The Tipping “Unwritten Code” in Costa Rica

How to Tip Appropriately in the “Ticos” Land

First of all; what does tipping mean?

In Spanish, the word “propina” means tip. Tipping is always a personal choice, and visitors are encouraged to tip an amount they find it appropriate. The service quality and your budget are important factors as well.

Coins are usually meant to tip any service.
Costa Rican coins

Tipping was not the cultural norm in Costa Rica. Actually, it was introduced from the United States tourists a couple of decades ago.

On the other hand, tipping is never mandatory (except for the 10% already included in your restaurant tab) but if your guide, instructor, driver, or service staff made your stay particularly enjoyable and pleasant, consider giving them a gratuity.

Many activities will include a tip jar or box.  Otherwise, you can hand the tip to the guide and, if you are assisted by multiple guides, they are usually pretty good about splitting it up.

It is common that some workers show their tip jar to ask for tipping.
Waitress with tip jar

How much do restaurants charge a “Service Tax”?

A “Service Tax” of 10% was added to restaurant bills, but it was not dependent on the quality of the service and, therefore, was not considered a tip.  Even more when you go to your automobile mechanic, and they give you an itemized bill for parts and service.

No one would ever leave more than the total shown on the bill. Now, however, gratuities are a normal and expected part of the income for anyone employed in the service sector of the tourism industry.

The service tax of 10% still gets added to restaurant bills. But it is kind of the minimum wage part of the waiter staff’s payment.  Envelopes for housekeeping gratuities have appeared on nightstands at many hotels and we have even seen tip jars on the counter of ice cream shops.

As a general norm, we encourage you to reward guides and service professionals based on their performance. Below is a suggested tipping guide for your travels and stay in Costa Rica:

Airport skycap: US$ 1 or 2 per bag
Bartender: 50 cents to US$ 1 per drink
Beach/pool attendant: US$ 2
Bellhop: US$ 1 per bag
Boat driver: US$ 2 or 4
Fishing guide/captain: US$ 30 or 50 per day
Hairstylist/manicurist: US$ 2 or 4
Maid service in hotel: US$ 2 per day. It is helpful to leave your biggest tip on the 1st day to ensure excellent service
Massage therapist: 15% of the value of the massage or spa treatment
Parking lot attendants: US$ 1 or 2 for 2 to 3 hours
Private drivers: US$ 10 half-day and US$ 15 or 20 full-day
Room service attendant: 10% of the meal’s value
Scuba diving tour: US$ 10 per 2-tank dive
Taxi driver: For short distances, rounding up to the next dollar is appreciated. For longer hauls, US$ 1 to 5 extra, depending on the length of the trip
Tour bus driver: US$ 5 or 10 (for an all-day tour)
Tour guide: US$ 3 or 10 per person, depending on the size of the group
Waiter/waitress: In all mid-range and upscale restaurants, 10% service is already included in the check. An extra 10% is appreciated if the service was exceptional
Whitewater rafting guide: US$ 5 or10 per person, for an all-day tour


When does a 10% tip really become a 22.3% one?

If you add 10% to a restaurant bill in Costa Rica, then the total tip you are leaving is really 22.3%.  You are not just tipping on the tab; you are also tipping on the tax and tipping on the tip that has already been included. Do not believe it?

Well, if you really want to see the math behind a bill for an average hamburger (¢7,000) and a beer (¢ 3,000), should better look at this:

¢ 7,000 – Hamburger
¢ 3,000 – Beer
¢ 1,000 – Service 10%
¢ 1,512.5 – Sales tax 13.75%
¢ 12,512.5 (Total)

10% of the total is ¢ 1,000 and if you divide that by the ¢ 7,000 price of the hamburger and beer, you get 12.3%. But do not forget you already included the 10% service… So what you thought was a 10% tip, actually adds up to 10% + 12.3% = 22.3%. Now you see?

As we mentioned before, tipping is not mandatory. However, it does have an unwritten code you should always take into account.

Tipping has a kind of unwritten code that we should take into account.
Tipping in Costa Rica

Actually, there are subliminal messages at hotels that, more or less, states: “We do not pay our staff a living wage. So if you do not want them to starve, please give them a generous tip”…

In a certain sense, that is inciting because our gut response could be: “Hey, how incredibly offensive it is. You know what? We are not leaving a single cent”. But then, of course, we get to conclude that it will just punish the honest worker who does not have any fault with regard to his/her boss’s stingy attitude.

The best way we have found to deal with, it is simply decided ahead of time what to do, and not give it any further thought. Of course, it should be our guideline unless someone goes out of their way, and deserves even more than expected.

SOURCEAbelardo Canelo
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I am not only a fluent Spanish-English reader/speaker but also a bi-cultural person who has a broad solid background. I also have a passionate interest in different expressions of music, especially many American styles and their combinations (Folk-Country, Jazz, Pop, Rhythm and Blues, Rock, Soul, and so on), dance, stage and screen, and some other forms of artistic expression.