Tipping Etiquette in Ecuador

Tipping in Ecuador is a lot different than the United States where tipping is completely out of control. Businesses in most countries are required by law to pay their employees a living wage, and tips are not considered part of that equation.

This article explores the tipping etiquette in Ecuador, as well as the consequences of over-tipping and overpaying in Ecuador.

It also discusses why it’s important to blend in and adapt to the local customs and culture rather than trying to change them.

Tipping In Ecuador Is Not Required

Tipping Etiquette in EcuadorEcuador does not have a tipping or gratuity culture, so most Ecuadorians do NOT leave a tip at restaurants, at salons or with other service providers.

However, those who do tip generally leave $1 per person at restaurants, or 10% of the bill, whichever is larger.

It’s also appreciated if you give a 10% tip, or “propina” in Spanish, to other types of service providers like hair stylists, massage therapists, private drivers, etc., although it’s not expected.

It’s important that you DO NOT overtip because it can cause inflation and gringo favoritism, and drive up prices for everyone, including locals who may not be able to afford higher prices.

If expats continually overtip, or overpay in general, some service providers may price locals out of their business or they may decide to only work with expats. That can cause resentment among the locals and prevent them from getting the services they need at a price they can afford.

We felt uncomfortable about tipping less, or not at all, but this is normal in Ecuador and many other countries as well.

In fact, we recently had dinner at a restaurant with some Ecuadorian friends and when we left a 10% tip, they said it made them feel uncomfortable. They told us that the servers are paid to serve us so tipping is unnecessary. They also said they were afraid we thought they were cheap for not leaving a tip.

If you are from the United States, it may feel strange to tip less than the standard 20%, but rest assured it is socially acceptable to tip less or not at all in Ecuador.

Here’s an article on Primicias (an Ecuadorian news outlet) that has a map showing the tipping customs in Latin America.


Get the Ecuador Cost of Living & Moving Calculator

Enter your email address here to get our Live Abroad Newsletter with all sorts of timely information about living abroad, online income and retiring early.

You'll also get immediate access to our Ecuador Cost of Living & Moving Calculator, which will help you budget for your life in Ecuador.

PLUS, there are several other free perks in our Live Abroad Toolkit we think you'll enjoy!

Why You Should Not Overpay in Ecuador

We often talk about getting price gauged or “gringoed” in Ecuador, and the importance of negotiating a fair price rather than just accepting the opening offer.

This is more than friendly advice to prevent you from overpaying; it’s actually BAD to overpay for things in Ecuador.

Overpaying Causes Inflation

First, overpaying can cause inflation. For example, the going rate for a regular haircut is $5 to $10, depending on the style and cut.

I went to a barber shop back in Denver before I started shaving my head and they charged me $35 to give me a buzz cut! It took 5 minutes! After I left, I went across the street to Walgreens and bought a special head razor for $15 and started shaving my own head!

If you move to Ecuador and think $35 or more is a typical price for a haircut, you may feel like you’re taking advantage of Ecuadorian hair stylists by only paying $5 or $10, but that’s the going rate. If gringos always pay more, the barber might raise their prices for everyone, even locals.

It’s easy to see how overpaying could cause inflation for lots of things, especially services like haircuts, massages, private drivers, landscaping, housekeeping, etc. The more gringos overpay, the more Ecuadorians will start charging EVERYONE, or at least using the higher price as a starting point for negotiations.

As immigrants in a foreign country, our goal should be to blend in and adapt to the local customs and culture; not change them. Especially if they might cause financial hardship for the local citizens.

Overpaying Causes Gringo Preference

Let’s say you’re a taxi driver and you know that gringos always pay more than the going rate for your transportation services, either because they don’t know how to negotiate, they don’t speak Spanish well enough to negotiate, or they think your services are really cheap compared to their home country.

Now let’s say you’re driving down the road and see two different people with their hands up waving for you to stop. The first is an Ecuadorian and the second is a gringo (we’re usually very easy to tell apart from a distance).

Who do you stop to pick up? Do you stop for the local who will pay the going rate? Or do you drive past the local and stop for the gringo who will likely overpay or overtip?

