure trips, you probably don’t need assistance. Waiting for a bellhop to get free can delay settling down in your room. However, four and five star hotels often insist on having a bellhop take you to your room. They consider that to be part of the high level of service they provide.

Concierges receive a regular salary from the hotels where they work, so you can ask questions of them without feeling you have to tip. But, if they do something special, such as get you theater tickets, arrange a meal in a popular restaurant on a busy night, take care of a number of faxes or whatever for you, a 5 dollar tip is appropriate, and sometimes more. Most hotel staff, except for senior management, works at low wage levels and they depend upon tips to make a decent living.

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Tipping in Europe

For much of continental Europe, you’ll see the words “Service compris,” (France and Belgium), “Servizio compreso” (Italy), or “Trinkgeld Inbegriffen” (Germany and Switzerland) on your restaurant bill, and very often on your hotel charges. This means that the service charge (tip) has already been added to your bill, usually in the range of 15 to 20 percent. You need not add anything, except in those exceptional situations of service beyond the ordinary (then leave about 5% additional). If you tipped when the bill already included the phrase “service compris,” you’ll quickly be identified as a naive American traveler. These rules apply to most of France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Be alert, though. In those special situations where the service charge was not added to the bill, tip according to American standards.

It’s more common to tip the room maids in Europe than in the U.S., usually about a dollar a day for an average hotel and up to two dollars a day for better quality properties. And, sometimes you’ll find people lined up outside of your door when you check out, particularly in Southern Europe. Unfortunately, you’re supposed to give something to each of them–your usual tip for the maid, and about half of that to each of the others. Taxi drivers on the continent usually get smaller tips, in the range of 10 percent.

England generally doesn’t add on service charges, so follow the American practice of adding 15 to 20 percent. Bartenders in pubs usually don’t get tips directly. At some point, say, “I’d like to buy you a drink” and he’ll take out the price of a half pint for himself (but without pouring it). And tip your taxi driver on the same scale, about 15 percent of the total.

Much of Eastern Europe, including Russia and its former satellite states, have not yet developed standard practices related to tipping because tourism is a more recent phenomenon. Obviously, if you travel with an escorted tour, they’ll take care of it. However, when you’re on your own time, or if you decide to travel independently, fewer of these countries include service charges as part of the bill. Therefore, following standard American practices gets you by in most situations, except that you often do not have to be quite as generous. A tip of 10 percent usually is adequate. In Romania, the practice has been to tip only for special assistance or service beyond the ordinary since tips were not expected. But the influx of tourists who typically leave a gratuity is gradually changing that and it’s common now to expect a tip in most places.

You’ll also find helpers in rest rooms throughout much of Europe. They should get between 50 cents and a dollar, depending upon the quality of the establishment. Bags carried to your room in hotels by porters also follow the American standard now, about a dollar a bag but never more than two dollars a bag.

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Tipping in Asia

Western influences have changed things in a number of Asian countries. You normally would not tip in Japan. But, 10 percent will be added to your hotel and restaurant bills in Hong Kong and Korea, and more recently in Vietnam. So, you do not need to add to this, except in those situations of unusual service. Only five to ten percent is required in mainland China, and small gift items from the U.S. may be appreciated more than money (cigarettes, portable radios, toiletries, etc.). In Thailand, you can follow American practices. It has a long history of catering to visitors from around the world.

Tipping in the South Pacific

Oh how Americans have changed the world. Until recent years, good service was always expected without having to pay extra for it. Now you can add ten percent to most things in Australia and New Zealand, such as for meals and taxi rides. If the service rates extra special notice, you might want to increase the amount to 15 percent. Porters carrying your bags should be tipped according to the standard practices outlined above (one to two dollars total).

For much of Polynesia and Melanesia, tipping is not expected. You may be surprised that they still lavish you with friendliness, but it’s part of their cultural heritage to welcome guests to where they live.

