Got questions about ang bao rates and etiquette? Here's how to navigate the red packet exchange during CNY.
If you’re on the receiving end, ang baos are definitely something you look forward to during Chinese New Year (in addition to all that snacking on pineapple tarts and shopping for killer cheongsams). But if you’re part of the giving gang, you might find yourself fretting over everything. After all, nobody wants to commit a faux pas. Superstition has it that cheery vibes during the festive season can give you good fortune throughout the year! Don’t worry: whether you’re a CNY newbie or a seasoned Singaporean wading into the red packet exchange from a whole new perspective, here’s a beginner’s guide to ang bao rates and etiquette.
All you need to know about ang bao rates and rules in Singapore
1. Who gives ang baos?
Red packets are traditionally given out by married couples. They can be given to parents, single adults and children. Some follow the practice of newlyweds getting a pass in their first year of marriage, but it depends on each family, so check with your elders.
2. Why do people give ang baos?
Red packet giving is a sign of goodwill and a symbol of good fortune. Just remember that it’s a kind, meaningful gesture and you really don’t need to strain your finances just to meet some target. Oh, and don’t immediately tear open your ang bao in front of everyone as it’s considered impolite to start counting cash in plain sight.
3. How much should you give?
There isn’t a strict rate to be followed; it usually depends on how close you are to that person. We’ve heard of people getting ang baos ranging from anything between $6 and $1,000. As a general guideline, your parents, in-laws and grandparents should receive the most as a sign of respect and gratitude (we’d say anything above $200 is a safe bet – depending on your financial situation, of course).
Siblings and your own children can receive about $50 to $200, while cousins, nieces and nephews can get $10 to $50 as a symbol of your love and well wishes for them. Oh, and be sure to pack a couple of extra $2 to $8 ang baos in case you meet friends and their little ones (or you forgot about that distant relative you only see once a year).
Just keep in mind that you don’t have to go OTT. It’s a symbolic gesture, so give whatever’s within your means. Still, there’s no stopping you from giving ang baos to anyone you like, including the security guard in your condo, your office cleaning auntie, your helper and the migrant worker who cleans your HDB block. Red packets for them can be anywhere from $8 to $50. Spread the love!
4. What’s the story with fours and eights?
Any figure with the number four is a no-no, as it’s traditionally associated with death and misfortune. So don’t be handing out $4, $14 or $44 red packets. Eight is perceived as a lucky number (it sounds like the Chinese way of saying “fa”, which symbolises wealth), so people like to gift ang baos with a denomination of eight ($8, $18, and so on). Also, try to give ang baos in even numbers as the Chinese believe it to be auspicious – there’s a traditional saying that says “good things come in pairs.”
5. Is it a deal-breaker if you don’t get fresh notes?
Well, it’d be nice if you could pop by the bank or certain ATMs and get some new notes. Banks are prepared to issue them every year, but go early to beat the queues (the snaking lines are no joking matter). In Chinese tradition, new things are always preferred, which is why you see everyone dressing up in new clothes and giving their spring-cleaned homes makeovers during the CNY season. It’s out with the old and in with the new!
6. Is Chinese New Year one huge ang bao swap?
Nah. The Lunar New Year is also about getting together with the fam-bam and loved ones. Think reunion dinners, lo hei lunches, family gatherings over steamboat and snacks, and watching feng shui masters reveal zodiac forecasts on the telly. But it always feels good to give and receive a red packet.
7. All that said, is there any way to escape the ang bao giving?
Well, you can go on a holiday during Lunar New Year… but people will remember you as the
cheapskate person who’s perpetually overseas only on CNY, and do you really want that rep?
8. Remember the final touches…
Give or receive red packets with both hands. And don’t forget those well wishes. A simple “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (Happy New Year) or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (wishing you an abundance of fortune) will work. But if you’re looking to impress, hit up Google for more well wishes you can use. They’ll come in handy during the yu sheng sessions, too.
With this handy guide to ang bao etiquette and rates, you’ll be ready for Chinese New Year 2022 in no time!