To Tip or Not to Tip — And How Much?

By Lauren Ward · April 17, 2023 · 8 minute read

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To Tip or Not to Tip — And How Much?

Travel is an amazing way to see the world, make new discoveries, and immerse yourself in the local culture. And planning your trip can be a thrill too, as you suss out a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar, the best sunset sail experience, plus must-see restaurants and stores.

As you plan, you are likely sticking to a budget, but don’t overlook one area: tipping. When you travel, especially abroad, it’s helpful to know the local customs. In some countries, tipping is a must. In others, it’s optional, and in a few, it’s considered downright rude.

Are you ready to learn the ropes? Here’s your cheat sheet on:

•   Who should you tip when traveling?

•   How much should you tip when you travel?

•   In which countries don’t you tip?

Recommended: Apply for an Unlimited Cash Back Credit Card

Who Should You Tip While on Vacation?

As you travel, there are many people you could tip: the ones who help you into the airport, out of the airport, into your hotel, out again, into a taxi…the list goes on and on. Most people want to be polite and tip appropriately but don’t want to burn through more money than they have to.

To help you manage this aspect of travel, here are some of the people you probably do want to tip, plus some insight into how much to tip.

Luggage attendants can help get your luggage from the curb at the airport to the check-in counter. You can definitely manage the process on your own, but if you’re wrangling young kids, traveling with pets, or simply packed extra-jumbo bags so you’d have loads of outfits to choose among, it’s nice to get help.

Traditionally, it’s polite to tip $2 for your first bag and $1 for any additional luggage. If your bags are legitimately humongous, consider tipping the full $2 for each one. This expense can’t go on your airline credit card or any other kind of plastic, so be sure to keep cash on you.

Note: Airline employees stationed outside the airport may not be able to accept tips, so be prepared for your bills to be rebuffed if one of these workers assists you.

Car valets park and return your car directly from the curb of hotels and restaurants. It’s a major convenience and generally deserves a monetary thank-you. How much to tip? In the $1 to $5 range when your car is returned to you. Tipping when your wheels are first whisked away is generous, though not necessary.

Housekeepers should be tipped each day during your stay, whether you splurged on luxe accommodations or figured out how to save on hotels and booked a rock-bottom rate. Housekeepers freshen your room, replace those damp towels, and otherwise make it a pleasure to return after a long day of visiting museums, lolling on the beach, or whatever else you’ve been up to.

The best method is to leave the cash in a marked envelope (some hotels provide them for just this purpose) or folded in some hotel stationery that is clearly marked “For Housekeeping.” Best practice suggests $3 to $5 each day of your stay.

Room service is a luxurious treat during vacation. Some hotels automatically include a gratuity on your bill. If you don’t see it on your receipt, however, the answer to the “to tip or not to tip” quandary is that it’s likely a good idea to add 15% to 20%, just as you would in a restaurant.

Drivers help in a few different travel scenarios. If you’re taking a taxi or rideshare, consider tipping either $4 to $5 for short rides and 10% to 20% for long rides. Add an extra tip if the driver helps with your luggage. It’s also customary to tip shuttle drivers, typically from $1 to $5 depending on the size of your party.

Tour guides share their expertise and passion with you, as they lead you around the best snorkeling spots in Tulum or show you the hidden treasures of Paris. Their services can be a memorable highlight of your summer travel plans, so it’s nice to tip them, especially when you have a great experience. An easy rule of thumb is to tip 10% to 20% of the tour’s cost for your group.

Why Tipping Is Important

Tipping is by no means a requirement, but in many economies throughout the world (including the U.S.), it’s a way to help workers make ends meet. Many service industry employees are not guaranteed minimum wage.

In fact, in most states in America, there is a much lower minimum wage for tipped employees; hourly rates can dip below $3. While economic policies are a larger discussion, the fact of low wages can help put things in perspective and show the very real value of rewarding workers for a job done well.

For this reason, when budgeting for an upcoming trip, it’s wise to think about your plans, estimate a tip budget, and include that as part of where you keep your travel fund. It’s one of those incidentals that can add up and throw your financial planning out of whack if not accounted for.

