Everything You Need to Know About Tipping in India
India is a spectacular and diverse country to visit, but even for experienced travellers it can be a chaotic and challenging destination to navigate.
India is like nowhere else in the world, and few other places elicit such culture shock as the subcontinent. India is a whirlwind of colours, smells, tastes and, at times, confusion, and cultural norms that apply elsewhere might be thrown straight out of the window on the streets of Mumbai or amongst the backwaters of Kerala.
India is a fascinating country, but it’s a poor country too. And one cultural confusion that often arises amongst travellers is the question of tipping. Should you tip in India? Is it a tradition or custom, or is it just a way for locals to get more money from tourists?
We’ll answer these questions and more below, as we break down everything you need to know about tipping in India.
Tipping Culture in India
The tipping culture in India is often downright confusing. It’s never quite clear if you are meant to tip your guide or your taxi driver, if it’s acceptable to pass if they ask for a tip, or even how much you should pay.
That’s because historically, tipping was never really part of Indian culture. But a range of influences, from the British colonial era through to the rise of tourism across the country, has created a space for tipping, but one that has blurred guidelines.
The rules are never quite clear. This isn’t like the USA for instance, where you’ll be expected to tip for service in all restaurants, regardless of the quality of service you received. In fact, many locals don’t tip at all, and many locals in the service industries won’t expect a tip either. It’s not traditionally a custom.
But as a tourist, the lines have become somewhat confused and entangled. In fact, your rickshaw driver might ask you outright for extra money as a tip at the end of the ride, a situation that can seem quite rude indeed.
For many locals in the tourism industry, they’ve seen foreign tourists giving tips to their colleagues or friends, and presumed that this is the normal custom in other countries too. This might lead to a presumption that it’s a given to receive extra cash at the end of a trip, and in some cases they can even get angry or annoyed if this doesn’t happen.
The peculiarities of tipping culture in India are therefore the result of foreign visitors applying their own customs in India. The result is a confused system of tipping.
The first rule to remember is that tipping is not historically in the culture. If you want to tip, that’s down to you, regardless of how much pressure the guide or the porter or the driver might be applying. If you didn’t get good service don’t tip – you don’t want encourage a negative tipping culture.
Equally, just because tipping isn’t traditional doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tip if you want to. Wages in India are bad, and a little extra might not be much for you, but can mean the world to someone struggling to get by each day.
If the service is great or if you get on well with your driver or guide, go ahead and tip them. But don’t fuel the negative side of tipping in India and create an expectation.
Baksheesh and Tipping
The cultural lines become more confused for travellers to India when you look at the concept of Baksheesh.
Baksheesh is similar to a tip, but in many ways different. Baksheesh is the local name given to tipping in the western sense of the term, but in India it can also mean a bribe.
The lines between tripping for an extra service or bribing for an extra service are also confusing to navigate for tourists. You might not want to bribe but you might want to tip, so always judge the situation and consider what’s being asked and what you’re asking for before tipping or giving baksheesh.
India also has a huge problem with beggars, and many beggars are unfortunately children who have been forced into it against their will or because of horrible circumstances. Locals will often ask for baksheesh, but they won’t be providing you with any sort of service or help. This might seem unusual, but it’s common. If you’re asked for baksheesh in this manner, the person is essentially begging. It’s best to avoid contributing further to the issue by giving people money in such situations.
How Much Should I Tip
How much you should tip when your meal is over, your transport has concluded or your trip through Rajasthan has finished and the guide is waiting hopefully for some extra cash is entirely down to you.
How good was the service? Did they go above and beyond? Were all your expectations met? The list can go on.
The actual price you pay will depend on your budget too. If you can’t afford to tip, then in India you don’t have to.
As a rough rule, it’s often given that 10 per cent is an acceptable tip for services rendered, especially if it’s a tip at the end of a meal or at the end of a short taxi drive. At the very least, it might be nice to simply leave behind the small change once you’ve paid the bill, particularly if you feel the service was good but perhaps not exceptional. If there’s very little change though, don’t cause offence by leaving one or two rupees!
On longer multi-day journeys you may want to give more if you’ve had exceptional service, but again that’s up to you.
