tipping at a restaurant

To tip or not to tip? That’s often the question for travelers. The answer varies depending on whether you are here at home or traveling abroad.

In a handful of countries such as Japan, travelers risk insulting waiters or hotel workers by offering a tip, says Sydney Champion, a deputy editor at the financial website GoBankingRates. But in other countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, not offering a tip can be insulting.

You should also know that while tipping is customary in some countries, like the U.S., it isn’t customary in others. Those countries include Brazil, and China, according to Champion.

One way to make sure you know whether or not to tip is by turning to apps that can provide guidance in a pinch. Several tipping guides that will tell you how much of a tip is customary are available for smartphones. Among them are Global TippingTip Like a Local, and GlobeTipping.

Another good idea is to make sure you have cash. Before heading out on your travels, go to a bank to exchange big bills for smaller denominations. If traveling in the U.S., carry plenty of $5 or $1 bills, says Champion. If you’re traveling outside of your home country, go to a currency exchange kiosk or bank to get local currency in small denominations.

Champion also says to make sure you aren't overtipping. "Sometimes, like on a cruise, the tip is already included in the fee you pay, so check the fine print to make sure you know," she says.

Tipping Rules of Thumb

Keep these suggestions in mind while traveling:

Airports: In countries where tipping is the norm, tip porters who check your bags at curbside $5 for one and an extra $3 to $5 for each additional bag.

Taxis: In the U.S. and Canada, tip your taxi driver 10 to 20 percent of the bill. The tip for a town car and limo driver is a little higher—15 to 20 percent. In Europe, the practice is to round up on a fare. So if your fare is 23 euros, round up to 25 euros. When in doubt while traveling in other countries, Champion says rounding up is a good way to go.

More From Consumer Reports

Restaurants: In the U.S. and Canada, it’s typical to tip 15 to 20 percent, or up to 25 percent if the service is excellent. For parties of eight or more, the tip may already be included. While some restaurants are beginning to do away with tips altogether, the practice isn't that common yet. In Europe, adding a tip of 5 to 10 percent is appreciated, but restaurants in some countries such as Italy already add a service charge to your bill, so you don't need to give an additional tip. You don’t need to tip in countries where tipping isn't customary, such as in Japan and South Korea.

Hotels: At five-star hotels in the U.S. and Canada, tip a bellhop $5 per bag. At less highly rated hotels, a tip of $1 to $2 per bag is customary. Many travelers forget to tip the housekeepers before checking out, Champion says. She recommends that you tip $2 to $10 for each night of your stay. You can tip doormen $2 to $5 per day. If a concierge has been helpful with things like making reservations, you can tip him or her $5 to $20. In Europe, hotel staff expect to be tipped. The practice varies considerably in regions such as Asia and South America.