Tipping in Asia can be a little confusing. What is meant to be an act of generosity could potentially be misconstrued as an insult in some places!
Growing tourism from Western countries where tipping is the norm has changed the expectations in some parts of Asia. Destinations that didn't have a culture of tipping are experiencing cultural mutation as well-meaning tourists add gratuity when they shouldn't. Knowing when and where to tip in Asia can avoid inflating prices and even some possible embarrassment.
Tipping Etiquette in Asian Countries
Generally speaking, most of Asia does not have a history or culture of gratuity. There are, however, some instances when you should offer a small token of appreciation for a job well done.
Although tips are usually much smaller than the 20 percent often expected in the United States, tipping in Asia largely depends on the circumstance and luxury level of the hotel or restaurant. Tips are almost never expected at hostels, backpacker guesthouses, street food stalls, and local eateries.
The staff in some upscale hotels and restaurants may expect a tip. A steady stream of Western tourists may have created an expectation for gratuity. If you are staying somewhere for a week or longer, giving a tip early in the stay will land you better service and treatment for the remainder of your trip.
Keep in mind, the 10 percent service charge often added to your bill in hotels and restaurants could end up in the owner's pocket. It may simply be used to pay the staff's salary. You can tip above that amount if you wish to thank your server directly.
When leaving gratuity, do so discreetly to avoid potential embarrassment for someone. Also, if a business owner thinks the staff are receiving regular tips, they may be less likely to receive a living wage or pay increases.
By default, round up your fare to the nearest whole amount for taxi drivers; they will often claim to not have the change anyway.
Why You Shouldn't Tip in Some Countries
Although you may think you're doing a good thing by leaving generous tips, you may actually be doing some harm. In the spirit of treading softly in the countries you visit, here are some reasons why tipping may be a bad idea:
- Staff in establishments may begin giving preferential treatment to Western tourists instead of wanting to wait on locals who probably don't tip.
- You can inadvertently drive price inflation by tipping in places where it isn't an expected part of the economy.
- Business owners, particularly in family-run establishments, may make staff members turn over tips they receive.
- Tipping can be misconstrued as a source of charity (you're insinuating your server needs additional money) in some cultures.
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. One exception is that independent guides and drivers expect a small tip at the end of your tour.
By default, do not tip in China and Taiwan. Instead, try giving the hotel staff some candy, a coin or gift from home, or something small to show your sincere appreciation.
When to Tip in China:
- Restaurants: No
- Hotel Staff: A small token of gratitude
- Taxi Drivers: Allow them to keep the small change
Tipping in Hong Kong
Tipping etiquette in Hong Kong is actually the opposite of mainland China. Tips are socially acceptable. Although a 10-percent service charge is typically tacked onto bills in restaurants, you can add a little extra for good service. Tips in Western or upscale restaurants are happily accepted without offense. Depending on your bill, a tip of HK$50–100 is gracious enough.
Many establishments in Hong Kong actually have bathroom attendants. You can leave them a few coins but aren't obligated.
When to Tip in Hong Kong:
- Restaurants: HK$100 in nicer places
- Hotel Staff: HK$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 are trained to politely refuse tokens of appreciation. Perhaps that's a good thing, as travel in Japan can be relatively expensive. Servers may sometimes keep tips just to avoid causing you to lose face when they try to return the money. Do them a favor and avoid the awkward situation altogether.
Tipping in Korea
Tipping is not common in local Korean restaurants, however, a small tip (5–10 percent) 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.
When to Tip in Korea:
- Restaurants: A small tip is optional in Western restaurants; never in Korean restaurants
- Hotel Staff: No
- Spas: 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 some situations. Even the parking attendants in luxury establishments will expect a 20-baht tip.
Thai massage is famous throughout the world, and there's a chance you'll get at least one while visiting. Tip your masseuse or the spa staff in proportion to the overall bill. A minimum tip should be 50 baht; leave 100 baht for an excellent, hour-long massage.
Regardless, few workers in Thailand will turn down an offer of free money—use your discretion.
When to Tip in Thailand:
- Restaurants: Add something small for your server above the 10-percent service charge. No need to tip at street-food stalls and cheap restaurants.
- Hotel Staff: Tip 20–50 baht to porters and bellboys who handle your luggage. You can also give small denominations to parking attendants.
- Taxi Drivers: Round up to the nearest multiple of 10 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 nicer hotels and restaurants. Horde your small change, and keep a clip of 1,000-rupiah notes handy for such situations.
When to Tip in Indonesia:
- Restaurants: Add 5–10 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. You are not expected to tip but can do so when service is above and beyond.
- Restaurants: Gratuity is expected only in Western establishments and upscale places that cater mostly to tourists
- 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
Knowing when to tip in Singapore, with its abundance of expats, foreign workers, and Western influences, can be tricky. Locals typically do not tip each other, however, foreign tourists have skewed expectations.
Generally speaking, tipping above the 10-percent service charge is discouraged in hotels and restaurants; leaving gratuity is even prohibited at the airport. A Goods and Services Tax is often added to bills; check your receipts, then use your discretion for when to tip something extra.
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 percent above the 8-to-12 percent fee already added on for service.
Scan your itemized receipts and bills for for "SC" to find if a service charge was added.
When to Tip in the Philippines:
- Restaurants: Between 5–10 percent of your total bill is appreciated
- 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. If they use the meter rather than quote a price, you can tip a little for honest behavior.