Tipping when you shouldn’t or tipping more than is expected is a common problem I often see in Cuba. Tourists (Americans) don’t seem to know when, where or how to tip correctly.
In Cuba you shouldn’t tip everyone you meet and you need to make sure that when you do tip that the establishment isn’t already charging you for a tip. Because if you don’t check, you’re tipping twice.
You also need to tip when the service is good. And avoid tipping when the service is bad. Tips aren’t required. Tips are a gift to say thank you to exceptional people.
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When Not To Tip In Cuba
Quite often in Cuba the establishments will add a tip to your bill. The food can be terrible, the service horrendous and they may even give you food poisoning or sell you a cockroach infested item, but they will still add a tip to your bill (service charge).
If they’re charging you for service, don’t tip. The service charge is a tip that they’ve added onto your bill. If there’s a ‘service charge’ of 10-20% they are already tipping themselves. So do not tip.
If you’re taking a yellow taxi or one of those ridiculous egg shaped mototaxis they are government owned and operated. And they are already charging you double what a La Nave costs. So do not tip.
Nine out of every ten times in Cuba the smiling happy person you’re about to tip is already knowingly ripping you off. And then they expect a tip. So do not tip.
Tipping was never part of the culture in Cuba. It’s an imported concept.
You should also avoid tipping people who work in tourism, hotels or run airbnbs (casa particulars). Often these people earn much more than the average Cuban. In the order of at least 400 times more. So do not tip them but instead tip the average Joe who goes above and beyond to help you.
When To Tip In Cuba
A hangover from communism is a work ethic that leaves a lot to be desired. And the ‘support for the Cuban people’ slogan that’s also used as an exemption for Americans to visit Cuba doesn’t make anything better.
Every Cuban you encounter will expect you to pay for anything they want and just hand them money. Don’t do it. And don’t just hand over tips to every service person you encounter.
When you interact with someone exceptional who goes above and beyond their normal day to day duties to help you out, tip them. And make it a decent sized tip in foreign currency.
As an example my Cuban friends have a regular housekeeper who travels across town three (3) times a week to clean their apartment. After the plumber broke the pipes and flooded the entire apartment with raw sewage we called her at 8pm for help.
She threw her daughters into a taxi with brooms, mops and buckets in hand. They raced over and proceeded to help us clean s**t out of the apartment until well after midnight. She washed, mopped and disinfected every inch of the place. And then washed our clothes and cooked us dinner.
I was astonished. She only has a regular salary of roughly $1000CUP per day. So I gave her a $100USD (17000CUP) tip. A little amount for me. But a large sum of money for her.
She almost needed to be carried out of the house on a stretcher when I handed her a $100 bill. In my opinion she deserved every cent and far more.
How To Tip In Cuba
When someone does something for you or provides an exceptional service you should give them a decent sized tip. But give it to them in foreign currency.
Often on YouTube I see ‘celebrities’ walking around Old Havana (Habana Vieja) handing out 50 CUP or 100 CUP notes. Thinking 50 CUP is big money. When in reality they’ve bought that person a quarter (1/4) of a can of beer.
When someone goes above and beyond for you then you should give them USD or Euro and make it a minimum of $5. Because foreign currency in their hands is often worth far more than it is in yours.
They will squirrel the money away for a rainy day. Or they will put it to good use when they or their family need something.
Most Cubans use foreign currency on their MLC cards so they can buy ‘luxury’ items like disinfectant or shampoo in the government run shops. These government stores only accept foreign currency. And only via card.
That $5 tip you give someone might buy disinfectant, washing powder, shampoo and conditioner or any one of a number of things the average tourist takes for granted.
If you tip the little guy who owns nothing but a mop and has a family to support, your money is truly going to where it is needed most.