No Asian country has a longstanding history of tipping culture, but growing tourism from western visitors has changed the cultural expectations in some countries, but not all of them. What might be interpreted as an act of generosity in one country could be misconstrued as an insult in another. Although you may think you're doing a good thing by leaving a generous tip, you may actually be doing some harm.
While traveling throughout Eastern and Southeastern Asia, the rules of tipping will change depending on the country you are visiting and the potential tipping scenarios you'll find yourself in. You'll find that attitudes and expectations toward tipping are as varied as the many cultures that make up this part of the world.
Currencies in Asia
Before you plan a multi-country trip to Asia, you should also familiarize yourself with the names for each country's currency and keep an eye on the going conversion rate at the time of your trip.
- China: Renmibi or Chinese Yuan (CNY)
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)
- Japan: Japanese Yen (JPY)
- South Korea: South Korean Won (KRW)
- Thailand: Thai Baat (THB)
- Indonesia: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
- Malaysia: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
- Singapore: Singapore Dollar (SIN)
- Philippines: Philippine Peso (PHP)
At most hotels in Asia, tipping the porter who carries your luggage is the most commonly accepted instance of tipping, although some may still refuse. You will only be expected in some countries to leave anything for the housekeeper and other service staff.
- In China, tipping won't be expected in hotels. However, at some very high-end hotels you could give the bellhops a small amount for carrying the luggage.
- In Hong Kong, a tip of 4-16 Hong Kong dollars is appropriate. When you receive your hotel bill, check to see if there is a service charge.
- In Japan, you should not tip at hotels and if you try, it might be refused.
- In South Korea, it's not necessary to tip, but if you'd like to tip the bellhop, a small amount would be appreciated.
- In Thailand, tipping is not expected, but you can tip the bellhop 20-50 baht for carrying your bags.
- In Indonesia, hotels typically charge 11 percent for service, so tipping is not customary. If you'd like to tip the porter for carrying your luggage, you can give them a small amount.
- In Malaysia, tipping is not required, but you should give 1-2 ringgit to porters who handle your luggage. You can also leave the housekeeper a small amount per night if you like.
- In Singapore, you only need to worry about tipping bellhops, who you should tip between 1-2 Singapore dollars per bag.
- In the Philippines, luxury hotels will expect guests to tip bellhops, housekeepers, and the service staff. However, at smaller hotels, there are less expectations for foreigners to tip.
When dining out in Asia, always scan your bills to see if a service charge was added. If so, you will not be expected to tip.
- In China most restaurants refuse tips, but it is becoming more common in upscale restaurants where a service charge of 10-15 percent may be added.
- In Hong Kong, a service charge of 10-15 percent will likely be added to the bill, but it's appropriate to leave some change on the table or, when paying by credit card, round up to the nearest dollar.
- In Japan, if you try to tip at a restaurant, your server might chase you down trying to give you your money back.
- In South Korea, you can tip 5-10 percent at western style restaurants, but you don't need to tip at Korean restaurant.
- In Thailand, you can leave your change behind at a small restaurant as a tip, but it's generally not expected. At upscale restaurants, tips of at least 10 percent will be expected if there is no service charge on the bill.
- In Indonesia, your bill will probably include a service charge of 10 percent. If you'd like, you can add between 5-10 percent on top of the charge.
- In Malaysia, tipping won't be expected at restaurants, but sometimes a 10 percent service charge will be added to the bill.
- In Singapore, there will likely be a 10 percent service charge added to the bill, so know that you probably won't need to tip more than that. Although locals in Singapore don't tip, foreigners are expected to have more money and tip more frequently. Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but if the service was good, you should show your appreciation.
- In the Philippines, a service charge might be added to the end of your bill, so check before leaving a tip. If there's no charge, you can tip your server 10 percent and try to make sure your server receives it directly.
Taxis and Ride Services
In most Asian countries, a large tip for your taxi driver is not necessary. For the most part, you can round up the fare to the nearest amount and tell them to keep the change.
- In China, taxi drivers will probably not accept a tip if you try to give one.