As a driver, you would surely appreciate earning more income from the time you spend driving someone from point A to point B, but as a local who got passed up for a gringo, it could cause a lot of resentment. Especially if this happens often.

The last thing we want to do is cause resentment or lower the quality of life for local Ecuadorians.

It’s Not Racist. It’s the Free Market.

People have told us that price gouging is racist because some Ecuadorians overcharge simply because we’re white. This is a gross misrepresentation and misinterpretation of what’s happening.

Like many countries around the world, Ecuador has a culture of negotiation. It’s also a culture of relationships. Most vendors start high and expect to negotiate the price down. They also tend to charge less if they know you, and more if they think you’re wealthy.

As a foreigner, you may not be used to negotiating the price, and the vendors certainly won’t know who you are, at least at first. And as a gringo, they may think you’re wealthy since a lot of gringos overpay and flaunt their wealth (even if they don’t have any).

However, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a gringo or an Ecuadorian. It’s standard operating procedure for vendors to start by quoting a higher price than they’re willing to accept so they leave room for negotiation.

They aren’t being racist when you agree to overpay. The free market sets the price, the vendor sets the starting point, and it’s up to you to negotiate it down, and potentially walk away if you can’t agree.

How To Avoid Overpaying

The key to not overpaying for products or services in Ecuador, or any other country that has a culture of negotiation, is to negotiate the price BEFORE you take possession.

That means you need to ask how much the produce at the mercado costs BEFORE you pick it up and certainly before you say you want to buy it. Say, “Cuanto cuesta?” to get the price and offer less.

If you’re getting gringoed, they’ll come down on the price. If it’s the going rate, they won’t negotiate. If you don’t want to pay that much, go to another vendor.

When you need a ride and wave down a taxi, tell them where you’re going and ask how much it will cost BEFORE you get in the car. Most cities/areas in Ecuador have flat rates, while other areas use meters with minimum fares.

In Cuenca, the minimum fare is $1.50, but they use a meter to track the cost by mile + time over the minimum (make sure they turn on the meter when you get in or they’ll charge you $5).

In Manta, most fares are $2 and we rarely saw a meter. In Olón, the minimum fare is $1.50 to go local or one town away. The price goes up from there.

Ask around when you arrive so you’ll know what the local fares are. Then you’ll know if you need to negotiate.

We went into a neighborhood eye doctor and glass store recently. We knew that the typical rate for an eye exam is $25 so when they quoted $50, I said, “Ese es muy caro” (that’s very expensive) and we walked out.

That was blatant price gouging, but I knew what a fair price was and they lost my business. Maybe next time, they won’t quote twice the going rate for an eye exam.

Final Thoughts

You may feel uncomfortable at first when you start negotiating prices, but you’ll get used to it quickly. Just accept that it’s a cultural difference, and it’s normal and expected.



Get the FREE Live Abroad Checklist

Enter your email address to receive helpful and timely information about living abroad, slow travel, having more freedom, and living life on YOUR terms!

You'll also get immediate access to our FREE Live Abroad Toolkit, which we created to help jumpstart your dream of living in another country.

Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!

6 replies
  1. Ellen Zucker
    Ellen Zucker says:

    Good post, good information, but my experience with Cuenca taxis is quite a bit different. I am currently in Cuenca for a two-month exploratory visit and I have been taking taxis frequently. Most fares run at or below $2.00. If they run a little below, say $1.75, I’ll often round up to $2.00. I only had a couple as high as $3.00. Taxis use meters here.

    • JP Stonestreet
      JP Stonestreet says:

      Thanks for the info! That was a typo, which I corrected. The minimum fare in Cuenca is $1.50. I think the “meter is broken” and “forgetting” to turn on the meter issues have improved since we lived there. That used to happen to us way too often.

  2. Mike B
    Mike B says:

    To clarify, the minimum taxi fare is $1.50 in Cuenca. When raining or night time some the drivers expect at minimum $2.00.

  3. Kerry Plancon
    Kerry Plancon says:

    Hi JP – there’s a little mistake. The cost of a taxi in Cuenca – minimum is $1.50 but on weekends esp at night it’s $1.75. Not $2.50. Loved this article. I’m constantly explaining to friends why tipping is counter to the culture. You’ve articulated it to much better! I’m going to share your wisdom. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *