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I thought there was a universal “splitting the bill” etiquette before I started travelling.

IN CANADA, THINGS are no fuss: if you’re out with friends, you ask the waiter/waitress for separate bills, and it’s never a problem.

But my first time in New York City, I joined some friends for a meal because I wanted to socialize. I had already eaten that day, and money was tight. I ordered some fries for the sake of not being lame, but when the bill came, I found myself having to pay an equal share of the total bill. I didn’t wanna be one of those people to point out the unfairness. I’d rather just write a passive aggressive article about it.

Turns out that many countries have their own way of splitting of bill, and while we can’t include them all, here’s a guide.

In the comments, kindly add the splitting the bill etiquette for countries not listed.

AUSTRALIA: The venue doesn’t usually offer to split the bill for you; instead, it’s just shared equally among the group regardless of what meal you ordered. Oftentimes, someone with a higher salary will foot a larger portion of the bill, and this is generally accepted by everyone. - Annie Bettis

CANADA: Usually guests pay exactly for what they ordered with separate bills.

CHINA: Many younger people will split the bill, but older folks consider it an honour to pay for the bill and will often compete for the right to do so. Readily allowing someone else to do it may be considered a social blunder. - Michael Tieso

COLOMBIA: Jeff Jung says: “You have to be a little careful about going out with a group. If I invite you to go out, it is assumed that I will pay. When I first came to Colombia, I got caught a couple of times with the bill unexpectedly. So, now when I want to go out with friends, I’m a little more vague about what the plans will be.”

COSTA RICA: Separate bills are not a problem, but if everyone is paying with cards, it’s usually split evenly. One person paying with a card is also common. - Abby Tegnelia

EGYPT: People tend to pay for what they’ve had rather than chop the bill equally, but it depends on the group eating. And if you invite someone for dinner you may intend to pay for the whole thing. Especially if, for example, you haven’t seen the person for some time. “I’ve noticed that if I eat with Egyptians – especially those that I don’t see often or who aren’t close friends of mine – they are more likely to try to pay for me, and I’ve had arguments over who is going to take care of the bill!” – Matador Abroad editor, Nick Rowlands

GERMANY: Patrons pool the money by paying for their share and adding a tip, and then giving the waiter the full amount. - Yvonne Zagermann

GUATEMALA: “As a general rule, it’s either split, or someone steps in and pays the bill. If you invite someone out though, especially if you say “I invite you” it means that it’s good to pay. Amongst poorer Guatemalans (maybe 80%), the person who invites will generally pay because it would be rude to assume that the person you are inviting out has money to pay.” - Luke Armstrong

ICELAND: My friend Gylfi says you pay for what you ordered only.

INDIA: The most traditional way of splitting the bill is having the eldest male member pay for it. With younger generations, however, it’s not more common to split the bill evenly. If it’s a meeting between people from the bride’s side and groom’s side of an engaged couple, the men from the bride’s side will pay the bill. - Abhijit Gupta

IRAN: My good friend Masoud says splitting the tab depends on if you’re dining with family or friends. With family, the father pays for everything; with friends, it’s generally known beforehand who’s buying. If it’s for a special occasion (i.e. a graduation or birthday), the guest of honour must pay. On a date, the man always pays.

In a more casual situation with two or three friends, one person will pay the whole bill but it is expected that their meal will be covered next time by one of the other parties. Figuring out who pays first is a manner of Iranian culture known as Taarof, asking three times for everything. This is a matter of respect.

IRELAND: Ireland is popular for its bill one-upmanship. Anne Merrit, who has family there, says: “There’s lots of arguing and grabbing that toes the line between good-natured and ruthless. It’s really awkward to witness as an outsider. My grandfather goes as far as slipping the waiter his credit card before the meal has even begun in order to nip an argument in the bud.”

