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A Guide to Tipping Abroad – What is Appropriate?

Posted by Maria Inês Pinto on 29/01/2015
A Guide to Tipping Abroad - What is Appropriate?

Most of us are pretty comfortable with the etiquette rules of tipping at home – we know who to tip, how much, and generally what is and is not accepted here in the UK. But when travelling abroad, it can be difficult to discern exactly the most appropriate way to behave when it comes to tipping. Luckily, there are many things you can keep in mind when figuring out how many extra pounds you should (or shouldn’t) give your waiter, concierge, cleaning staff, or taxi driver. Here are a few tips to better tipping abroad:

1.  Always carry (local) cash: The most important thing when travelling abroad is to simply always be prepared to tip and that means carrying cash at all possible times during your holiday. Upon arrival, make sure to take out some local cash or exchange money so that you have enough to pay for your taxi transfer to the hotel and tip the driver, when appropriate. To manage your money well on your getaway, use big bills to pay for souvenirs, meals and tour packages, and keep the smaller change to hand it to street performers, waiters, cleaning staff, restroom attendants, etc.

2.  Get informed: Although there are some general tipping guidelines that apply to most countries around the world (more on that later), it’s always extremely important to get as much information about the specificities of the tipping customs of your next destination. Tipping in Japan is considered an insult, it’s not expected in New Zealand unless service is exceptional and it’s considered mandatory on top of the service bill in restaurants in Egypt. In Germany you have to hand out the tip directly to your waiter and in China no tips are expected for taxi drivers. You get the idea. To get all of this and more information, you can check out the country-specific tipping guides by Condé Nast TravelerOn Call International, or There are also phone apps that can help you out on the move – Globe Tipping (for iPhone) and Tipping Bird (for Android).

3.  Observe the locals: When you’re feeling a bit lost, in a situation where you are not sure how much or how to tip, observe the locals. Look around at the emptying tables in the restaurant or at the rest of the audience in a street performance. They know what they’re doing and you can just follow their lead!

4.  Ask a trusted local: If, again, you are feeling lost but in a situation where there are no locals for you to observe (i.e. when leaving a tip for the cleaning staff in your hotel room), feel free to ask a trusted local. This can be your hotel concierge or a tour guide. Just make sure to never ask someone directly about how much you are expected to tip them specifically. That can create an awkward situation and may lead to a dishonest answer both ways.

5.  Beware of service charges: Many restaurants around the world now typically include the service charge in the bill. In many countries, the service bill is not the same as a tip so make sure to check your country-specific customs and add a couple of extra pounds to the final bill.

6.  Keep in mind some general rules: It can be daunting to try to memorize all the country-specific etiquette guidelines for tipping so there are some general rules you can keep in mind when the moment comes to pay a tip on your next holiday. Tipping at restaurants varies generally anywhere from 5% to 10%; for cleaning staff consider about £1 to £2 per day; concierge services can be tipped anywhere between £5 to £15 depending on the complexity of your requests; and porters expect to receive £1 per bag. However, especially when travelling in Asia, these rules can be completely different so the most important thing to do is to always have handy a country-specific guide to tipping.

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