How I Pack Balikbayan Boxes in Canada

There’s the art of paper folding called origami and kyaraben is to the art of packing lunch. For OFWs there’s the art of packing balikbayan boxes. I know it’s not that artistic or traditional.

But it’s part of the Filipino culture that we OFWs have to learn; the sooner the better.

Have you seen the video of a small car with clowns coming out non-stop. A balikbayan box is something like that. A longtime OFW can pack many stuff inside a box that I wonder where do the staff of shipping company get their strength to pick it up .

(I helped a guy in rolling the box up the stairs and it wasn’t fun at all. So I thought of switching again to a small balikbayan box.)

OK. Let’s focus now on becoming artistic. I’ll show you how to pack like a pro; you can also share your precious tips.

Packing Tape

The Materials for Packing

First things first. Don’t scrimp on buying packing materials; the goal is make sure that the box can withstand the long trip and vigorous handling.

You can choose between the regular or small balikbayan box. I use both depending on necessity. If I need to send something urgent, I opt for a small box. For a typical OFW life, I use 1 or 2 regular boxes from Jenrich Fast Cargo (19 x 19 x 32.5 inches).

For packing materials, I buy duct tape and packaging tape in Canadian Tire or Staples.

  • Scotch Duct Tape (48 mm x 41 mm) at Staples = $10.42
  • Staples Clear View Packaging Tape (6-Pack) = $14.16

Pro tip: don’t buy cheap duct tape because it tend to fold while stretching and taping it around the box. As for the packaging tape, buy thicker tape; it doesn’t matter where you buy it as long as it sticks.

Jenrich Small Balikbayan Box

Inside a Balikbayan Box

The box is not the extension of your closet or a thrift store. Never ever send things that your family cannot use in the Philippines; donate those unwanted winter coat, boots, or too thick hoodies.

But send the clothes fit for tropical weather.

Clothing are not the only non-perishable item that you can send in the Philippines. Some are packed in plastic, box, and can.

The important thing to remember is not to be brand conscious but be mindful about the expiration date.

  1. Canned goods – SPAM, corned beef, sardines, and sausage etc.
  2. Spices and sauces – Salt, pepper, gravy and spicy sacuce etc. I send turmeric and curry powder.
  3. Soap – Buy in bulk .(eg. 12 pieces in a pack)
  4. Detergent powder soap
  5. Chocolate – This may melt or not so be careful when wrapping the biggest white Toblerone that you can find.
  6. Drinks – Tea, powdered juice (Tang, Kool-aid), chocolate drink, and coffee. And there’s also decaf coffee.
  7. Jam, spread, mayonnaise – Did you know that there’s a Vegan mayo. I prefer the brand Hellman. Others are too sour.
  8. Oatmeal – This is my favourite breakfast that my folks introduce to us as a variation for lugaw and champorado. Apparently my folks are avoiding high blood and I was craving for sugar that I add on top of the oatmeal. So if there’s fruit and maple syrup instead, I feel so fancy, no, double the fancy. Bona petite mademoiselle ala carte. Excuse my French. 🙂
  9. Decor – Figurine, frame, heck even scented candle
  10. Fixtures – I sent bathroom fixtures for our dream house like towel bar, shower curtain, and toilet paper holder. I paid less in Canada dollar compare to Philippine peso.
  11. Bag and sandals – Relatives and friends were kind enough to give branded bags. I help myself with a backpack which I take with me anywhere I go.
  12. Books -For the love of books, I want to have a library at home or donate the rest. Without a doubt my sibling is enjoying the Harry Potter Box Set. I haven’t read all of the books.
  13. Toothpaste – Did you try the toothpaste with baking soda? Don’t mind the taste within the first week; it’s great after you get used to it. Let those enamels shine.
  14. Kitchenware – There’s a rumour that people love Correlle. For me, any microwave safe and affordable kitchenware like IKEA is what I go for.

And the list goes on and on.

You can put anything legal inside a balikbayan box as long as it doesn’t break, spill, or melt. In the history of balikbayan boxes that I’ve sent in the Philippines, no disaster ever happened. Zilch. Zero.

You’re not far from almost perfection because I’m sharing the tips that have been past on from one generation of OFW to another.

Tips in Packing the Balikbayan Boxes

The goal is to make sure that each item will not be broken.

You can dismantle some parts to save space and let’s hope that it can be put together again. Don’t forget the manual.

1. Remove items in the box. This goes for oatmeal or anything that is dry and non breakable. I write the expiration date for each pack and discard the box. You don’t want things to travel so far only to be thrown away because of pass expiration date.

2. Tape the cap. Do this to lotion, shampoo, ketchup, whatever has a cap on it. To save time, tape the items immediately every time you buy in the grocery.

3. Step, sit, and relax. What? No, you are not yet done. When the box is halfway done, step on it. Sit when you almost reach the top. I was shocked the first time I did it. But this is how so much stuff can fit inside the box.

