It’s easily one of the most contentious issues you’ll face when traveling: when should you tip and how much should you tip? Even within single countries and cultures, there is a huge amount of debate about who, when, where and how much you ought to tip—and why. When you begin to travel outside your own country, you begin to realize that the debate isn’t one that’s only going on at home; it’s one that’s being replicated in almost every culture and country on the planet. Customs and rules vary widely between cultures and even from state to state, and the practice of tipping service workers is no exception to that rule. As you begin globetrotting, one of the most valuable pieces of information anyone can offer you is insight into the unspoken “rules” of tipping etiquette in your destination country. Knowing when to tip, who to tip and how to tip is almost essential for any traveler: it will show your knowledge and respect of the culture, sometimes obtain you better service and, in some cases, even get you ahead.
That said, it can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around all the nuances and variables involved in what seems like, at first glance, a rather straight-forward custom. Like most social situations, however, there are complex rules and exceptions to every rule.
We start our trip in North America and the countries most readers will be familiar with. In the U.S., tipping is widely debated, but the most common practice is to tip restaurant wait-staff, hairdressers and a handful of other service workers, such as taxi drivers, spa employees and hotel staff. Some people, such as government employees, are never to be tipped, as this can be seen as a form of bribery and is actually illegal! The decision about whether to leave a tip or not is entirely at the customer’s discretion, although a tip of between 15 and 20 percent is considered the norm. Some people argue that customers are not obligated to leave tips, especially if the service is bad, while others contend that certain workers should always be tipped, as service workers are generally poorly paid. In Canada, similar arguments are made, especially since service workers such as wait staff have lower legislated minimum wages than other workers as a result of the culture of tipping. In Canada, a minimum tip is usually 15 percent, although some businesses include a service charge. South of the U.S., in Mexico, you can expect to add 10 to 15 percent to your bill—and most Mexicans would prefer you to tip them in pesos, not American currency; national pride rails against the common view that Mexico is, in some ways, a colony or even a part of the U.S. Tipping in U.S. dollars is often seen as insulting, as though the person leaving the tip views Mexico as American territory.