What Is the Tipping Etiquette in Panama?

The notion of tipping is based on rewarding good service. Tipping, which is called “propina” in Panama, similarly works under the same basic principle.  If you find a service truly helpful and deserving of reward, you are always free to give a tip. Panamanians understand that tipping is therefore highly dependent on service quality. Thus, it serves as a motivation for local workers to provide excellent service to their clients, especially to foreign tourists.

Tipping in Panama is 100% voluntary. It is always a personal decision of the giver. It cannot be added to your bill. It cannot be enforced by law.  It is not customary. And it cannot be expected or anticipated by the service giver. Even if you find the service really helpful and praiseworthy, you are not obliged to give tips.

Tipping, however, is very much welcome by Panamanians. Many locals don’t have large salaries. Tips can serve as an important supplementary source of income. You might consider giving tips not only to show appreciation for great service but as an act of helping workers who don’t earn much. 

Giving tips in Panama is not customary. However, it is a common courtesy extended by foreigners and tourists to quality services rendered. To further learn who, where and how much to tip in Panama, let us explore more scenarios and discover the appropriate gratuity or token of appreciation to give or offer.

Tips at Hotels

Hotel staff is one of the most common recipients of tips, especially from tourists. While most high-end hotels in Panama already incorporate a 10% service charge in your total bill, giving tips directly to the individual staff especially the bellhops and housekeeping should strongly be considered. These two are often the hardest working people in a hotel who are often least recognized and compensated. After all, the bellhops will help you carry your things while housekeeping will spruce up your mess.  

Hotel porters/bellboys in Panama are usually tipped $1 – $2 per bag. Similarly, the maid or staff cleaning your room is usually tipped $1 – $2 per day. Giving tips to hotel staff would do wonders. You will receive more personalized services and get faster responses from staff when you need them.

Aside from the bellhop and maid, other hotel staff you can consider giving tips include the valet, shuttle driver, doorman, and concierge.

While giving tip to individual staff is the customary practice, you can also opt to leave your gratuity in bulk.  For instance, before departing the hotel, you can hand down an envelope containing cash tips to the front desk and instruct to distribute it to the specific persons or staff who helped you.  

Tips at Restaurants

Restaurants are another place where tourists frequently visit to experience the culinary culture of Panama and where tipping is commonly practiced.

Restaurants in Panama are prohibited by law to include tips on customer bills. Under Law No. 34 of the consumer protection and the defense of competition, tips should be voluntary and the details of the customer tab including taxes or fees should be clearly indicated and described on the invoice. You can report restaurants that violate this law to the ACODECO (Autoridad de Protección al Consumidor y Defensa de la Competencia).

The practice of giving tips at the discretion of the customer is generally acceptable. This is more commonly practiced in upscale restaurants especially if you find the services exceptional and you enjoyed the food. However, there are also restaurants where waiters are not allowed to accept tips at all. 

The common tip given by tourists is 10% of the total bill, which is similarly the regular or standard amount of how tips are computed and paid in other western countries.  However, any amount will do. When a waiter receives your tip, the tip does not go the specific waiter you wish to reward. Instead, customer tips are usually pooled and equally divided among all staff as a matter of policy.

When it comes to restaurants in Panama, the majority of them still do not accept credit cards. This means that you must have the cash to make payment. It is therefore advisable to ask a waiter if they accept credit cards before you order. You must also remember that waiters will not bring your tab or bill until you ask for it. You need to raise your hand to call a waiter and say “La Cuenta por favor” to ask for your bill.

While giving tips would greatly impact how services are rendered, another thing you should consider to receive outstanding service in a restaurant in Panama is to dress up properly. Panamanians have a thing about dressing up tidy and properly, which they find it respectful. You can get better service in Panama if you come to a restaurant in proper attire or outfit.

Touring Guide Tips

Giving tips to tourist guides is fitting because they make your visit to the country more organized and meaningful.

There is so much to see and enjoy in Panama. Tour guides and guided tours help you make the most of your time. Pre-designed and organized routes help you to see and enjoy the most important landmarks, places or activities you shouldn’t miss.  You will also receive important information so that you can learn and understand the culture and history of the people and the places better.   

Foreign tourists normally give $5-10 to tour guides for their service. However, you can always give more or less depending on the quality of the service, cost, and duration of the tour, and how much you enjoyed the tour.

Tips in Spas and Wellness Centers

The wellness industry is another relevant service that is popular in the tropical Panamanian paradise, which is commonly availed by tourists. Thus, spas, massage parlors, saloons, and other similar wellness service centers also major recipients of tips and gratuities from customers.  

Workers such as masseurs massage therapists and hairdressers, among others in the wellness industry are one of those who often receive generous tips for their services. This is because their services deliver a direct personal impact on the customer. Massage will make you feel good. A haircut or new hairdo will make you feel beautiful and confident. 

The conventional tip provided to workers in the wellness industry in Panama is at least 10% of the total cost of the service. You can always tip a little extra if you feel you have truly received remarkable service. After all, any person who can help you feel good or help you feel better about yourself definitely deserves a reward.

Tips in Taxi Cabs

It is not customary to give tips to drivers of taxicabs or other ride-ride hailing services (e.g. Uber) in Panama. However, there are instances when it would be appropriate to give tips especially if the driver has taken the extra mile in giving service. This may include recommending great places to visit, good resto-bars to enjoy and other related services. 

As locals, drivers possess great inside views, experience, and knowledge about Panama, which can help you achieve a more genuine and memorable cultural experience of the country.

The customary way taxi drivers are given tips is by rounding up the taxi fare. For instance, a $12.5 taxi fare is rounded up to $13 or $15 if you are being extra generous. For Uber drivers, on the other hand, you have the option of giving a cash tip, adding tips through the app and giving high ratings to the driver.

Tips to Other People

Most workers who receive tips from customers are often formally employed in institutionalized business organizations like five-star hotels or first-class restaurants. However, it would also be worthwhile to give tips to workers in small entrepreneurial businesses like cafeterias, small cantinas, snack bars, souvenir shops, and others. As have mentioned earlier, many Panamanians don’t have big salaries. Tips from customers can be a big help to them. You can consider giving tips to show gratitude for their hospitality, to demonstrate kindness or generosity or to connect or network with the locals.

Giving tips can be facilitated by discretely handing a small amount of cash to the worker or by simply letting the worker keep the change. While it may not customary, you will definitely receive a smile back from the recipient which is priceless. Indeed, tipping can be a simple and random act of kindness that goes a long way.

Conclusion

The practice of tipping in Panama is not compulsory. It is always discretionary on the part of the giver. Panamanians are also predisposed not to expect tips from customers. 

However, giving tips is very much welcome and acceptable in Panama. It is a matter of courtesy on the part of the giver or a means to show appreciation for great service rendered.  Thus, it serves as a great incentive for workers to provide great service. 

Finally, tipping is generally considered good etiquette.  Tipping provides supplemental income to low wage-earning workers. It is also a means of spreading kindness, charity, and goodwill to people.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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