I’ve written about how expensive it is to ship to the Philippines. But I understand how important it is to send something to your OFS to make them feel like they’re part of the family.

That’s exactly what Danny had in mind when he sent me this email.

Hi John,

When we bring on staff or contractors in the U.S., we often give them a company baseball hat, a couple of stickers or other promotional products with our logo on them. I think it helps them to feel like they are part of our business family.

Shipping to The Philippines can be expensive and complicated. But I want my people over there to know that I value them and consider them to be important to us. But this brings up questions. I hope you’ll (ask your own OFS to) consider responding.

1)  If we send a gift to our staff, does it put them in an awkward position? Do they feel they would need to reciprocate? (That’s NOT what I’d want them to feel or do.)

2)  Besides company stuff, are there universally desired — and lightweight — items from the U.S. that we should consider sending?

3)  Are there any definite no-nos, things we should not consider sending?

BTW, I found this page on the USPS website. Best thing in it:  If the value of what you’re sending exceeds 3000 PHP (about U.S. $58), the Philippines government tacks on a U.S. $30 fee.

Thanks for considering my question.

– Danny

Filipinos who live in the U.S. know this well. They want to send gifts to the family back home but sending gifts can be expensive. There’s also a big chance things could get lost or stolen.

One solution they came up with is to ship in bulk using a corrugated cardboard box they call “Balikbayan Box.”

Balikbayan boxes usually come in several sizes. The smallest ones are 24in x 24in x 12in, and the largest ones are 24in x 24in x 45in.

These boxes are seen as care packages by the Philippine government. They don’t tax it as much as items imported for sale or sent as gifts. So people would cram these boxes with as much stuff as possible, which helps with the shipping cost.

If you have a lot of employees in the Philippines and you want to send them gifts, this can be a good option.

If you’re going to send something, it’s best to ship items that don’t have to go through a customs inspection or don’t require a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Items like are:

  • Children’s toys
  • Small perfume bottles
  • Assorted cosmetics
  • Household products like cleaners or deodorizers
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Processed food (canned goods, jerky, etc)
  • Shampoo, lotion, and soap
  • Liquor, wine, and other spirits
  • Clothing and accessories (shoes, bags, etc)
  • Stationery (pens, notebooks, etc)

Customs will inspect the box if they suspect you’re sending contraband or trying to smuggle something into the country. You don’t want to give Philippine customs a reason to open the box because they’re notoriously corrupt. So avoid sending electronics and jewelry. You’ll also want to avoid sending the following items:

  • Seeds and plants,
  • Anything perishable
  • Batteries
  • Cash
  • Lottery and sweepstakes tickets
  • Guns, ammunition, and other related items (gunpowder, shell casings, etc)
  • Anything related to gambling like loaded dice, marked playing cards, etc
  • Anything flammable (lighters, lighter fluid, etc)
  • Cigarettes, cigars, vape pens
  • Drugs and narcotics, including items infused with hemp or cannabis.

Another thing to remember is to avoid sending one item in bulk.

For example, don’t fill an entire box with just shampoo. Customs will think you’re trying to sell stuff to the Philippines. Using balikbayan boxes to import items for sale is illegal because it looks like they’re avoiding import/customs taxes.

When filling a balikbayan box, a good rule of thumb is that it should have enough variety of items that a family can use.

LBC and FedEx are the safest and most reliable options if you’re shipping from the U.S. They’re also familiar with the balikbayan box system, so they can give you answers if you have more questions.

That’s why my OFS, Julia, recommended that if Danny sends his team a gift, to send them candies and chocolates. It won’t attract the attention of customs. Also, sweets are traditionally given as gifts in the Philippines. His team will appreciate it.