Also, since tips are often given in cash rather than plastic (sorry, you can’t reap those credit card rewards this way), you may want to plan ahead to get some foreign currency for this purpose.

Recommended: How Families Can Afford to Travel

Tipping Guidelines by Destination

You likely do a good amount of research before traveling, scoping out cool hotels, amazing restaurants, and an affordable car rental. So why not, before your next trip, familiarize yourself with tipping customs in different parts of the world? It’ll help you prepare for the costs coming your way and make you feel more comfortable and in control while traveling. Here’s some useful intel:

US

Across the U.S., it’s customary to tip up to 20% for restaurant servers, bartenders, and drivers. In some cities, like New York, the answer to “How much to tip?” is nudging up to 22% or even 25%.

Europe

If you’re planning an epic trip to France, Spain, Italy, or other European countries, service tips may already be included in your restaurant bill in Europe. Look on the menu; it will probably say so. If it’s not, a maximum 10% tip is recommended. When it comes to your hotel stay, you might tip one euro per bag if a staffer helps you, and leave one euro per day for housekeeping.

Mexico and the Caribbean

Whether you’re heading to Cancun, Mexico City, or the Bahamas, be prepared to tip. Restaurant gratuities usually average between 10% and 20% in Mexico and the Caribbean.

If you’re staying at a resort, remember to keep cash on hand for bellhops, housekeeping, and other employees. Typically, a dollar or two per day/interaction is appropriate.

Central and South America

Heading to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, or beyond? Here’s the scoop: The standard tip rate for Latin America is 10% in restaurants. Some countries (like Brazil) may include the gratuity in your bill, so look carefully at the check before paying for your feijoada. Not sure? There’s no harm asking your server; you’re likely not the first person to do so.

When it comes to hotel staff and drivers, you’ll need a dollar or two (or the equivalent), so it’s wise to have some cash stashed in advance.

Recommended: Where to Find Book Now, Pay Later Travel

Places You Probably Don’t Have to Tip

Here’s a travel budget bonus: There are a number of countries you might visit that do not have a tipping custom. In fact, it may even be considered rude or insulting to leave a tip. So before you add a tip when paying with your travel credit card or plunking down cash, double-check local etiquette. Here, some pointers:

Australia

Tipping is not vital when Down Under. Compared to the U.S. and many other countries, Australia has a high minimum wage. That’s one of the reasons why tipping in the service industry is seen as optional.

China

If you are going to be exploring China, know that tipping is actually taboo there. And in some places like airports, it’s illegal because it can be seen as a bribe. Stay polite and safe by skipping the tip.

Japan

Heading to Tokyo, Kyoto, or other locations in Japan? Heads up: Tipping is not customary in Japan and is actually considered rude. Although it may feel odd, when wondering whether to tip or not to tip, just don’t do it. Save your money for more shopping or sushi.

Scandinavia

Iceland and Scandinavia typically don’t expect you to tip. You might round up a restaurant tab if there isn’t already a service charge added, but these aren’t countries where a 20% gratuity is routine. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips either.

The Takeaway

Preparing for a trip often involves budgeting, and a key way to wind up on or under your budget is to anticipate what costs are coming your way. Tips are one of those incidentals it’s easy to forget about and can throw your financial planning for a loop. By understanding local tipping customs, you can have a smooth, on-budget trip wherever you may go. What’s more, you’ll know exactly what to expect so you can travel with confidence.

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FAQ

Are tourists always expected to leave a tip?

It depends on where you’re staying. Countries in North and South America, Europe, and Africa typically have tipping customs, particularly at restaurants and resorts. But Asian and Pacific countries like Australia, Japan, and China often do not incorporate tipping into their cultures — and it can even seem impolite.

Who are you supposed to tip at the airport?

In many countries (with China being an exception), it’s polite to tip a baggage handler who carries your luggage to the check-in counter.

How much do you tip internationally?

Research each country individually to understand tipping customs. While it’s traditional in many foreign countries, it’s also rude (and sometimes illegal) to tip in others.


Photo credit: iStock/DragonImages

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