Dubai: Filipinos rush to fill up, send holiday boxes back home in time for Christmas

It is a symbol of their connection with their loved ones back home, especially during the holidays


Angel Tesorero

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Published: Fri 3 Nov 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Nov 2023, 9:45 PM

With around 50 days to go before Christmas, Filipinos in Dubai are in a hurry to fill up balikbayan boxes containing their gifts that will be sent back home to their family and friends.

A balikbayan box is a cargo box shipped by freight forwarders. But for kabayan expatriates, it’s more than just a sturdy cardboard box filled with miscellaneous items from tea bags to toothpaste, toys, clothes, chocolates, candies, shoes, and other gifts. It is a symbol of their connection with their loved ones back home, especially during the holidays.

“It (balikbayan box) contains special-request gifts that we would like to share with family and friends this holiday season,” James, a long-time Dubai resident, told Khaleej Times on Friday.

Preparing a balikbayan box takes time and it depends on the budget of the migrant Filipino if he/ she can buy the gifts on time. It has taken almost a month for James to fill up a jumbo gift box measuring 71 X 53 X 91cms and he is now worried that it might not reach home before December 25.

Optimal time

According to Allan Michael Bautista, chairman of the Philippine Business Council League of Freight Forwarders and senior marketing manager at LBC Express, the optimal time to send a balikbayan box should be no later than mid-October for full end-to-end delivery services.

Allan Michael Bautista. — Supplied photo
Allan Michael Bautista. — Supplied photo

Balikbayan boxes going to the Philippine capital or the wider Metro Manila area would usually take around 45-50 days via sea freight to reach the consignee. An extra week of waiting is added for boxes going to provinces in Northern and Southern Luzon, while those bound to Visayas and Mindanao would usually require up to 65 days.

There is a faster option to send via air freight but it is very expensive and there are many restrictions in air cargo. A small balikbayan box (40X40X40cm) would only cost around Dh75 to send to Metro Manila for sea cargo but air freight is measured per kilogram and is not economical.

Business is brisk during ‘ber-months’ for UAE-based freight forwarders. Bautista said – for their company alone – they are expecting to dispatch over 50,000 balikbayan boxes from the UAE to the Philippines in the last quarter of 2023.

Countdown to Christmas

MyCargo, a new entrant in the cargo shipping industry, is also projecting to send hundreds of balikbayan boxes to the Philippines in the last two months of the year.

“For Filipino expatriates, the countdown to Christmas begins from the time they assemble the balikbayan box and purchase the first items they will put inside it,” Roy F. Silvano, MyCargo manager - Philippine sector to the UAE, told Khaleej Times.

“With every balikbayan box is the anticipation for every migrant Filipino to connect with family and friends in the Philippines. It’s a long- cherished tradition for us Filipinos abroad to fill up and send balikbayan boxes back home,” he added.

‘Eclectic collection of thoughtful items’

“We Filipinos usually go to hypermarkets and supermarkets to look for items that are usually on sale. We carefully select items to fill our balikbayan boxes. Each item is chosen with great care, tailored to the tastes and needs of our loved ones back in the Philippines. From clothing to gadgets, toys and various treats, the balikbayan box is always an eclectic collection of thoughtfully chosen items that are sure to bring smile, laughter, and sometimes tears of gratitude to our families back home,” John Michael P. Avelino, head of digital Marketing at MyCargo, poignantly pointed out.

Meanwhile, Leah, another Dubai resident who is planning to send a balikbayan box this weekend, is hoping it will reach his family on time for Christmas, or even before New Year’s Eve.

She said: “The excitement is always palpable. My family would usually gather around the balikbayan box on Christmas Day and distribute the items that I chose for them. It is not an exaggeration to say that a balikbayan box serves as our tangible connection with our loved ones back home.”

“From the time I seal the box, to the moment they unwrap it, the difference in distance and time is erased. I can always see the joy in their faces as they receive my gifts sent with love and care inside the balikbayan box.”


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