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International Tipping Etiquette

49 Conversations

Waiter with drinks, dollars changing hands.
Ninotchka - Why should you carry other people's bags?
Porter - Well, that's my business, Madame.
Ninotchka - That's no business. That's social injustice.
Porter - That depends on the tip.

- Ninotchka (1939 film)

To tip, or not to tip? Mmmm... it's not that straightforward. Even when we've established that we ought to give a tip for something - that this is, indeed, a 'tipping situation' - the question is, how much? And to whom, exactly? And to make matters that little bit more complicated, the rules for tipping vary greatly from country to country. What's perfectly normal behaviour in a Tokyo restaurant might be thought rude in a Texan diner. Below you will find some great advice provided by the h2g2 Community that should help us all through this cultural minefield.

Tipping by Geography


Tipping in Australia is basically non-existent.


Most service staff in Canada expect something in the 10-20% tip range, depending on what city, if it's French or English Canada, and the level of service. Tipping is expected for restaurants, bars, food delivery and taxis. You should not try to tip the police, especially the Royal Canadian Mountain Police - they will not appreciate it. 15% is a good tip in a restaurant. In Montreal, tips for a good meal at a good restaurant with good service should be tipped more. In most of English Canada, you would find it a lot harder to have the same experience, and anyway would not be expected to tip as much.

On the other hand, you should not tip if service is bad. If the service is really bad, leave a nickel - they should get the message. There is no excuse for bad service - it's so easy to give! And if you work in the service industry, the little effort can gain you a personal reward - tips!


You'll never have to tip anywhere in China. It's the one consolation from the fact that foreigners are charged more as a matter of government policy.

When I was in Shanghai 15 years ago, people would run after me with a couple of jiao change. Last year they kept a couple of dollars unless I waited them out. Mind you, the service has improved a thousand per cent.


In Egypt you are expected to tip - it's a way of life. If you go on a cruise on the Nile or on Lake Nasser, at the end of the cruise you will be asked to leave tips for the boat crew and any one else involved in the tours. Tipping the guide is at your discretion, but a good guide is worth a good tip.

Similarly, if you go to somewhere like Luxor or Aswan and use a caleche (horse-drawn 'buggy') to get about, the driver will expect a tip on top of the agreed fare. It's up to you whether you pay it, but the man will look aggrieved if you don't! Taxi drivers don't get tipped.


Tipping in Estonia is not very common. Taxi drivers like to keep the change and sometimes waiters in a fancy restaurant would too, but they won't be insulted if you don't do it. You'll noticed that some small cafés and pubs have a jar or box on the counter labelled 'Tip' on it. Looks like it's working too. At least it's a smart idea.


In France, in restaurants, though not at bars, service must be included in the price, by law. It is usually about 15% or so.


Tipping seems strange to many Germans. The people you expect to tip (loo attendants for example) have a fixed price (50pfg) but tipping hairdressers and the like may seem akin to starting a revolution.

I almost never tip taxi drivers, since mostly they don't even open the door for me. But I do leave a pressie for the bin men on the first collection after Christmas. Despite my nagging suspicion that they earn more than me.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong taxi drivers do not expect tips (which is a darn good thing as they mostly don't deserve them) unless they are taking you to the airport or the MTR station which connects with the airport, when the cost of carrying luggage mysteriously multiplies.

I flagged a driver who spoke a little English, drove very well, cut five minutes off my usual journey time, and opened the door when we got there. He got the equivalent of 50p (last of the big spenders, here) and was happy with it.


No tip is expected in restaurants throughout Italy. If you feel guilty, just remember that you are being charged a coperto ('cover charge') or possibly for pane ('bread'), as well. If you're feeling generous, you can leave some coins on the table as you leave.




In Mexico tipping is expected for almost any service - if not just a common courtesy to help compensate people who are paid little for their work except for tips. Taxis, restaurants, food delivery folks all should be tipped. Generosity is appreciated, stinginess or no tip for bad service is understood or grudgingly accepted; it might be that your waiter believes in Karma - just make sure that if you go back again, return a favour.

