We returned from our first trip to Puerto Rico last week and I “gotta tell ya”, I’m already missing it, see my post on Puerto Rico First Impressions. We loved this beautiful island! But since we’re evaluating it through the lenses of an early “retirement” destination, I want to concentrate on what we learned about our biggest concern: cost of living.
The cost of food, of course, is a large part of determining the cost of living in any country and so, let me tell you about our experience of grocery shopping in Puerto Rico.
Grocery Shopping in Puerto Rico: Stores
On our trip we went grocery shopping three times. We purposely chose to shop in both San Juan (a big city), Fajardo (a small town), and Naguabo (a smaller yet town). This way, we figured, we would get an idea of the environment, availability, and prices from the various size towns.
First and foremost, I have to say that I was quite impressed by the grocery stores in Puerto Rico. They are very similar to those in the U.S. mainland, the only difference really seemed to be store names. The stores we visited were Pueblo, Econo, and Amigo. They ranged from medium size to large size stores and they were all equally nice.
The second thing I noticed was that they were all air-conditioned. This was nice considering that all the stores we went to in Panama and Costa Rica were not. I would say that this definitely enhanced our shopping experience. I can’t tell you how miserable I was in Costa Rica when it was 90 degrees outside and 95+ in the store!
Third thing I noticed about the stores was that they were all very well stocked. From everything I had read, I expected that the produce variety and availability would be poor but I was very pleasantly surprised that was not the case.
Grocery Shopping in Puerto Rico: Products Availability
This too was a nice surprise because I found that everything I could possibly need was in the stores. I even saw the rice cheese that I normally buy (because I can’t have dairy) – extra awesome! There was plenty of all types of fruits and vegetables; one can get anything from pears from Chile to apples from mainland to “American” lettuce, and much more.
I don’t think the stores lacked for anything and especially not for American-style products. In fact, we were looking for some Puerto Rican candy to bring back to the States and had sort of a hard time of it since everything there was the same as here – I mean I didn’t want to bring everyone Snickers bars, right? Eventually we did find some candy but it was a small selection, so we settled on getting coffee and rum for everyone instead – I don’t think anyone will complain.
Grocery Shopping in Puerto Rico: Prices
OK, this was the big test. I’ve done some research before we went and by all accounts groceries in Puerto Rico were reported to be expensive. After seeing for myself, I have to disagree. I did not find the groceries to be any more expensive than in the continental U.S.A. It is true that some things were pricy but others were much cheaper, so I believe it all evened out and the grocery bill would be about the same (and very similar to Panama, I might add). This was a HUGE surprise to me because I expected things to be through-the-roof expensive. To be fair though, some things were ridiculous, like milk for example, a gallon was $6.50! Of course for me that’s not a problem because I can’t eat or drink dairy but for others this may be a big problem.
So, from my observation here is how the prices broke down: Anything perishable/refrigerated was expensive. I assume this was because it was difficult to keep it fresh while shipping from the U.S. In fact, most products that were brought in long distances, like pears and apples from Chile were pretty expensive but on the other hand, we saw mangos for $.79 (local fruit).
Chicken cost about the same as here $1.99/lb. of chicken thighs and pork and most of the beef were similarly priced to home – perhaps the better cuts were slightly higher priced than here in Michigan. On the other hand, fish was very cheap; two whole fish were only $4.00, for example.
Another surprise was soft drink prices. They were much cheaper than in the States – Why? I have no idea.
So, the moral of the story on the prices of food: buy local and you will save a lot on the grocery bill. Be a smart shopper and only buy the expensive stuff if you absolutely need it, otherwise the prices are quite reasonable.
So, all in all, I think both Tim and I were quite happy with what we learned about grocery shopping in Puerto Rico. It was definitely not a deal breaker as far as cost of living and we suspect that much like in other countries, once you learn how to shop there, i.e. find that local fish guy and fruit stands, you can save quite a bit.
Do you have experience with grocery shopping in Puerto Rico you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it.