Tipping in Costa Rica
Tipping in Costa Rica

As I travel around Costa Rica, I meet so many interesting foreign people, and I learn all about their homelands and their customs. Each culture is different, as I eat, drink and travel with these visitors, there is one topic that I see come up pretty often: when and where to tip, and how much. Tipping is a fairly new idea in Costa Rica; it has really only been a few decades that it has been part of our culture. My country is beautiful and diverse, and draws many tourists, including those that came and introduced the idea of tipping for services. These days, it is common for there to be some expectation for tipping for certain services in Costa Rica; but this idea is commonly for tourists, as locals do not often tip for most services. The most accepted idea is that you tip based on how you feel about the level of service you provided, and that you are not required to tip at all if you do not want to. This makes it difficult for tourists, since there is really no standard like in America. However, throughout the years, I have been able to put together some guidelines on our culture and customs for when and where to tip when you are visiting Costa Rica, as well as how much.

Breakfast buffet at Best Western Jaco Beach
Breakfast buffet at Best Western Jaco Beach

Understanding Food and Beverage Service Laws

One of the things that might be difficult for tourists to understand is why there is a 23% fee added to their food and/or beverage bill. In the United States, it might be common practice for larger parties to have gratuity automatically added, but in Costa Rica it is for every bill that includes food and beverages. This is not some scheme thought up by restaurant and bar owners as a way to trick unsuspecting tourists; it is actually a law in my country that all establishments that offer food and beverage services must add that fee to the bill. The breakdown is that 13% of it is tax, and 10% is a service fee.

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Now that you understand why you’ll see that fee on your bill, it’s also important to understand how it is applied, and what it means for tipping. This is definitely one of those situations where the locals are not likely to add any additional tip on top of the fee applied. While it might seem strange Americans who are used to tipping 15% or more not to leave anything more than 10%, you can rest assured that it is common and accepted to pay the bill as is, with no additional tipping. You can pay the bill as is, then return to the same restaurant to eat the next day, and no one will give you a dirty look! However, you should consider that the tax does not go to the wait staff, and that the 10% service fee is not necessarily for the wait staff either; if it is given to the staff, it is already wrapped into their minimum wage and it is not additional pay that they receive for their service. If your wait staff were great and took good care of you, you may want to consider leaving an extra 5% to 10%, depending on the size of your party and the service you received. Again, this is completely up to you and your perception of the service that you received. This is pretty important to keep in mind when you are budgeting for your trip to Costa Rica. You need to factor in the cost of food, along with the 23% fee, and an additional tip if you want.

Bar at Royal CorinBar at Royal Corin

Tipping for Other Services

The 23% tax and service fee is only applied at restaurants, not at hotels. Your hotel staff, like maids, bellboys and other attendants, can be tipped as you see fit for their services. The expected range of tipping also depends on the type of hotel you are staying at; for higher end hotels the expectation might be higher, and there might be more attendants offering more services that require tipping. For your budgeting purposes, put a little more aside for tipping at nicer accommodations. Here are some of my recommendations:

Bellhops:

Yes, you should tip a bellhop if they handle your luggage. While you can make adjustments depending on how much luggage you have, far they had to transport your luggage, and whether they had to climb any stairs, the standard is to pay about $1 per bag. If you are staying at a higher­end hotel, you might want to bump that up to at least $1.50 per bag. Don’t forget that if they help you check in and check out, you’ll need to tip both times.

Housekeeping:

Yes, the housekeeping staff are commonly tipped in Costa Rica. Most people will leave around $1 ­ $2 per day for their stay. If you are in a luxury hotel, you should tip on the higher end. I have heard many visitors pass along the tip that you should leave your housekeeping staff a little extra on the first day of your stay, and they will return the favor with the most excellent care of your room.

While these are the most commonly asked about when discussing tipping, there are a few other attendants that shouldn’t be forgotten about:

Hotel Bartenders:

Tipping for bartenders is similar to the standard in the United States, which is about $1 per drink.

