Sas Tumas: What's expensive in Vanuatu

As volunteers, we don't make money. We do, however, get a small stipend to cover miscellaneous costs, such as phone credit, postage to send mail home, clothes, and groceries.

Living on the island is cheap (a future post to come on that), so when living there, you spend little to no money at all.

We all occasionally need to head into town for trainings or medical check-ups. In Port Vila, life is expensive. I never thought that a town under 50,000 on a remote island in the Pacific, with a handful of bars and restaurants, would charge me the same price as a cheeseburger in a highly-rated hipster restaurant in downtown Chicago. But, here we are.

A box of packets of a variety of 8 American cereals cost about $8.

Some imports are more reasonable than others... Pasta $3, Tortilla chips $3, Poptart knockoffs, $2.50, Marshmallows $4, Tea $8, 18-pack of mini applesauce pouches $20

To future volunteers or any visitors, I will say that you can get pretty much anything in Vanuatu, but you will pay a premium for imported goods.

We do not need a lot of what is available in town. You've probably caught on that we all lead very easy, simple lives here. I don't need Pop-Tarts, but if I am hungry and I don't feel like cooking and I have a craving for something sweet, it's nice to have it. Often, volunteers like to splurge on luxuries. We never knew that things like ice cream, paper towels, or underwear would be considered "luxurious."

Here's a random list of what is expensive in Vanuatu.
  • Domestic Flights: A round-trip flight to another island in Vanuatu from the capital Port Vila will cost you at least $300, and the flight itself could be as short as 40 minutes. 
  • Cheese: $14 for a pack of a dozen cheese slices. 
  • Underwear: "Normal" adult female underwear is hard to come by. You can get underwear in the Chinese import shops, but you have to get an XXL child's size to come even remotely close to an adult woman's medium. To get something more aligned with the 5-for-$25 deal at Victoria's Secret back home, you can pop into a more Western shop on the main boulevard in Port Vila. However, you will be paying about $25 for three pairs of underwear. And those two options, unfortunately, are your only options. 
  • Vanilla extract: $12 USD for one 3-oz bottle. This is not only imported, but the only option at Au Bon Marche (the largest grocery store chain here) is organic. So…organic plus imported means you really better savor that vanilla…or just replace your recipes with almond extract which is $1.80 for a 2-oz bottle. 
  • Alcoholic Cider: For whatever reason, cider is taxed much higher than hard alcohol or beers in Vanuatu. Therefore, you cannot spend less than $7 on a bottle of apple cider at any bar in Port Vila.
  • Canned vegetables or beans: $3 and up for a single can. For a country that has little to no refrigeration in most homes, canned goods would be a popular way to get your nutrients in the form of produce and beans. However, stocking up is expensive. You know those 5-for-$4 deals you often get in the USA? Not here. Every single canned good is over $2, and most are around $3. Beans, corn, tomatoes, tomato sauce…anything you want is too expensive. 
  • Eggs: $4.50 for a dozen. When you don’t have your eggs sourced from factories cramped with chickens, they get pricey. In the villages, you can buy individual eggs, but they are $0.50 per egg. 
  • Ice cream: Because refrigeration is expensive if not completely absent in transport, most dairy products are ridiculously priced. A small, plain carton of ice cream (think: your store brand, plain vanilla) can cost about $4, and milkshakes in town rarely contain more than a scoop of the good stuff. 
  • Milkshakes: They’re $5 for about 12 ounces, and they aren’t even good.
  • Honey: $14 for a 12-oz bottle. Apparently no one harvests honey in Vanuatu. The stuff we get is usually imported from New Zealand.
  • Blueberry pie filling: $10 for 16 oz. Not that you really need blueberry filling. I just randomly noticed that anything containing blueberries is ridiculously sas
  • Cereal: This is just not a thing that is consumed here, so it’s imported purely for the expat crowd. A box of Frosted Flakes will cost you at least $8, if not more. 
  • Chamomile tea: $8 for 20 bags. Black Lipton tea is the standard here (and the cheapest at $2 for a box of 20 teabags), so other teas are much more expensive.
  • Betty Crocker mix: $10 for blueberry muffin mix or chocolate cake mix with frosting. Clearly this is imported, and clearly you are paying premium for those import fees. 
  • A roll of paper towels: $3 for the plainest, cheapest roll you can find. 
  • Thirty sheets of construction paper for $11. Paper products are stupidly expensive here.
  • Ream of colored printer paper: $27. 
  • Large (500g) bag of M&Ms: $10
  • Printer toner: $76 and up. Think about this: it’s cheaper to buy printer toner on Amazon and ship it to the USA, then have someone ship it to you for the extreme shipping prices to Vanuatu, than it is for you to buy printer toner here. 
  • Internet access: it's a remote country, so you're paying $177 USD per month for 2mbps speed


Popular Posts