Tipping When Traveling Abroad: When to Do It? How Much to Give?

Commenter Scott G asked,

Would love an insight into tipping in various regions of the world. Traveling in July to Paris and Japan and October to London and Ireland. In your experience does it vary by country, culture, or continent? When traveling to Australia a few years back was surprised that tipping is not always customary and only recently was becoming more popular in cabs and restaurants, etc. Haven’t seen a travel blogger explore this topic in detail.

I’m not really an expert on tipping. Just because I know how to get around the world doesn’t make me an expert on its cultures.

I think I’ve gained some insights into the places I’ve visited, my life has certainly been enriched by my travels and I understand places better than if I hadn’t visited. But goodness knows that sometimes I probably get tipping in some sense ‘wrong.’

The only thing I do know for sure is that tipping is part of any good hotel upgrade strategy, at least in Las Vegas.

Outside of Japan, where tipping is historically an offense, you can pretty much tip in most countries, even where it’s contra the culture and traditions. When you do, folks just figure “you’re American.”

And you can pretty much get away with not tipping (except where tip is added to the bill, like in Italy in the form of “coperto”) since you’re unlikely to see the place again!

Where places add a “service charge” to the bill, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tip, although if paying cash you can round up to the next major bill if you’d like. Don’t feel obligated to add something to a charge slip. One thing I do if I’m not sure the proper etiquette is to ask whether the service charge take care of the person serving me. If it does, I don’t need to add.

In general tipping isn’t customary in Asia. That’s a huge generalization and there are differences, but tipping isn’t the norm the way it is in the U.S. and you won’t find locals tipping — but at resorts tipping is VERY common because enough Americans travel throughout the region. If I don’t tip, though, the locals just assume I’m British.

Just because ‘tipping’ may not be a customary practice, doesn’t mean that bribes aren’t, many cultures that haven’t had tipping in their past do have a history of side payments for services.. not like getting your bags or bringing you your meal but if you want anything productive or ‘official’ done beyond what a tourist might encounter.

Wherever I go outside North America I’ll round up cabs, figure on 10%-ish at restaurants, and have small amounts ready for folks who help with baggage but not worry about it if they walk off not realizing I was ready to tip them.

And I don’t tip nearly as frequently as I might in New York. I’m not tipping the bellman on the way in and out of a hotel, I’m not tipping hailing a cab for me.

Somehow after traveling a good amount tipping feels right or wrong in a given situation, based in part on what I’ve heard or seen about a country’s practice but based mostly on watching the person that’s interacting with me. For instance, do they appear to be waiting around after dropping off my bags, or do they run off immediately?

There are certainly comprehensive lists of tipping etiquette on the internet but I’m not sure they’re right. I remember being 16 and visiting Australia, I apologized to a cab driver that I had only just enough cash to pay him but nothing for a tip. He had a good laugh at my expense I think, and explained to me that tipping a taxi driver wasn’t mandatory in Australia. On the other hand, I’ve had cabs Down Under size me up as an American and clearly expect to be tipped.

Sometimes it’s who you are (or appear to be) as much as where you are. And the stakes aren’t often as big as you think.

What are your tipping experiences, and what guidelines do you follow?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My British friends never tip and say it isn’t done at home. So if you feel comfortable with a British accent, Bob’s your uncle!

    Heading to Myanmar soon. Assume no tipping there? They may assume anyone speaking English is British. On the other hand, they may assume that all English speakers are Americans.

  2. Have lived in Japan and France. In Japan I never tip, but in France and Europe we leave a small tip, but not near 15-20% as in the US. Probably 1 Euro minimum, or round off and just tell them to keep the change. In SE Asia service charges are usually included at large hotels and restaurants, and just round up the change for taxis.

  3. Gary, you wrote: “There are certainly comprehensive lists of tipping etiquette on the internet but I’m not sure they’re right.”

    I read them anyway, if only to avoid exploitation. In a Philadelphia taxi last year when I swiped my credit card, the payment system offered three “suggested” tip levels: 20%, 30%, and 40%.

    Even the least accurate tip guide on the Internet would indicate that the first suggestion is borderline — and the last two suggestions are patently — ridiculous.

  4. Ditto Nick’s comment, i also tip maids a dollar or so a day based on the crappy job they have, plus i tend to get extra water and toiletries. And in Thailand, a 20 Baht note seems to go a long way for the workers there. But i must admit i am getting tired of the tipping practice.

  5. I’m not an easily offended person, but somehow both sides of the tipping argument manage to cheese me off.

    On one side are Americans who act as if tipping is somehow the naturally ordained order and other cultures need to be properly indoctrinated in the correct method of social organization. An example is the criticism that Mark Zuckerberg received when it was reported that on his honeymoon in Italy he followed European etiquette by leaving only the coin change from the bill on the table. That is correct and expected behavior in Italy. I often see (very) frequent travelers insist on calculating 15% of a check and leaving it as a tip.

