One of the most common questions asked by travellers is undoubtedly “How much should I tip?” North Americans are particularly conscious about tipping etiquette, where tipping is both seen as something you should do to promote good service, but also as a serious social obligation.
However, no one wants people to be nice to them because they are expecting payment for it.
Rather than importing your home country’s tipping culture, instead try to blend in with the locals and promote fair compensation for services provided within that cultural or economic context. How do you learn what “fair” compensation for services is? There are hundreds of smartphone and tablet apps that can help with tipping in the US, but here are a few we recommend that focus on international tipping:
GlobeMaster – currently only available for iPhone, GlobeMaster is an offline travel app that combines several features into one $0.99 app (which is the same price as the developer’s GlobeTipping app, which only has the one feature). The tipping feature provides tipping information for over 200 countries and includes a tip calculator to automatically calculate the tip and even break up the total bill based on the number of people. The two drawbacks of the tip calculator are that it does not calculate tax as a factor, and so users need to type in the pre-tax total of the bill, and the tip percentage has to be manually inputted by the user after looking up the standard for the country — ideally, you would be able to set a country and the tip calculator would automatically adjust the standard tip value. Other non-tipping features of this app include country guides synched with WikiTravel, a currency converter, and offline capabilities. Available for iPhone and iPad only, $0.99.
Tipster Global Tip Calculator – while not the highest rated or best global tip calculator available, Tipster is at least available for platforms other than iTunes / iPhone / iPad. Tipster provides country-specific information for 60 countries worldwide and includes a tip calculator that has options for setting the percentage of tip, number of parties, and rounding off the tip or total bill. Available for Android, Windows Mobile, Free.
Global Tipping – currently only available for iPhone, this app includes almost every feature a tip-savvy person would want on their phone – it calculates the percentage of the tip that people with drinks should provide (“Drinkers), that people not drinking should provide (“Teetotalers”), allows you to tip on tax or without, and breaks up the bill – but only for 30 countries worldwide and not available offline. Available for iPhone and iPad only, $0.99.
iTip – another app only available on iPhone, for a whopping $4.99 the iTip is an international tip calculator with similar features to GlobeMaster’s tip calculator, but it automatically inputs the tip standard for countries in the calculator, and it includes…er…tips on tipping culture in the country directly below the calculation. While the app does offer information on sales tax in each country, this does not appear in the tip calculator, so make sure you type in the pre-tax total of the bill. Available for iPhone and iPad only, $4.99.
Tipping culture changes constantly. Five years ago in Vancouver, a standard tip was 15%, or up to 20% for exceptional service. After hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010, the new standard is 18%, and exceptional service 25%!
Considering the lack of reliable international tipping apps for non-apple users, here are some general rules of thumb for tipping around the world which you can simply plug into your phone’s calculator or compute yourself:
// North America
In Canada, the United States, and in Mexico, it is customary to leave a 15% tip based on the bill before taxes, or 20% for excellent service. It is important to know that North American servers often have a pre-designated amount which they have to pay to bartenders, bus boys, the kitchen, and even the owners, and tips can account for almost 100% of a server’s income. In some places, a percentage of sales are automatically taxed and deducted from a server’s salary such as in the Province of Quebec.
In some rare cases, a tip will be included (called “propina” in Mexico, “pourboire” in Quebec) for groups or for special events. Check this with your server, and please ensure you are not confusing a sales tax with a service charge (example: “TPS” in Quebec is actually a sales tax, and does not stand for tips!).
For porters and taxis, a few extra dollars / pesos are appreciated, and in Canada and the U.S., it is expected to tip in addition for services such as hairdressers, massages, etc.
// South America
Tipping is also considered important in South American and Caribbean countries, where each country differs slightly. As a general rule, in restaurants look for a “propina” included on the bill, or tip 10% of the total bill before taxes. For excellence service, always add an additional tip regardless of whether it is included or not. For most tourism services such as porters and taxi drivers, a small tip is appreciated.
Many European countries include a “service charge” of 10-15% in the total of the bill. Europeans will often round-up a bill to the next euro, or add a few euros for larger bills (maximum of 10%). Tips should be given in cash rather than on credit cards, but if a credit card is all you have make sure you tell your server before they swipe your card. When tips are not included on the bill, a 10% tip is a good rule of thumb throughout western and eastern Europe. For most tourism services such as valet, porters, and taxi drivers, a small tip is appreciated.
// Middle East and North Africa
In many Middle Eastern and North African countries, a tip will already be added to the bill and a patrons will likely round-off the bill for good service. Read the bill carefully, and if a tip is not included, 10% will suffice. It is common in less developed Middle Eastern and North African countries for people to provide services such as directions, or walking you to a place of interest. In this case, it is customary to give them a small tip for their troubles, however it is important not to encourage self-appointed guides to latch onto vulnerable tourists. For most tourism services such as valet, porters, and taxi drivers, a small tip is appreciated.
In most African countries, it is not common for locals to tip wait staff, but a 10% tip from tourists is appreciated. In South Africa and in more touristy parts of Africa, a 10-15% tip is expected. It is important to understand the local etiquette with regards to tipping for other services – it is common and expected to tip professional guides, while it is uncommon in most countries to tip someone for common hospitality such as helping with directions.
Asia has a much more complicated tipping culture, where in some countries it is considered offensive or will simply confuse your server. In China, Korean, and Japan, it is not recommended to leave a tip. In India and in Thailand, it is common to leave a 15% tip in restaurants. In Indonesia and in the Philippines, a service charge is usually included.
In the last few decades, it has become customary to leave a 10-15% tip for good service in Australia and New Zealand.