What is the Balikbayan Box Phenomenon?

With today’s order-online approach to gift-giving, you can send a gift to someone without ever seeing the product itself. It can seem a bit impersonal.

Not so with the tradition of the balikbayan box. In Tagalog, one of the main languages of the Philippines, “balikbayan” means returning to one’s country. For millions of Filipinos living and working around the world, shipping a balikbayan box to family back home is a way of returning there in spirit.


What is a balikbayan box?

It’s a large, easy-to-assemble and sturdy cardboard box filled with all sorts of items destined for loved ones back in the Philippines. Typically, Filipino immigrants send cash, household goods such as toothpaste, tea bags, magazines, toiletries, candy, toys, used clothes, and special-request gifts. Over the years, balikbayan box shipping by cargo to the Philippines has become a cottage industry estimated to generate $5 billion in the U.S. alone.

The history of the balikbayan box

It started in the 1970s with the success of a national campaign in the Philippines encouraging people to seek jobs in other countries. This campaign was a way to boost the home economy. To encourage Filipinos living abroad to help poor rural relatives living in the Philippines, President Ferdinand Marcos championed legislation that allowed the millions of Filipinos working overseas to send personal goods tax-free into the country.

The tax-free entry of goods started the modern custom, but balikbayan box history is rooted in the Filipino custom of “pasalubong.” For generations, Filipinos have been bringing gifts home when returning from a trip. Pasalubong evolved to include sending a variety of items by cargo to family and friends back in the Philippines. It became a way to share with loved ones, even if you couldn’t be there in person.

In truth, the balikbayan box is filled with a longing for home and loved ones. It is a physical expression of the connection between the new world and the homeland, a way of giving and sharing.

At Approved Freight, the balikbayan tradition holds special meaning for us. We see it as another form of ‘Ohana, or a sense of family that extends to our co-workers, partners, and customers. That’s why we take care in making sure your shipments are handled properly, arrive on time, and are promptly delivered to their destination.

Shipping your balikbayan box – new laws

Even as balikbayan box shipping is in high gear for the holidays, a new set of rules for the boxes has shippers concerned. On August 1, 2017,  The Philippines Customs Administrative Order updated many of the provisions of the old balikbayan box law. Under the old law, balikbayan boxes could be shipped for a fixed flat rate, regardless of the weight of the contents. This made balikbayan box shipping very affordable.

The updated regulations state that senders must detail the contents of their packages. Additionally, shippers will need 3 copies of itemized receipts for newly purchased items, and a printed copy of the sender’s passport. Under the new law for balikbayan boxes, taxes will be due for items that exceed a certain value or quantity.

It’s easy to see how the requirement to show receipts for such a variety of items could be difficult, and the new law limits shipping to and from qualified Filipinos. But working with an expert transportation provider like Approved Freight can minimize the hassle of the new laws.

A tradition of giving and sharing continues

Here at Approved Freight Forwarders, we’re convinced that the good intentions behind the custom of shipping balikbayan boxes will continue, no matter what. We’re here to help you ship your balikbayan box. You can simplify the process by working with an expert freight company. From explaining shipping regulations and requirements to providing the boxes and delivering them to their destination, we’ll work with you every step of the way.

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