Balikbayan box

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Travellers stand in line for a flight to the Philippines carrying balikbayan boxes.

A balikbayan box (literally "repatriate box") is a corrugated box containing items sent by overseas Filipinos (known as "balikbayans"). Though often shipped by freight forwarders specializing in balikbayan boxes by sea, such boxes can be brought by Filipinos returning to the Philippines by air.[1]


Balikbayan boxes may contain items the sender thinks the recipient would like, regardless of whether those items can be bought cheaply in the Philippines, such as non-perishable food, toiletries, household items, electronics, toys, designer clothing, or items difficult to find in the Philippines.[2]

A balikbayan box intended for air travel is designed to conform to airline luggage restrictions and many Filipino stores sell them. Some boxes come with a cloth cover and side handles. Others are tightly secured with tape or rope, and thus not confused with an ordinary moving box that is lightly wrapped.

The balikbayan boxes come in three standard sizes:[3]

  • Medium: 18 x 16 x 18 inches
  • Large: 18 x 18 x 24 inches
  • Extra large: 24 x 18 x 24 inches

Shipped boxes are delivered directly to the recipient, usually the family of the overseas Filipino.

Cultural significance[edit]

Part of the attraction of the balikbayan box is its economic value, as it allows cheaper bulk shipment of items via sending each individually or in smaller boxes through postal services. The tradeoff though is longer transit time by container ship, which typically requires several weeks, along with the lack of a firm delivery date.

The balikbayan box is a modern manifestation of the general Philippine practice of pasalubong, where travellers within or outside the country are culturally expected to bring home gifts to family, friends and colleagues.


The balikbayan box arose in the 1980s when Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines as amended by Executive Order No. 206 provides duty and tax free privileges to overseas foreign workers ( OFW ) enacted by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos due to resurgence of Filipinos working overseas.[citation needed] The Philippine Bureau of Customs Circular allowed tax-free entry of personal goods in the country from Filipinos overseas. People then began sending items through friends and co-workers who were returning to the Philippines.

The Philippine Bureau of Customs clearly defines those who are eligible to this tax-free privilege in their website located here

The balikbayan box business started in 1981 in New York by Monet Ungco, who founded Port Jersey Shipping. Two months later, Rico Nunga started REN International, based in Los Angeles, CA. There is still a debate on who started first, but these two people have been recognized as one of the first who started the balikbayan box business.

A drastic change was made by Manila Forwarders in 1998 when it introduced the jumbo box, a bigger and a more durable box. Now, balikbayan boxes are not just the ordinary box that you see in the air port but has evolved into some that is as big as a refrigerator.

After the 9-11 event and the passing of Patriot Act, balikbayan boxes have been subjected to rigorous inspections by US Homeland Security Out-Bound Exam Team that caused massive delays that goes up to three weeks at US Customs inspection facility alone, plus the sailing time that was also extended from 21 days to 30 plus days. The inspections also resulted in opened packaging and complaints of mishandling. The Philippine Bureau of Customs also conducts 100% inspections that added to the burden of delayed shipments.

In 2012, this delays was further aggravated by the decision of the City of Manila to impose truck ban along the pier route causing backlogs in releasing and transporting not only balikbayan boxes but all cargoes, domestic and international. Most of the balikbayan box companies, which are based in Paranaque City close to the airport, are heavily affected by this as the truck ban starts from Port area to Roxas Blvd. This port congestion is gradually being resolved.

The inspections is the result of some unscrupulous individuals who use balikbayan box shipment in their illegal shipments. Since balikbayan box shipping is a consolidated shipment, even one illegal item will affect all 400 or so packages inside the container. The inspection process has been modernized with the installation of high performance x-ray machines.

Another big factor in the decline or the deteriorating industry are the consumer themselves who keep asking for a discount and patronizing low priced companies making it hard for other well-minded companies to operate a balikbayan box company in the standard where it should have been.

The industry is also affected by cut throat competition among balikbayan box companies that most problems in the balikbayan box industry is the lack of fund and/or non-payment of the foreign principal to their Philippine counterpart to release and deliver the boxes.

To protect the consumers, the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, through its Philippine Shipper's Bureau conducts regular accreditations of international freight forwarder and discourages consumer in patronizing unaccredited and incredibly cheap shipping companies. The Philippine Shipper's Bureau regularly updates their list of accredited forwarders at their website located here.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ del Barco, Mandalit (2005-12-23). "Gift Boxes Help Migrant Filipinos Keep Ties to Home" (RADIO). Morning Edition (National Public Radio). 
  2. ^ Ly, Phuong (2004-12-24). "Money Is Not Enough at Christmas". Washington Post. p. B05. 
  3. ^ "Balikbayan Box Dimensions". Dimensions Info: Because Size Matters. Retrieved 21 March 2013. There are three types of balikbayan box, namely the medium box, the large or the regular box and the extra large box. The width and height of the medium box is 18 inches while the depth is 16 inches. The standard width of the large box has a width and depth of 18 inches while the height is 24 inches. The extra large box has a width of width and height of 24 inches while its depth is 18 inches.