ISRAEL: If an Israeli or Palestinian says they want to pay for the meal, let them. There’s a certain honesty here when it comes to paying the bill: “Surprisingly, even when I say I will pay when I am having a meal with a male friend, tour guide, etc., my offer is accepted without argument.” - Sabina Lohr

ITALY: The bill is split equally, or people pay for what they ordered. When dining with relatives, the oldest usually pays. However, when it’s somebody’s birthday, the birthday boy/girl usually pays. – Doriana Briguglio & - Robin Locker Lacey

LEBANON: According to Dan Nabahedian, you do NOT split the tab at a restaurant… you fight to the death for the right to pay up (while wistfully thinking that the “opponent” is going to pay it all). Dan says, “You should always appear horrified, start making wide gestures while shouting, ‘No way! I can’t let you pay! It’s my turn now!’” He adds that you should be willing to jump over the table, trying to grab the bill before everyone else.

You can also try the ol’ bathroom trick: either you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and discreetly pay without anyone noticing, or you head the bathroom just before you think the bill is going to arrive and then appear all surprised when you discover someone paid for it while you were gone.

MEXICO: When someone invites somebody else to dinner, the inviter usually ends up paying.

NEW ZEALAND: According to a Twitter friend, if dining with a group, usually everyone pays their way rather than just splitting the bill evenly.

NORWAY: My friend Melissa who studied in Norway for two years says everyone pays for exactly what they ordered.

PHILIPPINES: It’s common for younger people to split bills, but older adults may compete for the honour of paying the bill despite protest from the guests (and the guests are expected to protest). BUT this is usually declared before hand, and if a guest orders a super-expensive item, it can be considered rude.

If it’s a family dining together, the parents or most senior person will pay the bill (which typically is the person earning the largest income in the family). However, if it’s a special occasion like a birthday, the birthday boy or girl usually pays the bill. - Josh Aggars

SCOTLAND: If you’re inviting someone out to dinner and you don’t know them well, you offer to pay the bill. On more casual occasions, the bill is split. - Keith Savage

SENEGAL: In modern settings, such as a nice restaurant in Dakar, the person who has extended the invitation typically pays the bill. This is flexible, though; in a group of friends, it’s not uncommon for everyone to pitch in. In a business-meeting type of setting, the inviter usually pays. - Rachel Cullen

SOUTH AFRICA: A friend in Johannesburg says you pay for what you ordered. In some rural areas and townships, however, it’s often customary for the whole table to chip in and buy a whole bottle of liquor rather than single drinks.

SOUTH KOREA: In Korea, people never split the tab: the oldest person pays, no matter how many people are out to dinner or how much booze was consumed. Whenever foreigners go out to eat, the waiter will get impatient with all the calculations. “When I go out with a mixed crowd of Koreans and foreigners, the Koreans will usually take charge of the bill and collect money discreetly.” - Anne Merritt

SPAIN: In Spain, paying the bill largely depends on region and occasion. If the person who invited you to dinner insists on paying, don’t argue with them…it will appear rude. In other places, however, numbers are rounded so everyone pays the same price.

SWEDEN: Everyone pays their own share. Some restaurants even let you pay upfront before ordering your meal. - Lola Akinmade

SYRIA: Most of the same principles apply as in Lebanon.

THAILAND: Many restaurants will ask beforehand who’s paying together and who’s paying separately. But if you’re invited out to a meal, never offer to split the bill – the host will pay. – Dan Nahabedian

USA: The bill is usually split evenly, and nickel and diming can even be considered tacky. However, it’s not uncommon to simply pay for what you ordered, but getting separate bills can be considered a pain.

VIETNAM: When eating at a restaurant with other people, it’s considered prestigious to pay for the meal. Preventing someone else from paying if they’ve made the offer first is considered rude, and it doesn’t matter when the offer was made. However, if you’re the one who extended the invitation, it’s expected that you foot the costs.

About The Author

Candice Walsh

Candice Walsh is a Professional Experience Collector and full-time writer, blogger, and inventor of job titles that don't make much sense. She's based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Follow her website for more shenanigans.