    On the other side are Europeans who don’t tip at home because service workers there are paid a fair salary and therefore believe that they can “teach” Americans a better way of organizing society by refusing to tip here. Even accepting that the European arrangement is superior it still isn’t the arrangement we have here, and the act of not tipping has no effect except to stiff the workers in restaurants.

    In America, a tip of 15% is customary and expected and should be considered part of the meal (except, of course, in cases of unacceptable service). Other countries have different rules. In Europe, leaving the change is customer. In Japan, Australia, and especially New Zealand leaving a tip has traditionally been considered a rather substantial insult (although that’s falling by the wayside). Best to follow the customs of the country you’re in.

  6. Almost every paper travel guide book ever written has a paragraph on tipping, if the commenter is indeed interested in the matter.

  7. Historically speaking, the absence of tipping in the American culture was a reality due to coachmen, barkeeps and other service workers who didn’t see themselves as servants. Americans who traveled abroad to Britain and Europe brought the convention of tipping back with them. Tipping allowed these travelers to exhibit their wealth and brag about their familiarity with European customs.

    Tips of 10% of the bill were customary in the US until the 1970s when a 15% tip became the norm thanks to efforts by the National Restaurant Association, its member restaurants, & leadership (including that character, Mr. 9-9-9). They have been pushing to change the culture in the US since then by passing the buck (no pun intended here) to their customer instead of paying decent living wages to their employees. In the US, however, we do have a choice of how much to tip depending on the level of service we receive, nothing is mandatory. Most establishments tack an 18% service charge when a table is occupied by 6 or more people.

    In Europe, many places add 10% service charge to your bill, regardless if you liked the service or not.

    As for SE Asia, tipping is not required at high end hotels and restaurants where they add the 10% service charge. But the hospitality workers sure do expect a tip regardless if you are American, local, or martian! I usually leave the coin change.

    The way I see it, if you have it and don’t mind giving and you are also happy with the service, go ahead and tip!

  8. I hate the idea of tipping. Just pay people instead!

    Having said that, I’ll tip in the US, and at restaurants and taxis in Europe. That’s it.

    Please don’t impose tipping culture on countries that don’t have it.

  9. Tipping room service servers is a constant source of confusion for me. There is a range of charges (tray charge, delivery charge, service charge, gratuity/tip line on the bill, etc…) already added to the base price – are you also then expected to tip cash to the servers?

    Also, when using Uber, I’ve been chided by American friends for not giving a cash tip on top of the fare automatically charged to my credit card. Uber specifically states that gratuities are not expected and that a gratuity is included in the fare.

  10. @Sean M – Your friend is wrong. Huge piece of Uber is that there’s no cash transaction. It’s supposed to be all electronic with no exchange of money. Tip is factored into the price you’re being charged. Not to say a driver would turn it down, but drivers rate you just as you rate them after a ride and you shouldn’t be rated lower by a driver for not tipping..

  11. Simple rule in the UK – if you have to pick up your own drink or food from the bar (i.e. at a pub), then don’t tip.

    However, if you are having an amazing time in a pub, you can offer to buy the person behind the bar a drink …
    If you are in a West End pub in London – ignore the tip jar – as they put them out for unsuspecting Americans.

    If you are sitting down and someone takes your order, then delivers it to your table (whether food or drink) then tip 10 per cent – but always check the bill, as many restaurants now automatically put a 10 – 12 percent tip on the bill.

  12. @Gary, is something wrong with your RSS feed? I read you through feedly and the last post I see there is “The US Airways Card from Barclays is NOT Going Away Due to the Merger”. Any ideas?

  13. I was chased into the street by the server when I naively gave a tip in Japan. I knew it wasn’t customary, but the food and service were excellent so I wanted to show appreciation. I guess that isn’t the way to do it. I too wish the staff were paid properly here in the U.S. and the tipping culture could be eliminated (who really benefits from the current arrangement but the restaurant owners and the cheapskates?), but it won’t happen anytime soon.

  14. Sorry, but I don’t tip. Tip should be included in the price you pay for the service. Ok, I tip someone that helps me with my lugage in hotels, airport, etc… but I don’t tip a taxi driver. Here in the US there is this ridiculous “rule” you have to tip a taxi driver. Why? He drove me from point A to B. He charged me for that. So, why do I have to tip him for that? My boss does not tip me at the end of the day because I did my job. It is part of the cost. Sometimes I tip a waiter if the service is way beyond my expectation but I hate that when the waiter comes to he table it is implied I have to tip and I find outrageous that depending on the number of people in your party he tip is mandatory. Why? Charge me the full price and I will decide if it is fair or not.