- In Hong Kong, taxi drivers will round up to the nearest amount and are not likely to make change.
- In Japan, you don't need to tip your taxi driver and they will give you back exact change.
- In South Korea, you don't have to tip the driver, but you can tell them to keep the change. Anything extra might confuse your driver.
- In Thailand, taxi drivers won't expect a tip but they will round up the fare to the nearest multiple of 10.
- In Indonesia, you can round up your fare to the nearest amount.
- In Malaysia, you're not expected to tip your cab driver, but if you hire one driver for a few days, you should tip 25-50 ringgit per day.
- In Singapore, tipping isn't expected, but your driver will often round up to the fare to the nearest amount out of convenience.
- In the Philippines, a driver may often round up the fare to the nearest multiple of five and if they use the meter rather than quote a price, you can tip a little for honesty.
Across Asia, tourism providers are the most likely to be used to receiving tips. Some tour guides may politely refuse, but most will accept the gesture.
- In China, independent guides and drivers expect a small tip at the end of your tour.
- In Hong Kong, tour guides will also accept tips as they rely on them to make up a large part of their income.
- In Japan, your tour guide will accept tips, but it is not expected or mandatory.
- In South Korea, tour guides won't expect tips, but if you'd like to, between 5-10 percent of the cost of tour is acceptable.
- In Thailand, you should tip your guide 300-600 baht for each day of the tour.
- In Indonesia, you don't have to tip your tour guide, but you can give a little extra at the end of the tour if you are happy with the experience.
- In Malaysia, you won't be expected to leave a tip for a tour guide, although you can tip 10 percent if you enjoyed the experience. If you have a private tour guide, you should tip them between 20-30 ringgit per day.
- In Singapore, there's no obligation to tip your tour guide.
- In the Philippines, you should tip your guide 10 percent on the cost of the tour and maybe a little more if they are self-employed.
Spas and Salons
At most spas and salons throughout Asia, tipping won't be expected. However, if you're traveling to a country like Thailand, where massage and other wellness treatments are a big part of the culture and tourism industry, tipping expectations will differ.
- In China, you won't be expected to tip at a spa or hair salon.
- In Hong Kong, there is no expectation tip at a spa or hair salon.
- In Japan, you don't have to tip at a spa or hair salon and if you try, it will probably be refused.
- In South Korea, there's no need to tip at a spa or hair salon.
- In Thailand, you should tip 10 percent. However, if you visit a small independent spa, the tipping customs change a little bit. For a short massage, tip at 50 percent or at least 50 baht. If it's a long treatment, tip 100 baht for every 30 minutes. Tip directly to your therapist in cash.
- In Indonesia, you'll be expected to tip at spas and hair salons. Anywhere between 20,000-50,000 rupiah (about $1-4 USD) is acceptable.
- In Malaysia, tipping won't be expected the spa or salon.
- In Singapore, there's no need to leave a tip at a spa or hair salon.
- In the Philippines, you won't be expected to tip at the spa, but you can add on an extra 10 percent if you are happy with your treatment. Hairdressers won't be expecting a tip, but it wouldn't go unappreciated and if you really like the service, you can tip 10-15 percent.
Generosity vs. Insult
In countries like China and Japan, tipping is not only uncommon, it's discouraged and can be seen as an insult. In this case, it's best not to tip to avoid the risk of offending your server. However, if you must give money, do so in a tasteful envelope as a "gift" rather than pulling cash out of your pocket in front of the recipient.
In other Asian countries, such as South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, tipping is more acceptable when patronizing luxury hotels, expensive restaurants, and westernized establishments. In Hong Kong, where tipping customs are the opposite to mainland China, tips are happily accepted without offense and in the Philippines, tipping is becoming more encouraged and even expected.
Beyond offending your server by insinuating they need more money, tipping in some countries could have other repercussions. Tipping could contribute to a practice where staff might unfairly show preferential treatment to western guests or inadvertently drive inflation in a country where it is not an expected part of the economy. Additionally, business owners may have expectations for their staff to turn over all the tips they receive, which means your tip won't be going to the person you intended it for anyway.