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What to tip when travelling

Published: 8:42AM Tuesday August 30, 2005 Source: AAP

As you're reading this, you can bet that somewhere in the world a traveller is trying to decide how much to tip a waiter, a taxi driver or a hotel bellman for services rendered.

Tipping, whether at home or abroad, is one of life's bedeviling practices. Let's see, what's 12% of STG40, as you fumble around to choose the right bills or coins?

Especially abroad, you don't want to overtip and be smirkingly viewed as another wealthy westerner throwing money around, nor do you want to undertip and be seen as a cheapskate.

Blessed are those rare countries - Japan for one sees tipping as insulting - or establishments that say service is included and mean it.

It's widely accepted that tip means "to insure promptness," but since tips normally are given after service is rendered, you can only hope the service provider knows that good service insures a reward - a kind of thank you.

One thing for certain, waiters and bellmen are never overpaid, so every little bit extra helps them.

Another thing to remember: tipping practices do not fluctuate overnight like currency rates. The standard 15% restaurant tip in the US has been around since the 1970s and only recently has it edged up to 18-20% in larger cities and upscale restaurants.

So what's the traveller to do since there are no hard and fast rules that work worldwide?

For one, don't let the tipping thing spoil your trip. Foreign government tourist offices, consulates, travel agents, cruise lines and tour companies often can provide you with guidelines. You can find tipping tips on the web and there are also books on tipping, such as Fodor's FYI: How to Tip.

Or talk to a hotel concierge.

No matter what sources you check, you are apt to find inconsistencies.

Take Argentina. A tipping chart on Magellan's website that covers some 70 countries simply says tipping is illegal in Argentina.

Travelocity advises, "Tips are officially outlawed, but waiters and hotel staff expect a small tip although bills already include a 25% service charge - and 18% tax."

There are, however, a few standard tips that pretty much apply around the world: Porters generally get the equivalent of $1 a bag, but as high as $2 in Australia and Austria, and as low as 50 cents in Indonesia.

Also, in most of the world, taxi drivers expect the fare to be rounded up, or usually 10%.

Exceptions include the US, where drivers expect 10 to 15%, and destinations such as Argentina, China, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, where no tip is expected.

In Canada - tip as in the US.

Here's an overview of tipping from Travelocity, Magellan's, Chicago Tribune correspondents and other sources:

WESTERN EUROPE: If no service charge has been added to your restaurant bill, a 10 to 15% tip should be given, Travelocity says. When charges are included, which I've found is usually the case, no tip is usually expected.

Exceptions to that rule, Travelocity says, exist in France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, where it is expected that you will either leave your small change or round up the bill to an even amount. In Italy and Spain, about 10% is expected on top of the service charge. In Scandinavia, service charges are almost always included in hotel and restaurant bills, and no further tip is necessary.

UNITED KINGDOM: About half the restaurants do not add service to the bill, reports Ray Moseley, retired Tribune chief European correspondent who lives in London.

In those cases, the bill will usually say: "Service not included." If service is included, the charge is 12.5% - and you don't need to add anything extra. If you have to leave a tip, 12 to 13% is quite acceptable. For taxis in London, it's 10 to 15%.

EASTERN EUROPE: Magellan's study recommends a five to 10% tip in restaurants in the Czech Republic, 10% in Hungary and Poland if there's not already a service charge added. Travelocity notes that tipping is expected in Budapest, but not rural parts of Hungary.

In Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities, the appropriate amount at hotels and restaurants is 10%" says Alex Rodriguez, the Tribune's Moscow correspondent. "In smaller provincial capitals and in rural areas, tipping is not customary but is welcomed.

MIDDLE EAST and AFRICA: In Israel, Travelocity reports, tipping is not common because service charges usually are included in restaurant and hotel bills.

In Saudi Arabia, a 10 or 15% tip is becoming standard, while in Bahrain, waiters and taxi drivers expect 10%. Tipping is not practiced in the United Arab Emirates. In Turkey, restaurant bills and taxi fares are rounded up. In Egypt, add five to 10% to a restaurant bill and round up taxi fares.

In South Africa, says Travelocity, Magellan's suggests a 10% tip on restaurant bills if there's no service charge; taxi drivers get 10%.

Much of Africa is the same - 10%, sometimes more for really exceptional service at a fancy or tourist kind of place.

ASIA - "As a rule in both Japan and China, there is no tipping," says Michael Lev, a Tribune correspondent. "When you check into a hotel and the bellman drops your bags and says 'Is there anything else you need?,' he really wants to know if there is anything else you need - he's not waiting for a tip."

In most other Asian countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand, Travelocity notes that service charges may or may not be included in hotel and restaurant bills, but in any case, further tips are not expected.

Hong Kong restaurant bills include a 10% service charge, but an additional tip of 10% is suggested.

Cab drivers do not expect large tips, but rounding up to the nearest dollar is conventional.

CENTRAL and SOUTH AMERICA: "Generally, the waiters and waitresses accept 10%," says Hugh Dellios, a Tribune correspondent. "Taxistas, too, aren't demanding of tips. With jobs short, there's always someone trying to carry your bag. I generally stick to the $1 a bag rule at the airport, but I know they would accept less."

Travelocity notes that tipping is widely practised in South America, and 10 to 15% is common in Brazil. In Chile, waiters expect 10% on top of a 10% service charge.

In the Caribbean, notes Travelocity, a service charge on a restaurant bill is common and tipping is not, except in the Bahamas, where tips are the norm.

AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND: Tipping and service charges are virtually unheard of in New Zealand, according to Travelocity, and in Australia, tips of about 10% "are expected only in the finest restaurants."

Cab drivers do not expect large tips, but rounding up to the nearest whole Australian dollar amount is conventional.