Tipping was not the cultural norm in Costa Rica until it was introduced from the U.S. in the ’80s.
What About the Service Tax Included in the Bill?
When you go to your automobile mechanic you receive an itemized bill for parts and labor. Similarly when you go to a restaurant in Costa Rica a “service tax” of 10% is added but it’s not dependent on the quality of the service and is not a tip.
In the past 20 years or so gratuities have become a normal and expected part of the income for anyone employed in the service sector of the tourism industry. Envelopes for housekeeping gratuities have appeared on nightstands at many hotels and tip jars are next to the cash register at fast food places and ice cream shops.
How Much to Tip?
If your guide, instructor, driver or service staff made your stay particularly enjoyable consider giving them a gratuity.
- As noted restaurant bills normally include service but it’s normal to leave an extra 5-10% for really good service.
- Bartenders/Cocktail Waitresses 5-15%
- Tour guides $2-5 per guest when in a larger group, $5-10 per guest in a smaller group.
- Adventure guides (zip-line, rafting, canyoneering etc.) maybe a bit more than a tour guide since they hold your life in their hands…
- Instructors (surf, SUP, kayak, horseback etc.) $10-20 for individual or couple, $5-10 per guest in a group.
- Shuttle Drivers $2-5 per passenger for assisting with luggage or providing interesting commentary during the drive.
- Bellhops $2-5 unless you have a ton of luggage then increase accordingly.
- Housekeeping $5-10 per night for a hotel or lodge room and double it for kitchens or extra bedrooms (envelopes are usually provided).
- Fuel – all stations are full service and before credit cards it was traditional for the attendant to wash your windows, check your oil etc. and receive a couple hundred colones coins ($0.30) from the change. We’ve had everything from no extras (obviously no tip) to a couple of guy with sponges, hoses and squeegees basically doing a quickie car wash on a mud encrusted Land Cruiser in under five minutes ($5).
- Tractor that pulls you out when you get your rental car stuck in a river ford or mud bog – $50 minimum up to a couple hundred bucks…
It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where everyone received a living wage for a day’s work but we don’t. We’ve actually seen little messages at hotels that more or less say “We don’t pay our staff a living wage so if you don’t want them to starve please give a generous tip.” It’s a bit of a conundrum because my gut response is “how incredibly offensive, I’m not leaving a cent,” but then of course that’s just punishing the worker who doesn’t set the policy anyway.
The best way I’ve found to deal with it is simply decide ahead of time what to do (based roughly on the list above) and not give it any further thought unless someone goes out of their way and deserves even more.
If you add 10% to a restaurant bill in Costa Rica then the total tip you’re leaving is really 22.3%. You’re not just tipping on the tab, you’re also tipping on the tax and and tipping on the tip that’s already been included.
If you really want to see the math the bill for a hamburger (¢5,000) and a beer (¢2,000) would look like this
¢5,000 – hamburger
¢2,000 – beer
¢700 – Service 10%
¢963 – Sales Tax 13.75%
10% of the total is ¢866 and if you divide that by the ¢7,000 price of the hamburger and beer you get 12.3% but don’t forget you already included 10% service…So what you thought was a 10% tip adds up to 10% + 12.3% = 22.3%