Why There Are No Walmarts In Belize

By Editorial Staff

Last updated on January 31st, 2023 at 01:00 am

Laughing Bird Caye in Belize – Image Credit Laura Dobbs.

Belize has no Wal-Marts. No K-Marts. No Home Depots. No Best Buys or Lowes. No McDonalds fast food restaurants. No Kentucky Fried Chicken, No Subway. The food franchises have come and gone, mostly from government pressure to squeeze them out of business. Reason why thousands of Belize residents flock to next door Chetumal, Mexico to savor these American attractions. While this lack of homogenization is in Belize’s favor, it also means that you can’t go down to your neighborhood superstore and select from 40 kinds of dish soap, or 18 brands of underwear.

Rum may be US$7 or $8 a bottle, or U.S. $2 for near over proof rotgut rum sold by the half-pint, but Cheetos may be US$5 a bag. Every iPad, computer, cell phone, nearly every piece of plumbing and electrical equipment, every car and truck, every pair of scissors or glue, every bottle of aspirin and all pharmaceuticals, shoes and clothing, paper, pens and pencils are imported, and often transshipped thousands of miles from one port to another before it gets to the final destination in Belize. Then it’s carried on a bus or under a Cessna seat somewhere else.

Some items simply aren’t available in Belize, or supplies may be spotty. Bags of cement, for example, sometimes are in short supply, and the cost, around US$13 for a 50-pound bag, is higher than you’d pay back home. To get ordinary items such as building nails or a certain kind of auto part, you may have to call several different suppliers. Belize’s small population is spread out over a relatively large area, served by a network of bad roads (though they are getting better), old planes and leaky boats.

Although the government is shifting its focus from excise and import taxes more to income and consumption taxes, much of government revenue still comes from import taxes, so the prices you pay may reflect a tax of 20% to 80% or more.

Government takes a 25% bite out of fuel. Through a very complicated network with layers of offshore companies linked to Houston, Honduras and Venezuela through Belize’s Ministry of Finance, some believe it is more like a 35% bite. As of January 2023 the cost of fuel is astronomical at U.S. $7.50 for an American gallon of premium gasoline. Yes the government got smart and abandoned the larger Imperial Gallon of its mother country England, to more easily shaft the public. And this measure includes water.

In short, Belize is an inefficient market of low-paid consumers, an incompetent but greedy ministry of finance run by wealthy lawyers, a country overrun by commission agents, Hindu and Chinese stores, few of which could last more than a month or two in a highly competitive marketplace like the U.S. This is what gives Belize its unique flavor in an age of franchised sameness. But, you better Belize it, it also provides a lot of frustration and higher prices. – From the Lan Sluder archives.