HOW TO TIP IN PANAMA
In the U.S. tipping is customary and expected for everything from lackluster to outstanding service. It is an etiquette which is ingrained in all trades, from the wait staff at restaurants to our baristas, valets, cab drivers, porters, and many more trades.
In Central America tipping is not as habitual and the same goes for Panama. There is no obligation to do so, however, leaving something extra is customary. Panamanians are discreet and subtle when it comes to business transactions. It`s helpful when tipping someone not to make a great display. You might verbally thank them, shake their hand, and express your appreciation while handing the bills folded.
The questions `when?` and `how much?` can leave some travelers confused, as the practice varies. This guide attempts to cover most situations that you, as a tourist, will encounter. Hopefully using these tips will provide a smooth experience when interacting with locals in restaurants, bars, hotels, tour operators, and taxis.Currency: Can I pay in U.S. dollars, or should I use the Pamanian Bolero?
The currency of Panama is the Panamanian Bolero and US dollars are not accepted. Please be sure to have the correct currency on hand or be prepared to exchange your dollars for Panamanian Boleros upon arrival. In our culture we can put everything on credit and debit cards, however, in rural areas of Panama you will find it useful to always keep cash on hand. Currency exchange desks can be found at the airport and many locations throughout the cities.Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars: When should I tip? How much is customary?
In most restaurants in Panama a 10% tip to the waiter is required. Always check your bill and if 10% is not included, please leave a 10% tip. If your service is excellent, feel free to add an additional tip. If you aren`t satisfied with the service, you can forgo a tip altogether. Bartenders receive a tip equivalent to about 50 cents to $1.Hotel Staff: Who should I tip?
At most hotels, a 10% service charge is already added to your bill. However, tipping individual staff is sometimes appropriate. The most commonly tipped employees are the porters and housekeeping. If a porter helps to carry your bag(s) to your room the customary tip is about $1 - $2 per bag, usually no more than $3 total. It is customary to leave about $1 - $2 per day for housekeeping. If you tip every day, you may receive better service. Other hotel services are tipped depending on the service provided.Taxi Drivers: Should I tip?
The usual tip for cab drivers is to give the change, or round up to the next dollar. You may wish to tip extra if they help you with your luggage or provide you with useful info about getting around. If you hire a taxi driver for the entire day the rate expected is about $9 - $17 per day. If it is around Christmas or New Year`s Day, a tip is very much appreciated. Needless to say, if your driver was rude or took you on an out of the way route to hike up the fare, do not leave a tip. Always remember when traveling abroad that it is good practice to agree on a final fare before the cab driver begins driving.Tour Guides: Should I tip?
The normal tip for tour guides is about $10 (per day per person). If a tour guide is particularly enthusiastic or informative do not hesitate to slip them a little extra cash if you wish!Miscellaneous: Is there anyone I should tip that I would not normally?
Street Performers: Here is one place to splurge a bit. Though you may not actively solicit entertainment from musicians, mimes, artists, and the like, it is polite to tip them if you have enjoyed their trade. These people live off the money they make bringing their talent to the streets of Panama City, San Miguelito, Tocumen or David. Take some of what you would have left your waitress in the restaurant and give it to one of these artists!
Other Services: In the event that you are in Panama for a special occasion (wedding, honeymoon, graduation gift, birthday, etc..) and employ the services of a hairdresser, make-up artist, party planner, personal shopper, tailor or spa services and the like, use your best judgment in tipping. Factor in the cost and quality of service and, as a general rule, stay in the 10% range.
Remember that it is perfectly okay to abstain, especially if you are not happy with the service provided. Unlike in the U.S. the expectations for tipping are lower in Panama than in America. This is also true for hotel staff, though if you encounter a problem with the service within the hotel, we highly recommend speaking with the manager.
When paying for services in cash (which we generally recommend for services other than your hotel) remember to take your receipt. This is important for two reasons; If you leave a tip on a credit card, the person providing the service may not always get it, and if there is a discrepancy, it is important to have your receipt to settle it with the manager of the establishment and to prove that you paid for the service.