Few things are sweeter than the sight of a balikbayan box on one’s doorstep. Filled to the brim with all sorts of imported bedsheets, towels, grocery items (SPAM!!!!!), and perhaps even a ceiling fan or two, these packages are such an integral part of Filipino culture that Mikey Bustos actually made a “Wrecking Ball” parody about them (check it out here, best four minutes of your life EVER).
Now that the “ber” months (heralded by the vocal stylings of Jose Mari Chan) are upon us, it will be time yet again for our OFW’s to ship balikbayan boxes over to their families in the Philippines. Since it can take months of saving up and days of shopping and packing to get one of these out the door, you would want to make sure that they arrive intact and on time to their intended destination, right?
So, without further ado, here are some guidelines that will help you do just that:
1. Do try to group all your pasalubongs in one box.
Sending one big box rather than several other regular-sized ones is far more efficient. You would only have to pay for the freight and shipping charges once, and your family would only have to keep an eye out for one shipment rather than several.
You would also be doing the environment a favor: less boxes also means less garbage to dispose of or recycle.
2. Do pack your items very well.
Packing a balikbayan box is like playing Tetris. The key is to utilize every inch of space available while making sure that nothing in there gets squashed.
To begin, tape up the bottom of your balikbayan box. Use packing tape to seal up the edges securely so that the bottom of the box is able to support the contents properly. You can watch this Youtube video for more details.
Line the bottom of your box with a few plastic shopping bags before you start putting in the contents, starting with the heaviest items like appliances. (You can also line the bottoms with towels or beddings prior to this so that they can serve as cushions.) The boxes of these appliances can even be used to store other things, such as boxed pancake mix or canned goods.
For liquids like shampoos or shower gels, seal up their caps by wrapping tape around them. This prevents them from spilling and soaking the other items as well as the box itself.
If you want to send chocolates or soft candies, wrap them in aluminum foil and then place them in a ziplock bag before stuffing them into an empty plastic bottle. Even if they melt a bit during the trip, the bottle protects them from getting crushed.
Fragile items (e.g., glass perfume bottles, etc.) should be positioned in the center of the box, preferably amidst soft linens or towels. For added protection, encase them in bubble wrap.
Lastly, stuff any empty spaces with towels or old clothing. You want the items in the box to stay as still as possible so that they don’t bump into each other during transit. Put the lightest non-fragile items on top and cover with a few more plastic shopping bags before you seal up the box.
3. Do declare ALL the contents of your shipment.
Speaking of seeking compensation, you won’t get the full benefit of such if you didn’t declare all the contents of your box along with their respective values.
Think about it: how can you prove that your balikbayan box really did contain that expensive pair of shoes/item of clothing/decorative item if there is no written record of it?
4. Do monitor your shipment’s movement until you’ve confirmed that your family has received it.
Once you’ve dropped off the balikbayan box, hang on to the waybill that should be given to you. It normally contains pertinent details such as the name and address of your intended recipient, along with the tracking number.
The latter is especially important since it enables you to track your package’s location at any time, usually via the forwarding company’s website. Having the tracking number on hand also makes it easier and faster for the forwarder’s customer service people to deal with any concerns that may arise around the shipment later on.
5. Do allot enough time for the balikbayan box to arrive.
Balikbayan boxes usually make their way to the Philippines via sea cargo, and the normal travel time ranges from 28-30 days, depending on the weather. Stricter customs regulations, however, have caused some boxes to arrive as late as 45 days after they’ve been shipped, up to 60 days if the package is addressed to the province.
Related article: A Balikbayan Box Guide to Items You Should Leave Out
And we have yet to factor in delays caused by the deluge of shipments during this time of the year.
If you want your loved ones to receive the goodies in time for Christmas, it might be advisable to prepare the box and have it ready for shipping as early as October.
6. Do know your rights.
As a customer, you are entitled to the following:
A right to be receive prompt service and attention with all due respect;
A right to safe, efficient, and insured shipments;
A right to be informed of the status of your shipment;
A right to due compensation should the forwarding company fail to carry out its obligations.
1. Don’t overstuff your box.
As mentioned in the first item, you want to put all the items in one box, but that doesn’t mean stuffing it beyond capacity. Leaving about half an inch between the top layer of the contents and the box lid ought to suffice. You wouldn’t want the box to come apart and spill its contents during transit now, would you?
2. Don’t include contraband items in your shipment.
What shouldn’t you send in a balikbayan box? Valuables like cash, checks, foreign currencies, or jewelry, firearms, munitions, explosives, prohibited drugs, pornographic material, and bootleg items like pirated DVD’s are all no-no’s. So, unless you want authorities to detain or confiscate your box upon arrival, make certain that your shipment remains free of those.
Surprisingly, everyday items like bleach and batteries are prohibited too, simply because they are highly flammable and could cause a fire to break out on cargo ships or planes.
Don’t even think about sending money via your balikbayan box. One OFW from Saudi Arabia once inserted 1,000 rials into a pair of sneakers that were meant to be a graduation gift for her son, and when these got pilfered along the way, she was only able to claim recompense for the shoes and not the cash. The forwarder even had grounds to file a case against her for attempting to smuggle money.
3. Don’t forget to ask for the name and contact details of the forwarder’s agent in the Philippines.
This way, your family back home will have a contact person to consult with regarding any issues concerning your shipment. The said contact details will help you further verify the legitimacy of the company too.
If they hesitate or make excuses for not providing you with the requested information, move on to the next forwarding agent.
4. Don’t choose your forwarding service company based on price alone.
With all the money you’re spending filling up the balikbayan box, it’s tempting to choose the cheapest forwarding service out there to make up for it. However, using price alone as the basis for choosing your forwarding service might end up costing you more.
There are plenty of scammers and unregistered cargo forwarders out there who will promise you all sorts of things in exchange for freight charges that sound way too good to be true. If you fall for that, chances are that they won’t be able to reimburse what you’ve paid for shipping if your balikbayan box gets lost or stolen along the way. You may as well have flushed all those AUD’s that went into filling the box and shipping it off down the toilet then.
Choose to transact with companies that are fully accredited by the proper authorities, such as the Philippine Shippers’ Bureau (PSB), and don’t shy away from asking evidence of such while you’re canvassing for rates. Shaving off AUD20 from your freight charges will mean nothing if your package goes missing and you have no legal means of seeking compensation.
Putting together a balikbayan box is certainly exciting, as you’ll be thinking of all the things you want your family to have back home and anticipating their joy when they open the box to find all sorts of delights inside. Still, let’s not lose sight of all the practical aspects involved so that no one goes away empty-handed on Christmas Day.