Items you’re not allowed to send in a balikbayan box
LOS ANGELES — It could be because of colonial mentality that overseas Filipinos are just as excited to fill up and send a balikbayan box home as those receiving it back in the Philippines. “Balikbayan” means returning to one’s country, and I guess sending balikbayan box is the Filipino way of staying connected to friends and families back home.
It’s the simple tradition of giving pasalubongs — gifts — only that it has been raised to unprecedented levels because of the sheer number of Filipinos now living and/or working overseas. In the early days, only the very rich could go abroad.
Today, there are an estimated 10 million Filipinos abroad due to migration to the United States, Canada, Australia, Western Europe and the Middle East.
What not to send
Senders should keep in mind that since the shipping of a balikbayan box is consolidated, it means that one prohibited item caught will affect ALL the packages inside the shipping container. In the past, a lot of individuals have abused the tax-free privilege by smuggling commercial items or contrabands.
For this reason, cargo companies, as well as US and Philippine Customs offices always inform senders not to send the following prohibited items:
- Alcohol/alcoholic drinks
- Automobile/motorcycle, parts or whole
- Ceramic tableware
- Cultural artifacts and pottery
- Defense articles or items with military or proliferation applications
- Products containing dog or cat fur, as well as animal hide
- Drug paraphernalia (unless prescribed for medical conditions)
- Firearms, explosives (including parts)
- Cheese, Meat, fruits and vegetables (unless canned)
- Pets, plants, seeds, soil
- Used clothing of commercial quantity (ukay-ukay or in bales)
- Pornographic materials
- Fluids and perishable food items
*Please check with your trusted balikbayan cargo company for other items that may not be on the list.
The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA)
In May of this year, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) or Republic Act 10863 in response to the growing concern of overseas Filipinos about the continued corruption, and additional taxes and duties being planned by the Bureau of Customs on all balikbayan boxes.
Prior to signing R.A 10863, the existing law was outdated because it was still following the 1987 tax-exempt value of only up to P10,000 (about $200). Many lawmakers feel that it would be unfair to tax overseas Filipinos since the amount has not been adjusted according to inflation and increasing commodity rates.
With the new law in place, Filipinos can now send up to three P150,000-worth (about $3,500) of tax- and duty-free balikbayan boxes in a year, given that the goods are not in commercial quantities or intended for barter, sale or for hire.
On top of the tax- and duty-free balikbayan boxes, Filipinos, who have stayed in a foreign country for at least 10 years and are returning to the Philippines, will also be granted tax exemption for the personal and household effects, not exceeding P350,000, they will be bringing with them when they return to the country.
As for Filipinos who have lived overseas for at least five years, they would be entitled to tax- and duty-free personal and household effects amounting to P250,000, while those who have stayed abroad for less than five years could enjoy P150,000 tax-free ceiling.
As someone who has been on both the sending and receiving side, I know that the balikbayan box is more than a piece of corrugated box filled with clothes, canned goods and chocolates, or that whiff of the “stateside” scent — it is a symbol of the hard work, generosity and love for family.
It’s true that our families back home could probably buy most of the items in the Philippines, but I believe it’s the anticipation of what’s coming to their doorsteps and the idea that every item has been carefully chosen and packed are what make them appreciate the box more.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.