This is kind of a cool thing about the Philippines: You only get mail when someone has actually mailed you something. No junk mail! Ok, well, there are still companies who will privately hire folks to deliver fliers and newsletters to your house, but still it adds up to a lot less junk mail that you’re probably used to.
So, how do you get mail?
Letters will typically be delivered by someone from the post office on a motorcycle who will ring your doorbell and deliver it. If you have a mailbox, they will leave it. Sometimes they will ring whether you have a mailbox or not.
If there is an area that a company has to send a lot of mail to, like say a phone company sending out the monthly bills, they will sometimes just hire their own courier to deliver all the bills to that one neighborhood. In that case, they may just leave it in the box, or they may ring, or they may ring and ask you to sign to prove you received it.
If you are getting a package, they will not deliver it to your house. You will get a note card saying you have a package and telling you what post office you need to go to to claim it. It may not be the post office that is closest to your home, but it is usually close-ish. There is a place on the card to request that it be sent to a different post office, if you aren’t feeling up to finding your way to a post office you aren’t familiar with.
If you ordered something online and are having it delivered, take your receipt.
You will have to pay a fee upfront before they will go get your package. I believe it was P50 last time we were in. Once they have the fee, they will go get the package. If you have your receipt, they will charge you a customs fee based on the receipt. I believe packages under P4000 (or the equivalent in whatever currency) are free. However, this is subject to change, and the website for customs is about the least helpful site and is never up to date. I’m not even going to link you to it. You can google if you want to. Maybe it’s better by the time you’re reading this. But, as of writing, this is a situation where you basically just roll over and do what they tell you to get your stuff.
If you do not have a receipt, then you will have to open the package in the presence of a customs inspector who will assign a value to the contents and charge you accordingly.
If you want to, you can sign the back of the original card that says you have a package and send your driver or helper with some money and the receipt if you have it, and have them handle all of this.
I would strongly recommend that if you have family members back home who want to send gifts to your family that you have them use a private courier like DHL or FedEx, who will deliver right to your door and save you all the hassle.
Another option is to use a mail forwarding, or balikbayan, service. These companies handle larger boxes of goods. They will pick up at the sender’s house, put the box on a boat, handle customs, and deliver it to your house in about 6-7 weeks time. We have used StarKargo many times in the past with no problems at all. It costs about $100 to send a very large box (weight doesn’t matter) from the west coast of the US. There are many companies out there that provide this service, though, all across the country. To find one that services your area, you can Google for “mail forwarding to Philippines from <where you live>”.
There are two ways you can use these services.
The first is that you can contact the company and let them know you will be using them. They will tell you what information you need to use as your shipping address when you order things. They will start a box for you, and you decide whether you want them to close it up and send it to you when it is full, or whether they should send it by a certain date. If you send it when it’s full, you may end up filling it and have to pay for another box. They really are big boxes, and can hold about a large suitcase worth of goods. So unless you’re shipping giant things or buying A LOT of goods, this may be ok for you. Most of these services offer several box sizes, so you can make it clear that they can upgrade the size if it fills up. If you have them wait until a certain date, pick one that is a month or so after you place all your orders in case something gets delayed on the way, or you may need to pay extra to get a stray package to you.
The other way to use the service is to find a kindly friend or relative who is willing to be bombarded with packages for several weeks. They can keep them all in a safe place and then you can tell the company it’s time to go get them and they will need to take a box with them. You will have to set up a time when your kindly friend or relative will be home, and they can throw everything into the box for you and the delivery men will take it away. You will need to arrange to pay the company somehow before they show up on your kindly friend or relative’s doorstep. Depending on the company, you may need to pay them online or wire cash to your friend or relative for them to pay on the day of. The benefit of getting the help of a friend or relative is that if you need someone to open up a specific package to check something out, it’s not usually a big deal. Also, if they are truly kindly, they will probably be willing to run to a few stores for things that would be silly to order on-line like egg noodles and cinnamon flavored Trident. Using this option also makes it easier to say, “Please go buy a ton of this obscure brand of tortellini we love and can’t find here and use it to fill any remaining space in the box when the shipping guys get there.”
Either way, once you have your method picked, you then get online and order everything you need and have it sent to the company or your friend or relative.
Let’s pause for a moment while I type “friend or relative” one more time for good measure.
Once the package is on its way, you wait and wait and wait until you start to think surely it’s been too long a wait. How long is 6-7 weeks, anyway? I thought that one company said 4 weeks, why is it actually taking 6-7 weeks? When did the boxes leave again? Where’s my calendar? Once your patience is spent and your spirit is broken, it will arrive at your doorstep the next day.
Since we’re talking deliveries, if your family is so new to the Philippines that your little children are used to seeing the toys available in the toy stores in other parts of the world, it may be a good idea to have them write their letters to Santa in early October when the Christmas season here is in full swing, just in case he needs to use a balikbayan service to get their gift to them in time, or maybe send an elf here to shop for presents and handle deliveries. Santa is still coming to the Philippines, but he tends to only visit kids who have moved here from other countries, because the local children don’t believe in him. The heat can be hard on the reindeer, so there has been talk that he might switch to mail for this part of the world. I’m sure it’s all rumors, but just in case the toy they are asking for needs to come from far away, it is best to help Santa plan ahead.