Ship It, Pack It, Buy It in Belize? Furnishing Your New Place on Ambergris Caye
Adventures in Island Shopping: “Home” Edition
But first, a note from the blog: Guest posts are not frequent on my site. But there are some things that I will probably never do – like attempt to furnish a 1500 sq ft condo in San Pedro in a week! Jeff and I have lived in our home (about that size too!) for 6+ years and it’s still a work in progress…
Maybe we like the Quality Poultry towel that hangs as a sunshade over our front window!
Thank you, Sharon, for reaching out to share your experiences and for being so upfront on prices and difficulties. For all of you thinking of buying or even renting on Ambergris Caye (or anywhere in Belize) – this is for you.
Hopefully, this post can give you some information, get you thinking about what to grab in the US (when you see great deals) and what you may want to buy down here. My main tip is: don’t do it all in one week! Good grief…impressive.
Just remember the popular ex-pat saying: Everything is simple in Belize- but it’s never easy.
I’ve sprinkled a few notes where I think they might help. Here we go.
My husband, Nathan, and I will move down full-time within 5 years (ultimately to a property we bought on the west coast of Ambergris Caye); we have 2 sons that we want to get settled into adulthood, then we’re ready to expatriate!
We visit Belize every year…but took the leap and bought a villa we can rent out now, and have a “home base” later!
The villa (at Mara Laguna) came “furnished,” which ended up meaning a random assortment of some furniture. We needed a plan…and we needed it quick!
Here it goes:
- I would fly down Monday, return Friday
- Nathan had no vacation days left, so we roped his retired (but still very active and
handy!) dad into going with me for muscle/skill
- I would pre-order furniture from Mirab Furniture Gallery or Courts and have it shipped to the island
- I’d stockpile items that are inexpensive in the US, easy to travel with, and tough to find down
there –then backfill the remaining items in San Pedro.
Note: Courts (an El-Salvador based-Caribbean wide company) NOW has a location in San Pedro just south of town and it is really quite impressive. There have quite a bit of stock but can also order from the mainland.
Travel from Phoenix, AZ requires a layover, then the puddle-jumper to Ambergris Caye.
So that first (and last day) are burned with travel. That gives me three full days to complete the
villa, no problem!
I’ve done this before, but not in Belize. From 2008-14, I ran a vacation Home Furnishing Service – I would deck out homes with furniture, linens, electronics, kitchen wares, art, and décor… so when the owners arrived, they could golf, hit the spa, and relax, not wait for deliveries.
With my experience, I thought, “How complicated could this be…? It’s only three bedrooms, and we’re only getting about half of the furniture with the villa!”
I’ll pause here: It was WAY harder than I imagined! And I (kind of!) know what I’m
Amazon was my best friend – actual photo of the driver counting – to ensure all 22 boxes were there!
FURNITURE SHOPPING FROM ABROAD
Mirab’s in Belize City was quick to reply; however, only a small fraction of what is on their site is stocked, and they aren’t placing orders for additional items.
I was sent .pdf documents for Dining and Bedroom options. To me, their pricing was not too much higher than the US for beds, but dressers, nightstands, and dining sets were 2-3 times more! Ouch.
Courts, I was a little leery of – not great reviews, and not brands I am familiar with – but
a pretty straightforward process. I rolled the dice and ordered two beds, a King Mattress,
three end tables, five pc dining set, closet-type fixture, coffee table, four king pillows, and 2
accent pillows, only $24BZE! (King pillows turned out to be really, really tough to find in
I was e-mailed an invoice the next day with instructions on how to pay via credit card.
My tab was $6,134BZE – I picked a Simmons Beautyrest King mattress, it wasn’t
anything fancy but I wanted a brand I was familiar with – $1,799BZE for the mattress, no
Just the idea of Customs is intimidating – we usually have nothing to declare. Via Facebook Groups, the suggestion was made to have an inventory list prepared with the value of your items.
I highly suggest you do this!
When our Uber arrived, Clayton (my father-in-law) and I piled in and watched the driver
struggle with four checked bags, each weighing between 48.5 and 50 lbs, two carry-ons filled
with house goods. We each had a backpack with our clothing and toiletries.
