Tipping in Thailand

I come from America where our average tip is around 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. Of course we are allowed to exclude cocktails from this equation, but it is still a lot of money at times. Not only is it expected, but in certain places, it is actually required. So it may not come as much of a shock that when it came to tipping in Thailand, at first I was a bit out of my element.

A pile of Thai Baht. | Photo by: Peter Hellberg, on Flickr

How Much to Tip

If you were to ask your average Thai person, they would likely tell you that 20 baht at the most is an acceptable tip in pretty much any situation. That 20 baht amounts to about 65 cents American give or take. Considering that your average Thai will work for about 200 dollars a month, I suppose that is reasonable? It’s difficult for me to really accept this, but I am a product of cultural brainwashing that insists that 15 to 20 percent is the minimum.

Being the product of my culture, I just can’t help but feel a bit Ki Niao (stingy), every time that I tip a mere 20 baht on any sizable bill. I always try to tip at least 10 percent (a modest compromise I suppose?), and sometimes as much as 15 percent. Of course I need to do this when my Thai girlfriend is looking the other way.

It’s also okay to tip less than 20 baht when your bill is relatively small. If you were at a restaurant and charged 85 baht for a meal, giving them an even 100 baht isn’t going to draw any angry faces from the staff. Sometimes it’s all about simplicity and giving 15 baht is just easier than giving 20 baht in a situation like this.

I’ll admit that I may be a sucker, but I also know that an extra dollar or two here and there really isn’t going to set me back much. What I do notice however, is unlike America where the tips are expected, if you are a generous tipper in Thailand, it will pay off in the end. People here remember those who tip above and beyond the average. You will likely get better and quicker service from someone that is genuinely happy to have you around. Maybe they are happy that your money is around, but really, semantics. So it’s a win-win situation for all and only at the cost of a few extra bucks.

A Tuk Tuk in Bangkok. | Photo by: Kevin Chang, on Flickr

Who to Tip

So the next question that you may be asking is, who exactly should I tip? I think it’s a given to say that waiters/waitress at a restaurant and bar should be tipped, but who else?

My rule of thumb is to tip anyone who provided a form of manual service that I actually requested or benefited from. This definition is a bit convoluted and up for a bit of interpretation. Basically, if it was physical labor and it saved me a bit of grief, I will give them at least 20 baht. This includes everything from carrying my bags to my hotel room to loading groceries into the back of my car.

It’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to those Thai’s who do something for you just so you feel obligated to tip them, even though you could have easily done it yourself. If I’m feeling generous I’ll give them a tip, if not, just a friendly smile and thanks. Yes I know, sometimes I can be a cheap bastard, try not to judge me!

When it comes to taxi drivers, it all depends on where I am and if I feel that I am being ripped off. If the taxi driver is nice to me and isn’t trying to overcharge me for a fare, I will give him an extra 50 baht or so, assuming the total charge justifies that amount. If I am somewhere like Phuket and know that I am being gouged, then I feel no obligation to give a tip.

The Choice is Yours

Ultimately, it is up to you who to tip and how much you feel comfortable giving them. The above is just based on my understanding of the culture and the people of Thailand. There really is no right or wrong amount to tip so long as you are giving what you feel comfortable giving. If you are strapped for cash, feel free to give less, if you are rolling in it, by all means give more, the choice is yours.

About Lawrence Michaels

Google+ : Lawrence is an American expat who has lived in Thailand since 2008. He has spent the majority of his time living on the Island of Phuket, but has also done a fair amount of traveling around the country.


  1. Larry Oien says:

    Excellent article Lawrence.. your observations are pretty much in line with my own thinking.. unlike America tips are not generally expected here.. but greatly appreciated..

  2. The amount is not necessarily THB20, you can tip more if you want to, my standard at restaurants are THB 50 minimum and THB100 at some where we are really taken care of. Car park attendants and security gurads we usually give THB20. The US is really unacceptable to me, 15 to 20% is just too much for nothing that they do. The people who want tips in US should come here and learn from the Thais what service means.
    Once incident in Sandusky, Ohio, I did not tip and refused to write a check with 10%, next day nobody served drinks, guess what I did, I made a complain to the hotel and ask them about tipping policies.
    Bills for meals usually comes to USD 80 to USD 120 for 4 of us with drinks, tipping USD12 is just too much.
    People should first learn to be polite and serve, the tip comes from a happy customer. This is just sharing my own opinion.

    • Scudman says:

      I would say that Thailand has great service in 5 star resorts, BUT, your local Thai restaurant has mediocre service at best. And the local local restaurants require you to raise your hand if you need more water, more rice, the bill or anything else. I eat local most of the time and have for four years now. Wait persons in local restaurants get no training in the craft of service that I can see.

    • Wow, you’re a cheap bastard. First of all the minimum wage for servers in America is $2.13 an hour. If all you made was that you would not even be able to survive in the US. You would not be able to afford an apartment or be able to eat properly. Tips in Americans restaurants in essence are a huge part of your wage. Many places this will come out to at least the federal minimum wage, but not a living wage. It all depends on where you work. Leaving less than 15% for good service is insensitive and an insult. Please don’t eat at anymore restaurants in America you cheap bastard.

      • Jerry, thanks for calling me a bastard, as you know you are one as well for using such foul language, this was only my opinion, as i written in the mail. I do not care what you earn,its the government policies in your country that has caused this. Don’t blame the rest of the world. I have been to England on many trips, there is no need to do that. Many places in Malaysia , Singapore or in this region, they do not need it, I was in US a couple of weeks ago, I tipped 20 % daily in the hotel where i stayed due to the extra ordinary work the waiter did in serving and it was outstanding, he really deserves a tip let alone a promotion. So its up to me, should not be a must, its my money, I worked hard for it, don’t depend on tips and it tells me you are a cheap person yourself for using such language, it just reflects the type of person you are to hear the truth. No point replying this mail as you are a loser. Go join the Lone Survivors and fight for the country if you want.

