Tipping Etiquette South America Travel
According to all the dictionaries, tips are something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service. What we experience however is the expectation of a tip, whether or not the service has been exemplary. In the United States we are used to tipping in restaurants and taxi cabs. We tip for personal services such as deliveries, doormen, massages, manicures and hairdressing. If we live in a large city we generally tip between 15 and 20 percent. In smaller towns 10 percent is often the norm but 15 percent is especially appreciated. However, when we travel, the rules change and if we are not aware of them, our experiences may be less satisfying and more expensive than you needed to pay. Generally, if you do some research before you go, you will find your travelling spirit more confident.
South America Travel
In South America: A tip is a propina in Spanish, gorjeta in Portuguese.
Like in Europe, a gratuity of 10-15 percent is usually added to your restaurant bill automatically. Keep in mind that a small additional gratuity given directly to your server is much appreciated. Don't leave money on a restaurant table. When I was in a restaurant in Santiago, Chile several years ago, I learned a valuable lesson. It was an upscale restaurant and the meal was wonderful as well as the service. While I left a tip of about 14 percent, the waiter was most grateful. He was more grateful for my other tip because I told him he could have the book I was reading. (I had just finished it and was happy to pass it along rather than tote it back to the US). He told me that books from the United States are very expensive there and he and his wife will really enjoy this treat. Sometimes, the best tip to leave is something other than money.
Each country in South America has its own standard so a blanket statement about how much to tip won't work. However, keep in mind what city you are in (sophisticated like Buenos Aires or San Paolo or less so such as Quito or Sucre). The higher the sophistication - the greater the expectation for a big tip. (Especially from Americans)
In Argentina: In restaurants in the smaller cities and villages leave 10 percent. It is normal to leave 15 percent in Buenos Aires for restaurants and lounges/clubs. Porters in 1-3 star hotels in Buenos Aires: $.50 - .75 per bag to porters and in the smaller cities, the same. $1.00 per bag in 4 & 5 start hotels in Buenos Aires.
In Bolivia: Typically 10 percent in restaurants and taxis. $.50 - .75 per bag to porters. Other types of tips (gifts) are also appreciated if they represent your country -- think postcards.
Brazil is really two economies – big city and everywhere else. In the big cities, 10 percent in restaurants which may already be stated on the menu, if not, leave 15 percent; 10-15 percent in hair salons; For porters in 1-3 star hotels - $.50 - .75 per bag., in 4 & 5 star hotels, 15 percent is normal. Taxi drivers don't expect tips except in Rio, where 10 percent is normal. If you choose an unmetered taxi, settle on the fare first.
In the smaller towns a 10 percent tip is fine. For hotel porters the standard is $.50 per bag (even though when I was in Olinda, the hotel I stayed in didn't have porters. I gave the tip to the helpful front desk clerk who helped me)
Tipping in Chile is simply 10 percent of the bill in restaurants and $.75 per bag in hotels. I found that the 1-3 star hotels often didn't have porters but the front desk clerk would help with bags. They get a tip. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip.
In Colombia, it depends where you are. In Barranquilla where I spent a few days with my college roommate who was a local, we tipped 15-18 percent at upscale restaurants. In Bogota, 10 percent is the standard in restaurants. If you get your haircut, tip 10 percent. In the finer hotels the porters get a $1.00 per bag; but in the 1-3 star establishments, $.75 per bag is fine. Taxi drivers don't expect anything.
In Ecuadorian restaurants, generally tax and gratuity are added to your restaurant bill, but if you have been treated well, an additional 10 percent is enough. In all hotels, the acceptable tip is $.50 - .75 per bag to handlers. Taxi drivers don't expect tips. If you take a guided tour and you loved it, $3.00 per person is generous.
In Paraguay, restaurants that do not automatically add gratuity (it will say if they do at the bottom of your menu) then a tip of 10 percent is enough. I found that my servers delighted in the other- than- monetary- tips I gave them. Paperback books, picture books (postcards) and compliments to their managers were high on their list. In taxis no tips are necessary. The standard of $.50-$.75 per bag to handlers was the norm.
In Peru gratuity is added to your restaurant bill. More is appropriate for great service -- your discretion how much. If you get your hair done at one of the ritzy salons, 10-15 percent is a normal tip. Baggage handlers should get $.50 - .75 per bag. Taxi drivers don't expect tips but I gave my drivers 10 percent because they spoke English and gave me commentary while they drove.
Venezuela has two standards I found. In the establishments catering to locals, 10 percent tip was common. In the tourist-focused establishments, 15 percent is expected. This is due to the locals' conception of how rich tourists are. If you use unmetered taxis, agree in advance on the fare. If the taxi is metered, 10 percent is standard. In all levels of hotels $.75-$1.00 per bag was expected as a tip.
A couple of final "tips"...
- Don't tip on the tax. Add up your bill without tax and then figure your tip.
- If you ordered wine through the suggestion of a wine steward or sommelier, add 10 percent of the cost of the bottle as a tip just for them. Don't forget to give it to them directly if you have the cash or to mark it on the bill to go to them.
- If you are entertaining friends or for business, try tipping before you start being served. Look at the menu, see if an automatic tip will be charged, figure out an additional per person tip based upon menu prices and give it to your waiter before you start ordering. I have done this several times in Europe and in South America and the service couldn't have been better.
- The hotel pool is a great place to offer small tips to the staff. You will probably get a better lounge location and maybe your desired "cold drink" will be brought to you quicker.
- Housekeeping staff should be tipped the equivalent of $2-3 per person per night's stay. I tip at the beginning of my stay so the housekeeper knows I appreciate a clean room.
- TIP is supposed to mean "To Insure Promptness". Sometimes giving it before might actually do that in the end.
Cynthia Lett is an eminent etiquette and protocol expert with over 27 years teaching the subjects to professionals worldwide. She is the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and Director of The Lett Group. She has earned the distinctions of Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP). Learn more about business etiquette.