Pool Attendants:

If you use the pool attendants’ service for drinks, towels, snacks or anything else, you should consider giving them a $2 tip if the service was good.

Spa Services:

If you stay at a hotel that has a spa, you should budget a tip of about 15% of the total cost of your services.

Room Service:

Room service is an awesome option if you are tired from a day of hiking, but you should factor in a tip to the total cost of your meal. It is common to tip the room service attendant at a rate of about 10% of the total cost of your meal.

Costa Rica Bus Company - Coach
Costa Rica Bus Company - Coach

Tipping for Transportation

One thing that tourists use a lot while visiting Costa Rica is transportation. From cab drivers to tour bus drivers, there are many drivers, and many different customs regarding tipping them. This is another situation where tipping is not required, but it is often observed. Here’s what I’ve learned in my travels around Costa Rica:

Taxi cabs might be one of the more common forms of transportation used by visitors in Costa Rica. You might hear some say that they do not tip cabs unless the driver provided an extra service (such as loading your luggage into the trunk), but it is more common to tip in all cases. If you have only been transported a short distance, you can simply round up the meter to the nearest dollar. If you have traveled a longer distance, you can tip anywhere between $1 ­ $5, depending on the distance as well as the service you received.

Tour bus drivers are usually driving and entertaining, so it is acceptable to tip between $5 ­ $10 for a tour that last all, or most of the, day. Of course, this is also not mandatory. If you are headed out on the water for an expedition, like fishing, the tipping custom for the captain is actually around $30 ­ $50. While this number might have you scratching your head, you should remember that the overall cost of these types of tours is usually cheap. If you opt to have a private driver, you might want to budget to tip them about $20 for a full day (or half of that for a half day). If you take a shuttle bus, you could budget to tip the driver a couple of dollars per person in your group.

Tipping for Parking Help

If you do drive, you may find yourself dealing with official and unofficial parking attendants. If you are dealing with an official parking lot attendant at your hotel that helps you, many will tip $1 or $2 for three hours. You may come across some unofficial parking attendants at public locations who help guide you into your parking spot, and also help you get out of your parking spot when you leave. If you want, you can tip these attendants around $0.50 or $1.

Javi the Frog with guide in Las Coladas trail at Arenal Volcano Natl. Park
Javi the Frog with guide in Las Coladas trail at Arenal Volcano Natl. Park

Tipping for Tour Guides

Tipping your tour guide is not mandatory, but it is customary to show your appreciation. Sometimes when I am on a tour, I get a little confused about who to tip since there might be many guides that I encounter. If there is an obvious guide that is the head guide, or the leader, I’ll leave my tip with that person. If there is a tip jar on the property, I will just leave my tip there for them to divide later. If there is no lead guide and no tip jar, I will either tip the tour guide that I have at the end, or I will split the tips myself and hand them out to each guide individually. Each situation will be a little different, so just do what you feel comfortable with! Here are some of the most commonly accepted levels of tipping tour guides:

Local Tour Guides:

For a half day adventure with a local guide, you may want to budget in a tip of about $10 ­ $15 for a small to average sized group.

Private Tour Guides:

For private tours, the common tip rate is at $15 ­ $20 per person per day. If your group is smaller, you might actually want to consider tipping a little more.

River Tour Guides:

The same applies to river guides; if your group is smaller, you may want to budget to tip a little more than the $5 per person average.

Instructors:

For instructors that are giving you surfing, kayaking, snorkeling or horseback riding lessons, plan to budget about $5 per day as a tip. If you have a group, consider tipping at least $20.

I hope my tips help you figure out tipping in Costa Rica! I’ll keep traveling around my country, and I’ll keep sharing everything I learn you with! Hope to see you in Costa Rica soon!

Beach Restaurant also accept tipping Beach Restaurant also accept tipping