Top Tips for Tipping in Africa
Tipping can make even the most experienced of travellers a little uneasy: Is it appropriate to tip? If so, how much? And who should you tip? It can be a minefield of bad etiquette, which is why we’ve put together a rough guide to tipping in Africa.
When it comes to tipping, always do your research. In Japan, tipping is very bad form, whereas in the US, it’s more or less compulsory and makes up the bulk of a waiter or bartender’s pay.
When you arrive in country, watch what others are doing. Perhaps ask at the hotel’s front desk if you need a local perspective. Also, some hotels have a no-tipping policy, so make sure you check (either with your agent, or with the hotel directly), so you don’t get anyone in trouble.
A good grasp of exchange rates is crucial to make sure you’re tipping the right amount and make sure you have some local currency in small denominations. Use a website like xe.com for up-to-date rates.
If you’re the type to have an app for everything, try Globe Tipping, a tip calculator that works out what you should tip in over 200 countries.
If you have US dollars and it’s not the local currency, find out if locals accept them or not. Generally, the US dollar is the only currency accepted internationally (as opposed to the pound or euro, for example). For most high-end hotels it will be fine, but for many locals dollars might be difficult to exchange.
Most of the figures suggested below are in US dollars, but this for consistency and so as to avoid confusion with fluctuating exchange rates.
To tip or not to tip?
Tipping should always be a choice and never an obligation. Although many places now include service charges as standard, if you’ve had a bad experience, don’t feel bad about asking for it to be taken off. Likewise, if you have had incredible service from somebody, feel free to tip them over the recommended amounts. Avoid tipping over the included 10% unless you feel it was worth it.
Many people working in African countries rely quite heavily on tips, so make sure you have a supply of small bills in either dollars or the local currency (the latter should always be used when tipping outside high-end hotels).
10-15% is normal for restaurants and bars and is sometimes included in the bill, so check first. For porters, it’s $1 per bag; $1-2 for hotel staff and transfer drivers; and $10 per day for professional guides in cities. For taxi drivers, you can leave your change, but it’s not common to tip over that unless the circumstances are exceptional (i.e. the driver has been particularly helpful).
Don’t ever tip children – it encourages parents to keep them out of school. If you really want to give something, buy them a meal (not sweets), but don’t give them cash.
Check with your lodge as to whether you should tip directly or not, as they all have different policies. Most lodges also offer the option of adding the tip to your bill – this can be settled by Visa, Mastercard and occasionally AMEX. Cash is sometimes better than gift-giving, but use your own discretion and common sense – Sam, one of our Africa experts, remembers when a guide she knew was given a birding book, a gift that he treasured and carried with him wherever he went.
There are different rules for a Kili climb. You’ll be joined on the trek by around twenty porters and it’s very important to tip them all equally and as generously as you can.
We can arrange this in advance, but we do suggest it is done in person, as Kili guide tipping is very personal and ceremonial.
These are the recommended amounts per group:
HEAD GUIDE: $20 – $25+ PER DAY *
ASSISTANT TREKKING GUIDES: $15 – $20+ PER DAY, PER ASSISTANT GUIDE *
COOK: $10 – $15+ PER DAY *
WAITER: $5 – $10+ PER DAY *
PORTERS: $5 PER DAY, PER PORTER**
* For large groups (seven to twelve climbers) we suggest adding an additional amount for the guides, cook, and waiter. For Head Guides/Assistant Guides please consider an additional $10-$15 per day, and cook/waiter an additional $5-$8 per day.
** This is the recommendation of KPAP (the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, a non-profit organization working to improve working conditions for porters).
Usually, you can expect to tip about $15 to your driver or guide, $10 to $25 to your ranger and $5 to $10 to your tracker (all on a per person per day basis).
Luxury safari camps usually have tipping boxes or envelopes, and the money is spread across the staff evenly.
You can ask when booking for more specific tipping advice, as customs do vary from camp to camp and across countries.
Try to use the rand in South Africa. In Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, it’s generally ok to tip in dollars.
Generally the rule is 10% for most things in South Africa (restaurants, taxis and private drivers, etc.), with $1 per night for housekeeping and private guides getting about $10 per day.
At the airport, you can tip car guards fifteen to twenty rand and airport porters twenty to thirty rand.
Please remember that this is a guide only. Ultimately, gratuities are always going to be a matter of discretion.