Fortunately, the PHX to DFW leg was smooth; we had a +/- 2 hour layover in DFW, then
we were off to BZE!
We headed to Customs, and when it was our turn, I handed over our form and was as
pleasant as I could be! It didn’t take long for the agent to do the math; 2 people, 4
nights, 250 lbs+ of baggage….”Do you live in San Pedro?”.
“No, not yet…..”.
“Let’s open this bag….”
We ended up having to open every. Single. Checked. Bag.
He was polite but was questioning my declared value – I pulled out my invoice, which
absolutely saved our asses! I bought quite a few items that were Amazon returns via a
local auction – deals like a $3 comforter and $1 mattress protector – those receipts
In the end, I was slapped with a $500BZE duty.
LESSON: If Customs hear you own a home, expect to be inspected!
We moved on to Tropic Air, landing in San Pedro around 4:30 – being on the island just
hits differently when you are driving a golf cart to your new home! I definitely felt “more
official” and less of a tourist!
At dinner, I FB messaged a lady in Mara Laguna (where our new condo is located) that had a TV for sale and made arrangements to pick it up on our way back.
Tip! Check Facebook pages like Ambergris Caye Buy/Sell – it was a 50” Samsung Smart TV with
a wall mount for $800BZE – the same brand/size of TVs in stores ranged from $1799 to
Caye Supplies kept showing up on FB pages as a good source for housewares.
And we found that upstairs, they have a lot of resort-type supplies. Overall: They have a lot of North American brands, but you will pay dearly for them!
Harmouch’s Hardware – I bought some kitchen wares (Tramontina 10 pc cookware set $220BZE), a 4’ aluminum ladder ($147), and Nathan requested a Makita drill…it was $910BZE! We settled for an off-brand for $164BZE.
Our next stop was Castillo’s Hardware – it was FANTASTIC! I found most of the cooking items required (8QT stockpot for $30BZE!), toilet paper holders ($18BZE, or if I wanted a Moen one, it was close to $200BZE), and a set of 3 lamps. They were, in my opinion, very pricey for what they are ($383BZE for resin bases); I said this out loud, and the clerk helped me by discounting them a bit.
I had heard rumors of a magical store called A&R, which had been referred to as, “The Wal-Mart of San Pedro”. It was supposedly on Middle Street, by the school. I couldn’t find it on a drive-by….
Note: A&R went out of business during the pandemic but was immediately changed to a store called RVS. They still have lots of school supplies, toys, low-end kitchenware but they have expanded their basic groceries. It’s very hit or miss. I’ve been buying a bunch of cheap plastic flower pots there lately. (You’ll see that Sharon finds it later in this post)
We decided that Clayton would stay behind and wait for the furniture delivery while I would
hit town and shop.
I was having trouble finding matching dishes, it was pretty common to find 1 box with 4
settings, almost always with some “retro” patterns…but I didn’t find 8+ settings of the
same style anywhere. For any price.
Silverware – lots of sets of 4, often with “dollar store” plastic colored handles, and no 2
of the same color.
Combination lock boxes – I purchased an off-brand one from Amazon for $11US. A Masterlock was $208BZE in San Pedro, when it is around $40US in the States.
My other struggle was wall art. I like LARGE, framed pieces. Local artists paint gorgeous canvases, but it’s really rare to find something sized to go over a sofa. Or framed. The
stores will be heavy on gold-framed “The Last Supper” art or really small, basic prints.
While shopping, Clayton called…the furniture delivery arrived! He counted off one mattress and 12 boxes. The barge and delivery fee was $300BZE. The beds I chose – it was hard to tell the quality from the 1 small photo on Court’s website – but I was pleased with them! Not laminated, thin wood-look material; they had some heft to them.
My other furnishings were more value-based – the dining set and closet piece required looooots of assembly. Poor Clayton was tested! In hindsight, I should have spent a little more on durability and ease of assembly.
I set back out, determined to find the elusive “A&R”….
I rolled really slowly down the last few blocks of Middle Street ….no A&R but I did see a red-and-white painted building on the west side, with Halloween goodies in their large display window…
I HAD FOUND THE HONEY HOLE!!!
