Should you worry about tipping in China? Depending on your cultural background, tipping at Chinese restaurants, hotels and taxis might be normal or unheard of. Either way, it’s important to know what’s expected while traveling around China. Here are some simple tips for tipping in China that should help.
I receive a number of questions related to China travel every week – questions about travel insurance for China, questions about bypassing internet censorship in China and many more.
But one of the most frequent questions I get has to do with tipping in China.
The fact is that despite the westernization of China, tipping is NOT a common practice throughout the country.
Conveniently for you as a traveler, 95% of the time you don’t have to worry about tipping while you’re traveling around China.
While I’m sure that helps, this is really just a general rule of thumb. What I’d like to do here is specifically answer two questions:
- When is it appropriate to tip in China?
- How much should you be tipping in China?
This is one of many China travel planning tips that you can find in my book Travel to China | Everything You Need to Know Before You Go. If you’re in the midst of arranging your China trip, grab a copy of the book and find out why it’s the best-selling China travel planning guide!
Where Tipping ISN’T Expected in China
As I said earlier, for most (if not all) of your travels around China, you won’t need to worry about leaving a tip or gratuity.
This includes places such as:
- Most Chinese Restaurants: Obviously fast food joints don’t require tipping, but this is true even for the majority of sit down restaurants where a servers takes your order and delivers your food. There are exceptions in larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but usually a server does not expect a tip from you.
- Chinese Bars: The same goes for bars in China – a higher tip won’t necessarily get you a larger portion of alcohol.
- China Hotels: Even if you have somebody help take your luggage to your room, a tip is not expected (exceptions noted in the next section). There are other interesting things to consider, though, so make sure you read up on what to expect with China hotels.
- Taxis: Drivers can be super helpful, but they accept only the fare that they’re due. While tipping may not be a concern, there are other things to consider when taking a taxi in China.
- Massage / Hairdresser: Should you decide to get a haircut or a massage in China, you will not need to leave a tip for your the individual who served you.
It’s worth noting that giving a tip in these situations will usually not grant you any better service.
That’s not part of the cultural mindset in China (although that is slowly changing).
A typical Chinese service worker will spend more time thinking about whether they should accept the tip or not. Very few will consider giving you better service because of the tip.
Thankfully, you can rest assured knowing that unlike in restaurants in the United States, service workers in China are paid a typical wage for that kind of work without regard for tips. They are not suffering because you didn’t tip.
Exceptions to the Rule | Leaving a Tip in China
Of course, there are very few times when it is acceptable to tip in China.
Notice the word acceptable, not necessarily expected. Most of the time people will just look at you like you’re crazy if you try to hand them a monetary tip.
The places and situations where a tip or gratuity is welcomed in China would be:
- High-End China Restaurants: If you’re spending more than USD$100 for a meal, chances are a tip would be acceptable. These restaurants are usually found in Tier 1 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, etc.) and are also more likely to accept foreign credit cards. It’s important to look carefully at your receipt, though! Sometimes a gratuity is already added, making a tip only necessarily if the service was amazing.
- Tour Group Guides & Drivers: Unfortunately for us as travelers, many years of foreign touristss giving tips has made it a common practice in the industry. It is expected that you give a tip both to your tour guide and your vehicle driver (I mean, you could just get a Chinese driver’s license and do it yourself). Not sure how much to give? Read into the next section for suggestions.
- Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan: Because these areas of China have heavy western influence, most tipping rules still apply.
How Much to Tip in China (Suggested Amounts)
I often get questions from travelers asking me how much they should tip in China.
It could be they plan to visit a nice Chinese restaurant or they plan on using a Chinese tour guide or driver. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, there are some guidelines I’d like to share with you.
Based on my years of traveling around China and my experience with travel agencies in China, here is what I’ve come to find are typical amounts to tip in China.
Suggested Tip: Restaurants in China
If you’re dining at a high-end restaurant in China, usually in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an, etc., the expected tip is very similar to what you might be familiar with back home.
In most cases, a gratuity of 10%-20% at a Chinese restaurant is acceptable.
As you leave your tip, remember that in the eyes of the Chinese, the amount you leave is not a reflection of their level of service…it is a reflection of you and your country.
As I noted above, I also highly recommend you look at your receipt prior to leaving a tip.
In many of these kinds of restaurants, a gratuity has already been added to your bill and you won’t even need to be bothered by leaving an additional tip.
Suggested Tip: Tour Guides & Drivers in China
Tipping tour guides and drivers in China is a bit tricky. The reality is that you don’t have to tip…but it’s polite to do so.
This is the one industry where many guides and drivers are paid slightly less since travel agencies know that many travelers tip. If you’ve decided to join a reputable China tour company, this is part of your costs.
Not doing so will definitely affect their take-home pay.
Here is what I suggest:
- Tip a Driver in China About 100 RMB/day: Mind you, this shouldn’t be per person; this is per vehicle. If you’re part of a tour group full of people you don’t know, you can personally tip about 20 RMB by yourself.
- Tip a Tour Guide in China About 10%: Again, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if your tour guide was great, it’s become the polite thing to do.
It’s usually best to tip with cash if you can.
Some travel agencies will allow you to add a tip on your final bill, but personally, I’m always skeptical that this money ever makes it to the tour guide or driver.
By the way, if you’re still looking for tour quotes, here are the local China travel agencies I recommend.
Don’t Stress About Tipping in China
I hope I’ve been able to clear any confusion about tipping in China for you.
Most solo travelers wandering off the beaten path won’t need to tip at all, and for those of you who do tip, it’s usually not much.
Keep a bit of cash handy when you’re taking a tour in China. Tipping the tour guide and driver is always a good idea.
And if you need to save some money in order to make tipping affordable, make sure you read my guide to successfully bargaining in China as well as my 5 creative ways to save money while traveling in China.
Enjoy your travels!
Rick Green says
Hong Kong is a mixed bag. You have Western restaurants that levy an automatic service charge, like in Europe, you have Western restaurants that take the North American approach, and you have Chinese restaurants where you do tip, but it’s just rounding up your bill and leaving the spare change on the table.