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Guidelines to Tipping in Costa Rica

Tipping in Costa Rica, restaurants and cafés, is not obligatory. There is a 10% service charge built into the bill. However, In North America, we typically tip 15-20% if the service and quality are exceptional. That means that it is at your discretion, whether you want to pay an additional amount over and above the 10%. In the past, restaurant owners would keep the 10% thus ripping off the employees, but new laws are in effect to try to stop that practice.

Costa Ricans (“ticos”) generally do not tip, as the bill includes the 10% gratuity. Being from the US or Canada, you may feel that an additional gratuity would be a nice gesture, assuming you had a wonderful dining experience. Minimum wage is still relatively low in Costa Rica, about $3.75/hour.

Tipping in Costa Rica – How Much?

Tipping is never mandatory, apart from the 10% gratuity. However, to express your gratitude for the service provided, you should consider an amount that depends in large part on the type of job that was performed. What follows is a list of occupations where tipping in Costa Rica is accepted and the amount (or percentage) you could tip.

  • Adventure Guides: up to $5 for a large group, up to $10 for a smaller group
  • Bartenders/Waitresses: 5% – 15%
  • Bellhops: up to $5
  • Housekeeping: $5 to $10 per night
  • Instructors: up to $10 for a large group, up to $20 for individuals or couples
  • Restaurants: 5% to 10%
  • Shuttle Drivers: $2 to $5
  • Grocery bag helpers who take your groceries to the car: $1 to $2

When you need specialized direct assistance, the tip should generally be higher.

There is a little more flexibility with tip jars or boxes. Still, you should try to tip the minimum amount for good service as expected by their profession. You may notice that the tip percentage is somewhat smaller than expected in North America, but that is because of the 10% “tax” that has been added on in Costa Rica, which lets you tip less out of pocket.

It also makes it easy to make your tip 10%, since that is easier to calculate. Be sure to carry cash in small denominations with you to ensure having the right amount.

Learn the current exchange rate from U.S. dollars to colones. This is very easy to find using the Internet on your cell phone.

Watch for the 23%!

You may think paying 5% to 10% is less than in North America. Keep in mind they are already adding 10% as a gratuity.

Plus, there is the 13% sales tax in Costa Rica inflating the bill even more, just like in many other countries. This means that when you pay for your meal, you are paying the price of the food, the sales tax, and the additional 10% gratuity or “service tax” before you get to the tip. If you want to make paying your tip simple to calculate, just take 10% of the total and add that to the bill.

For example, if you pay $8 for a hamburger and $2 for a drink, that’s $10 total for the meal. Plus $1 for the 10% gratuity “tax” and $1.30 for the 13% sales tax. That is a total of $12.30 before you get to the tip. If you tip 10%, you’d add another $1.23.

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