Onions as Pasalubong from Abroad; Is it allowed?

At the onset of the year 2023, onion, one of the common ingredients in almost all Filipino dishes, has become a luxury good as its price skyrocketed unprecedentedly. Unsurprisingly, Filipinos have to devise various ways on how to get away with this situation and still avail this common and basic ingredient in spite of its high prices in the market. One of the means many are looking at is to bring home onions from abroad as pasalubong. But the question is, are Filipinos allowed to bring home onions as pasalubong from abroad? The simplest and the most straightforward answer is, no. BRIA Homes is truly pleased to guide you through the ongoing price crisis in onion and what are the commodities that are not allowed to bring to the Philippines.

The high prices of onions in the Philippines is a major issue for many households. The cost of this ingredient can often determine whether a family can afford to cook a dish or not. Despite this, onions remain a staple ingredient in many Filipino dishes and so Filipinos continue to find ways to incorporate them into their meals. The price of onions in the Philippines has been steadily increasing over the past few years. In 2019, the average price of onions was Php 54.41 per kilogram.

During the holidays, the price of the commodity started to surge. Based on the Department of Agriculture (DA) report in December, just before Christmas, the per-kilo prices of local red onions ranged from Php 500 to Php 720 while the local white onions were being sold at ₱600 per kilo. Unfortunately, this price is far worse compared to our neighboring countries like in Singapore with Php 85.00 and Vietnam with Php 55.00. The Php 700 tag of onion was higher compared to meat prices in the market and worse, even higher compared to daily wages in the Southeast Asia region.

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With the rising onion prices here in the Philippines, it’s natural to wonder if bringing onion from abroad  would be allowed. As earlier mentioned, onions are considered prohibited items to send to the Philippines. There are a few measures that regulate the importation of onions in the Philippines. According to the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the following measures cover the regulations of onion importation: Plant Quarantine Law of 1978, Presidential Decree 1433, and Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.

Recently, 10 flight attendants of the Philippine Airlines were caught in trouble when they tried to bring home onions from the Middle East as pasalubong without the necessary documentary requirements. Because of this, these flight attendants may face formal charges against the above-mentioned laws. In an interview to the BOC Spokesperson Arnold dela Torre Jr., the Agency is exploring the potential of proceeding with the complaints.

In an interview on Teleradyo, Dela Torre said that “Included in the BOC probe is (determining) the charges that we can file, because we have caught many people doing the same these past few months. Our quarantine law specifically prohibits bringing home agricultural products unless these have permits from the country of origin.” One of the primary requirements whenever importing agricultural products like onions is the phytosanitary certificate. This certificate is issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) under the Department of Agriculture to the exporting country where the agricultural product originated.

Pursuant to BPI Quarantine Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 1981, the primary purpose of this certificate is  “to ensure the products being imported meets standard to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and to prevent the spread of pests or diseases among animals or plants”. One of the main reasons is that this product, if remains unchecked, may bring an invasive species and can hurt local ecosystems. The government is also concerned about introducing pathogens that can cause disease or interfere with local farming practices. As a result, bringing onions into the Philippines is strictly regulated.

On a more positive note, due to onions’ luxurious price nowadays, a bride held a bouquet of 4 kg-onion during their wedding day last 21 January. April Lyka Biorrey-Nobis, the 28-year old bride said that aside from the skyrocketing price of onions in the Philippines, another reason for having onions instead of the commonly used flowers is practicality. After the wedding, the bride gave the onions to her guests as souvenirs.

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What are the other highly regulated or prohibited items to send to the Philippines as pasalubong?

Aside from the prohibition on bringing in the country agricultural products like the very luxurious onions as pasalubong, there are other highly regulated products that balik-bayans need to consider. Pursuant to the Joint Circular No. 1 dated 22 June 2015 of the Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and the Bureau of Customs, there are various products that are considered to be Regulated Products. These products may be brought in to the Philippines as pasalubong without prior clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only in limited quantities and on the conditions that the items:

  • are for personal use only;
  • do not exceed the quantity indicated below; and
  • are brought into the Philippines either (a) in the traveler’s personal baggage, (b) in a balikbayan box, or (c) in parcels sent through mail or delivery service.

The following are considered to be part of the regulated or prohibited items to send to the Philippines:

  1. Assorted cosmetics: 5 kilograms
  2. Bar soap: 2 kilograms comprising different variants (only up to 500 grams of the same variant allowed)
  3. Childcare articles: 5 kilograms
  4. Household hazardous substances (detergent: fabric conditioner: fabric softener: dishwashing liquid): 5 kilograms
  5. Insulin needles and lancets: up to 100 pieces
  6. In-vitro diagnostic products: 1 piece of each type
  7. In-vitro maintenance test strips: up to 100 pieces
  8. Lipstick: 10 pieces comprising different variants (only up to 3 pieces of the same variant allowed)\
  9. Lotion: 2 kilograms comprising different variants (only up to 1 kilogram of the same variant allowed)
  10. Medical devices: 1 piece of each type
  11. Over-the-counter drugs: 50 grams
  12. Perfumes: 5 pieces
  13. Prescription drugs, quantity or volume indicated in physician’s prescription (actual prescription must be presented, indicating physician’s license or practice number)
  14. Processed food (including cooked food): up to 10 kilograms
  15. Shampoo: 2 kilograms
  16. Toys: 10 pieces of different variants (only up to 2 pieces of the same variant allowed)
  17. Vitamins: supplements: health supplements intended as maintenance medicine: 500 grams total
  18. Wines, liquor: 2 bottles, but not exceeding 1.5 liters

Going beyond the above-mentioned quantity, whether declared on undeclared, will cause the excess to the prescribed limit will be seized by the Bureau of Customs.

Other products that the Bureau of Customs are highly regulating are related with the following: Fresh or Frozen Unprocessed Foods, Pesticides, and Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursor and Essential Chemicals.

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