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Chinese New Year red packet rates in Singapore (2023): Everything you need to know

Chinese New Year red packet rates in Singapore (2023): Everything you need to know
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Is this Chinese New Year going to be your first time giving out ang baos (red packets) as a newlywed couple? You might have some questions. What are the market rates for giving ang baos? Must I give ang baos to my unmarried peers too? And what’s the difference between “Fit-for-Gifting” notes (Fit notes) versus new notes?

From dissecting the “ang bao hierarchy” to snagging free ang bao sleeves and ang bao-ready notes, here’s a 101 guide to red packet etiquette for rookies.

What is the CNY ang bao hierarchy?

Remember how as a kid, you would get the biggest ang baos from your parents? While that random auntie at a relative’s house gave you just $6 or so? Well, that was your first taste of the ang bao hierarchy. This time, you’re on the giving end.

Here’s how much you can expect to give different family members and friends, based on advice we got from “seasoned” ang bao-giving couples:

Generally, most people agree that your parents and in-laws should get the largest ang baos. This is rooted in Chinese values and culture.

Something to note is that peers don’t usually give ang baos to each other. It’s pretty uncommon and not expected of you. So if you meet unmarried ex-classmates at a CNY gathering, don’t feel pressured to extend a red packet.

As for giving an ang bao to your spouse…isn’t that kinda strange? But hey, we won’t judge. There’s no hard and fast rule on ang bao-giving. And if your spouse wants to give you an ang bao, just take lah.

How much should I give distantly related kids I don’t really know?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to ang baos for kids you don’t really know, but that you still need to give ang bao to.

The going rate was around $8 in 2015, based on a survey by UOB and an informal poll by Straits Times Life. We’d suggest giving at least $6 or $8, but do factor in your salary and financial needs. There’s no right or wrong, just what you want and can afford to give.

We suggest you prepare some generic ang baos with a standard amount of money. Be sure to carry these around throughout the CNY period, not just when you go visiting. Who knows, you might run into a colleague and her kids at a mall, or bump into an old friend and her family while running errands. If you have a stack of ang baos ready to go, you can just whip one out and avoid any awkward situations. All set!

Should I give more because of the GST hike and inflation?

The $8 going rate for ang baos in 2015 was up from $4 to $6 the previous year. Singaporeans cited reasons such as higher salaries, increased costs of living, and inflation as factors that encouraged them to dig deeper into their pockets. This year, with the GST hike on top of rising inflation, should you give even more?

We’d say, it all boils down to your individual financial situation. Did you recently get a raise? Maybe you’d like to be a bit more generous and top up those ang baos with an extra $2. Or did you recently buy a new car, renovate your house, and have a baby? Perhaps you should stick to the smaller amount you’re comfortable with.

At the end of the day, it’s a nice thing to do, but your relatives and friends probably aren’t going to feel offended if you don’t top up your ang baos this year. Everyone has their own financial needs, and family and friends would be the last people to judge you.

Which numbers are auspicious, and which should I avoid?

Avoid odd numbers like $5, $7, etc. These numbers are considered inauspicious, especially to seniors. 

Give even numbers more, except for number four. Score points among your aunties and uncles by giving numbers that end with 0, 2, 6, or 8 — especially 8! 

Although 4 is also an even number, it’s considered bad luck as the Chinese word for “4” sounds like the word for “death”. So, tempting as it is to give $4 — which seems an affordable amount for people you don’t know that well — it’s better to avoid this in case others take offence. 

Is there an age limit to receiving ang baos?

MYTH: Kids, teens and young adults get ang baos because they are young.
FACT: Kids, teens and young adults get ang baos because they are unmarried. Ang bao giving is not dependent on age, but correlates with the age range people start getting married.

That said, most of the unmarried people we surveyed believe that receiving ang baos in your late 30s becomes awkward. Many will meet such kind gestures with, “Wah, so old already—no need lah uncle/auntie!”, or use their powers of distraction to change the topic or make a quick exit. Some draw the line at an even earlier stage, when you start earning a living and are officially a working adult.