4. Leave no empty space. Every space is important; don’t waste it. Imagine that you are playing Tetris and the likes of canned goods are the blocks. Mix big and small items in each layer before putting clothes on top for another set of layers. Place the breakable items like plates in the middle.

Pack Balikbayan Boxes in Canada

5. Use empty container. I keep empty Pringles, juice container, tin can, coffee glass, boxes etc. Anything that is sturdy enough will do. Use the empty container for toothpaste, sauces. Sometimes I put beautiful boxes because of it’s aesthetic value and functionality. Imagine how many trinkets you can put inside.

6. Use items for other items. Recently, I use trash can I bought from Dollar Store as a container for toothpaste etc. You can do the same with mugs, cookie jar, huge bowl, or anything that is hallow and takes up a lot of space.

7. Pack in order. Prioritize. Place first the must-pack items because the last thing you want to do is to unpack just to accommodate the most important item.

8. Place thin items on the side or on top. These include paper bag, tote bag, handbag, and backpack. I think I even put a huge tote bag from Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo and IKEA. It’s always hard to let go.

9. Ship the box ahead of time. If you plan to go home, send the box at least two or three months before your departure. A friend of mine has made his trip back already in Canada before the box arrive. Learn from a mistake (of others).

10. Finish packing in a single day. This is advisable if you are packing 1 or 2 boxes. If more than that, then pack things on your day off. It is tiring and mind boggling to make all things fit in. Not a way anyone would want to spend a weekend so might as well treat yourself for a box well done.

Do you have more tricks in the bag or box? (Excuse the puns.)

Seriously. Has anyone successfully pack a scoby for a kombucha tea which is a healthy substitute for soda? Or where you able to send a Christmas tree with all the decor and lights and gifts?

Dry Dog Food

Someone has a pasalubong. Dry dog food for bantay.

Sacrifices Have to Be Made

There has to be something for everyone in the box. A belated or advanced birthday or Christmas gift. A portion of clay mask or organic baking powder for homemade beauty regimen.

Raise your hands or feet to fight for fairness.

Yes! I’m talking to you. The bantay of the house. The fluffy dogs whatever breed you are. (Sorry I’m a dog person that might turn out a cat lady in my golden age.)

I made a mistake.

I forgot to pack the dry dog food for our four-legged family member. It was an honest mistake.

Anything is PAWsible. Yet sacrifices have to be made. I removed the shiny toaster which is closer to the surface. It is best to send it off with a transformer which is a bit expensive in the Philippines.

Tada . . . Equality has been restored. I was able to fit bantay’s food in the balikbayan box.

Aspin: Dog Breed in the Philippines

How can I forget our hybrid aspin/terrier dog.

Final Thoughts

I don’t like packing balikbayan boxes but every time I have to pack a box, I thought of my 10-year-old self excited to open a box.

The box brings happiness to the giver and receiver. I remember the cold air that makes everything inside smell brand new even the hand-me-downs.

To all the OFWs keep on sharing your blessing without breaking the bank.

To all the lucky recipient of the goodies, always always be grateful. The words thank you means a lot for OFWs.

What items you always want  to send in the Philippines but haven’t done yet?

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About Pwede Padala Gal

Pwede Padala Gal loves to share tips on how to save in Canada and the Philippines. Someday she'll finally teach her Aspin at least one dog trick and keep a cactus alive. Chat with her on Facebook and reddit.


  1. Nur Miharbi says

    How do you pack detergent and chocolates together?

    • Pwede Padala Gal says

      I prefer to buy powdered detergent for laundry and I avoid sending chocolate. If I do, I make sure to wrap well the detergent, shampoo or anything made of chemicals. Place the items far away from each other. Detergents at the bottom; chocolates on top.

  2. Hi! I noticed there’s a silver duct tape on the photo. Does it mean that it’s okay to use that duct tape? And is it necessary to tape it again with a clear one? Sorry, it’s my first time sending a balikbayan box. And I saw on another person’s blog not to use the silver duct tape. So I got confused.

    • Pwede Padala Gal says

      No worries Joyce. I like to secure my boxes so I use both tapes. First, I use duct tape then put the clear tape on top of it right away because the end of the duct tape would peel off without the aid of the clear tape. Some use only the clear tape but for me the box looks bare and weak so I use both tapes. Years of experience thought me this technique. It might seem I overdo the wrapping but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      One last thing, wrap the box while it’s empty so you can turn it while wrapping instead of you going around a heavy, full box. You get the picture, I know. Or will experience it one of these days. Make sure to wrap glass jars (eg. jam, oil etc) with plastic and clothes. For the first time, a strawberry jam inside my box broke because there wasn’t enough clothes around it. I’ll do better next time.

  3. George Cruickshanks. says

    Does anyone sell pre-packed balikbayan food boxes for shipment to Philippines as a gift?

    • Pwede Padala Gal says

      I don’t think there is. You have to do it yourself George. But when it comes to food delivery, you can pay in remittance center to have Jollibee or Max deliver food to your relatives in the Philippines. I haven’t tried it though.

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