TIPPING IN CUBA
WHEN TO TIP IN CUBA?
This question comes up often when Americans visit Cuba, whether they’re on a self-led exploration of the island, or on a structured, highly-organized bus tour. When to tip in Cuba is fairly easy to answer. As often as you can!
Most Cubans still make under $40 U.S. dollars a month in salary, that includes government employees who work in tourism, and their bosses. So, you can see why tips are greatly appreciated, especially when they are made in what is considered hard currency in Cuba. In Havana, many privately employed professional guides and drivers, especially those who speak English, are making substantially more than $40 a month in salary. Some drivers who own their own vehicles can make over $100 a day, and guides are averaging $50 a day. Keep this in mind, while they are making much more than most of their fellow countrymen, they have also become more used to our U.S. tipping standards.
Bell hops, maids, door men, and everyone else at any hotel will be expecting a tip, and for just about any interaction. Two dollars a day per person is good for a hotel maid, and bell boys one to two dollars per piece of luggage. Everyone else tip accordingly, some employees in Cuba go above and beyond, so tip accordingly, while others are completely indifferent to your presence, much less your concerns or wishes. It is still not unusual for state employees in Havana, who are standing behind a bar or at a register, to bolt out of their seats and disappear when a customer approaches them. While it is happening less and less, it still occurs. So, again, tip accordingly, or don’t!
HOW MUCH TO TIP IN CUBA?
First, tipping in U.S. dollars has become acceptable on the island, and especially in Havana, it does not present any problems to the person receiving the tip. Many years ago, tipping in dollars was frowned upon, and a few years before that it was even illegal for Cubans to have U.S. dollars in their possession. This has all changed, and dollars ae quite common in Havana, and most towns that see high numbers of tourists. Tipping can also be done in either of the two Cuban currencies, just make sure you are converting them to dollars correctly. The Cuban Convertible Peso, known as CUC in Cuba, is worth more than an American dollar in Cuba, and the official exchange rate is .87CUC to $1USD!!! The other currency is the National Coin, “moneda nacional” in Spanish, and it exchanges at a rate of $25MN to $1CUC. So, $25 “moneda nacional” is roughly equivalent to one U.S. dollar.
Bus drivers in large vans and buses usually receive between one and two dollars per passenger, per day. While chauffeurs of classic cars who have been driving you more than eight hours, and have done a great job, should get from $5 to $10 per person, and even more if you feel it is deserved. Guides who work large groups, mostly the buses that the Cuban government uses to move U.S. citizens, should get from $2 to $4 per person, per day. Private guides working with a couple of small group should be tipped between $5 and $10 per person, per day.
Restaurants in Havana, Trinidad, Varadero, and a few other cities have started to add a 10% service fee to their checks, so verify before you start to calculate your tip. Otherwise, restaurant tipping is similar to the U.S., while many of Cuba’s traditional tourists tip at or under the 10% rate, Cubans do have high expectations with Americans, and tend to expect a good tip. Restaurant service tends to be slow in Cuba, and in some restaurants, it is horrible. Many private restaurants have opened all over the island in the past few years, but Havana has had a boom of restaurant openings. A few of these private
restaurants provide a level of table service that is as good as the best restaurants in the U.S. and the world, but they ae a minority. Table and bar service is bad across the board, and if you come expecting that, you will not be disappointed.
Americans are perceived as big tippers in Cuba, and most Cubans who work in tourism were overjoyed with the American/Cuban rapprochement of 2014. As with everything, in the end it is up to each person to tip what they are comfortable with, and feel is appropriate.
A note about U.S. dollars, some high end restaurants on Havana and Trinidad have started to list menu prices in both Cuban CUC’s and U.S. dollars, so you will have some flexibility when it comes time to pay that bill and leave a tip!
By Frank Gonzalez