When you come to Costa Rica, you’re going to find that the customs for tipping and shopping are a bit different than the United States or other countries. Every country you go to has a different perspective of tipping and it’s good to read up about it before you accidentally offend someone or land yourself in an awkward situation.
Tipping can get confusing when it comes to what’s normal for the culture or not and sometimes, the whole process can be annoying when it’s not that straightforward. Don’t even get me started on the frustration of tipping in the US and I grew up there!
Costa Rica luckily makes the process easier and without the headache that comes every time I get the bill in the United States. Here are some basic things you need to know about shopping and tipping in Costa Rica.
Shopping in Costa Rica
When you are out shopping in Costa Rica, some places will have tax included in the price tag but some places don’t. Sales tax in Costa Rica is fairly high at 13% so don’t be surprised when you find out things aren’t as cheap as you thought it would be.
When you are shopping, whether it is souvenirs, groceries or whatever, remember that the conversion rate is around 500 to 1 and it’s the easiest way to do the math. However, it’s not always 500 to 1 so make sure you check it if you are paying in USD.
If you are souvenir shopping, you are allowed to bargain so don’t feel shy to ask. Locals are usually pretty happy to give discounts, especially if you end up buying a lot of stuff.
Even at a clothing or hardware store, Yeison will bargain and he has gotten some small discounts, normally when he is buying a lot of stuff at one time and paying in cash. Most of the time it is 10% which is not bad, it only takes a second to ask and you can save some money! You can read his tips for bargaining here.
It’s OK if you are not fluent in Spanish, as long as you know some numbers (or at least hold up fingers) you can still try to bargain a bit.
Tipping in Costa Rica
Tipping is actually not a normal part of their culture, read more about how their tipping and tax system works when it comes to shopping and tipping in Costa Rica.
Tipping in Costa Rica for restaurants is usually included in the prices you see on the menu (they will say if it is or not) so most of the time, you don’t need to worry about calculating tip. Restaurants are supposed to have the tax and tip included in the menu price but be aware that in some touristic areas they may not to make prices seem cheaper. Always check the menu to see if they include them or not.
They are actually not called tips here, it’s called service tax with a flat rate of 10%. Tipping in Costa Rica is not common for locals and they normally don’t give anything extra no matter how great or lousy the service is. It’s just not their culture because it is already included.
So coming from a country where you get really dirty looks if you don’t go beyond the minimum 15%, it’s a little weird to not have to think about it.
There have been a few times where Yeison and I got exceptional service and we slip them something small, like a thousand colones ($2) but on the whole, we don’t leave an extra tip.
Majority of the time tip is included in the tour price that you pay. Some tour places will have tip boxes if you want to tip their tour guides but again, this is optional. Sometimes the guides will kindly ask if you want to but if you don’t, that’s perfectly fine. It’s up to you.
Same with your tour guide drivers. It’s not typical for a Tico to wait after getting out of the bus to give their driver a tip. It’s completely optional and they won’t get mad at you if you don’t.
We always try to leave a little something for the maids since they don’t make very much here. I remember when my parents stayed at the hotel we worked at, they gave the maid the first tip she’s ever gotten in the 5 years she worked there.
Again, it’s not required but it is always nice and you get better cleaning services, trust me!
These are the ones who say they will watch your car and guide you in and out. I feel kind of torn between this one because many of them seem to be in hard times but Yeison had a terrible experience with these guys before. Instead of watching his bus like they said they would (and he paid them to do), he got robbed.
They can also be quite persistent to get you to park in “their area” and I honestly don’t count on them to stop someone from lifting our car or anything. After all our experiences, if we have extra coins we give them like 200 colones (about 50 cents).
Don’t Feel Pressured to Tip
The main thing to take away is that tipping in Costa Rica is completely optional. This is because hotels, restaurants, and tours include the 10% service tax in their price which is different than in the States. So if your final hotel room rate is $100 per night, then the total amount you pay with taxes and everything will have the tip included and that money goes directly to the workers. They don’t get taxed on it either.
In some more touristic areas like Tamarindo, there is more of an expectation since the workers know that foreigners, particularly Americans are used to tipping. But if you don’t, it’s OK and it’s fine to tip only if you think the workers deserve it or have really done a good job.
If you’re from the US, I know it’s hard not to tip and it feels completely rude not to but remember, other countries have vastly different tipping customs and tipping in Costa Rica is much different than the US.
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