One of the things that excite both overseas Filipino workers (OFW) 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 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 is limited and excess baggage fee is high.
As Christmas draws near, the packing begins at its frenetic pace, hoping to deploy the box just in time to be received before Christmas Day. During the time of the pandemic, OFWs who choose to stay put make the balikbayan box a worthy option.
Speaking of what items to include in a 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 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 this cargo box package.
Cosmetics and body products
Another item that’s considered out of reach by common Filipino families is certain personal care products. Yes, we brush our teeth and shampoo our hair every day, but many of us do not apply (at least generously to extend the lifespan of a small container of) body lotion or cosmetics from L’Oreal or Estee Lauder often find advertised on glossy pages of fashion magazines. Therefore, baby lotions, moisturizers, hand creams, soaps, and shampoo in extra-large containers are also usually found inside these ubiquitous brown-colored 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 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 on the list. Maybe for the sake of vanity, winter jackets or boots not suited for the Philippine climate also found their way inside the boxes.
Canned goods and foodstuff
OFWs want their families to do a bit of change in the way they perceive canned goods, albeit temporarily. From sardines and mackerel, the family is feasting on imported corned beef, luncheon meat, or certain kind of sardines packed in a tin with matching “keys” to pry it open.
Then there are chips, biscuits, peanut butter, jams, condiments, and candies that are 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 had the same feeling when they were kids, so providing a better experience for their children is something they yearn for. 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 cargo freight.
Filipinos are generally a 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 sent if the 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 box destined for the Philippines, these items remain relevant and can be found in boxes once in a while. The old set of compact discs, movie DVDs, souvenir items such as picture frames 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, this 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, should be good enough. After all, allowing a sliver of space could damage the box in transit.
Sending them via accredited freight forwarders helps 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 on social media.
Additional ideas on what to include in your balikbayan box
Families back home appreciate new or gently used clothing, particularly those that are practical for everyday use, such as t-shirts, shorts, pants, and dresses.
Personal care items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, and lotion are practical items to include in a balikbayan box.
Useful household items like towels, bed sheets, blankets, pillows, kitchenware, and small appliances like a blender or a toaster oven, are also appreciated.
Popular electronic gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and accessories such as headphones, chargers, and cables, are appreciated by Filipinos, particularly if they are not easily available or are expensive in the Philippines.
Beauty products like skincare items, cosmetics, and perfumes are also popular, particularly for women.
Over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, and vitamins are practical items to include in a balikbayan box.
Personal hygiene items
Other personal hygiene items such as sanitary pads, diapers, wet wipes, and tissue paper are also practical items.
Sports equipment such as basketballs, soccer balls, and other sports gear are also appreciated by Filipinos, especially those who are into sports.
Books and magazines
Books and magazines on various topics such as cooking, fashion, health, and technology are also popular, particularly for those who love to read.
Musical instruments such as guitars, keyboards, and other musical gear are also appreciated, particularly for those who are musically inclined.
Educational materials such as books, flashcards, and other learning aids are also great items to include, particularly for children.
Remember, it’s important to choose items that are practical, useful, and appreciated by the recipient. You can also personalize your balikbayan box with handwritten letters, family photos, and other sentimental items that will make your loved ones feel closer to you.
Sending a balikbayan box during a pandemic
As movement is restricted, borders are at least partially closed and airfares soaring, the closest Filipinos abroad can do is to send their love through cargo freight. Although it’s not as good as being there with family in person — quarantines can also cut a portion of your time — seeing them react to opening the box is priceless.