  • jen

    when i was in germany my experience was different… the waiter/waitress came to the table with a wallet and each person paid their own part directly to the waiter, including tip. 

    • RR

      Jen, it is exactly like that. I have never seen the way described in here! Germans will always argue that it is much better for the waiter as he will get one tip from each person!  The same happens in Switzerland; however, it is more common to split the bill in equal parts!

  • Michelle

    Your friends in NYC who made you pay equal share were rude.  Typically people will point out that someone ordered very little and should thus be excluded from the equal split arrangement. 

  • Vicyulia

    In Russia it depends on the purpose of the meeting….usually is paying the person who invites and needs something from you – classical business case. But if it’s just a ‘friendly’ meeting – everyone is paying only his part…. And, unfortunately, very rerely people giving tips:(

  • Davebrettuk

    In Singapore you normally pay for a dish in advance from a hawker market then bring it to the table so then everyone can try something different like tapas. The more people the larger the meal. This is normally amongst friends. With family the oldest normally offers to pay.

  • http://idrinkmyteasweet.com Abhijit Gupta

    To add to the India bit, it’s a bit similar to China – as there is often competition for who pays the bills. A friendly competition of course. :)

    • Afd_rulez

      In Saudi, too, we race towards paying the bill. Sometimes it gets rough sometimes, and the one who pays appears as the winner, but we’re all happy at the end. And sometimes the person who didn’t pay places a challenge by saying,”I’ll pay next time”, the first person would partially agree, but not in his intentions..
      But sometimes we use the american way, and everyone would pay a share,, depending on the situation..

  • rtsanchez42

    TEXAS (might as well be another country) Pay your way. Unless you offer to share and pay for an item e.g. Nachos (excellent share food.) 

    I’ve never experienced the expectation that you “share the bill” until I came to Washington D.C. It seems more responsible to pay for what you ordered and choose when to be social. It prevents free loaders and is a direct way of communicating. No awkward passive aggressiveness. 

  • Zach

    I’m an American and have never split the entire bill equally.  People always pay for what they ate.  Generally the waitstaff asks before bringing out the receipts if it should be on one check or separate, and I’ve never heard of one complain for ringing up separate checks (not that they have much of a right to with the 20% tip they’re receiving!).  Don’t know if New York is different, though.

  • Jelena86

    I was working as a waitress here in Serbia and also in USA…in my opinion it is really strange that something like that happened…when i was working in USA for me it was really strange that people,friends,family when they are drinking or eating at the end splliting the check…but it is like that there…and if someone ask me to spllit the check of course i was always putting on their check things that that person had… In Serbia usually when waiter brings check there is almost fight every time,because if u invite someone to go with u to drink coffee or to it eat is 99% that u will pay…it is not that people here have money,it is not even close it ‘s  just culture. But if u want to pay separately,waiter usually brings one check so everyone can see how much their drink or food costs and they know how much to give…(i need to say also that people here in Serbia are paying in cache),so it is easier.Also in USA i was having breakfast with my three American friends(i love them so much) and we ask for check and when waiter brought i took it and i paid everything,they couldn’t believe…i was so happy to be with them so it was an honor for me to pay…because i used like that…

  • Katwidomski

    As an Australian, we don’t do it that way. Definitely more like Germany, waiter brings one bill, everyone pools their money, paying for what they ordered.

  • Franco Mendes

    In Brazil we do the same way as Americans. Usually people would split the check evenly among everyone. However, if there are very large discrepancies on what people ordered, then, in such situation, each one would only pay for what they ordered, even tough it is always a pain in the neck because waiter gets confused with tipping and everything… 

  • http://www.delectablychic.com/ CynthiaC.M.

    To add to the China thing:  There and in Chinese communities abroad, the birthday boy/girl is the one who pays for dinner (in older generations (including boomers – my mom kind of gets splitting, but even when I was in my early 20s, she’d be like “it’s your birthday, why not treat your friends at the bar tonight?  I was like ummmmm, I’m the b-day girl?  People should be paying for me??), anyway).  

