Learn all the dos and don’ts when it comes to receiving red pockets or lai see, during Chinese New Year with our etiquette guide
It’s that time of the year again, where splashes of red and gold seem to adorn every street in Hong Kong in preparation for Chinese New Year. It’s time to check if you have everything prepared—from flowers to puddings to qipaos––and of course, red packets (or lai see).
To some, giving and receiving lai see may be second nature, but to others, especially those new or unfamiliar with Chinese culture, it might be unfamiliar as there is a certain lai see code of conduct that should be respected.
To help you avoid any social faux-pas, we have put together a quick do’s and don’ts list to ensure that you breeze through Chinese New Year gaffe-free.
1. Use two hands
Do not give or receive lai see with just one hand as this may be considered rude.
Do hold the red envelope with two hands when giving and receiving.
Do exchange greetings when handing out lai see. The most common being “kung hei fat choi” to wish for a prosperous new year or “sun tai king hong” to wish for good health.
2. The big to small rule
Do not let your children give lai see to anyone.
Do follow the big to small or senior to junior rule.
In general, lai see is given by those older and received by those younger. Parents give it to their children and then married couples to the younger and single relatives as well as grandparents to their grandchildren. Bosses can sometimes also give their employees.
3. Be mindful of the amount
Do not give multiple notes in one packet.
Do give either a single bill or two packets with one bill each.
Do not give increments of four or odd numbers which can be considered unlucky numbers.
Do keep the amount to even numbers. However, the number 4 is considered an unlucky number as it sounds like the Chinese word for “death”.
Lai see amounts will vary depending on how well you are acquainted with the receiver so staying organised will make it easy for you to know exactly how much you are giving. These are the recommended amounts:
- HK$20 for someone you see regularly but don’t know well such as the security guard of your building
- HK$40 for someone you know a little well such as your friend’s children or neighbour
- HK$100 for someone you know and care about
- HK$500 is usually given when you want to make a statement or for birthdays or weddings
4. Keep it clean and organised
Do not give coins or crumpled up notes.
Do give a crisp bill fresh from the bank. We suggest going to the bank a few days early to avoid last-minute queues.
Do not check the amount in front of the receiver before giving it to the other person.
Do have the different denominations housed in differently designed packets.
5. Be respectful
Do not open or peek at your lai see in front of the person giving it to you.
Do wait until he or she leaves to open your packet. Opening it in front of them will make you seem too eager to see how much you received.
Do not give your lai see after Chinese New Year celebrations. It’s better to be on time.
Do start giving lai see on the first day of the Lunar New Year and finish on the 15th day. This 15-day grace period is only when lai see is given, not before or after.
While most of the lai see you find will be red, the most auspicious colour, feel free to have fun with the more colourful envelopes and designs available.
This article was published on February 1, 2019 and was updated on January 16, 2023.