Ultimately, you should give ang baos based on your comfort level and according to your family practices. If you’re unsure, check with your parents or the elders in your extended family.

Should ang baos be opened in public?

No! While opening your Christmas presents in front of the gifters is perfectly acceptable in ang mo cultures, peeking inside your ang bao in front of the giver is a no-no in Chinese culture.

If you have kids, you’ll know that they tend to say and do the darndest things at the most unexpected moments (boy are they lucky they’re still cute). To avoid embarrassment, remind excitable little ones to say “thank you” after receiving ang baos. Then, keep them away and only let the kids open the ang baos back at home.

ALSO READ: CNY 2023: New and 'fit-for-gifting' notes available at selected ATMs from Jan 5

Where can I get free ang bao sleeves?

The easiest way to get free ang bao zua (paper) is to get some from your bank. Just drop by your nearest branch and ask if you can have some. If you have a relationship manager, they’ll usually help out too. 


You may have noticed it’s become a trend to give ang baos from prominent banks or luxury brands as subtle statements about your socioeconomic standing. If you ask us, don’t bother about these subtle “flexes” during your first few years of giving ang baos during Chinese New Year (or ever, actually). 

Aside from banks, many retail brands also make and give out their own unique ang baos for customers. So you might also get some from your neighbourhood petrol station or supermarket.

If you don’t mind spending a couple of bucks for nicer sleeves, you can consider ordering customised ones from online sites like Taobao, ezBuy, or Qoo10. Or, head to an old school shop in the heartland markets to take your pick from their designs.

Where can I pre-order new CNY notes?

Chinese New Year is all about the new. So while not necessary, many like to furnish their ang baos with shiny new notes.

…but maybe not that new. As part of efforts to go green and reduce waste, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is encouraging Singaporeans to use “Fit-for-Gifting” (“Fit”) notes and e-Ang Baos instead of new notes this Chinese New Year.

Fit notes are generally clean and suitable for recirculation and festive gifting. MAS will also stop issuing Good-as-New (GAN) $2 notes from this year onwards — so you might as well start getting used to Chinese New Year without them. 

Here are the banks you can pre-order new or Fit notes from. Do note that if you plan on getting new or Fit notes from DBS, OCBC or UOB, you have to make a pre-booking online. Walk-ins are only allowed for elderly persons aged 60 and above and persons with disabilities.

This Chinese New Year, you can also withdraw new or Fit notes from these pop-up ATMs:

Didn’t see your preferred bank above? Check out this list from MAS to see if you can exchange notes there. While you can walk in to most banks on the list, we suggest you check their website or call in to check stock levels first.

How about e-ang baos?

Lazy to queue for hours outside your neighbourhood POSB branch? Aiyah, just use e-Ang Bao this year lah. They’re convenient, fast and safe — so what’s not to love?

Check if your bank offers this service here:

Bank Add CNY message CNY design QR e-Ang Bao CNY e-Ang Bao Promo
Bank of China Yes No No No
Citibank Yes Yes No No
POSB/DBS Yes Yes Yes Yes
HSBC No Yes No No
Maybank Yes Yes No Yes
OCBC Yes Yes No No
Standard Chartered Yes Yes No No
UOB Yes Yes Yes Yes

Table: Adapted from The Association of Banks in Singapore

While e-Ang Baos do look and sound good theoretically, they haven’t really caught on with many Singaporeans, especially the older folks. Traditionalists frown on this trend since, after all, the act of giving ang baos symbolises good luck. To them, it’s a little strange to digitalise that. Plus, you won’t get the satisfaction of holding a pretty red packet with fresh, crisp notes within. 

However, “in China digital red packets are extremely popular,” Phil Pomford, General Manager for Global eCommerce, APAC, WorldPay from FIS points out. Apps like WeChat, Weibo, and Alipay are commonly used to exchange red packets.

Our take? Money is money. And ultimately, it’s the thought that counts.

ALSO READ: Chinese New Year 2023 takeaways: Lo Hei, pen cai and sweet treats to enjoy at home

This article was first published in MoneySmart.

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