Filipinos pack up their boxes of treats and clothes to send home to their families in the Philippines very carefully: they’re determined to squeeze in as much as possible.
There’s lots of advice online about how to pack your box: tips include using a big plastic bag to line the box, and placing containers of liquids inside separate plastic bags, and making sure that lids are secured with tape.
Others suggest that you write your declaration list as you place each item in the box so that you don’t have to rack your brains to remember what you’ve packed after you’ve sealed it up.
Space-saving tips include putting tins inside shoes to make the most of the space, and using clothing as padding for fragile items.
Many advise that the whole box should be wrapped in plastic once it’s packed and ready to go.
With all the work that goes into preparing and sending a balikbayan box, it was something of a blessing that there hadn’t been much red tape associated with it: until the new rules came into force in August, all the sender had to do was include a list of the contents – handwritten was fine – and an estimate of the value.
The new rules, however, required users to fill out a form itemising everything in the box and to provide receipts for new things – clothes, shoes, household goods etc – as well as requiring the sender to provide a photocopy of their passport’s information page or, if they were dual nationals, a photocopy of their non-Filipino passport as well as proof of dual citizenship.
Those new regulations also tightened up on who could send and receive the boxes. Senders had to be a certified Qualified Filipino While Abroad (QFWA), while the recipient had to be related to the sender – sending a box to someone else such as a boyfriend meant it lost its tax-free status.
The aim of the new rules was to crack down on smuggling, but they had sparked concerns about delays as well as protests from OFWs about the increased bureaucracy. A stipulation that the boxes could be opened for inspection if something suspicious showed up on X-ray by Customs also caused protests from Filipinos around the world.
The new rules were suspended on October 3 by customs chief Isidro Lapeña – which meant that many OFWs hadsent their boxes home for Christmas: the last date for sending them from the UK was October 9.
If you sent yours home before the new rules were suspended, Customs officials said that those complying with the new rules will be processed first – so all that extra work won’t have been in vain.
The aim is to clamp down on smuggling and to make sure that the senders and recipients qualify for the tax-free status, and whatever happens in the new year, it's probably worth getting used to the stricter procedures.
What was in your balikbayan boxes? And what do you think of the new rules? We always love to hear your stories - tell us in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.