What do the Balikbayan Box Inspections Mean for OFWs?

Recently, the Philippine government stated that Balikbayan Boxes are now subject to inspections under the Bureau of Customs (BOC). The contents of these boxes were previously un-taxed and since it contained gifts from Overseas Filipino Workers to their loved ones in the Philippines. Now that the boxes are subject to inspection due to recent smuggling issues regarding these boxes, what exactly would that mean for our OFWs?

Most Filipinos, both in the mainland and OFWs are against this law, since these boxes are not only boxes full of stuff, but are fruits of hard work and labor apart from family, and are material proof of the memory of their loved one(s) abroad. However, some people abuse this privilege granted to the Filipinos by shipping off high-end and illegal commodities through these giant gift boxes.

Most would stuff these commodities deep down the box, and around it, place small items legal to be transported to the Philippines and sent through forwarding businesses like Manila Forwarder. This would be done to escape taxes from the BOC, but is the very reason this law was passed. The Philippine Bureau of Customs have come across a number of cases wherein these “Balikbayan Boxes” contain smuggled appliances and many different goods illegally transported to citizens of the Philippines. An estimated 50 Million Pesos is lost because of this every year. Though the inspections seem very intrusive, the concept of the Balikbayan Box will still be observed by the BOC, as they will only inspect the Balikbayan Boxes which are not accompanied by an actual OFW coming home from overseas, thus the name “Balik-Bayan” which means “Coming Home” in Filipino.

Because of these privacy issues, Bitcoin may be used to instead send money directly through wallets, or due to Bitcoin’s volatility, through local remittance services like Rebit to allow loved ones and/or friends to purchase their needed commodities directly rather than to have it shipped from abroad, take weeks to arrive, torn open and possibly confiscated by the BOC instead.

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According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in 2012, over 10 million Filipinos work abroad, away from their families and friends, to earn and profit more to be able to provide and support their family enough. That’s over 10% of the Philippine population! It’s certainly undeniable that a lot of our countrymen most definitely persevere miles and miles away from a familiar face, just to be able to sustain not only themselves in a foreign place, but also the family they have to provide and nurture for. In occasion with the past Father’s Day, let us not just sit idly but think: how many of us have fathers that skip meals just to be able to send that extra cash that will later be used for tomorrow’s lunch and dinner?

You might be asking in your head, “Alright, so where does Bitcoin fall in all this?”

Bitcoin has everything to do with this. Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs for short, don’t just magically conjure up and send their earnings directly to their families. And so here comes remittance, in which you put in a request to send money so that your family could pick it up, and the steps can be quite lengthy.

First, you’d have to go to the local bank where you have to ask to do a remittance, where your foreign currency is usually converted to Philippine peso, sometimes decreasing the value of your earnings, especially in a financial crisis when you really have to send money now and the conversion rate is really, really bad. Then you’d have to wait for the bank to process the transaction, and you’ll be charged with a transaction fee. Next, enter your relative or friend, who would wait for hours, days and sometimes weeks for the transaction to finally be verified and be pushed through, where he or she has to just pick it up, which is very inconvenient when in the previously mentioned financial crisis. Plus, there’s another transaction fee that needs to be paid for the delivery and receiving of the money. Not only can the waiting be long, but the conversion and transaction fees can most definitely hinder and reduce the budget your family receives.

Thanks to services like Rebit, this process is simplified. With Bitcoin already huge in areas where OFWs are mostly based, especially in first world countries, local Bitcoin exchanges are very common, and you just need to bring your earnings, have it converted to Bitcoin and sent to your wallet. Afterwards, you just have it sent and delivered, while your family waits, and it takes just a matter of minutes to verify the transactions in contrast to days and weeks. Your recipient will then receive a message that the money is now available for pickup. Not only was the processing and verification a lot faster, it also minimizes transaction fees and can even give a boost to your earnings.

So we’ve shown how Overseas Filipino Workers can benefit from the opportunities presented by Bitcoin. Not only does it make it simpler to send money to your loved ones in a time of need, for as the world adapts and is shaped further by the Bitcoin economy and its community, we certainly find new ways and ideas to make the easy even easier and the fast even faster.