  15. @Gary – Yes, I know the Uber cashless protocol (although I have tipped Uber drivers who have delivered exceptional service) and usually have to explain that fact to someone who isn’t as familiar. I was using that example though to point out how ingrained the whole “tip” culture is in the American mindset. The default assumption is to tip for any service, whereas tipping really ought to be reserved for a much smaller subset of service providers (eg. dining, etc..).

  16. Please do NOT bring the tipping culture to Australia! Waiters here are paid around $18 an hour, more after hours and holidays. Taxi fares are higher here than in the USA and the price you are quoted includes the tax and service charge (tip). I don’t use taxis in the USA, I rent cars or take the bus but I do tip in sit down restaurants. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

  17. Once in Israel, a bartender returned my tip and scowled: “You don’t tip the owner!” OK, I had never heard of this rule before, and besides, how am I supposed to know that the person behind the bar serving drinks is the owner?

  18. I think things are changing a bit in France. 10 years ago one often never tipped a waiter at all. Now, it’s customary to leave the change or a euro or so, or for a really fine meal, perhaps around 3-5 euros, depending on the cost. But DEFINITELY not 15%!

  19. Carefully check your bill in London or ask if service is included. There is always a line for service even if it has already been included and it varies significantly from restaurant to restaurant.

    In Paris restaurants it is customary to give a cash “thank you” directly to the head waiter. The more expensive the restaurant, the larger the “thank you”. It is not required but there is an expectation that a bill (not coinage) be given.

    In the US and Europe I leave a tip (the equivalent of $5) daily, with a note, for housekeeping. Even if I they are being paid a living wage, it’s the lowest paying job yet it impacts my stay more directly than virtually any other – and usually I get better service including extra water and soap.

  20. The main thing I have learned about tipping abroad (non-US and when appropriate) is that you need to give the tip in cash directly to the server. Event though some places have a line on the credit card receipt for adding a tip, many times it does not make its way back to the server. Other times the tip has been ignored and my card was charged for the original amount.

  21. I’m sorry but I don’t quite understand why you needed to kitalicise the ‘folks will think you’re British’ comment? Is that meant to be some form of insult?

  22. Good points @LarryinNYC- my issue with tippingin the US is that some servers seem to be insulted with anything under 15%, even when theservice has been appalling! At 15% of all the tables they’re serving they’ll be getting far far more than someone in Europe on the minimum wage. There also seems tobe an eexpectation to tip *prior* to receiving good service – eg SuperShuttle let’s you pay 15-25% tip when making the booking on their website – why on earth would I want to give such a big tip without even having had the service yet – am I meant to ask for it back if it’s poor?!

  23. @Alan – That’s because many Americans have an entitled attitude and they feel they deserve big tips for no good reason. They don’t seem to understand that their tip is based upon their performance. And this extends to every facet of life, not just tipping. We’re not all like that though 😉

  24. Mine is for 2 stays 🙁

    You are registered to earn 5,000 bonus points after you complete two eligible stays.

  25. Re: Tipping — In the U.S., note that a required group tip or a “service charge” may NOT be going to the servers per a new IRS rule. (More here: http://travelblawg.boardingarea.com/guide-new-irs-tipping-rule/)

    If the restaurant still does mandatory group tipping, I ask if it goes to the servers (and thus trickles down to the kitchen staff). If the service was notable and I want to tip directly to the staff, this might be a factor to consider.

  26. TIPS = To Improve Personal Service
    Anything above 10% is wrong. The price of services are always increasing therefore the tip is increasing as well.

    As far as my idea of tipping, it is based solely on service, you just do your job and you get nothing. If you are friendly, smile, keep my drink glass full, you are getting a tip. If you do a better job than the average person, you will get a little more.

    I am NOT tipping at a buffet, fast food, taxi, bellman, doorman, maid, or any of the numerous add on jobs. It is not my place to supplement their income.

    I will tip someone that treats me especially well, regardless of what their job is. But that is based on HOW THEY TREAT ME or service me. Not out of expectation.

    I was in Koh Samui on an elephant ride, toward the end of the ride, all the handler kept talking about was how much was his tip going to be, we need a big tip, you gonna give us a big tip, my buddy and I want a good tip. This was after trying to sell us elephant teeth souvenirs. We didn’t want the souvenirs and certainly would not tip him for doing his job. Once they ask for a tip, no matter how good of a job they did, they are not getting one.

  27. Sadly, this is the main reason I will not visit the US. The cost of leaving tips everywhere would totally destroy my meagre travel budget.

  28. Note – “Europe” is not one country! In Scandinavia there is virtually no tipping culture – not for taxis, restaurants, barbers, etc. Going further south I usually tip cabbies and barbers by 1-2€, waiters about 10% (cash!)

    In the US I tip 10-15% waiters, guides, drivers, etc. What can be really annoying though is the repeated reminders to tip. Yeah, say it once, I get it. Say it thrice you won’t get it.

    As someone upthread said – when in Rome, do as the Romand do. (which could be a good line to adhere to by our American friends, too)

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