This is going to be weird.

After I sent out the newsletter about balikbayan boxes, I got a great response from Edward. His wife is from the Philippines, so they regularly send balikbayan boxes to her relatives in the Philippines. He had a lot of good tips that I want to share with you if you ever plan to send a box to your OFS team.

We’ve sent Balikbayan boxes to the Philippines to my wife’s relatives. Things that make the most impact are:

  • Canned meats (Spam, Vienna sausages, corned beef, canned chicken, roast beef, tuna) – meat protein is very expensive in the Philippines. A single tin or two is sufficient to feed an entire family since it is always eaten with a plateful of rice. Make sure to limit to two dozen of each to minimize the risk of Customs opening the box. Also, while canned fish is everywhere in the Philippines, the percentage of fish in the can is much smaller – sometimes, half the tin is comprised of oil or water.
  • Spaghetti noodles, sauces, Kraft Dinner (not too much as they take up a lot of space)
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, makeup, eyeliner, perfume, soap, shampoo and conditioner, deodorants, lipstick, lotion – note: Seal with tape the lids of anything that can leak)
  • Fruit preserves (fruit jams of every kind, especially strawberry and raspberry)
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • OTC medicine (Tylenol, Aspirin, cough, cold, flu medication)
  • Clothing and shoes (use socks and t-shirts as packing)
  • Cheap handbags (my wife brought a dozen Coach and Michael Kors handbags with her when she went home a number of years ago since it was too risky putting them in the Balikbayan box)
  • Candies and chocolates (especially the large Toblerone bars from Costco during Christmas)
  • Batteries (Duracell or Energizer. Keep in the pack – the ones sold in the Philippines are crap)
  • Flashlights/headlamps (a good quality, high lumens light is invaluable over there)
  • American-made tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, socket sets – the Chinese stuff in the Philippines is junk)
  • Dollar store knickknacks to stuff the box to the gills since weight is no object (stationary, pens, pencils, crayons, markers) – this is to show the inspector using the scanner that the box’s contents is for a family and not a business

Make sure the balikbayan box has the recipient’s address AND phone number printed in huge bold font and taped to the box on at least two sides. Use lots of packing tape and do not leave any corner untaped. Wrap the entire box in 18-inch plastic wrap.

I don’t understand the prohibition on batteries – they are not a problem AFAIK.

Do NOT send any alcoholic beverages – that’s a huge temptation to the inspectors. Same with expensive electronics like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Don’t bother with household cleaners – they’re everywhere in the Philippines and very inexpensive. Children’s toys are the same quality – they all come from China.

Take care,


I showed the email to my OFS, Jamie, because of some contradictions with the last email. Some of the things she added were her personal preferences. So I think you can also put other items in a balikbayan box, as long as it’s not something prohibited.

Regarding sending alcoholic beverages, she referred to those mini bottles instead of the big ones. But I agree with Edward; it might be best not to send them.

I told you this would be weird.
I can’t imagine sending canned meat…but that’s what’s effective.