Ramon of Forex Cargo in Phoenix stopped by my apartment today to pick up the six balikayan boxes we had waiting for him (as I wrote about in “Packing for our Trip Back to the Philippines”). While he was here, I had him explain the process of getting the boxes from Phoenix to the Philippines. Having worked at the largest trucking company in the United States until I quit in 2006, the process was easy for me to understand. It may not be so easy for others, so I’ve decided to explain the process as best I can.
Small trucks carry balikbayan boxes from Albuquerque (New Mexico), San Antonio (Texas) and Tucson (Arizona) to the Forex Cargo warehouse in Phoenix during the week. Transporting those boxes directly to the port in Long Beach (California) from those points would take weeks at a time. The cost of moving goods with a semi-trailer would be cost prohibitive since each of those areas only collect a few boxes a week.
There are other central points, in other states, for Forex Cargo and I’m sure the process for each of them is similar to Forex Cargo in Phoenix. I don’t have any information for those points, however, so I can’t be certain of anything.
Every Thursday, an empty semi-trailer arrives at Forex Cargo’s warehouse in Phoenix. That semi-trailer has just finished delivering products to the Asian stores and markets.
The people at the warehouse load the semi-trailer with all the balikbayan boxes from all the points I mentioned, along with the boxes from the Phoenix metro area, and then departs on Friday en route to California.
Hauling the boxes by semi-trailer from Phoenix, where more than just a few boxes are loaded each week, keeps the transportation costs down and the savings are passed to the customers. Forex Cargo in Phoenix can charge less per box than other freight companies and still make a large profit.
When the balikbayan boxes arrive at Long Beach, they’re loaded into containers and the containers are placed on one or more cargo ships. I don’t know how often those ships leave but in the past, I was told it was weekly.
I don’t know how long it takes to for a cargo ship to reach the Philippines. I’m sure it depends on how many other stops it has to make on the way. When I rode a Navy ship from Hawaii to the Philippines in 1983, it took about a month and that included combat exercises while en route.
Having been both on the sending end and the receiving end for balikbayan boxes, I can only tell you the timetable varies. Loading and unloading are delays for sure, but Philippine custom officials cause even more delays. It’s worse at the port in Manila than it is at other ports and it has something to do with the roads they’re not allowed to drive semi-trailers on.
I’ve seen balikbayan boxes take as little as a month and a half and as much as three months to get to the destination. Tropical storms are delays that can’t be factored into a timetable – the ships can’t dock until the storms have passed.