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A balikbayan box (lit. '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.
The balikbayan box arose around the 1980s in the United States, brought about by the influx of overseas Filipino workers in the country. The first freight forwarder to offer balikbayan box services was Rico Nunga, who started REN International in Los Angeles, California, in 1981. The following year, Ramon Ungco, a Filipino residing in New York City, founded Port Jersey Shipping International. These two companies are considered the pioneers of door-to-door delivery of balikbayan boxes, which back then were charged import duties upon arrival in the Philippines.
On 30 June 1987, then Philippine President Corazon Aquino enacted Executive Order No. 206. This order amended Section 105 (f), and added a new subsection (f-1) to Republic Act No. 1937, also known as the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines, which was signed into law on 22 July 1957 by former president Carlos P. Garcia.
The amended Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines provides duty- and tax-free privileges to balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as recognition of the magnitude of their contribution and sacrifices in foreign lands, as well as bringing considerable amounts of foreign exchange annually, that contributed to the national recovery effort at that time. This allowed tax-free entry of personal goods into the country from Filipinos overseas. People then began sending balikbayan boxes through friends and co-workers returning to the Philippines.
After the September 11 attacks in the US, and the passage of the Patriot Act by the US Congress, balikbayan boxes have been subjected to rigorous inspections by the United States Department of Homeland Security's Out-Bound Exam Team that caused massive delays of up to three weeks at the US Customs inspection facility. This extended shipping time from 21 days to 30 plus days. The inspections also resulted in opened balikbayan boxes and complaints of package pilferage and mishandling. The Bureau of Customs also conducts 100% inspections that added to the burden of delayed shipments. The inspections are the result of some unscrupulous individuals who use balikbayan boxes to smuggle commercial items without paying taxes, or to smuggle contraband. 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.
In 2012, these delays were further aggravated by the decision of the City of Manila to impose a truck ban along the route to and from the Port of Manila, causing backlogs in releasing and transporting not only balikbayan boxes, but all cargoes, domestic and international. Most balikbayan box companies, which are based in Parañaque City near the airport, were heavily affected by the truck ban until it was resolved.
The industry was scrutinized by the Philippine Senate in 2015, after mounting complaints were brought to the attention of the public through social media after the Philippine Customs Commissioner, Albert Lina, announced the opening of balikbayan boxes for inspection and additional taxes to be imposed. The inquiry brought the passage of the Customs Modernization Act, which had been pending for years, and the inclusion of the Balikbayan Box Law in the act, increasing the tax-exemption ceiling from PHP 500 to PHP 150,000. This included items being brought home by Filipino tourists from trips abroad, pasalubong or gifts, and returning resident shipments.
To protect consumers, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), through its Philippine Shipper's Bureau, conducts regular accreditation of international freight forwarders and discourages consumers from patronizing unaccredited and incredibly cheap shipping companies.
According to the Door to Door Consolidated Association of the Philippines, there are 400,000 balikbayan boxes that arrive in the Philippines every month.
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. 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:
- Medium: 18 by 16 by 18 inches (46 cm × 41 cm × 46 cm)
- Large: 18 by 18 by 24 inches (46 cm × 46 cm × 61 cm)
- Extra large: 24 by 18 by 24 inches (61 cm × 46 cm × 61 cm)
Shipped boxes are delivered directly to the recipient, usually the family of the overseas Filipino.
Part of the attraction of the balikbayan box is its economic value, as it allows cheaper bulk shipment of items versus 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 provides connections between family within the Philippines and those who are abroad, and provide goods for the family within the Philippines.
- del Barco, Mandalit (2005-12-23). "Gift Boxes Help Migrant Filipinos Keep Ties to Home" (radio). Morning Edition. National Public Radio.
- Shyong, Frank (28 April 2018). "These boxes are a billion-dollar industry of homesickness for Filipinos overseas". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
- "About Us". REN International. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "About Us". Port Jersey Shipping. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "Executive Order No. 206". Amending Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines. LawPhil.net. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "Republic Act No. 1937". An Act to Revise and Codify the Tariff and Customs Laws of the Philippines. Official Gazette of the Philippines. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "Modernization Act" (PDF). www.sra.gov.ph. Retrieved 2019-11-19.
- "Filipinos should send balikbayan boxes only through accredited cargo companies". gulfnews.com.
- "Sending a balikbayan box? Go through accredited providers, says DTI". GMA News Online.
- Ly, Phuong (2004-12-24). "Money Is Not Enough at Christmas". Washington Post. p. B05.
- Diana Mata-Codesal; Maria Abranches; Karina Hof (9 August 2017). "A Hard Look at the Balikbayan Box: The Philippine Diaspora's Export Hospitality". Food Parcels in International Migration: Intimate Connections. Springer. pp. 94–114. ISBN 978-3-319-40373-1.