Your Complete Guide to Giving Lai See

Get ready for Chinese New Year with the HK HUB's ultimate guide to lai see etiquette.

22 Jan 2018 — By Catherine Stewart / Essential HK
Lai See packet

Will you be giving out red packets (lai see) this Chinese New Year? If you want to get involved but are not sure of the etiquette, let us tell you what you need to know

1. Carry plenty of lai see envelopes

Start giving on the first day of the Lunar New Year and finish on the 15th day. You should give your lai see the first time you meet with someone during that period. Carry around plenty of red envelopes split up into different amounts so you don’t get caught empty handed.

2. Go early to get your new notes

The lai see packets should be new (not last year’s), but the free ones that are handed out at banks and shops are fine to use. The notes inside should also be crisp new ones and not old crumpled ones dragged from the bottom of your wallet. You will see big queues outside banks in the final days before the holiday as people scramble to get their new notes. So get yours early to avoid the lines!

3. Know who to give to

By giving lai see you are wishing prosperity and good luck for the coming year, so consider who you want to thank and wish well. Another good guide when deciding who to give lai see to is to think of giving from big to small and senior to junior. Definitely don’t let your kids give out lai see to older people, this can be considered rude.

And, traditionally, married people give lai see to single people. But still, whether you’re single or married it’s a way to thank people for their work or service.

4. Plan how much to give

Cleaners, security guards, receptionists and concierges at your building will all be hoping to receive something from you. A small amount ($20-50) is fine. Any services that you regularly use, like your hairdresser or the staff at your local café, would welcome an envelope too. Remember numbers with a 4 in them are a definite no-no as the word “four” sounds like “death”.

At your workplace you should plan to give to junior staff in your team as well as your security guards, receptionists and cleaners. The amount you give at work is really going to depend on your seniority in the team. Ask a long-timer for some guidance but ultimately what you feel comfortable with is okay.

And we’ve never met a kid who’d turn down a red packet! If you’ll be having a gathering with friends over CNY holidays you might want to bring a bunch of red envelopes with $10 or $20 in them for the kids. Amongst expats it’s often fine to give a chocolate coin in an envelope to kids instead of dollars too.

Remember, if a local friend gives your child lai see it would be polite to give their child the same value of lai see in return.

5. Include your helper

You should definitely include your helper in all this generosity. If this is your first time dishing out the red packets then keep in mind that whatever you give now will set the precedent for future.

A lot of expat families might give a Christmas bonus and choose to give a token amount – say $200 – for CNY. Others split a 13th month between Christmas and Chinese New Year. Your helper might well talk to her friends about what everyone’s received so it might be worth asking around your friends to see what they will be doing.

Ultimately though each family should do what they are comfortable with, what they feel is warranted by their helper’s performance and what they can afford.

6. Gong Hey Fat Choy!

Remember to give and receive lai see with 2 hands and wish everyone “gong hey fat choy” (congratulations and prosperity).

Happy lai see giving and gong hey fat choy from us!


Need inspiration on how to spend the Chinese New Year holidays? We have some ideas here for you.

flower market at Victoria Park

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