My thoughts on tipping Vietnamese have evolved over the time that I’ve spent in this country.

Tipping Vietnamese is becoming common. Spread the good!

At first, I followed the standard model of tipping I’d heard of from other expats: spas and barbers get a tip and everyone else can suck it, because who wants to upset the apple cart? Which, honestly, is kind of an jackass perspective, as virtually everything I’m paying for in a service setting is drastically cheaper than comparable experiences in developed countries.

Slowly, I’ve evolved to be more of a tipper (as I was in America, which I’m proud of).

Perhaps surprisingly, there IS a minimum wage for Vietnamese.  However, this minimum wage applies to the entire country, which is still largely agricultural and poor, relatively speaking. City wages might be at the federal minimum, but the costs of living in one of these major metropolitan areas (Hanoi, HCMC, Da Nang) is much higher than if you live out in the provinces, where a lower minimum wage might be enough. Young people come to big cities to try and find themselves and new opportunities, and they can’t succeed if they’re earning subsistence levels of income. Everyone deserves to have enough cash to enjoy a smoothie with friends on Friday night, right? Let alone attending one of Saigon’s many universities….

Getting decent service is the standard in the south of Vietnam. And, generally, Southern Vietnamese are quite helpful and friendly (I have… other thoughts… about the few Hanoi residents I’ve met). If you encounter a situation where you have messy or outright terrible service, I trust you’ll recognize that and tip accordingly (0.00 USD).

So what’s the best way to approach service situations?

The service I receive from staff in cafes and restaurants in the big cities is usually great. You don’t have to have a problem for them to solve to leave a deserved tip, though. Simply being welcomed with a smile, despite their certainty you don’t speak a lick of Vietnamese, is a nice gesture – as is having a perpetually full glass of iced tea. If they’re inclined to make conversation, so much the better! (Usually!) And if you can speak a little Vietnamese AND tip a buck? These are the things international understandings are made of.

Tipping Vietnamese is becoming the standard. This is the equivalent of 5 USD
This is = ~$5. It’s a lot of money here.

The bottom line is that you can make someone’s DAY with a single USD… or less. If you think 10% of your bill is too much, just think about this example:

You are in a cafe. You purchase:
  • 1 coffee 30k VND
  • 1 banh mi op la 45k VND

Total: 75k VND. 10% Tip: 7.5k VND = .35 cents USD

TRULY, this is ridiculously cheap for good service, especially if you stay for a longer time.

(It should be pointed out that in certain retail/restaurant cases, VAT applies (or maybe does but then is refunded)… but I’ll get into that in another post soon, because it’s weird. Thanks, French!)

My standard practices is to just let go of the percentage method, and focus on the quality of the experience you’ve had. It’s all about you, anyway, so let them know you appreciate the attention!

Check out my new, improved tipping guidelines:

Barber/Spa/Beauty Salon

Anything from 20k-100k (although if you’re in a spa, they may ask for more, as masseuses can depend quite heavily on tips to augment their anemic wages). On the other hand, my barber never asks for a tip, but getting my hair did is such a chore for me that I want to make a good name for myself there. (Really, there’s just a standard ‘White Guy’ haircut that I’m getting without having to ask – as if I could – …but just in case things go pear-shaped in the barber seat someday, I’ll have a little bit of good karma.)

Bar/Cafe

Either leave them the change from your bill, or 15-30k.

Taxi

Were they friendly? Talkative? Helpful? Sure, go ahead, 10-20k or the rest of the change. But I never, ever tip if they ask for it… that’s just rude, and they know it. Also, stick to VinaSun and Mai Linh taxi companies – these guys are professionals and will rarely be assholes (I say, having encountered a seriously grouchy Vinasun driver just last week who proceeded to ask for a tip).

 

A Vietnamese Street Cart Sign. I'm not tipping Vietnamese street food vendors.
Sorry, I don’t tip on food from food stands. Or food that costs less than a buck.
Restaurant/Street Food

If it’s fancy and service was exceptional, 15% or up to 40-60k.

If it’s street food I do not tip, since it’s essentially just a kitchen to go with no service aspect to it.

Tour Operators

The thing I have to remind myself about tour operators is that they essentially never get a break, even for national holidays. These young people are working extremely hard, for little pay, far from their homes and family for the vast majority of the year – if they’re good at their job, 50-100k/day is very welcome.

Maids

If you’re in a hotel and it’s not a cockroach-infested nightmare, thank your maids. These people are (usually) dedicated workers that are both invisible and necessary, and often friendly. 20k/day is a good way to indicate your appreciation and that the positive attitude continues.


 

These are my simple, personal guidelines to tipping in Vietnam. Return kindness and good service with a kindness that really means a lot.

The bottom line is that you are an ambassador for your nationality, and probably relatively wealthy (take a look at the cost of living if you don’t believe me). You don’t have to tip because you feel bad, but if you receive excellent service and still don’t tip, well, that’s sad. By tipping just a small bit, you can engender goodwill for yourself and your fellow countrypeople as well as making yourself feel really good – because you’ve done something really good for someone that almost certainly needs it.

In the end, tipping is it’s own reward. It might not be a lot of money for you (an average tip: 15k-30k = .75-1.50 USD) but it can make a difference in someone’s personal or family life.

Vietnamese will hustle for you, and they’re proud of the experiences you’ll have in their country. So go ahead… when you’re happy, make it rain!

If you’re looking for a few more mini tips for getting around Vietnam:

Do you have other personal tipping guidelines for Vietnam? Please leave them in the comments!