Tipping was not the cultural norm in Costa Rica until it was introduced from the U.S. a couple of decades ago.
A service “tax” of 10% was added to restaurant bills but it was not dependent on the quality of the service and was not considered a tip. More like when you go to your automobile mechanic and they give you an itemized bill for parts and service.
No one would ever leave more than the total shown on the bill.
Now however, gratuities are a normal and expected part of the income for anyone employed in the service sector of the tourism industry. The service tax of 10% still gets added to restaurant bills but it’s sort of the minimum wage part of the wait staff’s pay. Envelopes for housekeeping gratuities have appeared on nightstands at many hotels and we’ve even seen tip jars on the counter of ice cream shops.
How Much to Tip?
Tipping is never mandatory (except for the 10% already included in your restaurant tab) but if your guide, instructor, driver or service staff made your stay particularly enjoyable consider giving them a gratuity.
Many activities will have a tip jar or box. Otherwise you can hand the tip to the guide/driver/instructor and if you are assisted by multiple guides they’re usually pretty good about splitting it up.
- 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…
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.
When is a 10% tip really 22.3%?
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%