People ask about the average cost of living in Belize ALL the time in the expat forums on Facebook and it is always a hotly debated issue—costs of living vary drastically… because people live very differently. A family of four that values private school education can’t base their budget off of a single, spartan retiree’s annual off-grid lifestyle operating cost. I’ve said this before but International Living and all these move-abroad publications keep perpetuating the myth that Belize is a cheap place to live. Cheap is relative! I have not found it “cheap” to live here. Sure, some areas you save loads of money i.e. property taxes are nearly non-existent, but visa extensions or work permits or what-have-you are a budgetary expense you have to consider. That really sums up cost of living in Belize- tradeoffs. You save money on some things and spend more on others. Garbage removal and water are dead cheap, electricity costs are sky high. Don’t get me wrong, you can live very cheaply here (or very cheaply anywhere in the world) depending on how you live but apples to apples if you’re going to live by North American standards, expect to pay North American prices (maybe more). Most people move here to change that lifestyle though so consider what you’re willing to give up in exchange for what you want to gain from your experience moving here.
I know I’m not the first expat to struggle with grocery shopping in Belize, nor will I say I’ve mastered it now. In the US, our go-to meal was a Dole bagged salad and rotisserie chicken grabbed in a rush from the local ShopRite on the way home from work or the gym. I was the queen of LeanCuisines! Last minute get together? No problem, I’ll bake some brie in Pillsbury crescent roll dough and be done in a jiffy. I was totally comfortable with my brands and the abundance of pre-made, convenience foods. Fast forward to our first months in Belize and the grocery store struggles… never did I ever think my family would drink milk from a box.
Nowadays there are so many North Americans frequenting Belize grocery stores that the shopkeepers due a commendable job of trying to cater to their tastes and stock familiar brands- but shoot, this stuff is expensive! Importing American brand foods here is pricey because of duty and perishables are at an even higher premium; I could find a LeanCuisine but it would cost $15 (and it would probably have thawed and refrozen, thawed and refrozen half a dozen times before it reached my microwave, yum). One of the lifestyle changes you make when you move here is how you shop and what you buy. Let’s take a look at what I mean.
Ranch dressing $21, a jar of sundried tomatoes $41, and my favorite- Grey Poupon Dijon $54 bwahahaha! Okay okay, how about some sweets?
A $15 pack of Oreos (almost worth it to be honest) and this one just kills me, a half-gallon of frozen yogurt $49.50! It’s not even Turkey Hill!
So you see you will likely change what goes in to your cart; I shop nearly every day instead of a large once-a-week trip. Each day I base what we’ll eat off of what’s available fresh at the veg stand. I’ve also started finding frugal substitutes for the pricier staples I use. Buy the locally made Pop breadcrumbs for half the price of the imported ones.
Chicken and eggs are abundant and affordable (check out my recipe for Belizean Stew Chicken-the White Gyal Way). I make a heap of hummus each week with a $7bzd bag of dry chick peas. Staples like flour, sugar, and rice are about $1bzd a pound but of course, if you’d prefer- you could always leave the shopping and cooking to someone else and try the many Cheap Eats in Placencia.