You also need get used to the local currency, the Indian rupee. There are roughly 100 rupees to the pound, depending on the exact exchange rate. Get your conversions right though or you might end up handing over far too much when you tip, or far too little!
Now we’ll break down in more detail, when and where it’s acceptable or expected to tip, and how much you should really be giving depending on the situation.
Taxis and Rickshaws
By far the most common everyday expense that you might be tipping for when you’re travelling through India is any private transport you might take. This can range from airport transfers and taxis in cities, to classic Indian rickshaws or cycle-rickshaws.
Be careful though because flagging down rickshaws or taxis outside of transport stations can lead you to be led around town as they try to transport you to their friend’s accommodation – even if you have your own hotel already booked. In this case, you probably won’t want to leave a tip.
If you have a successful ride, then it’s perfectly fine to leave something extra. In fact, it might even begin to discourage these sorts of scams and hassle that are aimed at travellers.
Leaving the small change is a great idea for most rickshaws and taxi drivers, although you may also find that some drivers directly ask you for extra money at the end of a ride. In this situation, it’s up to you, but don’t give into the pressure if you don’t want to.
A good amount of money to give to taxi drivers if you do want to tip is ten per cent of the fare. You can’t really go wrong with this. If you get a particularly useful or helpful driver then feel free to tip more or to even hire their services for sightseeing or other drives later in your trip.
The hotel industry has a more defined tipping culture in India, in comparison to other tourist industries.
As with anywhere else in the world, you’re not expected to leave a tip on top of the overall cost of your hotel room. You don’t need to leave a tip when you depart; this isn’t common practice at all. In fact, some hotels even have a no-tipping policy. This should be made clear if it is the case, but if you’re uncertain, ask at reception when you check in.
However, you will be able to tip for specific services that you might receive during your stay at the hotel. For example, you might have your luggage carried up to the room by the porter or concierge team, and in this case they might appreciate a small tip. A good amount – at least, this depends on the number of bags you need transporting! – might be 20 rupees. Of course, this only really applies at larger hotels, as small hotels or guesthouses won’t have this sort of service available.
It’s not common to tip the housekeepers, as you are unlikely to be there when they are working, though if you order room service or request a massage or similar services, then you can tip a small amount.
If the hotel has a restaurant, then check beforehand if the bill already includes a service charge. If it does not, then you can always add on 10 per cent or similar if the service has been attentive.
The tipping culture in restaurants and eateries depends in many ways on the quality of the establishment. Street food stands and stalls won’t expect to be tipped but you might want to leave the small change if you can, at least if the food is good!
In higher end restaurants where you receive table service then you will want to tip as you would in most other countries. Sometimes though the service charge might already be added. In this case you don’t need to tip; in fact if the service has been poor then you may want to ask for it to be reduced or even removed entirely.
A service charge is generally ten per cent, and if it’s not included this is the amount you will want to leave. Again though, if the service has been poor, don’t tip because you feel that you have to, because this won’t help to improve matters at the establishment in question.
If you run a tab at a bar or a pub, then it’s good practice to tip at the end when you pay the bill, and again, this should be around ten per cent. If you are just buying one or two drinks then it’s not necessary to tip the bartender all the time, but you may have a communal tip jar to contribute to if the service is particularly friendly.
Your tour guide may expect a tip at the end of the day, but it’s only necessary if you’re pleased with the service. If the tour has been great feel free to tip an appropriate amount – a few hundred rupees if it’s just a few hours, or more if it’s the whole day.
For multi-day group tours, as part of a luxury or bespoke Indian holiday, you might be expected to provide a tip at the end, which is given as a group to the guides and the staff who have been working. This will be probably be made obvious at the start of your tour.
Is tipping necessary in India?
Tipping is not a traditional part of Indian culture, however due to outside influences and increasing tourism, tipping has come to be expected in certain restaurants and sectors within the travel industry. This doesn’t mean it’s widespread though or that you need to feel obligated to tip. It’s an extra, so only tip if you want to.
What do I need to tip for in India?
As a tourist you will only want to tip when it’s appropriate, and this can be for private services such as taxi or rickshaw rides, or for tour guides, restaurant or hotel staff.
How much should I tip in India?
How much you tip in India will depend entirely on how much you feel is appropriate, but a rough rule is to give around ten per cent or at least to leave the small change behind after paying for the bill.