New name, same great values! The entry is on Back Street, although its footprint runs all the way to Middle Street!
On the first floor, I found matching sets of 8 for short and tall glasses, shot glasses, cutting boards, a laundry basket….all value-priced! A broom for $11.65. They had gardening goods, lots of cleaning supplies, seasonal items – Halloween décor, costumes– plus pet supplies and wine!
Yellow Tail Wines for $24.50bzd, Lambrusco $38.95BZE.
Blenders: Oster $212BZE, Black & Decker $99BZE
Upstairs, I found bath towels, shower curtains, bath mats…tons! Very pretty curtains, solids and patterns, of good quality and GREAT pricing!
Shown: 2 panels, 36” x 84” each, for $52BZE!
They had some art (but it was like the other stores’ offerings), beach and children’s toys, and a large section of school supplies. US brands exist, but they will cost more! King Sheet sets $58 for a local brand and $155BZE for a US label.
And beach towels…be prepared to part with your firstborn.
I didn’t see any for under $48BZE! And your basic thinner, cabana-stripe style. I lugged in 12 “The Big One” Towels from Kohl’s that I bought on clearance for $3US a pop…and suddenly, my $500BZE Customs tab didn’t seem all that unreasonable!
My best find here was shelf liner – 95 cents BZE! Holy cow, what else can I use it for…!??!
Day Four/Thursday/CRUNCH TIME
I stopped by the San Pedro Artisan’s Market hoping to find some art. I don’t normally shop
souvenir stand but I was running out of time.
I picked out a Zericote bowl; the seller wrapped it up for me, giving me a “local’s discount” from $80 to $60 when I told her I was furnishing our villa. I paid cash, moved to the next stall, and she came to me to tell me I owed her another $60 – her price was in US$, not Belize. She said that in the market, all pricing is in US$.
I perused the hammocks ($75US), and there were some stunning paintings, but again, nothing in a large format.
Then I begrudgingly returned to Caye Supplies. I saw it through new eyes – yes, it was expensive compared to what I expected; however, they were reasonably priced in the grand scheme of the island.
I purchased silverware – they had Sam’s Club Stainless Steel “restaurant supply” forks,
knives, and spoons that matched, in quantities of 36: Spoons $26.67, forks $35.61 and
knives $61.60BZE. Queen-sized pillows ($62BZE each for Serta brand) and a woven hammock I had previously eyeballed for $46.25BZE.
I should have bought my glassware here, too – I would have had to “build my own set” but they have large quantities in many different styles, sold individually. This is the way to go if you will be leasing your home! If a guest breaks 1 item, you can buy 1 matching replacement! I pulled plates, bowls, and coffee mugs – spending $220BZE on 10 settings. The staff carefully wrapped up each piece and secured them in a box.
I brought 2 oversized mesh laundry bags with zipper closures – they were fantastic for transporting large goods! I could bungee them to the cart easily.
Other suggested items for shopping trips:
- Cash –more likely to get a discount!
- A complete, organized list – cross off as you make purchases.
- Cart bungees/straps – you can’t hang onto all of your wares over bumps, potholes, dodging
carts/bikes/pedestrians, AND drive well at the same time.
- Tape Measure – know before you go what room sizes you have – no returns on goods sold!
- Fanny pack/small sling bag – cast aside fashion as I did – something to carry your above loot
- Curiosity/tenacity – If you can’t find what you seek, ask! It may be in the back, or at a different store.
- Patience – you will have to make multiple stops, even if budget is not an issue for you!
Many stores will look like this, requiring some hunting and rooting around to find what
you are after.
Day 5/Friday/Departure Day ☹
It’s harder to leave the island every time, and this one struck a new chord – we HAVE an actual abode that we COULD live in *right now*, but I had to leave.
In the end, we accomplished a LOT relative to the amount of time we were in town, but I
came home with a new list – and started a new adventure: “Buying Stuff Online to Ship
to Ambergris Caye”.
For more information from Sharon, check out these posts: Shipping Furniture from The US to Belize