Some readers may have noticed there is a rather lively (lively for this blog, anyway) discussion going on in the comments for this article:
It really just occurred to me that there are readers here who may not even be aware of what a “balikbayan” box is, and others who may not realize just what a big part of the “Living in the Philippines” they are.
Balikbayan is a Filipino word that translates to “back to the home country”. There is no such thing as a “balikabayan” type box service in many countries of the world, but years ago, some entrepreneurial Filipinos came up with the idea of providing a large, rugged cardboard carton, allowing people with relatives and friends in the Philippines to fill the box with items folks back in the Philippines might want, and providing a service where the boxes get collected at a large seaport in the US, where they get packed into one of those large, steel ocean freight containers you see on the road. The container then gets shipped to a central point in the Philippines, where it is unpacked and the individual boxes get delivered to the intended recipient, all around the country.
Since there is essentially no weight charge for shipping a container, they normally go for a standard, per container rate, you can stuff a lot of these individual boxes into a single container and pass the savings on to the clients.
Many balikbayan boxes couldn’t even be sent by air freight or postal parcel post rates … too heavy …and if they were light enough, the costs would be hundreds to thousands per box … so the service is a real savings in cost, traded off for time. In round numbers it takes a month to get a box from US to a Philippines address, and in holiday times it usually takes much more.
The Philippine Customs Service allows the boxes to flow freely in most cases, depending upon the shipping company to enforce some pretty definitive regulations … these are supposed to be for personal use, so filling one with LED TV’s to re-sell in the Philippines, packing them with liquor or porn or guns or other contraband will get you and the shipper in big trouble, quickly. In reality, anything that isn’t listed as prohibited (see box packing and prohibited items guidelines here) just sail through customs and gets delivered with no problem.
Like everything else in this world, though, problems do occur and while you never seem to hear about all the successful boxes that do get delivered, day in and day out, you sure do hear about the small percentage that have a problem.
here’s how I have successfully shipped many a box. The same procedures are all pretty much recommended ny all the shipping companies in the business.
First of all, use a strong box. The boxes you can buy at retail outlets like U-Haul are, to but it as charitably as I can, crap. They can’t stand up to the rigors of light-duty US domestic moves. Likewise boxes you can get from a supermarket or retail store as well. Most box shipping companies have agents around the country, or will ship you out empty boxes (yes, this may cost something, but if the object is to get your stuff there in one piece, using a lightweight, easily collapsible box is really false economy.
Second, tape the bottom of the box securely, then put a larger plastic trash bag inside as an inner liner. The shipper can not control the weather or where the container with the boxes gets placed on the ship. Pack the box than as full as practicable with your items. Write down every single item that goes in … watch the limits on quantities and such mentioned earlier. I have never yet heard of an unresolved issue about missing items where there was a true list of what was in the box. In today’s digital world it is easy enough to photograph items as they go in as well … but without a true paper list, no insurance company is going to just pay you for what you say was in the box.
Seal up the bag, put a copy of the list inside the box (the original should go to the shipper, and address the box clearly (all four sides is best) with something indelible … don’t use some cheap pen lying around, spend big and use a genuine “Sharpie” brand marker is what I recommend.
Most reputable shippers will seal the box with security labels in your presence. In addition to the paperwork you’ll receive, take picture of the box as it looks when it leaves your hands. again, cheap insurance.
Speaking of insurance, reputable companies provide insurance up to a certain value, and the opportunity to buy more. If you think the contents are worth a lot more to you than the included insurance amount, then for goodness sake, declare so and pay the additional charge … and don’t put anything ‘pricelss’ in there in the first place, these are cardboard boxes not bank safety deposit vaults.
Double check, just before you et the box go, that the name and address of the recipient is correct. In particular make sure the same person is still living at the same address … people do move, or go away to the provinces to take care of a sick grandmother or some such … and as you have read from me before, the Philippines is the country of “after the fact” … “Oh, I forgot to tell you, we moved to a bigger house last month.”
Text the recipient with the tracking number, the date and place shipped and the expected delivery date and make sure someone plans to be there two months down the road. Boxes can’t be delivered if the delivery contractor can’t find the person … and believe me, tis happens more often than you might think here in the Philippines.
Lastly, sit back and anticipate the enjoyment you will get when you hear how happy everyone is when the box arrives. The house will be filled with happy excitement, and virtually guaranteed, when the box is opened, st least one person is going to shout out, “Amoy ng Amerika” … “The Smell of America”. And if you don’t think the USA has a unique, readily identifiable odor? You ain’t never opened a balikbayan box 😉 You can’t buy happiness and excitement like that for mere money.
Oh one other thing that I never did before, but would recommend. Scan the list, or fax it to an online fax service, and email the image to some one at the receiving end. My funniest “box experience” so far happened last year when my in-laws received a box sent from Florida. The box came in great shape, no signs of tampering, but right away as stuff was coming out and being passed around there where howls of dismay. Some bags of candy, opened and many of the candies gone. Some packs of soup mix (IIRC), opened and not all the packs there, some boxes of Crystal Light beverage mix (a really, really sought after ‘box stuffer’, BTW) opened and many packs missing.
The happy occasion was now marred by complaints of who the “low life’s” who had stolen the items could be, how did they get in the box with without breaking the seals, why did they steal just the items they did when the were things of more value, and so on. I tell you, that box company’s “stock” in my in-laws house was at a pretty low ebb, to say the least.
Then someone decided to call the sister who had shipped the box from Florida and give her the bad news about how unlucky her choice of shipping companies had been. Want to guess what happened?
Yep, you probably guessed. The items to go in the box had sat around for a couple weeks waiting for someone to finish packing the box, and the missing items were ‘borrowed’ back at the shipping end, before anything even got packed. Mystery solved … but remember the consternation it caused, I sure will … if you ship something that isn’t a full pack, say so,or everyone from the innocent delivery boy to the captain of the container ship will get cussed at for weeks, and the people running the box company … whoa, you don’t want to be the one answering their phone when someone gets her own economy size Crystal Light pack delivered with packets missing … box shipping can be a risky business 😉