Tipping Etiquette, Part II: Guide to Tipping Abroad

This article is Part 2 in a series on Tipping Etiquette, where I am examining expectations for tipping service employees across the travel industry. We're considering every angle, with special attention to the experience of travelers with disabilities and wheelchair users.


In the United States, many service employees earn a sub-minimum wage and derive the majority of their income from tips. America's love affair with tipping extends far beyond waiters and waitresses, hotel housekeepers and the valet, with tip jars popping up in more places than ever.

And so, when Americans travel abroad, they refer back to the customary practice of always leaving a little something extra. But in many countries around the world, tipping is not necessary or expected. In the U.S., we tip waiters 20% because their wage is just $2.30 per hour. That's not true everywhere, and service charges may already be included in the price of the meal.

Condé Nast Traveler has a great introduction to international tipping customs, and I have pulled a few examples for countries most popular among WheelchairTravel.org readers.

China

In China (and in nearly all of Asia), tipping is not customary. Condé Nast wrote the following about gratuities in China:

At a restaurant frequented by locals, you don't leave a tip; the same holds true for a hotel dominated by the domestic travel industry. But if you're staying at a hotel that caters predominantly to luxury overseas visitors, the luggage boy is waiting around for a tip (say, 5 RMB per bag). Fine hotels and restaurants in China may also add a service charge of 10–15 percent, so nothing is expected or even technically allowed beyond that.

Wheelchair taxi and driver in Shanghai, China.
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Wheelchair taxi and driver in Shanghai, China.

In my own travels to the country, to cities like Beijing and Shanghai, I have generally followed this guidance. One area where I have broken with tradition are the wheelchair taxi drivers, who have always been gracious in accepting my thanks (and a small tip for their assistance).

Egypt

Egypt is a fantastic country, and I found many people in Cairo who were willing to lend a hand. Workers seemed to take great pride in their jobs, even in the midst of a struggling economy. Condé Nast Traveler advises the following gratuities:

  • At Restaurants: The tip is included in the bill; add 5–10 percent above that.
  • At Hotels: One to two dollars a day for the housekeeper (pay throughout your stay to ensure great cleaning); $1 per bag for the porter; concierges are powerful and very helpful, so $10–$20 at the beginning of your stay will go far.
  • Guides and Drivers: Cabdrivers, 10–15 percent; guides (who never drive you), $20 per person per day; drivers a little less.
Wheelchair user John Morris riding a camel around the Pyramids of Egypt.
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Wheelchair user John Morris riding a camel around the Pyramids of Egypt.

Be warned, though, that requests for tips are customary around the Pyramids of Giza, making it important to set a price before receiving any services. Set the price and stick to it - especially for camel rides, or your gratuitousness could cost you a lot of money!

France

No trip to Paris, France would be proper without a great deal of wining and dining. The food is delicious and the champagne exquisite! A service charge is customarily added to restaurant checks, but waiters and waitresses are paid a salary. Condé Nast offers the following guidance:

  • At Restaurants: The words service compris on your bill mean no tip is required, but most locals leave up to 10 percent. Tipping at bars is not expected.
  • At Hotels: Two euros per bag; one to two euros for a housekeeper; 10–15 euros per restaurant reservation made by a concierge.
  • Guides and Drivers: About 25 euros per person per day for guides, and up to 50 euros for one who's nationally certified; a separate driver should get about half of that. Give 10–20 euros for private airport transfers, depending on the driver's wait time and the in-car amenities, and 10–15 percent tip for taxi drivers.

Japan

A friend of mine, born in Japan but now living in the United States, once told me that tipping runs counter to the Japanese focus on honor and duty. While tipping is becoming more accepted in the country, do not be offended if your offer is refused. Condé Nast reported on some areas where tipping is acceptable:

  • Guides and Drivers: For a tour guide, offer 2,500–5,000 yen in an envelope. To tip a cab driver, round up for a very short ride. A private driver will usually expect to have you buy his lunch, around 2,000 to 2,500 yen.
  • At Hotels: A room attendant at a ryokan—a traditional Japanese inn—usually gets 5,000 yen for one or two nights—always in an envelope.
An inexpensive meal at a shopping mall restaurant in Nagoya, Japan.
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An inexpensive meal at a shopping mall restaurant in Nagoya, Japan.

In my own experiences, waiters and waitresses have routinely declined to accept a tip, so I would not recommend offering one. More appreciated than a gratuity will always be kindness and respect.

South Africa

For visitors to the very wheelchair accessible city of Cape Town, Condé Nast advises the following gratuities:

  • At Restaurants: 10–15 percent to the waiter.
  • At Hotels: A dollar per bag to the porter and per night to the housekeeper; $3–$5 to the concierge.
  • Guides and Drivers: Taxi drivers, 10 percent; private drivers and tour guides, $25 per person per day.

Continue reading about tipping in other countries

As you can see, tipping practices vary widely around the world, and you'll want to familiarize yourself with local custom before traveling abroad. For more information, or to read about the expectations for tipping in other countries, read the full Condé Nast article here.

 

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