Foreigners are told that hotels and restaurants add a percentage (usually 10%) into the bills to tip the employees, so there is no need to tip. Grant you that is true, but that percentage is suppose to get dispersed in fair and equal percentage to all the employees, like the busboy, cook, kitchen help etc. However, the time it filters down to the poor little waitress, that ran her ass off to service you, it may be a few pennies. Unfortunately, most goes to upper management, including the owner of the establishment. She may ONLY GET one percent of that $5 tip you gave.
In general, Costa Rican’s are polite and friendly and do not expect much, so they do not have a greedy hand out waiting for the tip. Tipping is a sign of respect and a big “thank you." The majority of Costa Rican’s that eat out never leave anything extra, so it is simply not expected. The over-all labor force daily wage scale is less then $18 a day, so anything extra you can give them, helps make their day.
The biggest advantage of tipping in Costa Rica (even if you got bad service) is you instantly gain a friend and you never know when that friend will come in handy. Costa Ricans have good memories. I remember in Golfito one time my kids and I were getting nervous waiting for a cab to take up to the airport. A bartender saw my nervousness and offered to give us a ride. When I offered to give him some money, he refused, saying, that I had treated him well during my hotel stay (Wow, I did not know I drank that much, let alone tip that much 😉 )… and it was his way of thanking me.
Another advantage of having a lot of US one dollar is they are the easiest to tip with. US dollars are always welcome as tips. One dollar is around 560 colons, so I always carry about 20 one dollar bills. And yes, I know there is a 500 colon bill, but it is the psychological effect of paying with something that has a one on it, or something that has a 500 on it.
My general rule is to always try and tip unless you got the worse service in the world. Remember, that person may be having a bad hair day, and maybe your tip will give them a good hair day and a smile on their face.
My Rules of Tipping:
Maids: These people are about the lowest paid, always $2 a day and you will be amazed of how well your room is kept. When staying over 3 days, leave 5-$10 when departing, more if you think the service was excellent. Tip $2 or more if you request extra towels, ironing board etc.
Cab Drivers: Normally, taxi drivers are not tipped, but I believe they should be – shorter the ride more of a percentage of the cost of the ride. From the airport to downtown San Jose (which should cost about $15 for 15 miles) minimum $5. Buzzing around San Jose $2.
Baggage Carriers, hotels (bellhops) and Airport: 1-$2 a bag.
Waitress: 10-15% of the bill. If you get semi-bad service, always leave at lease 1-$2. However, I have gotten horrible service, so I have express that with a quarter or several coin colons inside a glass.
Bartenders and Cocktail Waitresses – Now this is a hard call and it all depends on long you are going to be staying and how crowded is the place. For example, if you plan on doing some serious clubbing, like going to El Pueblo Twister, after you order your 1st drink, tip good when receiving the 1st drink, that way it guarantees preferred treatment for rest of the night when the bar is packed.
Club Doormen: At lease $2. These guys can be your best friend when you need them to call a taxi.
Parking Guys: these guys can be your other best friend, because they will watch your car. Right off the bat it is $2
Private Drivers: $10 half day. 15-$20 full day.
Transfer, Service, Travel and Nature Guides: $3-$10 per person per day depending on the size of the group. If you are doing a one on one with a guide, or with your partner or other sex, $20 is cool.
Of course tipping is entirely up to you; level of service and whether or not you feel comfortable in giving tips, and your budget are all important factors. The word for tip in Spanish is "propina" and is defined as a synonym of "reward." It comes from the Latin word "propinare" which means to give something.