When travelling in Asia, it can be useful to know when to tip and how much is appropriate in different countries. Different services and industries have rather varied expectations for receiving tips and the concept of service is far from uniform.
General tipping advice: If you’re staying in or using a facility or staff for repeated service, keep in mind that the quality of your future service might depend on your generosity. Staff in many Asian countries are sometimes paid very meagre wages so small tips can go a long way towards assuring superior future service. Tip early and well for continuous good attention.
Keep plenty of small bills in your pocket for tips. Workers at backpacker hostels and most moderately priced hotels will not expect tips. The most common exception to this rule are porters, concierges and bellhops; carrying your bags up stairs can be hard work, so a small per-bag tip is appropriate.
Concierge or related services should be rewarded for taking time to write out directions and pour through several area flyers and maps. I always left a small tip for the housekeepers in Asia; it assures that a bit more care will be taken in cleaning up, and it might result in an extra pillow or towel, delivered quickly and with a smile.
No tips are expected at Asian food stalls or street vendors, but a tiny tip of loose change might assure fast service if you come to the same place often. Directly tip restaurant servers (if great service is provided), be discreet, look the person in the eye and don’t be surprised if he or she is a bit surprised. A rule of thumb for many Southeast Asian countries is 10-20 percent of the total food bill.
Many upper scale restaurants (especially in Singapore and Thailand, but also in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) add an extra service charge on top of the bill. This should be noted in the menu or visibly upon entrance, but that is not always the case.
The taxi driver is typically the first contact that tourists make with locals. Try to get a metered taxi to avoid being ripped off and if you feel the ride has been pleasant, round up the fare a few baht to satisfy a good driver. This is where having some 20- 50- and 100-baht notes may come in handy; avoid flashing a 1,000-baht note – it may ruffle feathers and the taxi driver is unlikely to have enough change to break it.
Luggage-carriers should get THB20-100, based on how many bags they tote and up how many flights of stairs in non-elevator hotels. Meals at top-end places will often include a service charge so no need to tip here unless you have had extraordinarily good service.
Hong Kong Hand-Overs
In Hong Kong, food stalls and tables in food courts should not require tips. Many high-end restaurants will add a 10 percent service charge, but add another 10 percent or more if your care was obviously above norm.
Taxi drivers are not expecting tips, but they will often not return the HK$1-2 change. You can round up to the next ten if your ride was pleasant. Leaving heavy HK coins behind is a boon to baggage-laden travellers, anyway. In hotels, tip porters roughly HK$10-20 for carrying bags.
Skimpier tippers will be happy to know that taxi drivers expect no tip in Korea, and the same is generally true of most restaurants. When I go to a barbecue restaurant where the table attendant grills, cuts and serves the table, I tip ahead up to KRW11,000.
Hotels add a 10 percent service charge to bills and the standard 10 percent VAT, so hotel workers are sometimes told not to accept tips.
India Tipping Intuition
To ensure good care at any hotel or resort, tip each of the staff members making you comfortable: the shuttle driver for the hotel, the barmaid or man, room service deliverers, maids and even the laundry lady or chap. Around RS100-500 will suffice.
For wallahs ferrying you around town, my experience reflects the norm: most drivers overcharge, so I do not tip.
Porters at upper-tier hotels don’t expect a tip but giving a small one will be met with appreciation. Less posh places? RS50 is plenty. Some restaurants add in 20 percent gratuity, so no need to tip there.
Laos, Vietnam, China – Tiny Tips
Tour guides – those who expend the most energy, explaining the many national sites and natural wonders of these countries – are often paid marginally so it’s nice to show them a bit of appreciation. About US$10 for a day trip should do. If you’ve had a surly guide, it could be an indication of how they were tipped on their last trip or two – it may add a sour edge to a sweet tour.
Taxis and drivers should be given a small top-up, especially if they get you straight to your destination; leaving you short of that should get nothing.
Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia – A Bit on Top
In these countries’ hotels, I customarily give a small tip (US$1-2) for bags carried. I’ve seen people with 12 bags give nothing; this is not so kind, and their next cab might take a few extra minutes to arrive.
Similarly, while restaurants other than street-side ones add a service charge up to 20 percent, good service should gain a server that or less. You can round up your taxi fare but don’t hand over anything for flat fee drivers, as they’ll be getting plenty.
For nightclubs, an advance tip of US$2-10 to the door or bar attendant will likely get a better seat and faster, more cheerful service.
In short, don’t short those who can make your stop or stay more pleasant. It could mean a lot to those helping you, and mean a much more comfortable visit for you.
EXTRA TIPPING TIPS
- On diving trips and boating adventures, as well as jungle safaris, it is customary to reward guides and instructors at least US$5-10, but more for long trips or live-aboard trips. This should include minor attendants as well as key staff, and should be done if returning for another trip.
- In India, be aware that visits during the festival of lights, Diwali, will see working folks such as housekeepers and drive attendants knocking on doors for tips. Please remember that it’s an annual chance for them to get a gift of substance, and give generously if you’re in a position to do so.
- If you attend an Indian wedding, hand the waiter RS500 early on, and he’ll shuttle you drinks all evening long. It beats waiting forever in a messy mass at the bar.
- Be subtle rather than overt about handing over a tip. Handing over a tip with a handshake beats a pocket-slipped pass anytime. Use a clearly notated envelope for a tip to hotel or other staff or it might be missed.