  • Thomas

    Don’t quite agree with the description of the German way: More often than pooling the money, Germans would ask for seperate bills. Something which is never a problem, but in some places can take an awfully long time with the waiter going round the table, asking each and every one what they are paying for, doing the calculation at the table and collecting the money straightaway. (Usually there is no bringing the bill and coming back later when the guest is ready to pay.)

  • Abigail Dax Toner

    I disagree with the US comment. Everyone usually pays what they ordered – getting separate checks is easy these days especially with credit cards etc. But you don’t study the bill – you remember and you round up to include tip. One someone’s birthday (or special occasion) the entire group covers for the guest of honor. The only time you may split is if you go to something like dim sum or where you’re sharing equally in a family style eating setting.

    • jen

      i agree with abigail. in the u.s. you pay for what you ordered except for things like birthdays.

      • AngieB

        Maybe my experience is different or perhaps it is regional, but my friends and I almost always just split the bill evenly. I found the US information to be pretty accurate. However, we would never make someone who had just ordered fries or a drink pay an equal share. We would just cover the cost of their portion. I think the only time I paid for exactly what I ordered was in college, so if that is the age group you are going out with, than I would prepare to split the bill that way. 

  • Alexis

    In Belgium people usually pay each for what they ordered. Some places don’t ask if the bill needs to be seperated for each person, which means the full amount has to be paid in once and not seperately (pretty annoying!)

  • greenphoebe

    Your NYC experience was on a “Friends” episode!

  • Leilations

    As as a college student in NYC, I always make sure my friends and I pay only for what we ordered. It’s only fair.

  • Sham

    In Jordan, when dining with common-aged friends, we usually spilt the bill, call it “Going American” and laugh

  • Juliet

    Americans don’t always split it evenly. My friends and I usually pass the bill around so everyone can figure out how much they owe and put their money in. It’s rude to split the bill evenly if different people’s orders are significantly different prices. If you’re invited by someone’s parent or someone you work for, they usually pay.

  • Elaine

    I’m from Scotland and find it depends who you’re with – when there are adults over 40 in the group, who like a few wines on the tables, and are all either in good paying jobs or retired on a nice pension, some are quite happy to split the bill equally, and it’s created an awkward exchange when I had one soft drink.  When it’s a younger crowd it’s usually you pay for what you order but round it up and add £1 or so for a tip, as most of us are students or aren’t on a great wage.

  • Lorelei

    I’m from the States and we pay only for what we ordered. Separate bills are never a problem and it’s very common to pay with cards. There’s a lot more to the U.S. than New York City.

  • http://twitter.com/onceatraveler Turner Wright

    It’s pretty common in Japan, too – they split the bill based on what you order. Bettsu bettsu.

  • Omifb

    so true about the Lebanese!

  • Asiansm Dan

    In Canada, it suppose that all bills are by default separated unless you state that you want to  pay the whole bill. Even with a large group, you can state which bill you will pay if you intend some of the bills at your discretion. When people are invited, they expect to pay to their own bill unless you express you want to pay their bills. It’s fair and it won’t create bad surprise.

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  • AM

    FINLAND is a fair country – almost always separate bills for everyone. They can even split a shared wine bottle on two or more bills in many places. In bars you can take turns in buying rounds, or just get your own drinks. Sometimes someone gets shots for everyone, but that favor doesn’t necessarily need to be returned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/0rangeorchid Amanda Patterson

    I’m from the US, and when I go out to eat my friends and I always pay for what we individually ordered.

