The word “balikbayan” is actually a combination word coined in the 1970s and it refers to a Filipino who returns to the Philippines. Balikbayan boxes are large cardboard boxes transported by ship instead of air.
If you want to ship stuff to the Philippines, using a postal service, UPS, DHL or FedEx is probably the most expensive way to do it. Balikbayan box cargo shipping services generally run between $100 and $200 (in US dollars) per box, which is far more inexpensive than the other choices available to you.
Before you ship anything, however, please think about what you’re shipping. Most of the things relatives and loved ones in the Philippines want can be bought in the Philippines at nearly the same price it costs in the United States and sometimes cheaper. A few examples are instant coffee, corned beef and SPAM.
Shipping balikbayan boxes can be an interesting experience in frustration if you don’t know where to go or who to contact. Since I receive e-mail messages asking about specific areas in the United States from time to time, the best thing I can do is list the information I have (the list is below).
The best way to find out about cargo services in your area is to go to an Asian/Oriental market or supermarket. A lot of them are affiliated with one cargo company or another. They will usually have the empty boxes you can use for balikbayan boxes. You can call one of these markets if it’s a hassle driving to them, but I can’t guarantee you’ll get answers to your questions.
In my experience, only a Filipino can talk to a Filipino without getting frustrated by the language barrier unless the Filipino on the other end speaks very good English.
Regardless of where you get the empty boxes, and you can’t just get them anywhere, you may or may not have to pay for them. Forex Cargo usually gives you empty boxes to replace boxes you’re currently shipping, but I don’t know about the other shippers.
I believe all of them charge for the first batch of empty boxes, although they’re not expensive. It’s probably a practice used to discourage people from using them as home storage containers. The 24x18x18 size box is pretty big.
Here is my attempt to point you to the cargo services closest to the area where you live in the United States (or country other than the Philippines). [Updated September 13, 2017.]
If you have any information I can add and the comments area is still open, please post the information as a comment – please include a link to the website, Google Plus page or Facebook page. Otherwise, please use the contact page.
I received an e-mail message asking me to warn customers:
Some Filipino-owned carriers are not insured at all and some don’t keep up the cargo liability insurance of $75K and $75K as bond as required by the Federal Maritime Commission if they do business anywhere in the United States.
They aren’t registered with the FMC or with the local county or with the city where they do business. They don’t keep the required amount of insurance liability to pay for a damaged or lost box, which is a minimum of $500 per box. Instead, they only pay $200 per box.
Make sure you ask questions of any carrier you’re not familiar with, especially those cargo services owned and operated by Filipino businesses. Don’t let a cheap price cause you to do something foolish.