Paper Money

Hong Kong banks issuing ‘lai see’ notes for Lunar New Year

Three banks in Hong Kong are issuing new $20 and $50 notes in mid-January, with the issues intended as “lucky money” for the Lunar New Year celebrations.

Image from the South China Morning Post.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s three currency-issuing banks will introduce new $20 and $50 notes on Jan. 14, in time for people to exchange their old notes for new ones for the Lunar New Year celebrations Jan. 25. 

The timing is important because they will be used as “lai see,” meaning “good luck” money. As with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s annual lucky money issues in the United States, they are offered in red and gold envelopes, as these colors signify prosperity and good luck. They are usually given by grandparents, parents or married couples to children, siblings and unmarried young adults. The South China Morning Post estimates that at least $10 billion in Hong Kong dollars ($1.285 billion U.S.) of lai see is exchanged each New Year.

The designs of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China (Hong Kong) notes each offer a different variation of the same theme. 

For the $20 note, that is “yum cha,” or tea gatherings. The HKMA says these, with dim sum lunches accompanying the tea, are a favorite activity of locals.

Each of the $50 notes illustrates a different one of the 250 species of butterflies known in Hong Kong. The $50 note comprises 10.4 percent of the notes in circulation. 

The three banks have printed a combined total of 260 million of the $20 notes and 85 million of the $50 notes, as part of a new year lai see issue of 350 million notes in all denominations. With their issue, the 2018 series of five denominations is complete. 

The $1,000 note, showing Hong Kong as an international finance center was issued in December 2018. The $500 note, dedicated to the city’s natural beauty and the $100 note, featuring Cantonese opera, were introduced in February and September of last year. The HKMA decides on security features and the theme, but the three note-issuing banks devise their own designs. 

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