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Tipping in the Rest of the World

Practices vary so much in other parts of the world that it is difficult to give more common rules that don’t have so many exceptions that the advice becomes confusing. Generally, you’re better off to check before you leave for a country in Africa, the mid-East or Latin America about what should be done where you will visit. Some parts of Africa still reflect their French influence and you will see a “service compris” added on to your bill. Elsewhere on the continent, tipping is usually expected, but usually no more than 10 percent. You can count on tipping in Egypt, Israel, and Morocco, but use common sense in how much you leave.

Latin America varies greatly, sometimes within the same country. In general, follow standard American tipping practices throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and for most of Central and South America. But, in Brazil, you might see a service charge added to your restaurant bill. If not, add about 15 percent, but no more than 10 percent for taxi drivers. But don’t tip cabbies in Chile and Venezuela, and only leave 10 percent for waiters in these countries, including Argentina.

In cases of uncertainty like these, you can seek out several sources of information on appropriate tipping practices. At the airport, look for a travelers’ information booth. If none exists, ask the person at the airport bank where you change your money since these people are usually quite good in English. And, if you end up taking a taxi to your hotel and still don’t know the rules, ask the doorman about what you should give to the driver before you leave the cab. Once inside the hotel, you have your best sources of information – the manager/assistant manager or concierge. In a pinch, even the check-in persons or cashiers (who often seem young and inexperienced) may be able to give you enough information.

The important point is to not worry. Mostly the rules are fairly simple anywhere in the world, although they may vary in each country, but there are always easy ways to find out what you should do, either before you leave town or after you get there.

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Special Situations

You’ll also encounter other situations where tipping is expected. A brief review will help to put these in proper perspective.

Cruise Lines

On most cruise lines, expect to pay the standard 15 percent for the extras you order — drinks, the hair salon, and personal services such as a masseur. Your cabin and dining room stewards can get $3 or more a day each, depending upon the quality of the cruise line. And bus boys get $1 to $2 a day. In total, it comes close to $10 a day per person paid at the end of the cruise. For many lines, you can write a check or use your credit card and they’ll distribute the money. Several upscale lines have an inclusive price, no tipping policy, such as Silversea and Seabourn. Don’t tip officers or cruise directors. They have full salaries.

Escorted Tours

You’re taxed once more when you take a fully escorted tour. You’re expected to give something to several people who have served you during your trip. This may happen at the end of a trip or daily, in some situations, depending on they type of trip you take.

Tour Guides

The person who travels with you every day explaining the history and wonders of what you see will get from $2.00 to $5.00 per day per passenger, usually closer to the $5.00 amount. Europe will be toward the high side, less developed parts of the world toward the low side of that figure.

Bus Drivers

One to two dollars a day is appropriate for the bus driver.

City Hosts

In various cities, a local host will take you around to show you the night life and excitement of their cities. A couple of dollars per person is appropriate; more if especially good. Tour guides and bus drivers get paid at the end of the trip; city hosts receive their money each night because you won’t see them again.

Safaris

Not many of you will probably take a safari. But a quick review will help to place tipping practices in perspective for those considering such an adventure trip.

Camp Based Safaris

Tipping usually runs about $10 to $12 per day per person, paid at the end of the trip in a lump sum. This money then gets divided up between various staff members, as guides, porters, drivers and trackers/walkers.

Hotel Based Safaris

An increasing number of safaris use small hotels located in the bush country that have been built just to serve these groups. In these situations, guides get about $5.00 a day, trackers/walkers the same amount (when you have them), drivers $2.50 a day, and porters about a dollar for handling two bags — when you arrive and when you leave.

Which Currency To Use

Some travel writers advise tipping in local currency, especially since the American dollar has deflated against so many currencies. That’s up to you, but conversion rates can be difficult to calculate and you usually won’t get in trouble still tipping in U.S. dollars. For a variety of reasons, leave the United States with a lot of one dollar bills. But when you are about to return home, you may have local currency that you need to get rid of and can use that to reward various people.

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