  • Lolli Bollin

    Maldives – no general rule of splitting the bill. Sometimes when you go out with your regular friends (let’s say around 3-4 max) with whom you meet every now and then, one of them will pay for the group by insisting to take the entire bill even though the rest try to put money. How it ends normally is by agreeing that for the next outing, the person who paid will not put any money. Other times, if the group is big then everyone will put money to pay the full bill, but not in any particular order…

  • http://tmvolunteers.org/ Anders

    Among Thai people the oldest will take care of the bill and it is a little insulting to ask to split the bill or offer to pay for it.
    Expats in Thailand have separate bills, though sometimes we go “Dutch” and split it between us.

  • Afd_rulez

    Where is saudi Arabia in all this?? :)

  • http://www.justdorkin.com/ Justdorkin

    I think the USA changes from place to place and who you are with.  if you are with family then the family head will pay.  I also have never had a problem splitting a check in the west to be only what you ordered but it is a judgement call if it is necessary or if it is fine to pay evenly.

  • http://twitter.com/AnimationMerc Ryan Duffin

    Most of these don’t line up with my experience of living in some of these countries. In Sweden you typically pay in advance for lunch (like how we buy fast food) but a sit-down dinner works like other places.  In Germany, they bring separate checks without asking (even if it’s just a guy and a girl at the table) and you pay individually at the table without them ever having to run off with your credit card (as someone below described), and in the US people will often break out calculators before they’ll even think to just split it down the middle (disclaimer: I’m American and we’re the worst at nickel and diming the bill, even with the hidden 25% tax/tip markup).  This is how it’s done at least on the west coast and in Texas. 

    The way the US is described is how most of Western and Northern Europe seems to do it, splitting equally unless there is a major and obvious difference (like if you didn’t drink a drop or you just had a salad or fries).  Which is especially funny because tip is not an obligatory percentage and tax is included so the math of paying for what you ordered would be a lot easier than in the US.

    FWIW The German way (the actual German way, ;) )is the best.

  • Brian James

    MALTA – When a social circle organises a dinner it is custom that the bill is split equally irrespective of what you eat. If you are a non-alcohol consumer you might end up paying a hefty bill because others ordered several bottles of wine, which is very unfair. There is also a culture that bummers try to eat the most expensive item on the menu, then declare that they need to leave early before the bill comes, and leave some cash. The cash is usually much less than what they have actually eaten! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/wonganator85 Jesse Wong

    I agree that your friends in NYC were rude. I only split evenly when it actually is relatively even. Yes, nickel and diming is considered tacky, but only when the difference is minimal. If people’s orders were significantly different, it is common to pass the check around and put in what you owe. You can usually even write the amount on the back of check that each person wants to charge to their card.

    Still, grouping the entire USA with NYC is wrong. In much of the US outside of NYC, it is very common for the server to ask from the start if separate bills are needed, never a problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wonganator85 Jesse Wong

    I agree that your friends in NYC were rude. I only split evenly when it actually is relatively even. Yes, nickel and diming is considered tacky, but only when the difference is minimal. If people’s orders were significantly different, it is common to pass the check around and put in what you owe. You can usually even write the amount on the back of check that each person wants to charge to their card.

    Still, grouping the entire USA with NYC is wrong. In much of the US outside of NYC, it is very common for the server to ask from the start if separate bills are needed, never a problem.

  • Anonymous

    In Bulgaria, in a friendly gathering, the bill is paid by the person who issued the invitation for the gathering. If it’s a birthday party, usually the birthday person invites the guests and he/she pays the bill. In some cases, when there’s no special reason for the gathering, people may offer to chip in.

  • Prashansa Taneja

    “If it’s a meeting between people from the bride’s side and groom’s side of an engaged couple, the men from the bride’s side will pay the bill.”

    This is SO sexist and orthodox. Why should only the bride’s side pay? I’m an Indian woman and would never accept anything of the sort. The bride and the groom should split the bill.

  • Phill Beames

    In Australia you usually pay for what you ordered. Although sometimes one person will cover the whole bill

  • Ronny Wolf

    normally you split the bill in germany and pay what you ordered. money pooling only sometimes. maybee to save tip

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