A Brief Introduction to Shopping via Balikbayan Box

This article was first published in October 2008 and written by ALIG Member Kristen Maher. The links have been edited by ALIG Member Carolina Bertazzo Currat on 8 April 2013


So many Filipinos live and work overseas that a special system for transporting their goods has been set up worldwide. This ‘how-to’ memo will concentrate on getting items from the US to Manila, however it is possible to ship from Europe, Canada and Australia. See some suggested links below.

Let’s start with a disclaimer

All of the information given here is based on my personal experience. I cannot make any guarantees for good service from these companies (or even for mediocre service). Also, since I have only had one box shipped to me so far, I am in no position to give any more details on how the system works. You can google ‘Balikbayan’, get the names of the sites, and check it out for yourself.

What is a Balikbayan Box?

Balikbayan is the Filipino word for ‘returning’. It was originally a way of getting an Overseas Foreign Workers’ (OFW) extra baggage home after an assignment in another country. It is now often used by Filipino relatives living in the US to send gifts to family back home. The expat community in Manila uses it to receive some of our favourite things from home in a hassle-free manner.

How do I get started?

The only company I have dealt with is Manila Forwarders (MF), so I will explain their system (but I am sure the other companies all work in the same way). MF have a large warehouse in California. You get in touch with them via their website and say you would like to open a box. There are different sizes available.

What next?

Then you go crazy shopping. You buy just about anything you like online and have it mailed to MF’s address in California. You will pay the normal shipping fee applicable. Good news: If the online shop you are ordering from has no shipping fees, the goods arrive in California without any transportation costs.

You can also have friends or family in the US mail their gifts to the same address and they will also go in your box.

Tell MF what you have ordered and give them the tracking number. Tell them whether you want the items unwrapped (saves room in the box) or to keep them wrapped (better for presents).

Shipping to Manila

MF will contact you when your box is getting full. You have 30 days to fill the box otherwise it gets shipped just with what you have in there.

MF will tell you the shipping charges and expected arrival date in Manila. Boxes take 5-6 weeks on average (although one lucky lady recently got her goodies in less than 3 weeks). Before Christmas shipping times are usually a bit longer. You can pay MF via PayPal or a credit card.

And that’s it. Like magic, the boxes will arrive at your front door one day. No paperwork, no customs duty, no hassle.

What about large items?

I had a huge swing set sent from the US recently. It also went via MF, but with their ‘cargo’ division. It took 6 weeks for 260 pounds of wood and plastic to arrive at my house here, and the costs were very reasonable.

Drawbacks, Problems, etc.

  • Estimated arrival dates for the boxes are often optimistic.
  • Communication with MF customer service is not always great

Some useful links:

http://manilaforwarder.com/ (USA)
http://www.balikbayan.de/English/about.htm (Germany)
http://www.lhiza.com/BalikBox.htm (Germany)
http://www.forexcargouk.com/ (UK)
www.balikbayan-box.co.uk (UK)