A row of beans

One of the things that has surprised us in this country is the price of food.   Before we left we thought (perhaps naively) that food here would be cheap.  “It’s a developing country, many people are very poor – surely food must be cheap – how else could they live?”  The truth is that food here is expensive and takes a huge slice of many peoples’ income – and the poorer you are, the bigger the slice.

Some things – the ones that are grown locally, are very cheap.  A big, ripe, delicious pineapple is about 60p.  A sweet, sweet mango around 40p when in season.  Many things, however, are really expensive. A box of Cheerios is £3.50 and a litre of UHT milk about £1 (and as anyone who knows us well will know, Ben gets through his body-weight in Cheerios each day with a couple of cow’s worth of milk on top).

On average we’re spending around £100-£120 per week on groceries (and very occasional meals out).  This is about half what we were spending in the UK each week – but we’re eating much more simply (lots of rice & pasta, cardboard cornflakes, not much meat), we eat less (because it’s hot here) and we’re not entertaining.  I had budgeted for around half this amount when we were doing our ‘can we afford to go’ calculations.

To back up this believe that food is expensive here,  I’ve done a quick comparison of food costs between the UK and here.  It’s based on shopping receipts and a search on Tesco Online, and the results surprised me.

Item UK vs DomRep Comment Imported
   UHT skimmed milk UK: 50p / litre

DR: £1.00

 DR twice as expensive
 Brocolli (loose) UK: 75p / lb

DR: 65p

 About the same
   Apples (loose) UK: £0.23 – £.32 each

DR: 50p

 DR twice as expensive
   Coca Cola (2 litre) UK: £1.98 / 2 litre

DR: 90p

 UK twice as expensive *
   Mango (whole) UK: £1.50

DR: 65p

 UK much more expensive
   Minced beef (fresh) UK: £1.50-£4.00 / 500g

DR: £1.15

 UK more expensive
   Chicken breast (fresh) UK: £4.00

DR: £1.15

 UK much more expensive
   Tinned sweetcorn UK: 58p

DR: 50p

 About the same
   Ground coffee UK: £2.50-£5+ / 250g

DR: £3.00

 DR a bit cheaper
   Tropicana OJ (1.5 litre) UK: £3.00

DR: £2.50

 About the same  *
   Cheerios UK: £2.08 / 375g

DR: £3.50

 DR more expensive  *
   Budget cornflakes UK: £0.86 / 500g

DR: £1.60

 DR more expensive  Yes
   Vegetable oil UK: £1.30 / litre

DR: £1.30

 About the same  Yes
Activia Yoghurts UK: £1.84 (4 x 125g pots)

DR: £3.00

 DR more expensive  *
Bananas UK: £12p / each

DR: 8p

UK more expensive
Premium Lager (bottled) UK: £5 (6 x 330ml)

DR: £4.20

UK a bit more expensive

Based on this, I’ve drawn a couple of tentative conclusions:

  1. On the whole, foods are in actual fact not that much more expensive here as in the UK.  Sure, some foods are expensive (e.g. branded cereals, milk), but if we avoid processed, imported food as much as possible then we can live pretty well on £15 / day.
  2. We have to redouble our efforts to get Ben eating something other than Cheerios for breakfast!  (And more generally, we need to start eating more like the locals – more beans & rice)

However – and this is I think the rel point of the exercise, while food prices may be similar, the average income here is much, much lower than in the UK.  In the UK, per capita GDP is about US$36,000.  In DR, it’s about a quarter of that – a little over US$9,000.  Put a bit more starkly, the starting salary for a teacher in the UK is around £22,000 per annum (source: http://www.tda.gov.uk).  The teachers at Alison’s school (albeit they only work half days), earn about £200 per month.

Ingredients for food security - from FAO.org

So why food expensive here in the DR?  A large part of the reason for this is taxes – especially sales taxes (16% ITBIS on most goods) and import taxes (10% duty on most imports).  Around three-quarters of Government revenue comes from sales taxes and import taxes (there is income and corporation tax at 25%, but corruption and evasion are endemic so the government relies on the more easily collected sales taxes).  One result of these sales/import taxes is that food is more expensive – and especially anything imported.

Sales taxes are regressive – they hit the poorest hardest.  16% ITBIS on a litre of milk equates to around 10 Pesos.  Not much if you’re well paid, but a significant amount to the poorest.

This regressive scale is of course especially harsh on those who can least afford it.  Apparently it’s called ‘food poverty’ (a new phrase to me and I thought I was pretty well read) and it’s a growing problem across the developing world.  Food prices are rising inexorably, and much faster than the wages of the poorest.

I don’t know quite where this is leading.  But I do know that it feels wrong.  In the  news last week was the ‘revelation’ that Mitt Romney (a politician running for the next Republican presidential nomination) ‘probably’ (in his words) only pays 15% tax on his multi-million-dollar earnings.  On the other hand the teachers at Alison’s school earn around £200 per month and have to pay 16% ITBIS on a litre of milk.

Some more food for thought, maybe?  I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. Ted & Liz says:

    Hi Richard, And we all make complaints about our treatment in the UK, at the moment families on benefits are complaining because the Government are trying to get family benefits capped at £500 per week equal to a salary of £35,000 per annum. Whilst this is available, even at this level what would make people without skills wish to work. There are many workers receiving less than £20,000 per annum, paying income tax and VAT on purchases. It all seems wrong to me. You will have to get back to Britain and start earning and contributing to our economy very soon !!!!!!!

  2. Anna says:

    Very interesting read, but has given me another excuse not to start my marking! Definitely ban the cheerios! It is scary to stop and analyse this stuff as so many things in the world are unjust.

  3. Linsfood says:

    I have yet to come across a nation that doesn’t have an alarming Brandeis Ratio. It’s an economic evil that’s long been festering and growing in many developed countries. Unfortunately, as soon as one of the minions decides to move with the times and “progress”, it becomes the latest victim of this inequality. I remember visiting India as an exchange cadet corps student in my late teens. As we were guests of the government, we were entertained and looked after lavishly (one of the “highlights” was breakfast with Indira Gandhi), but all the time, I couldn’t get past the widespread poverty I saw everywhere! For the same reason, I disagree with all the millions spent on so called royal celebrations here. Surely, the money would be better employed feeding the poor & homeless, at the most basic level?
    On the taxes front, why would anyone want to go out and work if so much of that money is going to the taxman and childcare? What incentive is there to come off the welfare system? Don’t get me started on benefits, that’s for another day!
    With your food, it’s obvious that you are going to have to go local. Maybe you can get hold of some cows and chickens and get yourself on the road to self sufficiency?! xx

  4. Like you I assumed that food/drink would be much cheaper. I understand some mark up on imported products but even so you would think the DR would still be cheaper than the UK. As your diet is changing have you noticed any change in your waistline too ;) (not that you needed to change at all I might add). On that note I’ll sign off.
    Caroline x

  5. Nana says:

    Here i am back in action again now my new router is in place; thanksto Ted Ifound your writing on food and drink really interesting but it certainly didnt inspire me to want to visit the DR. We can do some skyping sometime soon

  6. Diana Cobden says:

    Are food parcels needed, yet – starting with Cheerios?

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