When you travel, it can be difficult to know how much to tip, or if you should tip at all. In the US, there’s a fairly clear expectation that you should tip at least 18%, and if you can’t afford to tip, you really should be eating out. In France or Germany, you generally just round up – so if your meal costs €8.70, you just give the server €10. Visitors to Australia and New Zealand will often leave a tip, and the server will politely accept the few extra dollars, and yet a local wouldn’t bother to leave a tip at all. If you’re lucky enough to go to Cuba, you’ll find that service levels are high and the people offering a service are warm and friendly. Sure, you’ll want to reward their efforts with a tip, but how much? Too little and you risk looking like a scrooge. Too much and you’ll feel like a clueless tourist, throwing away money without needing to. There is a generally accepted level of tipping in Cuba, but you’ll find that it varies depending on what you’re actually being helped with.
Cuba’s Two Currencies
You might already be aware that Cuba uses two different currencies. Most service industries will operate in the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which is pegged to the US dollar. Places off the beaten track will also accept the local peso (CUP), which is of a lower value. It’s best to offer tips in CUC, since you will at least know that you’re paying an appropriate amount, without needing to work out the exchange rate for tipping in Cuba.
Tipping in Cuba: It Really Helps
People working in service industries are usually paid an hourly rate, and yet this is still a fairly low income on a global level. Most Cubans will make around $12 to $25 per month. This sounds amazingly low, but remember that the cost of living in Cuba is also amazingly low. Having said that, your 10% tip will be very welcome, and is expected. Your server is not being nice simply to receive tips, but that extra cash can go a long way to the average Cuban.
The Magic Number
Let’s start with the easy stuff. When enjoying a meal, a day out at a spa, or when receiving a haircut, the magic number for tipping in Cuba is 10. You should leave a tip of at least 10%, and you can bump this up to 15% for truly excellent service. Check your bill carefully, since many places might have already added 10% to the cost as a service fee. You don’t need to add another 10%, and if the service was acceptable, feel free to not pay anything else. For excellent service, add another 5%. Be sure to check if the service charge was added, since leaving without tipping can be a major social faux pas.
The Power of One
It’s a good idea to have a few 1 CUC notes on hand when staying in a hotel. When your bags are carried to your room, a 1 CUC tip is acceptable. You might be in the habit of leaving a tip for your maid on the day you check out, but when tipping in Cuba, it’s more appropriate to leave 1 CUC for the maid, each day. Just leave it in the room and the maid will know it’s for them. Most larger hotels and resorts have an abundance of staff on hand, all there to offer you the highest level of service possible, and for extra helpful service, 1 CUC will be much appreciated.
When You Really Need to Go
Many public toilets, and toilets in stores and restaurants will have an attendant on hand at all times, diligently keeping things clean after each usage. This is a crappy job, both figuratively and literally, so you should offer a small tip when using the facilities. Aim for around 50 cents (CUC), but it you might want to double this when using luxury establishments.
Art is Not Free
Cuba is a musical wonderland, and if you’re ever imagined walking around and discovering spontaneous salsa music and dancing on a street corner, this is a reality in Cuba – particularly in areas of Old Havana. Artists need to eat too, so after you’ve enjoyed the music, give the band around 2 CUC. This is also appropriate in bars and restaurants. You don’t need to tip each individual member of the band, but it’s considered somewhat rude to listen and then not give at least something.
Seeing the Sights
Tipping in Cuba is also applicable when it comes to a tour guide. Depending on the type and length of the tour, you should tip your guide anywhere between 2 and 5 CUC per day. Just thank them at the end of the day and hand them the money – this is the done thing. Likewise, you should add 1 or 2 CUC to your taxi bill for the driver. You might want to increase this amount if your driver has been helpful with directions, points of interest, or has helped you with your bags.