Etiquette 101: Your Guide to Tipping in the Americas

Written by Tim Murphy and CNT Editors for Conde Nast Traveler

Are you in a country where tipping is customary and required? Appreciated but not expected? Or virtually unheard of? The truth is, tipping rules vary by country, by region, and by scenario. A modest rounding up of the check may be fine in some places and insufficient in others. A few small bills left on a night table might be gladly picked up by housecleaning staff in one hotel and scrupulously shunned elsewhere. Such uncertainties can throw an uneasy shadow over even the most exhilarating jaunt in a new land.

Latin America may be just south of the border, but tipping customs vary widely. “Whereas in the United States you’d leave 15 to 20 percent on a meal, in Latin America it’s more like 8 to 12 percent outside of modern places in large capitals,” says Clark Kotula, an expert on South American travel. And while tipping is not as much a part of the culture in Latin America as in the United States, workers still appreciate tips, even if they don’t expect them.

ARGENTINA

At Restaurants: 10 percent to the waiter.

At Hotels: At least 25 pesos for a porter, and up to 45 for a particularly helpful one.

Guides and Drivers: Round up for taxi drivers; 10 percent for “remisses” (common local car services); 10 percent for a full-day driver, more for a really good one; 150–300 pesos for a full-day guide, a bit more for a great one.

Dollars Accepted? U.S. dollars are always accepted as tips, though you can’t get USD in Argentina, so bring cash with you.

P.S. “Tipping is more expensive now than it used to be,” says travel specialist (and native Argentine) Vanessa Heitner. “There were times when a 20-peso tip at the higher end meant a lot, but nowadays it isn’t enough.” Because of inflation, she notes, the proper amount is a moving target. Also, be sure to have plenty of change in your pocket for tipping—there’s a serious shortage of it, and many shops and restaurants will refuse to break bills.

BRAZIL

At Restaurants: No tip required; 10 percent is routinely included in the bill for “serviço.”

At Hotels: $2 per bag for the porter; no tip expected for the concierge; $2 a day for the housekeeper.

Guides and Drivers: Round up for cabdrivers; for a private driver, give about $20–$50 for a full day, depending on the quality of the service; same for an all-day tour guide (they rely heavily on tips, so be generous).

Dollars Accepted? Yes, and encouraged, due to a favorable exchange rate.

Who Else? At eco-resorts in the Amazon, there are often boatmen in addition to tour guides. Tip them $10–$15 per day.

P.S. “Brazilians are discreet and subtle when it comes to business transactions,” says travel agent Jill Siegel of South American Escapes. “It’s helpful when tipping someone not to make a great display. You might verbally thank them, shake their hand, and express your appreciation while handing the bills folded.”

CHILE

At Restaurants: A 10 percent tip is included in the bill; feel free to put down a few more bills amounting to another 5–10 percent. Nicer restaurants may also charge a 5–7 percent cubierto, basically a sit-down charge.

At Hotels: If you want extra-good service, consider tipping the concierge (if there is one) $20 up front. Porters get $1 per bag; doormen a few dollars if they hail you a cab; cleaning staff $2 a day (given at the end of your stay, preferably in person or marked for them in an envelope—otherwise they might not take it).

Guides and Drivers: Tip guides $10 to $25 per person per day, depending on how many people are in your group; $5 a day for drivers. With cabs, round up the fare.

Dollars Accepted? Yes, but they may be harder for the recipient to spend than the Chilean peso.

P.S. An organized camping trek to, say, Patagonia could involve extra staff, who would be tipped roughly $10–$20 per person per day, with tips split among the expedition staff.

COLOMBIA

At Restaurants: Check the bill to see if the tip is included. If it is, it’s usually 8–10 percent, and it’s still common to tip more, up to 15–20 percent total.

At Hotels: If you’re staying in a small rural hacienda, a family staff usually cooks, cleans, and tends the gardens, so leave a pooled tip of $5 to $10 per person per night at the end of your stay. In standard hotels, the usual tipping rules apply: about $1 to doormen and cleaning staff per bag or daily cleanup.

Guides and Drivers: Tip $10 per person per day for guides and $5 per person per day for drivers. You don’t need to tip taxi drivers unless they really go out of their way to help you.

Dollars Accepted? Yes, but try to tip in Colombian pesos. Credit cards are accepted widely.

