Two things guaranteed to make even the most gracious Filipino(s) seethe with rage: The monstrous Metro Manila traffic and Bureau of Customs (BOC) threatening to open every single Balikbayan Box going into the country looking for taxable goods. Since the MMDA Chairman declared that it will only be by 2030 that the government will be able to fully implement the roadmap for transport infrastructure development (if any), we will have plenty of time (that’s 15 years to be precise!) to get stuck on the road and attempt to break the internet with our social media rantings. So let’s talk about the Balikbayan Box squabble, that held the internet of things in the Philippines hostage for a full week before the President finally decided to intervene. For how long remains to be seen, but what’s important is that the move will certainly appease millions of Filipinos for the time being.

But first, what is a Balikbayan? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in its June 2015 update of the “definitive record of the English language”, has officially included 40 Filipino terms or compound words and uniquely Pinoy usage of English words such as halo-halo, kikay kit, presidentiable, high blood, balikbayan, etc. Philippine Embassy defines Balikbayan as referring to a Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year, a Filipino overseas worker, or a former Filipino citizen and his or her family who had been naturalised in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines.

A Balikbayan Box, therefore, is a care package sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) back to their families in the Philippines. A balikbayan box typically contains a hodgepodge of things we call pasalubong, ranging from consumables, to apparel and beauty products, to small gadgets and some cash carefully inserted in other items – hoping against hope that they won’t be found by people other than the recipients. While the cash and other attractive items often disappear, thanks to the entrepreneurial customs officers who help themselves to the content of these balikbayan boxes, some items eventually find their way to the waiting families. Yey!

If you have a balikbayan in your immediate family, chances are, you’ve been at the receiving end of these care packages one too many times. If you haven’t seen one and you’re curious to know what’s inside, here’s our list of Top 10 pasalubongs found inside the balikbayan box.

1. Chocolates. We, Pinoys, generally have a sweet tooth. I mean, have you ever tried Jollibee Spaghetti and noticed its sweet-ish sauce? That being said, a balikbayan box is never without a mountain of chocolates, candies, cookies and biscuits. Yum!


2. Canned goods. SPAM, corned beef, ham, sausages, spreads, etc. In the receiving family’s home, you will see most of these things lined up/stacked neatly inside the glass-door aparador (cabinet) for months and consumed very slowly because, you know, imported, and it might take a while for the next balikbayan box to arrive.

Canned goods

3. Body products and fragrances. Extra large bottles of body lotion, bars of soap, shampoo, conditioner, branded perfumes…name it, it’s all in there!


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4. Shoes, bags, and other apparel. Remember when, as kids, we would trace our feet on a clean sheet of paper and send it along with our letter of request for a pair of shoes to be included in the balikbayan box, promising good grades in exchange? I’m not sure if feet-tracing is still a thing today but the shoes inside the balikbayan box definitely are! Clothes and bags, too, are pretty common and sometimes, the senders also include pre-loved items for other relatives. After all, brand new or pre-loved, basta imported, keri pa rin yan!



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5. Liquor and other alcoholic beverages. Because we love to party (and host parties as well) and nothing makes a better dining table centrepiece or conversation starter (Cue in: “Iba na talaga pa may anak na nag-a-abroad, di ba, kumpare?”) than those bottles of imported poison. To keep the bottles from shattering into pieces, they are often wrapped in several layers of bubblewrap, followed by a safety layer of shirt/sweater. Same goes with perfume bottles.


6. Stuffed toys and other games for kids. Because more than the sight of chocolates and biscuits, only stuffed toys and games can bring out the biggest smiles on children’s faces. So congratulations balikbayan Mama and Papa, you’ve just earned 10,000 ganda and pogi points from your kids back home!


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7. Vitamins and other health supplements. Usually for the parents and other older members of the family back home. Given the costly price of vitamins and supplements in the country, not to mention hospitalisation, sending over several months’ worth of vitamin supply is a great idea. After all, prevention trumps cure anytime.


8. Costume jewellery and watches. Or what we Pinoys call ‘fancy jewellery’ or alahas. Gold-plated bracelets, necklace and/or fancy rings and watches are common pasalubongs as well, especially from OFWs working in the Middle East. Nowadays though, it’s best to keep the value of these items to almost negligible so as not to attract the common customs thieves. 


9. Small gadgets and electronics. Phones and Sony Playstation or even laptops are probably not a very good idea but small gadgets like electric shavers, cheap cameras, headphones or even used cellphones can be included – and they often are – in the balikbayan box. At the sender’s risk, of course.


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10. Cards with handwritten notes and possibly some cash. Though like I said, senders are extra careful now when it comes to cash (opting instead to just do wire transfer as it’s safer that way), some still can’t resist to insert some currency bills in spaces they feel won’t be searched, i.e., inside a shoe or a toy, for example. But the cards and handwritten notes or sulat paalala ni Tatay at Nanay or Ate at Kuya are definitely a must!

Handwritten postcard

Now you’re probably saying to yourself: But most of these items can now be bought locally, right? Why even bother sending a balikbayan box at the risk of it being pilfered anyway? Well, Pinoys are a highly sentimental bunch. Most of what we do, we do out of love and a deeper sense of care. So when you think about it, the balikbayan box represents more than just the items inside. It represents blood, sweat and tears of every single Filipino working and living abroad, fighting homesickness, melancholy and many forms of abuse, just to be able to save enough money to provide a better future for their families back home – and yes, occasionally send balikbayan boxes. Of course,  there are measures in place to regulate what goes in – and how much or how many of it – and the OFWs should likewise abide by these rules to avoid fines and other inconveniences.  

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