        • I’m a server in America. We work hard between managing different tables, keeping up with orders, delivering food and drinks in a timely manner, and making sure everyone is happy. At some restaurants the waiters do little, but at others we work VERY HARD! Our work is surprisingly physical too, moving around crates of glassware and carrying buckets of ice. When your server isn’t around it’s probably because they were in the back doing work to maintain the order of the restaurant (assuming that it’s busy). In addition to the physical side of things, we are expected to know the menu thoroughly and at higher end restaurants it’s expected to have an extensive knowledge on wines. And to make the job even more complicated, the difficulties produced by complaining or needy customers can put us on edge and really test our composure.

          So although not all servers work hard, and some can even get rude, most are very hard working individuals and are more than happy to serve you in you can be pleasant in return. So therefore, no you don’t have to tip, and you don’t have to like it, but if you plan to visit America then follow the customs and try and be more sensitive to the hospitality staff. You don’t have to visit America, and if you don’t want to tip then you probably shouldn’t visit. You seem like a decent person though so I hope this can help you realize the reasoning behind tipping.

          I personally think the system is dumb and should change too…but to put it on the servers is really rude. If you really disagree with the system then don’t eat out. Thank you, and happy travels!

          • John Hutchings says:

            I’m not cheap and I don’t mind tipping 10% for good service but I don’t understand why in America the customer is expected to compensate for the shit wages the staff are paid by their CHEAP employer! Why can’t the restaurant owners increase wages I’m sure they could push it to at least $5 an hour. I agree $2.15/hr is a disgrace and I don’t know how anybody can live on this but surely this is not the customers problem??? In Australia tipping is not widely practiced but staff are paid $15-20 per hour plus overtime at weekends.

    • Seriously? If there’s one thing that gets my proverbial goat, it’s stingy tippers. As someone who has spent many years in the service industry, let me let in a little secret. Regardless of what the manager (or whoever you complained to) SAID to YOU, none of those employees got in any trouble and your complaint was shrugged off.

      Why? Because service staff who do “nothing” as you like to call it (I DARE you to work a week in the industry) usually make pennies. As a matter of fact, bartending in Milwaukee (a BIG time drinking town) nets me a grand whopping $2.33/hr. So every jerk that doesn’t tip bc it’s just too much for their wallet and sensibilities to handle… well, those guys go to the end of the continuous line, every time.

      There is a movement to get rid of tipping, and honestly, I hope we do. Of course this will mean a VERY noticeable increase in the price of everything from a draft of beer to your burger to a cocktail. Many people say they’re all for it. They’re the same people who hold your attitude about tipping. So…. how does that work in your head lol. They don’t want to tip 15-20%, but they’re cool with their bill going up 15-20%?

      Yes, some in the industry make more per hour but it still isn’t usually very much. You think they do nothing all day… but in reality its more than bringing out food and drinks… it’s being on your feet for 8-10 hours with no real break, and dealing with demanding jerks who then think it’s cool to not tip them. You really should try it sometime.

  3. Good article! Yes, I tip in Thailand too, using the same guidelines that you do. In Canada, I tip also, but seldom, as it seems most service industry people give only basic service without even a smile, in most cases. Those that genuinely do their job with professionalism, and try to do a good job, get a tip. I will never reward (tip) someone who makes me unhappy. Fair is fair.

  4. Tony Ryan says:

    Take care of those who take care of you. A new waitress at the local pub gets a 100 baht because she usually arrives broke without enough to eat. The security guard at the adjoining village gets up off his butt and makes sure the car coming the around the blind corner isn’t in the middle of the road (Why Thai drivers think this is a good idea is beyond me?). He gets a 500 baht note at the New Year and 200 at Songkhran. Tipping in restaurants is always up to what kind of service I get and do I get a scowl or a big friendly smile. Never ever over 10 or 20 baht.

  5. I usually tip a little in Thailand. If only people in America would appreciate a tip the way they do in Thailand, I might actually be excited to do so. Also, I would love to know how you get away with not tipping on coctails, That’s the goldmine for waiters in the USA, as you have to tip on the whole bill, not just the parts you want to.

    • Lawrence Michaels says:

      It’s not that you don’t tip on cocktails, you’re just not expected to tip 20% on cocktails. So if you have a bill for say $100 but half of that is drinks, a tip of $20 wouldn’t be expected. That’s what the experts say at least. I’m either eating or drinking, but I rarely do both at the same time, so I don’t really know.

  6. Jorge Nazaré says:

    Should we tip if service fee is added to the bill like it happens in many restaurants in hailand? Tipping should never be compulsary and should be up to the customer to decide to give it depending on how good (or bad) the service. Like in most countries in the World (thank’s God) a customer is not obliged to tip. We expect that staff has already a fare salary and tips are on top of that to incentivate the good service. If I travel for business, I can not include tips on my travel expenses and no company can use this kind of expenses for fiscal deductions…

    • Lawrence Michaels says:

      I doubt anyone would expect you to leave more of a tip if it was already included on the bill. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Cory McGill says:

    I always wondered about this too, my wife who is A Thai Cop, always dident let me tip more than 20 baht.

    What do you do for work in Thailand Lawrence?

  8. Good article! I usually tip in Thailand using the same method amount, but honestly I don’t like it when it has to be required because in the first place they earned money from their salaries even if we don’t tip. I tip because I liked their service and no because it is required.


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