Balikbayan Boxes: Filipinos gifts back to their Homeland

November 25, 2021
Balikbayan Boxes

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) number more than 10.2 million and work in over 170 countries throughout the world. Despite the fact that they were thousands of kilometers apart, they maintained contact with their family back home. As a result, the balikbayan box became a tradition.

Balikbayan boxes are especially crucial as Christmas approaches. Why? Pinoys send boxes full of valuable things and, more importantly, affection to family and friends throughout the holiday season.

We paid a visit to a Filipino family in the United Kingdom, who told us more about the custom and showed us how they pack their balikbayan box.

What is a balikbayan box, and what does it contain?

Balikbayan boxes represent the Filipino diaspora and serve as a link between families separated by thousands of miles. Filipinos working abroad have traditionally meticulously packed and sent a box full of goodies to their families back home.

Balikbayan boxes are sent throughout the year to commemorate significant occasions, with a peak right before Christmas. Unlike traditional Christmas gifts, Balikbayan boxes contain daily household things like canned goods, candy, school supplies, clothing, and just about anything else.

Why are balikbayan boxes so popular among Filipinos?

Every year, the Philippines receives nearly seven million balikbayan boxes!

Each box is meticulously prepared in advance and contains goods chosen with care. It’s a means for Filipinos who live and work in other countries to return home – at least in their hearts. In Tagalog, balikbayan translates to return to the country.’

Our Filipino colleagues knew what the term “balikbayan box” meant to them.

“It’s not about the worth of the items in the box; what matters is that we feel cared for and thought about by our loved ones back home; it’s the thought that counts.”

When the family gathers to unpack their balikbayan box, there is a lot of joy. What surprises await you this year?

The shipment may come late, or the clothes inside may not fit properly. But there’s so much to savor, such as a taste of food from nations thousands of miles away that you’d never try otherwise.

The revised guidelines for returning a balikbayan box

Balikbayan boxes were once tax-free. They were also abused to dodge taxes because they were the cheapest route to export to the Philippines.

The government announced new laws on balikbayan boxes in August 2017, with the goal of preventing smuggling and ensuring that senders and recipients are eligible for tax-free status.

Filipinos must now fill out a document listing everything in the box and produce receipts for all valuables, according to the new requirements (like watches or electronics). A photocopy of the sender’s documents is also required. The new rules also limited who was allowed to send and receive the boxes.

However, the requirement that boxes containing personal items be randomly opened for examination sparked outrage among Filipinos around the world. The government abandoned this plan and now only inspects crates if an X-ray reveals something suspect.

Anyone can send a Balikbayan box to a loved one in the Philippines these days. But you have to follow specific regulations to ensure that it’s genuinely tax free.

Who can send a balikbayan box that is tax-free?

The new rules also limited who was allowed to send and receive the boxes.

  • Overseas Filipino Workers Who Are Qualified (OFW)
  • Dual-citizenship Filipinos residing overseas
  • Filipinos on a tourist visa (such as students or temporary workers)

Who is eligible to get a balikbayan box?

Sending a box to someone who isn’t related to the sender, such as a lover, will result in it losing its tax-free status.

What is the maximum amount you can send?

Every year, eligible Overseas Filipino Workers can send up to three balikbayan boxes. The overall value of the items in the shipments should not exceed 150,000 PHP, which is around $2,918 or £2,210 in today’s money.

Duty and importation tax would be waived for Balikbayan boxes with a value of less than PHP 10,000.

What should you put in your balikbayan box?

You can put pretty much anything in your box as long as it doesn’t contain anything on the restricted items list. You are not permitted to deliver things in commercial quantities.

The government assures that balikbayan boxes are only used for personal use and not for resale in this way. According to Philippine Customs, the following items are prohibited from being sent:

  • Alcohol
  • Parts for cars or motorcycles
  • Tableware made of ceramic
  • Pottery and cultural artefacts
  • Military relics
  • Dog and cat fur are examples of animal skin.
  • Except for approved treatments, drugs or drug paraphernalia are prohibited.
  • Weapons and explosives, or parts of them
  • Unless they’re canned, don’t eat cheese, meat, fruit, or veggies.
  • foods that are perishable
  • Whether it’s pets, plants, seeds, or soil, there’s something for everyone.
  • Used clothing in commercial quantities
  • Pornography
  • Fluids

Where can I get a balikbayan box?

The empty flat-pack boxes are purchased from a shipping agent, and OFWs can fill them with everything they want to bring home to loved ones for a single cost.

They range in size from modest (about. 54 x 41 x 37 cm) to extra-large shipping boxes, depending on your budget and preferences (approx. 80 x 53 x 57 cm).

The majority of shipping firms to the Philippines have no restrictions on the weight of balikbayan boxes. Some of them suggest not exceeding 70 kilograms, depending on the size of the box.

Documents that are required

  • A scanned copy of a Philippine passport
  • An Oath of Allegiance copy (if dual citizen without a Philippine passport)
  • The BOC’s information sheet (declaration list)
  • If available, a receipt for the expensive items.

The economic impact of balikbayan boxes and remittances in the Philippines

Overseas Filipino workers have long helped the Filipino economy by sending money home to their families and friends. In 1987, balikbayan boxes were granted duty and tax-free status as a reward for their efforts.

We also assist Filipinos living and working overseas with the process of sending money to their loved ones using Optimum Exchange Remit Inc. They can money transfer as easily as sending an instant message through a nearby site’s location.

We provide the Philippines with a variety of services, including:

Cash can be picked up from M’Lhuillier, Cebuana, Metrobank, BDO, LBC, PS Bank, Palawan Pawnshop, and  Optimum Exchange Remit INC.

All Filipino bank accounts are eligible for a bank transfer.

So, no matter where you are in the world, we’re working hard to transfer your hard-earned money to your loved ones in the Philippines faster, safer, and for less money than traditional brick-and-mortar agents.