Tipping is woven into the fabric of Mexican social culture. The tipping ritual is so commonplace that it is also plays a significant role in Mexico’s informal, cash-driven economy.
Most people working in Mexico’s service industries including porters at the airport, the waitress at the café/diner, the attendant in the rest-room and the service personnel at your hotel, earn modest wages and rely upon tips (in Mexico referred to as “la propina”) to augment their weekly take-home pay.
In Mexico, la propina is employed in all kinds of everyday situations.
Car parks in Mexico’s bigger towns and cities are often times kept under vigil by men (and occasionally women) who ‘patrol’ the car park, helping drivers to find a free space, keeping an eye on the cars, and helping drivers to reverse out when they leave. It’s optional, but customary, to pay $2-$5 pesos as you depart.
Arriving at one of the four intercity bus stations in Mexico’s capital and proceeding – as many passengers do – to the taxi kiosk for an authorized taxi fare, a line of waiting ‘porters’ will offer to carry your luggage, walk you to the rank, and hail the next cab for you. They will open the taxi’s door and place your baggage in the car’s trunk: it’s customary to tip the porter, $5-10 pesos is sufficient.
Some restaurants — including some of the most well-to-do establishments — have an attendant working in the restroom, keeping it clean and tidy. As you wash your hands, they will politely hand you a towel to dry them. Alongside the wash-basin, you may see a small box with a few coins sprinkled inside. If you are dining at a restaurant, have a few pesos change at the ready, as it’s customary to leave a small gratuity for the attendant as you leave.
Other ‘informal’ situations where a tip is customary include the porter at the hotel who carried your bags; the concierge for booking a table at a local restaurant or who arranged a taxi for you; the person who washed your windscreen at the stop-light; and even the person packing your groceries at the local supermarket.
Many people leave their hotel’s room maid a small tip of between US$1 and US$5 (equivalent in Mexican pesos), for each night’s stay spent at the hotel. If you’re staying more than one night, it’s a good idea to leave the tip daily as chamber maids work on a rota.
Ironically, despite the constant need to pay tips, small change seems to be a real difficulty to get hold of in Mexico when you need it most and appears in abundance when you don’t need any – see this related article – and build-up a small cache of small change whenever you can. If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, the front desk may break larger notes into small bills and coins for you: the $20 peso bill is popular for tipping at resorts.
Frequent tipping is a routine that takes getting used to, especially if you live in a country where tipping is not commonplace (certain countries in Europe, for example) or where tipping is practiced but only in certain, specific circumstances.
Mexico’s tipping culture is impromptu and often spontaneous. Tipping is always optional although the people serving you will appreciate the small token of your appreciation in exchange for good service.
Why you need to tip in Mexican pesos, and not in foreign currency
The rules and regulations for exchanging foreign currency have been tightened up. For example, currency exchange houses now routinely demand to see a passport to change even small amounts of money, and not everyone here has a passport. Foreign coins are non-exchangeable and should never be left as tips. Always tip in cash, using Mexican pesos.
Our guide to Tipping and Bargaining in Mexico for guidance about whom, where, when, and how much to tip in Mexico. The Guide to Social & Business Etiquette in Mexico is a comprehensive manual to help you navigate social and business customs in Mexico in more detail.