The Art of Tipping in Mexico

It takes me months to get comfortable tipping in a new country.

Who should I tip? How much should I give them? Is a tip expected or just for extra service? Do North American tipping rules apply? Am I being stingy? Am I over-tipping? Can those couple of pesos (about 15 cents) REALLY make that much of a difference to someone? It all gets a bit overwhelming.

Here’s what we’ve learned about Mexico.

  • The Mexican economy is definitely service oriented. Lots of people get no salary and live off of small tips. People are extremely friendly and will try to help you out when they can, but a small tip is very much appreciated. Also what’s a nothing amount for us is pretty important to them. So it’s good to load up with peso coins and scatter them in your wake.
  • Practically no one begs, at least here where we are. They will offer a tiny service, no matter how small or irrelevent. Selling a toy. Cleaning your windshield. Offering to push your shopping cart or help you find a parking spot. Just something. There’s a sweet old lady outside the local gringo supermarket who holds out a cup, and occasionally at the outdoor markets someone missing an arm or leg or something will ask me for change. But usually someone is DOING something for their money. We respect that and try to help out where we can.
  • And finally, we’re learning to keep a lot of coins with us at all times. There’s nothing worse than knowing you ought to give the bag boy $5 pesos but not having it and having to decide between that $1-peso coin or a $20-peso bill.

SO, WHO HAVE WE BEEN TIPPING?

Gas-station attendants

We usually give the PEMEX guy a small amount, depending on what he does or how friendly he is. If he just pumps, we might give him $5 pesos or so. If he does the windshield and offers to check the tires, then maybe $10 pesos. Last week my bank card wouldn’t work and this particular station didn’t accept credit cards, so the guy let me go to the bank to get cash. Granted he didn’t have much of a choice, but he was nice about it, so I gave him $20 pesos.

Food stalls

We eat a lot of street tacos and don’t usually tip at these places.

Casual restaurants (fondas)

We don’t go to these too often, but when we do, we round up a bit — never more than 10% and often less.

Higher-end restaurants

We’ve been to a few, most recently last week for a birthday dinner.

If a tip isn’t included on the bill, we add about 15%. There’s a 16% IVA (“Impuesto al Valor Agregado”) or value-added tax. If you want to skip the math, just match that.

Bag boys/girls at the supermarket

When you buy groceries, school kids bag them. They aren’t paid (not much, anyway) so we give them a couple of pesos per bag — up to about $10 pesos. Sometimes we give more or less depending on what coins we have. We’re still mastering the art of having the right amount of change ready when they’re done.

Car washers

Most parking areas have one or two guys that offer to wash your car. They have a few big buckets of water which they lug over, and then then they hustle to finish the job before you come back. Usually they do a really good job, including the tires.

It’s not a tip really, but they usually ask for between $30 pesos and $40 pesos. Last week we paid $30 pesos outside of Soriana, the big Mexican market. But yesterday the guy outside of Walmart (which we try to avoid but sometimes can’t) charged $40 pesos.

I suppose we should have haggled, but those guys work hard, and here we are in  our shiny white Subaru Outback. It feels a bit jerky to haggle over an extra $10 pesos (about $.77 USD). I have no idea what middle-class Mexicans would pay to get their cars washed. Maybe less, who knows.

The water guy

Those big bottles of water cost $14 pesos when you have them delivered. We carry our bottle in ourselves but still give the guy $20 pesos because he always makes a point to stop his truck and knock on our door. (I hear him knocking right now!) This is a huge help because we often can’t hear him calling, “Agua! Agua!” and used to miss him completely. Then we’d have to go pay $25 pesos at the supermarket.

The gas guy

We round up a bit for the guy who drags a hose up from his truck to fill out propane tank. At least we did last time, since he gave us a discount from the printed receipt.

Parking guys

In commercial areas, there’s always a guy trying to direct your car into or out of a parking spot. They’re all over the place. We don’t usually tip these guys unless they’ve actually been helpful, which usually they aren’t. We’re in a small town and it’s pretty easy to find parking. However if a guy steps in the road and stops traffic on a busy street so I can back out, that’s worth a few pesos to me.

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So far our biggest challenge, BY FAR, is just having coins available when we need them. In 1st world countries we always try to use up coins, or we leave them at home in a jar, but here it’s just the opposite. You want a pocketful of coins so you can help keep the Mexican economy humming.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clelie November 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Is 10 pesos the same as $10 pesos? I’m a bit confused. (But that may just be me as the caffeine has not yet pierced the fog that takes over my brain no Saturday mornings.)

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2 Renee November 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

$10 pesos is about .77 CAD/USD. It IS a bit confusing how the $ sign is also used for pesos.

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3 Clelie November 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

As evidenced by my typo!

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