One of the things that excite both overseas Filipino workers and their relatives in the Philippines is the opportunity to send and receive balikbayan boxes.
For OFWs this means a chance to make someone (or the entire family) happy as a consolation for being away. For families, it’s that chance to get hold of gifts carefully selected and packed by loved ones whom they miss a lot.
Filipinos abroad can now send balikbayan box items worth P150,000 (restricted to a few times a year) without paying equivalent taxes, so it’s now more about what items to include than how much it costs to send it away. Balikbayan boxes are also an economical means of sending home large bulk of items as baggage allowance on flights are limited and excess baggage fee is high.
As Christmas draws near, packing of balikbayan boxes begin in its frenetic pace, hoping to deploy the box just in time to be received before Christmas Day.
Speaking of what items to include in a balikbayan box, although each OFW and his/her family’s needs vary, there are common items found inside this brown colored box.
In the Philippines, chocolates — Hershey’s Kisses, Mars, M&Ms, Toblerone — are generally considered as expensive items and are beyond the outstretched budget of many families. However, abroad they are relatively a cheap commodity, sometimes found in the “sale” shelves of supermarkets or specialty stores. Also, the Filipino’s sweet tooth favors chocolates, and these popular chocolate brands are sought after. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to include them inside a balikbayan box package.
Cosmetics and body products
Another item that’s considered out of reach by common Filipino family are certain personal care products. Yes, we brush our teeth and shampoo our hair everyday, but many of us do not apply (at least generously to extend lifespan of a small container of) body lotion, or cosmetics from L’Oreal or Estee Lauder often find advertised in glossy pages of fashion magazines. Therefore, baby lotions, moisturizers, hand creams, soaps and shampoo in extra large containers are also usually found inside balikbayan boxes.
Shoes and apparel
Shoes are among the most requested items families (especially children) answer when asked “ano ang gusto mong pasalubong?” No wonder you’ll find Nike Air Max, Skechers and other popular brands are among the treasure trove of goodies you’ll find once you open the newly-arrived package. Certain shoe models are not sold locally so kids have their own bragging rights in school wearing these shoes.
For other OFWs, they don’t even have to buy as employers graciously give them slightly or unused shoes as gifts to family members. Besides shoes and sandals, shirts, jeans, shorts and pairs of socks and underwear are also in the list. Maybe for the sake of vanity, winter jackets or boots not suited for Philippine climate also found their way inside the boxes.
Canned goods and food stuff
OFWs want their families do a bit of change in the way they perceive about canned goods, albeit temporarily. From sardines and mackarel, the family is feasting on imported corned beef, luncheon meat or certain kind of sardines packed in tin with matching “keys” to pry it open.
Then there are chips, biscuits, peanut butter, jams, condiments and candies that’s no longer foreign to family members; they can easily buy them in convenience stores or supermarkets back home. But the fact that you have better and cheaper access to them means you don’t mind spending for their weight to be shipped, instead of just sending money to family to buy the very same items in a neighborhood store. It’s the personal touch that matters.
Many Filipino children have limited access to modern toys. They are either too expensive to buy or no available stock is sold nearby. OFWs may have the same feeling when they were kids, so providing a better experience for their children is something they yearn. Stuffed toys (no matter how bulky they are), remote control cars, jigsaw puzzles and other educational toys have therefore found their place in that beloved balikbayan box.
Filipinos are generally resourceful group of people (see Jeeps converted to jeepneys or motorcycles converted to habal habal to extend their usefulness). So it is not surprising that many of us are willing to ship items that are slightly defective and otherwise headed to the dumpsters. “This cassette player can still play music, though the forward button is broken.” “This toaster has a different AC plug but my neighbor in the Philippines who manages an appliance repair shop should be able to fix this”. No wonder it’s up to our imagination what Filipinos abroad will be sending if cost of shipping oversized and bulky items like washing machines, refrigerators or old furniture is only reasonably lower than buying them brand-new back home.
In the context of commonly found items in a balikbayan box, these items remain relevant and can be found in boxes once in a while. Old set of compact discs, movie DVDs, souvenir items such as picture frame from Disneyland, flower vases, shoe racks, kitchen utensils and other things we often hate to throw away. They must have some value back home. And when we’re back to the Philippines for good, these memorabilia reminds us of our adventures and hardships overseas.
Balikbayan boxes are measured by volume and not by weight. So whatever we can chuck into the box that is of value and not disallowed by the Bureau of Customs, that should be good enough. After all, allowing a sliver of space could damage the box in transit.
Sending them via accredited freight forwarders help create that peace of mind and reassurance that one day, we’ll see ourselves getting tagged on thank you photos of the very items we packed abroad a few months back and posted in social media.