P.S. When you put your dinner on a credit or debit card, you’ll be asked, “Cuantos quotas?"—meaning over how many months do you want your bill payment broken up, a feature that is unique to Colombia, says Kotula. Just say one.

COSTA RICA

At Restaurants: Tip is included in the bill; anything additional is a pleasant surprise.

At Hotels: 25–50 cents per bag to the porter, $1 per bag at a fine hotel; leave $1 a day for the housekeeper.

Guides and Drivers: Tip cabbies a small amount if you have luggage; drivers get $2–$4 for a long drive, $1–$2 for a trip from the airport; $5–$10 per person for a full-day guide and/or driver.

Who Else?: On an organized tour involving several guides, there’s usually a jar for tips to be divvied up among staff—leave $2–$3 for each person who’s helped. On a boat, $5–$10 per person for the captain will be distributed among the crew.

P.S. At the Four Seasons, all tips are covered by a resort charge, so no need to add on. Costa Ricans generally get paid better than many other Central American guides. "Rarely do you find them standing around with their hand out for a tip,” says Leigh Ann Cloutier of Rico Tours.

ECUADOR

At Restaurants: A 10 percent tip is usually included in the bill, but feel free to leave an extra 5–10 percent in nicer restaurants.

At Hotels: Give porters $1 a bag, doormen $1 if they hail you a taxi, and cleaning staff $1 a day at the end of your stay—either directly or left in an envelope at the front desk.

Guides and Drivers: Guides get about $10 per person per day, drivers half that. An Andes trek may include a cook, who gets $5 per person per day, and a burro driver, who gets about $2–$3 per person per day.

Dollars Accepted? Yes, they are the currency of Ecuador.

P.S. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip but appreciate one of about 10 percent if they’ve been chatty or helpful. And many tourists in Ecuador go on Galápagos Islands boat excursions replete with naturalist guides, who get $50–$75 per person, and kitchen staff, who get $80–$100 per person, at the trip’s end.

MEXICO

At Restaurants: 10–15 percent, cash preferred.

At Hotels: About 10–20 pesos per bag for the porter (you can leave it at check-in if you won’t be there when your bags arrive); 20–50 pesos per night for the housekeeper; minimum 100 pesos for the concierge.

Guides and Drivers: About 100–200 pesos per full day per person for tours, 200–300 pesos per day for combined driver-guide.

Who Else? Gas station attendants should get 5 pesos per fill-up; use your judgment with parking attendants, doormen, and maître d’s, depending on service.

Dollars Accepted? Yes, but local currency is better (estimate 15 pesos to the dollar). “We must be sensitive to the fact that Mexico is not an extension of the U.S.,” says Mexico specialist Adamarie King, of Connoisseur’s Travel.

P.S. Tip discreetly, in an envelope if possible. If a craftsman gives a demonstration, it’s better to buy a small piece of his work than to tip. Beware of boys wielding squeegees. “If you don’t ward them off with a friendly shake of the head,” says King, “you are giving tacit permission, and a small tip—20 pesos—is considered due.”

NICARAGUA

At Restaurants: Leave an 8 to 10 percent tip.

At Hotels: Give porters about 50 cents a bag, doormen $1 to $2 if they hail you a taxi, and cleaning staff $1 a day at the end of your stay.

Guides and Drivers: Guides get $10 a day per person and drivers $5 a day per person.

Dollars Accepted? Yes, but with 27 Nicaraguan cordobas to the U.S. dollar, it can be hard for locals to convert small bills, so consider just exchanging dollars for cordobas at the start of your trip.

P.S. “Tourism is now rapidly developing in the country, with more three- and four-star properties in the main tourist sites, not only the capital (and the very first five-star mukul at the beach), and people are getting trained,” says Pierre Gedeon of Nicaragua Adventures. “However, the infrastructure of Nicaragua is still changing, so you may not get the same service as you will receive in a developed country.”

PERU

At Restaurants: 10–15 percent for the waiter.

At Hotels: Three soles ($1) per bag for the porter, 3–5 soles per night for the housekeeper; tip the concierge only for special favors.

Guides and Drivers: Cabbies don’t get tips, as the fare is usually negotiated; private drivers get $5–$10 per day; guides, $10–$20 per day.

P.S. Despite a heavy tourist influx to the Cusco area, Peru is not a tipping culture (locals don’t tip), but hawkers are a common sight, so give a little something if, say, you get your picture taken with a llama.

Read full article, Etiquette 101: Your Guide to Tipping in 50 Countries