Every country has its own customs and policy when it comes to tipping. For a traveler it may be difficult to understand how much money to tip to the staff at restaurants, hotels, and any other services they use while staying in a foreign country. This often leads to overtipping, or not tipping enough, both of which may cause misunderstandings between the foreigner and the locals. However, if you are going to Cuba and are wondering how much to tip in different situations – do not worry! This guide will help you to avoid awkward situations, explaining how much it is customary to tip in Cuba.
Tipping etiquette in general
The tipping etiquette of the island may seem confusing not only to tourists, but also for Cubans themselves. Cuba was not traditionally a tipping country. The idea of tipping was brought to Cuba by the travellers. It was not customary to leave tips in Cuba until the emergence of all-inclusive resorts. As almost all tourists left tips at these establishments, the Cubans also got familiar with the phenomenon of tipping and spread it outside these resorts to all the country.
Tipping still is a relatively new and often misunderstood phenomenon in Cuba. Some of the staff who work in tourism make the mistake of assuming that it is compulsory for a tourist to tip in order to get a good service. Some of the tourist also have started to think that way, and see tips as a way to encourage the staff to do their jobs. However, you must remember that a tip is an expression of appreciation for a good service, which you have the right to get, no matter how much of a tip you leave.
Also, you should never forget that the most important thing for any Cuban providing you with any service, is a friendly and respectful treatment from your part. They will be much more thankful to a client that treats them well, than to one that pays lots of money; so, never forget to be polite with all the staff in Cuba and show them your respect and good manners.
Nonetheless the whole tourism industry depends on tips: the people who work in tourism rely on tips as an addition to their very small salary. Therefore, it is expected from customers to leave tips whenever they use any of the services provided in the country. However, some tourism workers will try to pressure visitors into giving extremely high tips, taking advantage of the ambiguity of the situation. The question is: how much to tip in different situations?
While travelling in Cuba it is advisable to always carry some 1 CUC bills. Especially while staying at hotels, it is customary to give a 1 CUC tip for several services provided there. For example, you should give 1 CUC to the porter if they help you to bring your bags to your room, and leave 1 CUC per day for the maid who cleans your room. It is important to leave the tips during all the time that the service is delivered, and not just leave the money for all the times you have taken the service on the last day of your stay. At the hotel bar it is also customary to tip 1 CUC, although not precisely for every drink you have, but it is advisable to tip the bartender from time to time, every few drinks you have.
If you are staying in a casa particular tips are not expected, unless for exceptional service. Remember, hotel employees are often underpaid state employees, whereas casa particulares are private businesses free to set their own prices.
It is common in Cuba to tip 10% of the cost of your meal. You should check the bill carefully, as some restaurants include these 10% as a service fee.
In that case you are not expected to tip more, but may do so if you consider that the service was excellent. Same goes for the restaurants that do not 10% for service in the bill: you can always leave more than 10% if you want to show your appreciation for the service you have been provided with.
Another tipping practice in Cuba which is common not only among foreigners but locals as well, is leaving the clerk the small coin change when making purchases in stores. Depending on the amount of money you spend shopping, you may want to round up the sum and tell the clerk to keep the change – this is considered good tipping etiquette in Cuba.
While exploring Havana and other Cuban cities, you may need the service of a tour guide and a driver. As we have already mentioned, all Cubans who work in tourism make the largest part of their salaries on tips; so, if you hire a guide or a driver, you are supposed to tip them as well. A customary tip for a tour guide starts from 3 to 5 CUC.
The tip for the driver is usually a litter less than the one you give the guide, but it may increase if the driver helps you out with directions, carries your bags for you, or provides you with any other kind of additional service.
Talking about tipping etiquette in Cuba, it is important to mention the many street musicians that you can meet basically anywhere while travelling the island. Sometimes these musicians perform on the streets where anywhere who wants to can listen and dance to their music; sometimes they sing in restaurants and cafeterias – in any case it is customary to support the artists with tips to show your appreciation for their performance. It is a common practice to give the musicians one CUC, but you may tip more if you want to show that you really enjoy their music, and especially if you want to suggest a song for them to play and sing. You will be immediately provided with an excellent live performance of any piece you want to hear.