Before your trip, you are probably wondering, “Is tipping in Costa Rica necessary?”
The short answer is no, but in certain situations, it is polite or somewhat expected.
We still sometimes struggle with the appropriate amount to leave as a tip, and that is after living in Costa Rica for several years.
Tipping in Costa Rica is all a bit of a gray zone with different facets to consider.
So, we have compiled this guide to give you all the info about when to tip, how much to tip, and the best currency to use.
Tipping Culture in Costa Rica at a Glance
Do you tip in Costa Rica?
Well, in general, people do not tip in Costa Rica. Typically a service fee is already included at restaurants and other services do not usually get a tip.
However, this is more of a local custom. With the rise of tourism (especially tourists from the United States where tipping culture is alive and well), things have changed a bit.
Now, a lot of places somewhat expect that tourists will leave a tip.
Personally, we tend to leave what we feel comfortable with. If the service we received was good, we are more than happy to leave something for the staff that assisted us.
When considering this, keep in mind that most people in Costa Rica in the service industry don’t make much money. The cost of living in this country has skyrocketed in recent years (mostly due to tourists and foreigners buying up property).
If you feel comfortable leaving something for good service, this can go a long way to help the person who provided you service.
Tipping at Restaurants
In Costa Rica, a 10% service charge is added to your meal. A 13% sales tax is also added to all meals at restaurants.
This can be added in one of two ways.
- Sometimes the prices of everything on the menu already includes the 10% service charge.
- Other times, this 10% service charge will be added at the end and you will see it on your bill.
The restaurant menu should state if the 10% service charge is already included. If not, you can always ask the wait staff.
However, this service charge doesn’t necessarily go to your server (although part of it should).
If you receive excellent service, an additional tip of 5-10% is always nice to give to your server. Usually we try to leave this in cash if we want to ensure it goes directly to our server.
At a place where you pay at the counter you may come across a tip jar. Usually I drop some change in the jar if I am pleased with the service.
Keep in mind: In Costa Rica, it is up to you to ask for the bill at restaurants. Your server will not just bring the bill out to you at the end of the meal. Also, after they drop the bill off you will likely have to call your server over to pay and get change.
Also, service in Costa Rica is not always the best. The mindset seems to be that they want you to enjoy your meal and don’t want to disturb you. This means that often you will have to flag your server over to your table if you need something.
I say this because to you this attitude might come across as bad service, when in reality it is often done out of respect to give you the feeling that you are not being rushed out of the restaurant.
Tipping for Transportation
You may use a variety of transportation methods while in Costa Rica. Here is what is customary when tipping during your transportation.
We typically tip 10% to our taxi driver or for very short drives we just round up the fare.
Usually we try to have some cash on us for this tip. We have come across a few credit card machines that don’t have the option to add a tip.
Private Shuttles or Transfers
We typically tip 10% on private shuttles directly to the driver. These rides are typically for longer distances than a taxi and you need to keep in mind that the driver likely then needs to drive all the way back to your starting point.
Free Airport Shuttles
If you are staying at an airport hotel with a free shuttle, it is always nice to slip your driver a few dollars. They don’t make a ton of money and driving back and forth between a hotel and airport all day is a somewhat thankless job.
However, definitely don’t feel obligated in this situation.
Shuttle to Rental Car Office
It is not necessary to tip the shuttle driver to your rental car office. We consider this transportation to be factored into your rental car cost.
Tipping in Costa Rica for Tours
Tour guides greatly appreciate tips and their income often relies on them.
Depending on the length and complexity of the tour we usually tip about 10% per person.
If the tour is more specialized or private, a higher tip may be appropriate.
However, if the tour was really bad, don’t feel at all obligated. It is completely up to you if you would like to tip a tour guide.
Tipping at Hotels
Tipping at hotels is a bit different depending on what kind of place you are staying at. Typically, it is not in Costa Rican culture to tip at hotels.
