Hardly cut and dried, tipping in Asia can be a tricky matter; what is meant to be an act of generosity could potentially be misconstrued as an insult.
While growing tourism from Western countries has changed the rules and expectations for tipping etiquette, knowing when and when not to add gratuity can save you some money -- and possible embarrassment.
Basics of Tipping in Asian Countries
While tips are generally much smaller than the 15 to 20 percent expected in the U.S., tipping in Asia largely depends on the luxury level of the hotel or restaurant.
Tips are never expected at hostels, backpacker guesthouses, street food stalls, or local eateries.
Four-star and higher restaurants and hotels may vary, however. A constant stream of Western tourists with higher budgets has created an expectation for gratuities. If you are staying for a week or longer, a generous tip early in the stay will land you better service and treatment for the remainder of your trip.
Keep in mind that the 10 percent service charge often added to your bill in hotels and restaurants usually goes in the owner's pocket rather than to the staff. You can tip above that amount if you wish to thank your server.
By default, round up your fare to the nearest whole amount for taxi drivers; they will often claim to not have the change anyway.
Tipping in China
Not only is tipping in China uncommon, it is against the law in some places. Tipping a server in local eateries is frowned upon; you are effectively viewed as giving a handout like you would to someone who cannot make ends meet.
The only exception is that you will be expected to tip your independent guide and driver at the end of a tour.
By default, do not tip in China and Taiwan. Instead, try giving the hotel staff some candy, a coin from home, or anything small to show your appreciation.
- Restaurants: No
- Hotel Staff: A small token of gratitude
- Taxi Drivers: Allow them to keep the small change
Tipping in Hong Kong
Tipping in Hong Kong is the opposite of mainland China. Tips are socially acceptable, and often are an important part of etiquette. While tipping in local eateries isn't expected, tips in Western or upscale restaurants are happily accepted without offense. Depending on your bill, a tip of HKD 50 to 100 is gracious enough.
- Restaurants: HKD 100 in nicer places
- Hotel Staff: HKD 20 for porters depending on your luggage
- Taxi Drivers: They will round up the fare for you
Tipping in Japan
Leaving tips in Japan is commonly viewed as rude, and hotel staff is trained to politely refuse tokens of appreciation; maybe a good thing, as travel in Japan can be expensive. Servers will sometimes keep tips just to avoid causing you to lose face by trying to return the money.
By default, do not tip in Japan. 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.
Tipping in Korea
Tipping is not common in local restaurants, however, a small tip left in Western establishments is appreciated. A 10 percent service charge is often added to your hotel or restaurant bill; no need to tip beyond that.
- Restaurants: A small tip is optional in Western restaurants; never in Korean restaurants
- Hotel Staff: No
- Taxi Drivers: Allow them to keep the change by rounding up the fare
Tipping in Thailand
Locals in Thailand generally do not tip each other, however, tourists are often expected to tip in luxury hotels and restaurants. Even the parking attendants in luxury establishments will expect a 20-baht tip.
Regardless, few in Thailand will turn down an offer of free money -- use your discretion.
- Restaurants: Add something small for your server above the 10% service charge
- Hotel Staff: Tip 20 baht to porters who handle your luggage and to parking attendants
- Taxi Drivers: Round up to the nearest multiple of ten, or allow them to keep the change
Tipping in Indonesia
As with the rest of Southeast Asia, tipping isn't required but is sometimes expected in nice hotels and restaurants.
Keep a clip of small, 1,000-rupiah notes handy for such situations. Read more about how to use money in Asia.
- Restaurants: Add 5 to 10 percent on top of the standard 10 percent service charge
- Hotel Staff: Porters will expect a small tip for handling your luggage
- Taxi Drivers: Leave your change
Tipping in Malaysia
Tipping in Malaysia generally follows the same rules as in Thailand.
- Restaurants: Expected only in Western establishments in tourist areas such as Penang
- Hotel Staff: Give one or two ringgit to porters handling your luggage
- Taxi Drivers: Round your fare up and allow the driver to keep the change
Tipping in Singapore
Known when to tip in Singapore, with its abundance of expats and Western influences, can be tricky. In general, tipping above the 10% service charge is discouraged in hotels and restaurants; leaving gratuity is even prohibited at the airport. Goods and Services Tax is often added to bills; check your receipts.
Tipping in the Philippines
The Philippines' views on gratuity have diverged from the rest of Southeast Asia: tipping is becoming more and more encouraged. Nicer hotels and restaurants may expect you to tip an additional 10% above the 8 to 12 percent already added on for service.
- Restaurants: Between 5 and 10 percent of your total bill is generally expected.
- Hotel Staff: Tipping 10 pesos is the norm, depending on the luxury level.
- Taxi Drivers: The driver often rounds your fare up to the nearest multiple of five.