Gifting through what is known as balikbayan boxes is common practice among the Filipino community abroad (including foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong). The Tagalog word balikbayan literally means ‘return to home’. The name says is all: Balikbayan boxes have become one of the favourite means for many Filipinos overseas to contribute and maintain their bond with their family members (including extended family) who remained back home – particularly on special occasions like Christmas. If you are an employer you can offer your domestic helper gifts like clothing or sweets that she will put into the box and send to her home country.
Are there restrictions?
Generally, the items shipped via balikbayan boxes are quite random – ranging from presents to food, household goods, clothing and biscuits among many other things. Balikbayan-shipping is regulated though as an overseas Filipino is allowed to send no more than 1 box every 6 months. Only non-commercial goods can be shipped (i.e. goods that are not destined to be sold) as long as the total value of the box does not exceed an estimated Php 150,000 i.e.roughly HK$23,000. Certain items such as alcohol, meats (unless canned) and medication are prohibited – boxes are X-ray inspected – You can report to the full list of prohibited items.
What about the prices?
Balikbayan services are definitely more interesting in terms of prices than regular mail services which are way more expensive. The shipping prices vary slightly among operators – expect prices somewhere between HK$60 and HK$120 – but vary depending on the size and delivery location (the cheapest being Manila). The good news is that the goods are duty- and tax-free and there are no weight restrictions. So feel free to fit in as many things as you can in your box without worrying about exceeding any limits!
What options are available?
There are several accredited balikbayan freight forwarders in Hong Kong specialized in door-to-door delivery – you might want to pay a visit to the 3rd floor of the one-stop shop Worldwide House and compare the various options. Boxes come under different sizes – so before picking one make sure that you know what you’ll be filling it in with so as not to underestimate the size you need! Many operators offer discounts if you drop off your box to one of their branches – otherwise, for your convenience, you can just schedule a pickup time when purchasing your balikbayan. Also, many of them offer seasonal discounts, promos and tracking points, so, make sure that you compare all the possibilities!
Getting things done
Plan things ahead:
- List in advance what’s going to be in the box.
- Pick the right size of the box and plan the sending. Allow 1 to 2 weeks for your box to arrive after being shipped. If you are planning on shipping presents to reach on time for Christmas, allow more time as shipping time is extended during the Christmas season.
- Ensure that all fragile objects are carefully packed and that containers holding liquids are carefully duct-tape sealed. Pay extra attention when sealing the box – focus on the opening and the edges to ensure that the items inside are safe.
Duct tape is your ally!