In Monterey, you can find a parking meter and pump some coins in but it could be a meter with a short time limit. If this is the case, you can ask the patrolling meter cop to watch the meter with an appropriate 'tip' to keep him motivated, just in case it runs past the maximum time and you promptly get a ticket.

If you take a cab in Mexico City, they have to use the taximeter by law. If the meter is 'broken' you can get out and catch the next cab which will be waiting right behind. Otherwise, if you are adventurous, know where you are going and your Spanish is good enough, then you can negotiate a price. If you do, make sure you settle the price with tip included or calculate your negotiating price minus a tip. Otherwise it is common courtesy to tip the metered amount. If you are travelling all over Mexico City, you should know where you are going as the taxi driver may not, and may not have a map. It is not like catching a cab in London where they all have the 'knowledge'.

If you do find an organised cabbie who gets you where you want efficiently you should consider that. If he is not so organised, and you have to pull out your city road map - consider that he probably has a hard time making money driving you around for hours except on the extra income from tips, and the cab fare is very reasonable to begin with - maybe the road map (Guia Roji for example) would make a very nice tip.

New Zealand

Don't tip. Ever. You don't have to, people will generally be nice to you as long as you don't treat them like your personal slave. Service is almost always included, as is the sales tax, so the price you see is the price you get. The only exceptions are:

  • Exceptionally good service

  • If the menu says 'Service not Included' (rare)

  • Telling the taxi driver to keep the change (so he doesn't have to fumble around for 35 cents)

Conversely, New Zealanders (and Australians too) are notoriously bad tippers, and consequently get bad service sometimes in other countries.

United Kingdom

All British people know this: you do not tip cash at the bar in a pub. If you are impressed with the barkeep's service, you can offer to buy them a drink. Such an offer will be genuinely appreciated, even though it may not be accepted. If it is, the barkeep might take the tip in the form of cash to 'have one [a drink] later'. This will generally be for half a pint of beer, or a small measure of spirits - you would not expect them to take for a larger drink unless you specifically asked them to.

It seems to be a grey area whether to tip for meals served in a pub. Generally, you have to decide whether a particular establishment is a pub that serves food (don't tip) or a restaurant with a bar (do tip).

United States

Restaurants in the USA usually call for a 15-20% tip, however, if your server is a complete jerk, you aren't expected to give them a dime of your pocket-money. Of course, you may have the misfortune of going to a restaurant that automatically includes a 15% tip in the check, but for all those US males out there who pull out their little calculators every time they receive the bill, having the tip already indicated for them can save a lot of embarrassment.

In pubs, you are expected to put a dollar or two into the pot at the bar. However, since you usually pay only at the end (rather than for each drink as you go), this does not get too excessive!

In most states of the US the tax is around 7-8%, so you just tip twice the tax - a little more or less depending on the service you got. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. However, some people just don't understand what the big deal is with figuring out what 15% of the total is... You just take ten percent of the total, divide that by two, and then find the sum of both figures!

Tipping By Profession


Below is an example of an international tipping dilemma that can, and will, affect us all....

I never know how much to tip a hairdresser. I'd probably say ten percent, but if you go somewhere expensive and have your hair cut it can cost up to £70, even up to £150 if you have highlights or something. Then paying 10% of £150 is £15 and that seems an awful lot for a tip. And do you tip the person who cut it, and/or the person who washed it, and/or the person who coloured it, or none of them?
What about if the person who cuts your hair is the owner of the salon? Do you tip him? He's making the profit from cutting your hair already...

So here's what one Researcher suggests...

I agree that 10% on a haircut costing £150 does seem a lot, but then it has to be seen in a relative context. The amount of work done to warrant that price (eg, highlights) are labour intensive. Unless, that is, one is visiting the latest, 'in' hairdresser, because one has the money to be 'high maintenance' and can therefore afford to tip £15 or more.
Generally I tip £1 to the person who washes my hair, and 10% to the hairdresser who cuts it, normally rounding it up to £5 for anything below £50, and the next round number for anything above that. So actually, yes, on reflection, I find I fall in line with the 10% tip.
It is important to bear in mind that it is very much worth tipping slightly over the odds if you are pleased with the way your hairdresser cuts your hair, as, tipping well establishes loyalty, and they, being pleased by your tip, will put more effort and care into your next visit.

