Open Colleges

4 Tidy Tips On Tipping Etiquette Around The World

by Kate Gibbs
Posted: June 02, 2016

  Return to blog home


Learning to embrace the local customs is all part of the fun of travel. However, if you're not a clued-up tourist, situations can get awkward. Especially when it comes to tipping! To save you from a rookie error, travel writer Kate Gibbs, has kindly whipped together some quick tips on tipping etiquette around the world.

Tipping is a nuisance not just for the mathematically challenged. The gratuitous fee we feel obliged to tag on to meals we eat, rooms in which we sleep, people who open the doors, is now a worldwide phenomenon from which no traveller, and no local, is immune. 

Tipping is a test of generosity and makes us punters say aloud that we weren’t that impressed or were delighted with the service, even if we’d prefer the passive route of sending our message through boycott or excited repeat returns. 

For the kind of person, like me, who finds money a bore, tipping is one of life’s awkward quirks. I’m constantly left wondering what ever happened to a healthy “thank you. Just charge me more so I know the cost up front, and divvy the 10 or 20 percent up later between you.

Beginner's guide to tipping etiquette

People like me welcomed the entry of Uber to the transport world, solely because it eliminates the discussion of money at any point. Joy comes in not rummaging through your bag for your purse, handing over cash or card at some awkward corner, door ajar, waiting for the grunt from the driver that the payment worked. 

In Australia, restaurants, doormen, and the rest of the hospitality industry expect a tip. But they won’t slam the door on your heels if you don’t give them one either. Not so in some other countries, notably the United States, where tipping is such a tortured ordeal it borders on a deterrent. As a professional traveller and awkward tipper, I have had to resolve the latter to undertake the former, and I have learned from many mistakes. 

Here are some tipping etiquette tips, with my top awkward tipping mistakes to avoid and ways to ensure you keep your adventures as clear of offending the locals as possible. If all else fails, at the very least learn the local language or dialect for the word “thank you”.  

1.    Ask around

Beginners guide to tipping etiquette guide

Tipping rules vary by country, by region, by job description and scenario around the world. No wonder it’s so fraught with confusion. A modest rounding up of the bill is appropriate in some countries, while in others that practice is scrupulously shunned. 

The one certainty? There’s no failsafe guide. Ask your concierge, ask the bellboy, ask the waiter or another traveller; they’ll all have differing advice, but you can bet on being set with an average of the lot. 

2.    Nix a tip for bad service

Many locals in the United States will tell you that not tipping isn’t the right reaction to bad service. They’ll say there are better ways to express your displeasure, such as pulling aside the manager and being verbal and outright about it. 

Leaving a tip for bad service, however, completely diminishes the practice. It’s the best way to tell someone you’re not happy without having to make a big deal of it and spending the drive home debating the matter with your date. You’ve suffered enough, why should you have to have a conversation and relive the experience as well? 

3.    Have local currency on hand

Tipping etiquette guide

Not having change is kind of unacceptable when you’re travelling. At least a small amount of cash is the traveller’s way to pick up a bargain, buy a disadvantaged child a pen and paper, get a romantic late-night rickshaw ride with your wife. 

It’s how we step off the beaten track as travellers, a way to avoid the journey most predictable. So saying you’ve only got a $20, sorry, is not a good enough excuse for not tipping. If you really don’t have cash to tip the nine year old who carted your Louis Vuitton to the curb, then carry the bags yourself, or go ahead and tip him the $20. You’ll learn for next time. 

4.    If in doubt…

Tipping etiquette tips - tipping etiquette guide

You may end up with an unmade bed in the United States if you don’t tip, while in much of Japan tipping is often politely declined. But in most countries, from Africa to the Middle East and throughout Asia, most people won’t say no to a fistful of dollar bills. 

As a general rule, always leave something for the housekeeper, who usually relies on tips, but not for room service, whose salary is taken out of that extortionate amount you just paid for a chicken Caesar salad. 

Tip the person who drops your bags to your room, but don’t go crazy with generosity. Leave anything from 10 to 20 percent on restaurant tips, no matter whether the bill came to $500 or $3. 

With cabs across most of the world, as it is in Australia, round up the fare. A universal rule? Tip in local currency, when possible. Your concierge in Morocco might be well-versed in English, but that doesn’t mean he can easily exchange your ratty $5 note. 

Enjoying Kate's Travel, Tourism and Hospitality articles? Read her most recent pieces here.


Kate Gibbs

Kate is a Sydney-based food writer, author, photographer and cook. She is known for her passionate stories about food, writing three cookbooks and hosting food events including Taste of Sydney, Regional Flavours Brisbane, and Tourism Australia’s recent food trade event.

Interested in online study?

See what it’s like with our 7 day free course trial.

Find out first-hand what it’s like to study with Open Colleges. Experience our world-class learning platform for yourself and discover how online learning can work for you. There are no obligations and no payment details required.

Start Today

Course areas