In over 170 countries around the world, there are more than 10.2 million Overseas Filipino Jobs (OFWs). And yet, living a thousand miles away, they stayed associated back home with their families. And that is how the Balikbayan box tradition was born.
Balikbayan boxes are especially important as Christmas approaches. About why? Pinoys give boxes home to family and friends during this festive season, full of precious products and, more importantly, affection.
We met a Filipino family living in the UK, who shared more about this tradition with us, and let us take a closer look at how their balikbayan box is wrapped.
What is a balikbayan box?
Balikbayan boxes are a sign of the diaspora of the Philippines and a bridge between families thousands of miles away. Traditionally, Filipinos who work overseas carefully prepare and give their families back home a box full of presents. Balikbayan boxes are sent over the entire year and peak just before Christmas, marking special occasions.
Balikbayan boxes are full of regular household items such as tinned goods, candy, school supplies, clothes and almost everything you can think of, unlike real Christmas gifts.
Why are Filipinos fond of Balikbayan boxes?
Per year, there are over 7 million Balikbayan boxes arriving in the Philippines!
Every box is packed well in advance and contains lovingly selected items. It’s a way that, at least in their hearts, Filipinos living and working abroad can return home. Balikbayan in translation means ‘returning to the country’ in Tagalog.
In the Philippines, we asked our colleagues what the Balikbayan boxes really meant to them.
As the family gathers to unpack their balikbayan package, there’s a lot of joy. This year, what’s inside?
The package arrives late often, or the clothes in it do not fit correctly. But there is so much goodness to enjoy, such as a taste of food from nations a thousand miles away that you will generally never try.
Fresh rules for sending a Balikbaya package back home
Balikbayan boxes were tax-free in the past. And since they were also the cheapest way to ship to the Philippines, to escape taxes, they were often abused.
The government implemented new rules on balikbayan boxes in August 2017, aimed at clamping down on smuggling and ensuring that senders and receivers qualify for tax-free status.
The new regulations require Filipinos to fill out a questionnaire for everything in the box and include receipts for all valuable products (like watches or electronics). Plus, a photocopy of their documents has to be given by the sender. These new laws also tightened up on who could send the boxes and receive them.
However, protests from Filipinos around the world were triggered by a stipulation that boxes full of personal objects could be randomly opened for inspection. The government backed off this idea and searched boxes only if there was anything unusual on the X-ray.
Anyone can send a Balikbayan box to their loved ones in the Philippines these days. But to guarantee that it’s really tax free, you have to obey those laws.