Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

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In North America and much of Europe, tipping baggage handlers is pretty straightforward. One to two (US) dollars per bag is the standard at this time. But when your final destination is in a developing country, baggage handling can take on a life of its own. Greg and I were reminded of that once again when we landed at the Belize International Airport in Belize City. Here are some tips on tipping baggage handlers in developing countries.

tipping baggage handlers in developing countries

You can avoid the stress and anguish of tipping baggage handlers in developing countries by being prepared with lots of small denominations of the local currency. Image credit: Mattes – Public Domain (Wikimedia)

Tipping Baggage Handlers – Dilemma in Developing Countries

The dilemma of tipping baggage handlers in developing countries is that the whole arrival systems at airports tend – at least in my experience – to be less regulated. When Greg and I recently cleared Customs in Belize we had five different people handle our luggage before the taxi trunk was closed. Then, by the time we landed at the ferry dock in Caye Caulker, four more people had handled it in some way. Everyone seems to want their fair share of the tourist dollar, so instead of one person handling it from start to finish, there seems to be more of a baggage-handling-relay in place. We’ve seen this in Nicaragua, Honduras and Jamaica as well.

Tip #1 for Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

Don’t insist on handling your bags yourself. The baggage handlers will argue with you, and they do not give up. This is probably their only means of making a living, and to deny them that is insulting and condescending.

Tip #2 for Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

Keep your eyes on your bags the entire time, and count them each time they change hands. Greg and I learned this lesson the hard way. On this last trip to Belize, we ended up one bag short. Luckily, my gut told me we were missing one, and I asked our Taxi driver to pull over to do a check. Sure enough, we were one short and had to go back to the airport to find the missing bag.

tipping baggage handlers in developing countries

Be sure to keep your eye on your baggage at all times, especially when it changes from one person/place to the next. Image credit: Bill Weiss (Wikimedia)

Tip #3 for Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

Be mindful of how far your bags have been taken before there is a transfer. For instance, one of our recent baggage handlers simply rolled our loaded luggage cart from the Customs area through a set of double doors and then reloaded them onto another cart. And this guy pointed to a sign telling us that the porter fees were $2 (BZE) per bag. The problem was, he was the second person to assist us, and we still had three more to go. We weren’t mindful enough at the time to insist that he continue serving us until the bags were safely in our taxi, but next time we will be.

Tip #4 for Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

Be prepared with lots of small denominations of the local currency. In Nicaragua it was well past dark when we finally finished all the paperwork for our rental car. We were about the last passengers left when we made our way out to the curb. We were immediately assisted by three baggage handlers (or maybe they were just residents hanging out, hoping for a tip). One by one, more men showed up until there were at least ten – maybe more. When it came time to tip, we didn’t have enough dollar bills for everyone and let me tell you … THAT was not a pleasant scene.

Tip #5 for Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

The bottom line is, if you are prepared for this it won’t stress you out nearly as much as it would otherwise. Do some research up front on the specific country you’re visiting and take note of what an average day’s wage is. For instance, the poorest citizens of Nicaragua live on about $1.25 per day. If we had been prepared with smaller currency, we could have tipped each of the men 25 Cordobas (about US $0.83) and everyone would have been happy.

Have you had any similar experiences tipping baggage handlers in developing countries? If so, please let us know in the comments below.





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6 thoughts on “Tipping Baggage Handlers in Developing Countries

  1. Carol

    Respectfully disagree that anyone owes it to the local baggage handlers to use them if they don’t want to or to pay as many of them as happen to show up with hands out. If they get aggressive, angry, or insistent, that’s all the more reason to keep them away. I do appreciate the advice to talk to the first one and make sure he or she is going to take the bag all the way to where you need it to go, though. I would rather pay an extra tip to one person doing a good job and keeping others at bay and away from my bags than to be guilted into dealing with people I don’t want to deal with or situations that make me uncomfortable.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Carol – I definitely see where you’re coming from. In my experience, doing what you suggest is far, far more stressful for me. And when I’m in a country where so many people live in unimaginable poverty, I don’t have the heart to turn them away. I realize that I may be just adding to the problem, but that’s my choice. Plus – Americans are viewed in a negative light in many countries. I do not want to feed that perception by refusing to let someone handle my bags for me. But again – I understand your reasoning, and if I am in the US or any other modern country, I completely agree.

  2. Debi Batey

    Very informative!! Thank you for sharing, I had no idea. When I arrived in Aruba I would have gladly paid for some help!!!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Come to think of it, I don’t recall being offered help in Aruba either. I didn’t have a whole lot of luggage when I went there, though, so I was able to handle it on my own.

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