Balikbayan Boxes: What OFWs Must Know About Random or Arbitrary Physical Inspection

The sending of balikbayan boxes, especially during the Christmas season, by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is a normal phenomenon. Balikbayan Boxes, according to the Bureau of Customs, “are packages of personal effects and/or pasalubongs sent by Filipinos residing or working abroad to their families or relatives in the Philippines to enhance Philippine tradition and culture for the promotion and preservation of strong family ties through love and caring expressed in gift-giving.”

To address the abuses surrounding the inspection of balikbayan boxes, the Bureau of Customs issued a set of rules to simplify customs procedures for OFWs sending balikbayan boxes to the Philippines (see Customs Memorandum Order No. 27-2015, full text here). The rules apply to all non-commercial inbound consolidated shipments of OFWs and for returning OFWs bringing in personal and household effects. This is consistent with with the rule that, per the BOC, “non-commercial goods or goods not in commercial quantity strictly for personal use only, such as: wearing apparel, clothing, foodstuffs/grocery items/canned goods; the value of which must not exceed US$500.00” are allowed in balikbayan boxes. Also according to the Bureau of Customs, “one consignor/sender is allowed to send one (1) box during a six (6) -month period.”

As a rule, Balikbayan Boxes of OFWs shall NOT be subjected to random or arbitrary physical inspection. The Balikbayan Boxes can only be subjected to physical examination under the following rules:

1. While balikbayan boxes are not subject to random or arbitrary physical inspection, these boxes must undergo mandatory X-ray scanning.

2. Mandatory X-ray scanning must be conducted at the X-ray Inspection Project (XIP) Designated Examination Area (DEA) for preliminary examination.

3. In case thex-ray scan shows a possible violation, the balikbayan box will be tagged “suspect” and the x-ray operator will recommend the issuance of an Alert Order.

4. Balikbayan box/es which are Alerted shall be subjected to 100% physical examination at the authorized examination area to be conducted by a Customs Examiner in the presence of the apprehending officers, freight forwarder consolidator, representatives of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and/or a designated office of an OFW Association be present. For purposes of trade facilitation and to address port congestion, the BOC may allow the 100% examination of Alerted shipments to be conducted at the warehouse of the freight forwarder/consolidator upon submission of an Affidavit of Undertaking subject to existing customs laws, rules and regulations.

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