Unboxing Pasalubong: What’s inside a balikbayan box?

These boxes are reminders that no matter the distance, our loved ones abroad have never forgotten the ones left at home whom they work hard for.
Unboxing Pasalubong: What’s inside a balikbayan box?
Valerie Jayne Jamili

Filipinos are intimately familiar with the tradition of balikbayan boxes. As a family-centered country, no distance can diminish the closeness of family members. Balikbayan boxes serve as a collection of memories, hard work and gifts sent back home to express love and maintain connections.

Unboxing feels different when it's a big, sturdy box of balikbayan goods from a loved one working outside the country. Typically used by Filipinos living overseas, these boxes contain items to be sent back to family and friends in the Philippines. It's a common practice during special occasions or holidays to send items like clothes, toys, gadgets and food items that are not easily accessible or are more expensive in the Philippines.

SunStar Lifestyle did some digging and found out some of the popular stuff typically packed in these balikbayan boxes. Here's what we found:


Distance can be tough, but it's not so bad when you can see the places you've conquered! For families back home, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) love sending fridge magnets that have a photograph/souvenirs of their adventures. It's a tradition that turns the fridge into a colorful map of their journeys, like a badge of honor for both their hard work and adventures.


Sending cans of Spam in balikbayan boxes feels like sending a two-week meal supply! Since Spam is a bit pricier here compared to buying it in the States or other countries, OFWs love sending these products back home. Filipinos love it for being meatier and chunkier than our usual ones at local groceries.


If there’s something that would take up most of the space of these boxes, it’s the big jars of Nutella spread! Packing Nutella in a balikbayan box is a way to share a little bit of joy and sweetness with loved ones back home. Since the Philippines is a bread-loving country, a balikbayan box without nutella is not complete. It's a way to share a taste of the world with family and friends, especially since Nutella is a popular and iconic international brand.

Coffee jars/boxes

Coffee is a popular gift item in the Philippines, especially during special occasions or holidays. By sending international coffee brands, OFWs can share a thoughtful and practical gift with their loved ones back home. Nescafe, Folgers, Tim Hortons — these are some of the beloved brands sent in a box for families at home to try.


International chocolates often offer a wider variety of flavors and options that may not be available in the Philippines. This is especially reserved for the kids and teenagers at home longing for some international chocolate brands like Cadbury, Hersheys, Toblerone Godiva and more. Chocolates are a universal symbol of sweetness and affection. 

Souvenir shirts, branded clothes

These souvenir shirts serve as a sentimental reminder of the place where the OFW is currently living or working. They represent a connection to their experiences and memories in that location. "I Love [Place]" shirts are practical souvenirs that are easy to pack and transport. They are also relatively affordable, making them an ideal gift for family members. Meanwhile, Filipinos love to flaunt a good fit and buying branded clothes such as Calvin Klein, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and more mainstream clothing brands are coveted gifts for families at home. 

Jars of almonds/nuts

Almonds and nuts are little treats, seen as something special or a bit pricey in the Philippines. When they're included in a balikbayan box, they become a fun surprise, giving families a yummy and healthy snack to enjoy. Filipinos are fond of snacking and what better way to do it than having a jar of almonds and nuts that have healthy benefits.


OFWs love to snag those brands that aren't easily found in the Philippines and tuck them into a balikbayan box. They're like little treasures, especially for the ladies back home who can't resist the scent of Victoria's Secret's collections! These items are all about pampering and show a special kind of love and thoughtfulness.

Hygiene kit

Hygiene kits are bundles of essential items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and toothbrushes, often sent by OFWs to their families back home. Similar to perfumes and other personal care products, these kits are thoughtful gifts that show care for the well-being and comfort of their loved ones. It’s a practical and caring way for OFWs to provide for their families' needs from afar.


Towels are another item that OFWs love to include in their balikbayan boxes when sending them back home. These items are not just practical but also symbolize care and comfort for their families. By sending towels, OFWs ensure that their families have access to soft, absorbent and durable towels, enhancing their daily comfort and well-being.


When OFWs leave for home, they make sure to ask for the shoe sizes of their family members. It’s a popular gift Filipinos enjoy for the athletic members, the students, or just the sneakerheads of the family. Brands like Nike and Adidas are way more budget-friendly abroad, so it's often smarter to snag them there instead of back home in the Philippines. And let's be real, the young ones at home are practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation of their awesome new kicks.

Teas and juices

Good quality teas and juices are not something we often find in local groceries. That's why whenever an OFW is getting ready to pack, these are some of the products they never forget. The big bottles of Cranberry juice and the Spearmint or Oolong teas are perfect for the titas and titos back home to enjoy. They're so refreshing and come in brands that aren't easily available in the country.

Household products

Kitchenware and cleaning products are like the superheroes of the household, bringing joy to loved ones back home. From cookware sets to utensils, small appliances, sponges, scrub brushes, and multipurpose cleaners, these gifts are more than just practical.

Accessories and make-ups

The ladies back home would be overjoyed to receive high-quality lipsticks and eye palettes. Drugstore makeup from abroad is highly sought after and a real treat for them. OFWs also pack accessories that are not only beautiful but also considered as priceless mementos.

Toys and gadgets

Toys and gadgets are often cherished additions to a balikbayan box for Filipinos. Each item carries the warmth and thoughtfulness of the sender. Fun gadgets are also considered as symbols of progress and success from the hardworking individuals abroad.


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