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Top Tips for Tipping in Latin America

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 Latin America.

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Cultural research

When it comes to tipping, always do your research. In Japan, tipping is very bad form; 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.

Exchange rates

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.

US dollars

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.

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Latin America

Tipping is generally expected for tourists in Latin America, and it’s best to tip in the local currency rather than US dollars, so work out the equivalent amounts for the figures recommended below (NB. in Ecuador the national currency is USD).

If you’re on a trip with several guides and drivers, tip them individually, rather than relying on one of them to split the tip evenly. For this purpose, many people find travelling with a few envelopes to be useful.

Please note the following amounts are based on two people.

Argentina

It can be tricky to break down big bills in Argentina, so try and hang on to small denominations, which you can use for tipping.

Normally, the rates are 10-15% in restaurants; hotel porters get $1 to $2 per piece of luggage; a private guide on a full-day trip will get about $30, or $15 for a half-day tour; and it’s about $10 for a private driver on a full-day trip.

Belize

In Belize, expect to tip 10% in restaurants, $1 per bag to hotel porters and $1 per night to the housekeeper. Private guides should be tipped between $20 and $40, depending on the length of your tour, while private drivers get $5 for short transfers and $10 to $20 for transfers that take more than two hours. No tips are expected for taxi drivers.

Bolivia

Here, it’s customary to tip 10% of the bill to the waiter in restaurants. In hotels, tip 8 Bolivianos per bag to the porter and 16 Bolivianos per night to the housekeeper.

Private guides are usually tipped $10 per day and private drivers are tipped $5 per day, while taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped as the fare is negotiated.

Brazil

In Brazil, you’ll usually find a 10% service charge included in your bill at restaurants, so there is no need to tip over this. There’s a good exchange rate for dollars in Brazil, so this is one place you can use them without inconveniencing service staff.

In hotels, you can tip about $2 per bag to the porters and the same per day for housekeeping. No tip is expected for the concierge, unless the service is exceptional. A tip isn’t expected in taxis either, although up to 10% is welcome. For a full-day driver tip $15, or $10 for a half day and $5 for airport transfers. Guides on a full-day tour can be tipped $30, or $20 for a half-day tour and $10 for an airport transfer. Both drivers and guides rely on tips, so if you’re happy with the service it’s worth being generous.

Don’t be over-the-top with tipping and try to pass the money over subtly.

Chile

10% is included in the bill at restaurants and you can top it up to 15% if you wish. Some restaurants also charge a ‘sit down’ charge, which is about 5-7%.

Give porters $2 per bag; doormen can get a couple of dollars if they hail you a cab; and tip housekeeping $2 per day at the end of your stay, preferably using a marked envelope, if not in person, so they know it’s for them.

Private guides get between $20 and $40 per day, and private drivers get $10 to $20 per day.  Round up the fare in taxis.

Colombia

You can tip a little over the included 10% at restaurants, if you like.

In hotels, tip $2 per bag to the porters, $2 to housekeeping per night and the same to concierges. In haciendas, leave about $5 to $10 per person on the staff (it’s often a family), per night when you check out.

Guides will get about $10 to $20 for a half-day tour and $20 to $40 for a full-day, while private drivers get $5 to $10 for a half-day and $10 to $20 for a full day. Round up the fare in taxis.

Costa Rica

At restaurants, there is no need to tip over the service included in the bill. The tips are usually divided up, so if you want someone to receive a tip personally, you’ll need to tip them directly, on top of the 10%.

At hotels, you can tip about $2 per bag to porters and the same per day for housekeeping.

Private drivers should be tipped $5 for short transfers and $10 to $20 for any journey over two hours. Guides get between $20 and $40 depending on the size of your group and the length of your tour, and $5 to $10 for short transfers.

You only need to tip taxi drivers if you have a lot of heavy luggage.

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands

10% is usually included in the bill at restaurants, but you can tip over if you feel the service was worth it (an extra 10% maximum).

Porters should get $1 per bag, housekeeping $1 per day (paid at the end of your stay), and doormen a dollar or two if they get you a taxi. Pay guides $6 to $10 per person per day, and $3 to $6 to drivers per person per day. You can tip taxi drivers if they’ve been helpful (about 10%).

On Galapagos cruises, $8 to $10 per person per day goes to each naturalist guide, and $12 to $14 per person per day goes to the crew. This is payable at the end of the cruise. You can tip the barmen at your discretion. Bring cash, as credit card tips are no longer accepted by local banks.

Guatemala

In restaurants, tip 10% to the waiters, if it’s not already included in the bill, and up to 15% if you feel the service has been exceptional.

Porters should be given $1 per bag, while housekeepers should be given $1 per day. Tip 10% for room service, if it’s not already included in the bill.

Tip private guides $10 to $20 per person per day, and tip private drivers $5 to $10 per person per day. You only need to tip taxi drivers if they carry your bags for you, when $1 per person is appropriate.

Mexico

Despite Mexico’s proximity to the US, try not to use dollars here; it’s much easier for locals to be paid in their own currency. It’s better to tip discreetly, too.

10-15% is the norm in restaurants. Pay porters $1 a bag and give $1 to $2 per night to housekeeping.

Drivers are usually tipped between $5 and $10 per person per day, or $25 to $35 per family, and private drivers get $5 for a short journey and $3 to $5 per person for a drive of over two hours, or $20 to $25 per family. You don’t need to tip taxi drivers.

Peru

Locals don’t tip in Peru, so it’s not particularly common outside touristy areas.

Tip between 10% and 15% in restaurants. Give $2 per bag for hotel porters, plus $2 per night to housekeeping. There’s no need to tip taxi drivers as the fare is usually pre-arranged but up to 10 percent is welcome, while private drivers should get $10 for a half-day and $20 for a full day, and guides $20 for a half-day tour and $35 for a full-day tour.

On treks, tip $25 per porter, $35 to the cook and $100 to the guide.

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Please remember that this is a guide only. Ultimately, gratuities are always going to be a matter of discretion.