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A big question many North American tourists have when they travel to Costa Rica is how much they should tip. It’s a natural question, especially for Canadians and Americans who live in a culture where you tip everyone from the restaurant staff and taxi drivers to bellhops and tour guides. Not tipping can be considered rude and insulting, right? Is that the case in Costa Rica, too? Here’s a quick guide on tipping in Costa Rica, so you have a better idea of how much cash to have in your wallet during your travels here.
Tipping culture in Costa Rica
First, you should be aware that most hotels and restaurants will add 13% tax and a 10% service charge to your bill. This means a 10% tip is already included in your bill, and no additional tip is needed. Ticos very rarely tip when they go out to dinner, though this may seem odd to North Americans.
Since tipping isn’t something Costa Ricans are used to, most workers in the service industry aren’t going to be offended if you don’t leave a tip. However, it doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the extra money. Wages for workers in the service industry fluctuate wildly, depending on where the business is located and the type of establishment at which they work. For example, in Tamarindo, a hotel restaurant marketed to international tourists will generally have higher wages than a soda – a small restaurant that serves a predominantly local clientele. Therefore, a tip may be an essential income supplement for some employees.
Illogically, however, it’s mostly the wealthy tourist centers in Costa Rica that have gravitated toward a tipping culture. Businesses in places such as Tamarindo, Potrero and Playas del Cocos will often have jars with the word propinas (Spanish for tips) on them by the cash register. [You can argue that tipping has led many business owners to cut costs and to use tips as an excuse to pay less than a living wage, but that’s a topic for another blog.]
What should you tip in Costa Rica?
Cultural aspects aside, there are some things you should know about restaurant and bar tabs, hotel bills and other services you may hire while traveling in Costa Rica.
First, as noted, restaurants usually include a 10% service charge in your bill, so you’ll be paying this “tip” whether you want to or not. Most restaurants will indicate impuestos incluidos (“taxes included”) somewhere on the bottom of their menus. You’re free to add something extra if you think it’s warranted, but if you calculate your tip as a percentage of the entire bill, you’ll be tipping on the 23% already added for taxes and service. Still, no tip will be unappreciated, even if it’s 1,000 or 2,000 colones ($1.50 or $3).
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Costa Rica hotels also add the 13% sales tax and 10% service charge. They may give you a receipt with a vacant tip section, but you may wonder exactly where this money will go, and you shouldn’t don’t feel obligated to add anything. Sometimes hotel maids leave an envelope in your room welcoming a tip, and if they’ve done a good job, feel free to leave them a couple of bucks. Or if a bellhop enthusiastically hustles your bags to your room and shows you how everything works, there’s no harm in handing him a small bill.
If you rent a car in Costa Rica, you’ll undoubtedly need to fill up with gas. Bear in mind that self-serve gas stations are non-existent in Costa Rica – so do not attempt to put gas in your car yourself. Full-service attendants will take care of that for you. They may also offer – or you can simply ask them – to wash your windshield and check your oil and tires. If gas station attendants provide these kinds of services to you, one could argue that they’ve earned a tip of 1,000 colones or so.
At many beaches and other tourist areas, you’ll find yellow-vested parking attendants enthusiastically waving you into a space where they’d like you to park. They’ll give you a friendly greeting as you get out of your car and will often say “Se lo cuido” – “I’ll watch it for you.” And when you get back, they’re more than happy to help you back out of your space, even if it means stopping other cars on the road.
It goes without saying that these attendants are expecting a tip, even if it’s a dollar. Some of them may be employed by nearby hotels and restaurants, or they may be part of a community service initiative designed to keep popular tourist areas safe. But they definitely rely on tips for the majority of their income, and they earn it by spending all day in a parking lot watching cars. And there’s value to you in knowing that you can relax on the beach for four hours knowing that someone is keeping an eye on your car. It’s always a good idea to carry small bills when you drive to tip people like this.
Boat captains, taxi drivers and tour guides
As a rule, Ticos don’t tip taxi drivers. In big cities such as San José or smaller pueblos such as Villarreal, taxi drivers don’t usually expect a tip from locals. However, in this day and age, they may expect a gratuity from someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and is a tourist. As a rule, a tip of 1,000 (red bill) to 2,000 (blue bill) colones is sufficient, depending on the length of your journey.
Tipping is more common when it comes to boat captains or tour guides. For example, if you take an all-day fishing excursion, you may want to tip the captain up to $50 for bringing you to the sweet spots and helping you hook all those marlins. The same goes for any tour guide, who may be herding you and dozens of disorderly tourists around while trying to educate you on local culture while at the same time directing you to the nearest bathroom and trying to get everyone back on the bus on time. It can’t be easy.
Tipping in Costa Rica
Tipping in Costa Rica is a matter of personal choice and comfort. Many domestic and international tourists travel through Costa Rica and don’t tip. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It just means that anything extra you give will be much appreciated, but not expected.
You shouldn’t experience the aggressive transactional expectation of being harassed for tips or made to feel guilty about not tipping. You should find a relationship of mutual respect and professionalism, where a tip is earned and not taken for granted. So, if it makes you feel good about your Costa Rican travel, then, by all means, share your propinas.