Hotel Porters

In the experience of one Australian Researcher's fiancé who works as a hotel porter, tips don't necessarily mean money. Below is a list of Items received:

  • Two tickets to the Sydney Opera House (Box seats) from a gentlemen with a previous engagement.

  • Four unworn fashion concept dresses (of which three actually fit) from an American dress designer who could not be bothered repacking them into her over-full suit case.

  • A $50 dollar phone card with $42 dollars left on it from an elderly couple flying out that day.

  • A Black Forest cake from a guest as a farewell present.

One thing that irks most porters is receiving tips in the guest's home currency. It is usually in coin (which the banks refuse to change) and it gives the impression that the guest is just dumping their unwanted and unusable coins on the porter. To begin with it's nice with all the different coins etc, but after awhile the novelty wears off.


I always feel embarrassed when I arrive at the hotel because I generally have not yet changed money into the local currency or if I have the wretched airline kiosk has given me only large denomination notes.

A Coach Driver Speaks

One Researcher explains the rules of the road for those who want to receive good tips:

I worked for 20 years as a coach driver in the UK. The work involved both private hire work (day trips, taking people to shows, weddings, discos, etc) and extended tour work (seven to ten-day holiday trips in UK and Europe). Coach drivers wages are generally very close to the minimum wage level and, therefore, they expect to be tipped every time the coach leaves the depot. Most times you get something - occasionally you don't. Strangely those who can least afford it (eg, pensioners on a day trip) always give something to the driver.
On tour work you can usually expect an average of 50p per person per day assuming that you are good at the job and everyone has a good tour. A one-day private hire will usually be worth a tip of £10-£25.
Another area where tour drivers augment their income is to take the group to a 'Woollen Mill', 'Freeport' or a 'pay to get in' attraction. Most of these organisations pay a commission on money spent by passengers. As with most areas of tipping, the more you put in - the more you get out. If you turn up with a clean coach and a friendly attitude you are more likely to go home with a pocketful of appreciation.

Tipping Awareness

An Understandable Faux Pas

It can happen to best of us, as this Researcher's personal experience illustrates:

Once in an Indian restaurant in Massachusetts we were pleased with the meal and the service and wanted to tip. We paid for the meal and wanted to give a 'normal' tip to the waiter. But he replied, 'This is not wanted'. So we left the restaurant without leaving a tip.
The next time in the same restaurant with the same waiter, we just assumed he didn't take tips for some reason. But when leaving the restaurant, he called after us, asking why we didn't give him any tip. We apologised and referred to our last encounter, but he said he was hoping to be tipped, which we finally did.
What might have gone wrong here?

In many eastern countries it is common to say one thing and mean another. Declining a tip is just part of the ritual of actually giving one. It's the same as saying 'please enter my unworthy hovel' when entering the Taj Mahal. It's an elaborate dance, so it helps to know the rules.

Waiters and Waitresses

In many places around the world, the waiting staff get paid far below minimum wage because they make up the rest of their salary in tips.

Not tipping the waiter is simply rude. A good rule of thumb for a waiter who does a good job is simply to divide five into your check and give 20 percent (far too many people give ten percent because of the ease of maths, yet 20 percent is just as easy - therefore far too many people are just plain cheap!)

Things which should not impact your tipping:

  • Not getting your steak cooked properly

  • The restaurant being out of your favourite dish

  • The cleanliness of the rest rooms

  • Difficulty in finding a parking space

  • Having a conflict with another diner (loud children, people smoking in a non-smoking section)

  • Having a bad day

  • Having difficulty with your date

  • Anything else beyond the human control of your waiter or waitress

These people rely on your handouts to make a living. They should never be punished monetarily for something they can't control. However, if they spill soup in your lap or forget to bring you a dish or a drink - dock their tip but never, ever let it fall below ten percent.

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