International Tipping Guide

International Tipping Guide

When traveling around the globe, knowing when to tip and where can be quite complicated and confusing. Tipping is a reward for good service. Some countries expect it, others don’t. What you did last time you visited may have completely changed since then. Is there a service charge included? Does that include tip? What is the routine in the local area? What percentage? Should you leave your spare change or tack on 20 percent? Leave a few Euros on the table? Someone help!

There are approximately 195 countries in the world and they all have different tipping practices. In some countries like Australia, tipping isn’t customary, except for fine restaurants. In China, tipping isn’t generally practiced, but leaving 3% in major cities for exceptional service is customary. In Japan, tipping at all is insulting and is a definite no-no.

Here’s our advice: don’t wait until you’ve already ordered to figure out whether or not you should leave a tip. Instead, do a little research on your chosen country before your trip- our tips on international tipping etiquette can help you get started.

Tip with Cash or Credit?

Tipping with cash is a good rule of thumb, so always keep some small bills on hand for this purpose. Hand a cash tip directly to the server and be sure it’s in the currency of the country you are visiting. If you assume you can tip on your credit card, be aware your server may not see the whole tip. Certain restaurants abroad may not be equipped to accept gratuities via credit cards at all. Know before you go.

Related: How to Use Credit Cards, Debit Cards and ATMs in Europe

How Much Should I Tip?

In the United States, tipping 20% is now considered average. In most countries however, tipping that much may be unheard of or tipping at all may be frowned upon completely. In fact, The U.S. is on the very high end of customary tipping etiquette. In the end, it comes down to knowing the customs of where you are and if the custom is to leave a tip, the value is up to you.

If you see a service charge on the bill, don’t automatically assume the tip is included. The service charge may not go to the waiter at all, leaving you with the decision to tip with cash. Service charges vary widely from place to place. For example, in Greece, Guatemala, Italy and Hong Kong; you should leave a tip in addition to a service charge.

There are many resources online to do your research, but for an excellent interactive world-wide tipping map, check out the Tip Advisor Guide. Simply click on the country you are traveling to and see more information on best tipping practices in that area.

Whom Should I Tip?

Be aware that the restaurant isn’t the only place where it may be customary to leave a tip. For instance, a tour guide in Italy may not expect a tip, but the common practice is to give 5-10 Euros depending on the length of the tour.

Check into these other services before you travel:

  • Cleaning staff and bathroom attendants
  • Porters and bellhops
  • Concierge
  • Taxi/Cabbie
  • Tour guides and boat captains
  • Bartenders
  • Maître d’
  • Childcare Staff
  • Spa Services Staff

What to do in a Pinch?

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure, resist the urge to ask. This puts your service person in a difficult and awkward position, and they may say no out of sheer embarrassment or politeness. Rather, look around and see what others are doing. Are other visitors tipping? If so, follow suit. If that doesn’t work, your backup plan could be to give a base 5-10% if you’re visiting a country where tipping is generally acceptable.

Let’s recap: do advance research on best practices for your chosen country, prepare with small cash bills in local currency and watch what others are doing. With a little knowledge, you can travel anywhere in the world and feel comfortable leaving gratuity. International tipping etiquette doesn’t have to be difficult with a bit of preparation. Ladies and gentlemen, go see the world!

Subscribe to the Smart Travels Newsletter to learn more about traveling easier, safer and smarter.