Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist for Vacationing OFWs

Venus Zoleta

Venus Zoleta

Last updated May 20, 2022

Flying home to the Philippines soon? Looking forward to reuniting with your loved ones to celebrate the holidays?

As the excitement for your homecoming builds up, so is the stress that comes with all the preparations. With all the things balikbayans have to take care of before their trip back home, it's easy to forget those that really matter for that much-awaited vacation.

Keep these OFW and balikbayan tips in mind to make the most out of your short stay in the Philippines during the holiday season.

14 Balikbayan Tips for Returning Overseas Pinoys

1. Set a Reasonable Budget and Stick to It

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Set a Reasonable Budget

You don't have to be unreasonably stingy when you're back home. After all, you've been working so hard and fighting homesickness abroad to provide for your family. As a generous provider, you'd want to treat them to a grand salo-salo, shopping spree, out-of-town trip, or anything that will make them happy.

Even so, it's still important to plan your expenses before you go back home, so you won't overspend and get broke even before you return to your overseas employer.

To set your budget, list down all expenses, such as for shopping, family getaways, and emergencies. Then set aside money for them and bring home just that amount.

2. Inform Only Your Loved Ones

Of course, relatives and friends you haven't seen in a long time would be happy to know you'll be returning to the Philippines. But you don't have to post about it on social media before you leave.

If everyone knows you'll be coming back home, expect to be bombarded with invitations to parties here and there, as well as sponsorship and solicitation requests. And then people might get hurt when you turn them down.

To avoid causing hurt feelings, keep your homecoming as discreet as possible. Especially if you'll be on a short vacation, share the news only with your closest family and friends—those who are really worth your time while on vacation.

If you want to update everyone about your vacation on social media, do it when you've already left the country. You don't owe anyone an explanation, but you may choose to explain a bit why you decided to keep your homecoming a private affair.

3. Provide Accurate Details of Your Arrival

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Provide Accurate Details of Your Arrival

Unless you plan to surprise your loved ones, let them know the exact information regarding your arrival to the Philippines as soon as you have it. This will give them enough time to prepare for your homecoming and pick you up at the right time and location.

Don't forget to share these important details before your trip:

  • Date of arrival
  • Name of airport and terminal number
  • Airline and flight number
  • Expected arrival time
  • Estimated number of luggage and boxes you'll bring (so your loved ones can arrange for a proper vehicle to pick you up)

4. Book an Airbnb Accommodation Instead of a Hotel Room

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Book an Airbnb

Airbnb has become a popular option among OFWs and balikbayans who are on a short vacation in the Philippines. It offers cheaper and more varied accommodations than hotels. You can rent a budget-friendly one-bedroom or two-bedroom unit or even an entire house that can accommodate the whole family.

5. Don't Bring Prohibited, Expensive, and Unnecessary Items

It's important to know which things you can't bring with you on your trip back home. Before you start packing, check the list of prohibited items in the Philippines (1), which include weapons, explosives, and sharp objects.

Also, it's safe and practical not to bring expensive things like jewelry, high-end gadgets, branded bags and clothes, and other luxury items.

To spare more space in your luggage, determine the items you can buy cheap or get for free in the Philippines and thus will not bring. For example, towels and toiletries are usually available in the hotel or in the home you'll be staying in.

5. Save Some Space in Your Luggage

While packing for your trip, make room in your luggage for gifts, souvenirs, and even Filipino snacks you'll be bringing from the Philippines to your host country. Bring enough vacuum bags to maximize the space in your luggage.

7. Rethink Sending Balikbayan Boxes

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Rethink Balikbayan Boxes

Instagram photo by @chellycatindig

Packing a balikbayan box (or repatriate box) with pasalubong for family and friends back home is a long-time Filipino tradition (2). It feels good to share the fruits of your labor with the people you're working hard for.

Practically speaking, though, buying gifts and sending balikbayan boxes can be costly. They usually take longer than a month to arrive, too. Also, declaring international goods at the Customs can be such a hassle, not to mention that the items have to be handled carefully to prevent damage while you're traveling.

You can choose to give presents only to a select few or not send balikbayan boxes at all, especially if you're trying to pack light and save money.

Consider bringing just a handful of gifts for your closest loved ones and packing them into your checked baggage (Be sure not to exceed the airline's baggage allowance). Then buy other pasalubong items at duty-free shops when you arrive at the airport.

There are other ways to give gifts to your loved ones, like sending cash directly to the Philippines. International money transfers are cheaper, faster, and safer than balikbayan boxes.

Related article: LBC Express: Your Guide to Shipping and Other LBC Services

8. Prepare a To-Do List for Your Balikbayan Itinerary

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Balikbayan Itinerary

Make a list of the places you want to visit, dishes you want to try, people you want to see again, and all the activities you want to do when you get back home. Then send the list before your arrival to the family member who's in charge of preparing your homecoming itinerary. Ask to see the schedule in advance, so you'll know what to expect.

Having your balikbayan itinerary ready before you come back home ensures that you maximize your short stay in the Philippines. Manage your expectations, though, as you won't likely do everything on your wish list due to time constraints.