However, as tourists we feel like we should leave something.
For bellhops: We leave $1 to $2 per bag
For valet: We give a few dollars as a tip
For cleaning service: We always leave about $1 or $2 per night for the cleaning person in an envelope in the room. They do not make much money and this can really help them.
If you are staying at a resort things are a bit different. Resorts primarily cater solely to tourists, so the money tends to flow a bit more freely. We always tip a bit higher at resorts since it is somewhat expected.
Tipping Parking Attendants
This is kind of a tricky one to answer because there are a few different facets to this.
It is really normal in Costa Rica to come across a parking area that should be free (such as parking on the side of a street) that is manned by someone in a neon vest.
These people are not paid to watch cars in these spots. Instead they have kind of claimed this area as their area to watch. They will help you park and will claim that they will keep an eye on your car.
Make sure you acknowledge them when you arrive by just saying, “Hola!”
You will pay them when you leave. Usually we give them about 500 to 1,000 colones ($2) when we leave as a thank you. Typically we roll down the window and hand them this money as we pull out.
However, sometimes they will ask for money upfront. We have heard stories about people refusing to pay these parking attendants and coming back to their car broken into.
This robbery is usually actually committed by the parking attendant as a way of being like “F*ck you for not paying me.”
Soooo, its all a bit corrupt.
Instead, it is best to park in official lots when possible.
In San Jose, some private lots for restaurants or businesses are guarded by parking lot attendants that are employed by the businesses.
We always give these people between 500 and 1,000 colones as a tip when we leave, especially if they helped us park and blocked traffic to help us pull back out on the road.
You may also come across private lots that state a set price for parking there. We always pay the set price at these lots and do not leave a tip.
Tipping at Gas Startions
Gas stations in Costa Rica are all full service. That means you will stay in your car while an attendant fills your gas tank.
You do not need to tip for this.
However, sometimes they will offer to wash your windshield or will add air to your tires. In these situations we usually hand them 500 colones coins (about $1 USD) as a thank you.
Should I Tip in USD or Colones?
Both USD and Costa Rican colones are accepted for tipping, and you can use either currency without major issues.
However, if you choose to tip in USD, it’s better to have small denominations of bills, as it might be difficult for locals to provide change for larger bills.
Most locals would prefer colones, but they won’t complain about US dollars.
Things to Note About Costa Rica Tipping Culture
- Don’t just leave a tip on the table. Always hand it directly to your server to ensure it actually gets to them and isn’t stolen.
- Tipping is definitely more common in touristic areas. In remote areas it is definitely not necessary.
- If you have booked an all inclusive experience or tour, you do not need to leave tip for meals. For example, if you take a day tour with lunch included, don’t feel like you need to leave something extra at the restaurant. That is up to the tour company.
- There is a free app called XE Currency Exchange that is super helpful when calculating USD (or any currency) to colones at the current exchange rate. We use this a lot when trying to figure out what to leave as a tip in colones.
- If you need bills and coins for tips, you can always go to any ATM, but keep in mind you may be charged a service fee. It is best not to use a currency exchange service because they won’t give you a good rate. We usually suggest bringing USD in small bills or asking your bank at home to order colones for you for the best exchange rate.
Conclusion: Tipping in Costa Rica
In conclusion, tipping in Costa Rica really depends on your personal preference and should be based on the quality of service you receive. It is also more common in touristic areas.
If the service is poor, you’re not obligated to tip. Nobody is going to chase you down the street asking where their tip is.
If the service is excellent, a generous tip can make a big difference for those working in the service industry.
Also, tipping is not just about the money; it’s also a way to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the people who make your vacation experience enjoyable.
If you have any questions about tipping in Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to leave a comment in the section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.
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- You might also consider; shared shuttle services or private transfer services
🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?
We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.
🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?
✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?
Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).
🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?
🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?
The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.
💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?
The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas
📞 What is the best way to stay connected?
An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.
🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?
Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.
🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?
Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.