What is a balikbayan box? Why did it become a symbol for OFWS? A balikbayan box (literally, “Repatriate box”) is a ubiquitous, corrugated box containing any number of items sent by an overseas Filipino to Philippines. Balikbayan derives from two words “balik” (means return) and “bayan” (means town or country). Balikbayan box is simply a box full of packaged goods that a Filipino eagerly awaits from family members, relatives or friends living overseas. Though often shipped by freight forwarders specializing in balikbayan boxes by sea, such boxes can also be brought by Filipinos returning to the Philippines by air after working for several years in other countries. According to reports, approximately 300,000 balikbayan boxes are sent to the Philippines every year from the United States alone. Some people refer to these boxes as Care Box, Filipino Samsonite, Stateside, and Imported Box to name a few.

Aside from the regular remittances sent by OFWS to their loved ones in Philippines, there’s a large number of Filipinos sending huge boxes of assorted things to their families regularly. Anything can go inside the box such as clothes & shoes, toilietries, canned & preserved foods, toys, and household items. The list is actually endless. Anything that will fit in the box will do as long that the item is unperishable and can withstand the long journey. Most of all, the box should contain non-Filipino brands, items which are not available in Philippines, or things which are very expensive if purchased in the Philippines. In some cases, OFWs will also send things which are given away or discarded by their employers abroad but can be very useful in their own homes back in Philippines, or they will also send things which they no longer use. These things are collected over a couple of months by the OFWs and once they have enough stuff they start packing the accumulated items in a cargo box ready to be shipped to Philippines. The goal of the balikbayan box is not to waste space. Fill the gaps with smaller items such as soap and canned foods. When they go for vacation to Philippines, they also bring the accumulated goods with them in the box instead of using very expensive bags and suitcases. Thus the name balikbayan box came to be, the most awaited packaged by their kins in Philippines. Often than not, some people are more excited to see what is in the box rather than the person who brings or sends the imported goods to them.

The balikbayan box arose in the 1980s with the law enacted by former Philippine President Marcos causing a resurgence of Filipinos working overseas. The Philippine Bureau of Customs Circular allowed tax-free entry of personal goods in the country from Filipinos overseas, thus more and more Filipinos send boxes of goods home regularly. Since the concept of packaged goods became popular, lots of cargo companies have started serving the OFWS worldwide by providing them more convenience, more options, and more services. Balikbayan box or BB has attracted millions of OFWs around the world because of it’s economic value. The concept of the BB is to allow an overseas worker to send bargained, branded, or imported goods to Philippines in bulk at an affordable price, to send anything which are not readily available in the Philippine market, and will enable an OFW to introduce new foods & foreign products to their loved ones free of tax. Items that should not be sent through balikbayan boxes include currencies, checks, money orders, jewelries, firearms, ammunitions, explosives, prohibited drugs, pornographic materials, gambling cards, toy guns and pirated products.

For shipment, balikbayan boxes are cheaper, weight is irrelevant, and you will pay a fixed shipping amount according to size of the box. The only con is it will take around 4-8 weeks before the cargo reaches Manila and will take more time if it has to go to provinces. Sometimes, the boxes are also opened, damaged, and some items are stolen along the way. Not too much worry about the freight cost though, provided you can stuff the box as much as you can and as much as the box can accommodate. Sizes can vary from small, regular, medium, and jumbo boxes. Bulilit box (tiny box) was also introduced for smaller cargos.

The balixbayan box became a symbol for OFWS and all Filipinos around the world. It became their trademark. It shows the love, thoughtfulness, and generousity of OFWs because no matter how difficult their situations are abroad, they still manage to shop and collect items to surprise their kins back home. They want to share their blessings to their relatives eventhough they have nothing left for themselves. In Philippines, it is undeniable that not all Filipinos have the privilege to travel abroad. They do not have the capability to buy those items. The goods and gifts from relatives abroad are signs of giving back to them and remembering them. Those gestures are highly appreciated, not because of the value of goods itself, but the thoughtfulness of the person really counts the most. At times, they become the envy of their neighbors because the imported goods also denotes their improved status quo in their local community.

For elders, those imported “pasalubongs” or gifts from abroad will be used only during special occassions or displayed in locked shelves and will remain untouched through-out the years. For the OFWS, once they have sent the overstuffed box to Philippines, it is time to start filling up another balikbayan box with all their love and care, trying to fill up that “corrugated box” with things according to the wish list sent by their childern, spouses, and loved ones from Philippines.


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