Understanding Balikbayan Shipping

Shipping Balikbayan

(This post was originally written while we were awaiting our move to the Philippines and has since been reviewed and edited for accuracy.)

If there is one thing we know well, it is balikbayan  shipping. Over the years, we have shipped our  share of BB boxes to the wife’s home province. So  much so that my wife eventually decided to
become a shipping agent some years ago.  Because my wife (Teri) owns her own business and  has an actual storefront, it is convenient for her to collect the fully packed boxes from all the Filipinos that live in our area, help them complete the Bill of Lading document, and store the boxes until she can arrange delivery with the transport company with an organized and minimum number of boxes required for shipment.

The term balik-bayan translated means “back” to or return to “country”. A “balikbayan box” literally translates to “repatriate box” and is usually a corrugated box containing any number of items, or more correctly nearly anything that can fit, and shipped to loved ones living in the Philippines. The official description according to the Philippines Bureau of Customs (BOC): Balikbayan Boxes are packages of personal effects and/or “pasalubongs” sent by Filipinos residing or working abroad to their families or relatives in the Philippines to enhance Philippine tradition and culture for the promotion and preservation of strong family ties through love and caring expressed in gift-giving.

Whew, that’s a mouthful! Anyway, the balikbayan box dimensions come in three standard sizes:

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

Although this is considered a ‘door-to-door’ service, boxes are usually dropped off at the shipper or agent and then shipped and delivered directly to the recipient, nearly always the family of the overseas Filipino. Per Philippines customs regulations, one sender is allowed to send one (1) box during a six (6) month period. (we never abided by this rule).

Happy to Receive Pasalubong

Happy to Receive Pasalubong

Personally, I became an expert at lifting, moving, and stacking all my wifes balikbayan boxes and probably explains why I have lower back issues. Trust me when I say there is no limit to what a Filipina can pack into a finite box. Some boxes I could swear are packed full of bricks! But aside from sending bricks, it is more common to ship things like non-perishable foods, toiletries, household items, electronics, toys, designer clothing, computers, or any items that are hard to find or expensive in the Philippines. Filipinos love receiving pasalubong (gifts) from the USA or abroad. What I find unique about BB boxes, is that they are all tightly secured with tape or rope, and are never confused with an ordinary moving box. I have seen entire rolls of duct-tape used to entirely encase a box, and I have seen enough nylon rope wrapped around one that would be sufficient to rappel Mt Everest.

That’s a lot of tape!

For whatever the reason, it’s the Filipina who thinks that shipping a box built like ‘Fort Knox’ will deter it from either breaking open or being broke into by thieves. One thing to remember is that according to the BOC, there is a 100% examination of the ‘consolidated shipment’ as required by law. Now you can take that how you want, but what it means is that ANY or ALL boxes in a shipment can be individually inspected. Not only can they be inspected by Philippines Customs, they can also be subjected to searches by US Homeland Security’s Out-Bound Exam Team. What needs to be known here is that a few or sometimes a majority can be opened and inspected by law enforcement officers that are trained to conduct police-grade searches, in which case, one should not expect that the box will be returned to its original condition!  Recently, my wife has received pictures of boxes in her shipments that have been sliced on the corners, inspected and re-taped using identifiable BOC tape. Nonetheless, when shipping with a reputable shipper, you should not have to worry about mis-handling or damage or loss. If a company receives too many complaints about poor service or non-delivery, the Philippines Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) can blacklist a shipper and that can spell doom for that company. So good responsible shippers take their shipping seriously or they can be put out of business faster than you can prepare a baboy for a lechon event (roast pig).

Balikbayan shipping services can be found the world over and the most common places to find these shippers, or their agents, are at Filipino or Asian stores. Or you can simply ask any local Filipino and they can tell you where to go.

Staged at warehouse awaiting delivery.

Staged at warehouse awaiting delivery.

My wife is (was) an agent for VGM Forwarding (Memphis) and they have provided very reliable service to her with a 100% received shipping record. Years ago, she began with another ‘well known’ company and had to discontinue using them because of a few lost shipments. We think what happened is that insiders would arrange for drivers of trucks destined for the provinces to lose a few boxes here and there and go on about their delivery as though nothing happened. It is certainly unscrupulous and is probably the reason the company eventually got blacklisted. We heard of another company that wound up in financial trouble and their logistics fell apart, causing huge numbers of boxes to collect in a certain warehouse in Manila without any hopes of securing delivery. Eventually, someone stepped up, bailed the company out and most boxes were delivered, although some were nearly a year late.

Overpacked? Then you should expect damage!

Overpacked? Then you should expect damage!

When you hear of someone who knows someone who says they never received their BB box, or it was broken into or damaged, it is always worth investigating (many times, damage to boxed contents is a result of over packing a box). You can never be certain of how well a company is managed until they are broke, out of business, and your boxes are gone. I don’t mean to panic anyone but balikbayan shipping companies are like any other business – They can be here today and gone tomorrow. There will always be some level of risk shipping things to the Philippines, but that risk is manageable. If you find a local shipper, you should get references from others who have used that service to determine the shipper’s ‘on-time’ record and dependability. Just because a local store offers Balikbayan services, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is reliable.

Did you know you can shop the U.S. online venues like Amazon or ebay from the Philippines (or the U.S.) and have your purchases delivered to the door of your Philippine address. Read about LBC’s Shipping Cart.

Here is a list of recently blacklisted U.S. shippers blacklisted by Philippines Dept of Trade & Industry (DTI): This list was accurate at the time of this original publishing. Please visit the above mentioned DTI site for updated information (link provided below).

– Associated Consolidation Express
– Alas Cargo
– AAA Cargo Express Inc.
– Shipping Express in Chicago
– ABS-CBN Star cargo

The reason for blacklisting; non-delivery of packages. In addition, there are also companies that are not “accredited” by DTI and also should be avoided. Here are a few of them:

– D’ EEC Freight Forwarder and Logistics;
– Diaz Cargo Services;
– Forex Cargo Philippines Inc;
– Sir2Go Forwarders;
– Skyland Brokerage Inc;
– The Filipino Cargo International; and
– UMAC Forwarders Express Inc.

Once you ship a box, you should maintain contact with your agent or shipper. Good companies have tracking services and usually always know the approximate whereabouts of your shipment. Many times, boxes destined for the far reaches of the Philippines can sit idly by in some Manila warehouse awaiting on other boxes towards the same destination to make delivery more cost efficient. Deliveries to the larger metropolitan areas are usually much quicker.

If you are new to shipping BB boxes, the best source for learning more about accredited balikbayan shipping and up to date information about Philippine and foreign based shipping companies is on the DTI site at http://www.dti.gov.ph/dti/index.php?p=653 .

More a more complete understanding of balikbayn shipping and customs, please visit the DOC site page dedicated to balikbayan boxes.

If you want to know more about out-bound inspections, visit this article written by Roland Paez of the San Diego based Asian Journal.

References:
Wikipedia
Philippines Dept of Trade and Industry
Department of Finance, Bureau of Customs