Thursday, 24-11-2011 at 10:00 | Comments | by manikamanila Under Guides

by Joey

If you have bought merchandise online and had it shipped into the country, chances are, you’ve encountered the Philippine Bureau of Customs. According to their official website (, the bureau aims to facilitate trade and curb smuggling. For us who import ball-jointed dolls, they are, more often than not, a stumbling block and a cause for needless stress.

A few years ago, not all packages had to undergo customs clearance. If a package is declared as a GIFT with a value lower than USD50, the postman will deliver it straight to you, no questions asked. But due to the influx of Amazon deliveries and other online purchases, Philpost changed its rules and levied tax on non-commercial goods. The first time this happened to me, I had to pay more than PHP2,000 for a DVD set a friend sent to me as a birthday gift. I wanted to curse him for being thoughtful.

Nowadays, if a package does not arrive on time and the EMS online tracking indicates that it is under PROCESSING, you will have to take the painful route to the EMS sorting office in Pasay. A lot of us have done this, and mostly the result is a huge loss of money and a long rant on Livejournal.

Our EMS boxes are taxed as follows:
(Total value of package x 10% customs dues) + (Total value of package x 12% VAT) + Customs miscellaneous fees + PHP 35 Philpost releasing fee = POVERTY

I have closely monitored the computation for every package I received and IT VARIES depending on: a) the customs officer who is doing the computation; b) the general mood of the EMS office; or c) the alignment of the stars. It is a mystery I have yet to solve. No postal officer has also explained this to me properly. They usually just shrug and point accusingly at the baleful man lounging under the CUSTOMS sign.

It is no wonder that some of us resort to illegitimate means to prevent our packages from being taxed unreasonably. As an upstanding Filipino and a believer of karma, I advise that we resort to legal means of solving this problem. The bureau exists to serve, and sometimes we need to remind them of their responsibility. I have received more than 20 BJDs since 2003 and have not been taxed until my most recent delivery last March. I suspect they’ve found out that these dolls are not merely toys, but very expensive, TAXABLE non-commercial goods. Our shiny BJD boxes are now the new Amazon hot items.

I had a brief conversation with the director of EMS a few months ago, when I had to pick up a parcel from AnotherSpace after three failed attempted deliveries. She was a very nice old lady, and was curious after she saw that my parcel contained tiny clothes. She asked, “Are these for those big dolls?”

I thought, oh no, but said, “Oh yes.”

“I didn’t realize those dolls were so expensive! I got hold of an invoice once. Do you own one?”

OH GOD, I thought, but replied, “Yes, ma’am,” and in a panicked attempt to distract her, gave her a Mistula card. “Here, ma’am. Check our website if you have time.”

“Oh, how beautiful! Can I keep this card? I will show it to my daughter.”

“Sure, ma’am! Let me give you another card for your daughter. And here’s my 35 pesos.”

“Oh yes, 35 pesos. Thank you.”

A very nice old lady, the EMS director. Or maybe the stars were just properly aligned that day. But there, our secret is out. I remember a lot of us old-school collectors have gotten away with being taxed because we kept the prices of our dolls a secret. Still, this tried-and-tested method might still work, depending on your luck.

1. Ask the online shop to declare your package as a GIFT with a value of USD50. It is very important that they not include the invoice or other billing documents in the package.

There is no point in declaring the real value of the item because unlike other countries like US and Japan, we do not have insurance for lost packages.

However, there are BJD shops like Volks Japan who will insist on declaring the full value of the item in accordance with their company policy. I usually hurdled this by having my Volks package sent to a friend living in Japan, who removed all the documents our customs office based taxes on and shipped the box to me as a gift with a lower value. However, in order to do this, you will have to buy from the Japanese website, and not their English website. (I think buying Volks dolls merits another article.)

2. Track your package. (

An EMS package from Japan or Korea will take 3 to 5 shipping days. It will take longer if there are holidays in the way. (One of my dolls spent Christmas in the customs office, poor thing.)

3. If your package is held for customs inspection, you will be sent a notification card asking you to go to the EMS exchange office at the Central Mail Exchange Center (CMEC), Domestic Airport Road, Pasay City. Call EMS at 854-4621 or 854-5257 to confirm if your package is ready for pick-up.

Don’t forget to bring your notification card or if you decided not to wait for it, the EMS tracking number of your package, and two valid IDs.

4. At the EMS office, your package will be inspected by the officer in charge and taxes will be imposed on the contents based on the declared value or if present, the billing statement.

ALWAYS BE POLITE TO THE EMS OFFICERS. Believe you me, this helps a lot. This also applies to policemen, but that’s another matter.

5. Congratulations! You can now shoot unboxing photos. Hopefully, you did not lose unnecessary amount of money, time and patience.

My latest package from Volks containing a 60cm doll was taxed PHP1,700 even though it was declared as a GIFT with a USD50 value without accompanying documents. My friend was even kind enough to wrap the box and add a note so it looks like a personal gift. As I’ve said, the secret is out, and we must take extra, legal steps to prevent customs from over-taxing our packages.

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