9. Avail of Benefits Under the Balikbayan Program

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Balikbayan Program Benefits

Photo by drcw via Flickr. Creative Commons

Arriving balikbayans enjoy benefits under the Balikbayan Program (3), including travel tax exemption, visa-free entry to the Philippines for a year (for foreign passport holders), and duty-free shopping privileges (4).

Those perks apply also to immediate family members (foreign passport holders) who are traveling to the Philippines with you. So take advantage of the balikbayan privileges, especially if you're married to a non-Filipino. To avail of the benefits, just present your valid passport if you're an OFW or old Philippine passport/NSO birth certificate if you're a former Filipino citizen.

10. Get an OEC Online

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Get an OEC Online

Don't forget to secure an OEC before your scheduled return to your employer.

Getting an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) sounds like a pain in the neck, what with the long queues at the POEA office. But that has become a thing of the past. OFWs can now do it online via the Balik Manggagawa Online Processing System or BM Online. This saves not just time but also money on travel tax and terminal fee exemptions.

If you'll be staying in the Philippines for five days or less, you can get an OEC at the Labor Assistance Counter of the airport in Manila, Cebu, or Mindanao.

Read more:

11. Update your SSS, Pag-IBIG, and PhilHealth Records

So that you can avail of benefits from these government agencies without any hassle or complication, make time for visiting their offices to update your membership information as an OFW. It's also a good opportunity to check and update your SSS, Pag-IBIG, PhilHealth contributions.

12. Review and Update Your Savings, Investments, and Insurance Policies

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Savings, Investments, and Insurance Policies

Your vacation in the Philippines is the perfect time to manage your finances and make sure they're in order. Check your bank accounts, investments, and insurance policies to see if they're still active or if you need to update them or open new accounts.

Look for more investment opportunities to grow your money and prepare for retirement. There are good government-backed savings programs for OFWs like the Pag-IBIG MP2, SSS Flexi Fund, and PERA investment.

You may also attend OFW training and seminars to improve your financial knowledge or learn how to start a business. If you have enough capital, you can apply for a franchise business while you're on a holiday break, and let your family manage it when you're abroad.

Most importantly, don't leave without making sure you and your family have ample life insurance coverage. This will give you peace of mind knowing that your family is protected financially should any medical emergency happen.

13. Say No When Necessary

As an OFW, it's easy to get pressured when people ask you for gifts, pasalubongs, dole-outs, and whatnots. Some may even approach you to borrow money. Others would want a piece of your time by inviting you to reunions, drinking sessions, or any event.

Although it makes sense to accommodate several requests (as people don't get to see you often), you don't have to give in to every demand. Know your limits—if people are stepping onto your boundaries, have the courage to say no.

Read more: How to Say No Graciously When You Can’t Loan Money to Family and Friends

14. Pamper Yourself

Yes, you deserve it! Don't forget to include some me-time in your itinerary. You've been working abroad for the past couple of years. Why not take your vacation as an opportunity to treat yourself to a massage, facial, spa treatment, or hair makeover?

Lastly, don't forget to enjoy your time bonding with your loved ones!

Pre-Departure Checklist for Vacationing OFWs

Balikbayan Tips and Travel Checklist - Pre-Departure Checklist for OFWs

Before you pack for your trip back home, take the time to list down everything you need to bring. It's easier to sort and organize your stuff that way.

Here's an OFW travel checklist you can refer to before and while packing your bags, so you won't leave anything behind. Take these along with our balikbayan tips!

Vacation Essentials

  • Cash (just enough for your entire stay)
  • Light and comfortable clothes (for the whole duration of your stay)
  • Pasalubong for each of your closest family and friends

Travel Bags and Organizers

  • Compression bags or vacuum bags - To keep things organized and more compact in your suitcase
  • Duffel bags - Extra storage for souvenirs from the Philippines
  • Anti-theft bag or money belt - To avoid theft while shopping in Divisoria and other crowded areas

Travel Documents

Place your documents in an organizer or envelope for easy access instead of putting them into your luggage. It's also a good idea to bring photocopies of your travel papers just in case the original copies get lost or damaged. Just one of the many balikbayan tips you need to keep in mind.

  • Flight tickets or boarding pass (including a return ticket to your host country)
  • Hotel booking confirmation receipt or voucher (if applicable)
  • Unexpired passport (or a travel document for those without a valid passport but need to travel to the Philippines due to an emergency e.g., death in the family, medical reasons, legal reasons, etc.)
  • Work visa or work permit
  • Employment contract, employment certificate, or offer of employment
  • Company ID
  • Recent payslips
  • OFW e-Card and/or any valid ID
  • Seaman’s Book (for sea-based OFWs)
  • Immigrant visa or permanent resident card (for Filipino immigrants)

Read more: Thinking of Migrating to New Zealand, Canada, U.S., or Australia? Read This First!

Final Thoughts

Excited to come back home? You deserve this vacation. Just make sure to take note of these balikbayan tips for a smooth and hassle-free trip to the Philippines.

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Venus has almost 20 years of combined experience in content marketing, SEO, corporate communications, and public relations. Most of her career was spent creating informative articles on personal finance and digital marketing. She also invests in stocks, mutual funds, VUL, and Pag-IBIG MP2. Venus graduated cum laude with a Journalism degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman. A hardcore Hallyu Tita, she loves bingeing Korean shows on Netflix while bonding with her cats. Follow Venus on LinkedIn.


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