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, early all places include sales tax in the price tag. Supermarket prices include sales tax, they don’t add it on at the end so what you see on the sticker, is the price. Sales tax is 13%.
Tip: If you are souvenir shopping, you are allowed to bargain so don’t feel shy to ask. Vendors are usually pretty happy to give discounts, especially if you end up buying a lot of stuff and paying in cash. Normally they give around 10%. Yeison is a champion bargainer (since he is Costa Rican he’s used to it) and I’ve gotten used to asking for discounts. Before, I would feel very shy and bad to ask for discounts but after learning it’s normal here, I don’t hesitate.
Yeison wrote a post about bargaining in Costa Rica and 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 the Costa Rican culture. Read more about how their tipping and tax system works when it comes to tipping in Costa Rica.
If you want to tip, USD is readily accepted. You don’t have to give only colones, you can give USD or even both.
Tipping in Costa Rica for restaurants is usually included in the prices you see on the menu so most of the time, you don’t need to worry about calculating tip. However, sometimes restaurants don’t include the taxes in the prices and will write somewhere on the menu “taxes not included” or impuestos no incluidos. Or they will say impuestos incluidos or taxes included.
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.
Additionally, tips 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 nothing person. It’s just not their culture because it is already included.
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.
If you want to tip extra, you can do around 10% of the tour price.
Same with drivers. If you want to tip the driver, please do. We personally like to tip drivers and give around $10 for a long ride (4 hours-ish). But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.
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. We like to give $2 or 1000 colones a day generally.
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).
To Tip or Not 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.
However, in touristic areas like Tamarindo or La Fortuna, there is more of an expectation since the workers know that foreigners, particularly Americans are used to tipping.
So coming from a Costa Rican point of view, they are not used to tipping and don’t normally do it. But for tourists, it has become more of an expectation. And from our point of view of Yeison as a Costa Rican and I as a foreigner, we do like to tip (especially since we know that the average salary is not much and many locals depend on tourism).
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