What is a balikbayan box for Filipinos?
Balikbayan boxes contain more than just packs of chocolates, bottles of perfumes, new shoes, bedsheets, and fashionable apparels. Each box has the priceless sentimental value sent to the longing families here in the Philippines.
Since September 2015, there are 2.4 million OFWs around the world. They sacrifice being away from their families to support them financially. How many times have we heard of their heartbreaking stories? OFWs leave their loved once at the airport with uncontrollable tears. One of the few consolations is the joy of sending gifts through their balikbayan boxes.
Most of the balikbayan boxes came from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) followed by United Arab Emirates (UAE), Europe, the United States of America (USA), and Singapore.
President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged that OFWs' balikbayan box is “sacred”. These boxes are the expression of love and affection.
Every year, my family would receive a balikbayan box from my grandparents in the USA. The anticipation of seeing chocolates, toys, shoes, clothes, and long handwritten letters gave added colors to my childhood. Yes, they could have sent money for us to buy something we want, but the emotional attachment has created a special family bond.
It takes a few months to fill a balikbayan box. With artistry, they are able to pack items with little to no spaces in between. They never use bubble wraps at all. Blankets, socks, and undies are folded neatly to fit in every nook and secure everything in place. Then they use lots of packaging tapes to make sure it will arrive to its destination in one piece. Once the boxes are set, they will call the cargo company to pick it up.
However, there are still cases when balikbayan boxes are lost, damaged, and some items got stolen.
Balikbayan Box Complaints
In August 2016, more than 70 OFWs in New York complained that their families never received their balikbayan boxes. They waited for as long as 10 months but to no avail. This prompted them to file a complaint against the cargo company, RDR Cargo.
It was reported that the cargo company’s office was taken over by a new shipping company called Online Pinoy Padala. The owner of Online Pinoy Padala shared that the balikbayan boxes are held in the Philippines because the previous company did not pay the required taxes.
Commission on Filipinos Overseas shared the most common balikbayan box complaints that the Department of Trade and Industries (DTI) received:
Balikbayan Box Law
One of the reasons for delayed delivery is the failure of the forwarding cargo to pay due taxes. OFWs have paid the taxes before the shipping company takes the balikbayan box. However, uncredited forwarders do not pay these taxes to the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
The good thing is these issues can be lessened with the new Balikbayan Box Law. The old law exempts taxes for shipped boxes worth up to Php 10,000. With inflation over the years, lawmakers deemed that it needs revision.
The new law (R.A 10863) gives Filipinos the right to send balikbayan boxes tax-free. Every Filipino can send up to three boxes a year with accumulated worth of Php150,000 (about $3,500).
Additionally, a Filipino returning to the country after staying in a foreign country for ten years can take home the personal and household effects in tax- and duty-free balikbayan boxes. The value of the boxes should not exceed Php350,000. If you stay for at least five years, you can bring home balikbayan boxes worth Php250,000 tax-free.
How to Avoid Delayed Balikbayan Box Delivery?
Check Accredited Balikbayan Box Shipping Companies
Shipping companies handle your precious balikbayan boxes. It is important to check the list of Foreign Freight Forwarders and their accredited Philippine counterparts who will deliver the balikbayan box right at your family’s doorsteps.
Do not forget to check the list of blacklisted freight forwarders. It is best to ask your fellow OFWs about the cargo shipment services they use. You can also get firsthand feedback on how these companies handle their balikbayan boxes.
Know the Balikbayan Box Restrictions
Another reason for the delay is the possible restricted contents of the box. There are times when some OFWs get overly excited to send things. They do not realize that there are also a lot of items that they can’t send. Just one prohibited item present, and the whole box won’t be delivered.
- Alcoholic drinks
- Automobile (whole or in parts)
- Any item with animal fur (cat or dog) or hide
- Firearms or any explosives
- Unprescribed drug paraphernalia
- Meat, fruits, and vegetables not in a can
- Clothing of commercial quantity
- Pets, plants, seeds or soil
- Perishable food items
- Pornographic materials
Declare the Contents Properly
List all the items you have put inside the box and write the corresponding prices. There are times when the BOC holds the balikbayan boxes due to undervalued items. In fact, some OFWs abuse the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) by under-declaring packaged items.
Remember that the limit of tax-free shipment is only up to Php150,000 worth of balikbayan box contents. Moreover, don’t under-declare the contents of your package to avoid future troubles with BOC.
Keep the Proof of Payment
Secure all the shipping documents including the official receipt, invoice, House Bill of Lading, cargo receipt, and shippers’ declaration. Make sure that the shipping documents indicate the name and contact details of the consolidator’s Philippine counterpart.
Track Your Cargo
Ask the forwarding company on how you can track your box. At the same time, ask your consignee to check your cargo with the Philippine forwarder counterpart even before the expected date of arrival.
There is no arguing that the balikbayan boxes are priceless for us. It is already part of our cultural DNA Every OFW wants his or her presence to be felt despite the distance from their loved ones.
It just contains simple items people can now buy in the Imported Sections of groceries, but each balikbayan box is a story of longing, care, and love.