Should you take food with you to the British Virgin Islands?

Vacuum packed salmon fillets

Whether or not to take food to the British Virgin Islands when you charter a sailboat is a hotly debated topic. There are two reasons to take down food. One is budget and the second is convenience.


It may be cheaper to bring some food with you. Someone did a recent study comparing grocery prices in St. Thomas to prices in Washington DC and discovered that some things were much more expensive and some things were cheaper. For example, orange juice was $1.58 per half gallon in Washington DC  but $5.09 on St. Thomas.

Other items on the list that were more than twice as expensive on St. Thomas as in Washington included beef bologna, bacon, beef liver, saltine crackers, beef hot dogs, corn flakes, bread and mustard.

The study also found that some things were cheaper, like chicken, tuna, apples and lemons.


We don’t worry too much about prices when we go to the British Virgin Islands. We bring down food so that we can prepare it at home, when we are excited about our trip, and then when we are on our trip, we can pull out premarinated meat that is all setup and ready to go, leaving us more time to enjoy our vacation. And less mess to clean up in a small boat galley.

We take down meat, snacks (like nuts and salami). We vacuum pack it at home, freeze it well and then bring it down in a cooler. If we are taking the kids with us, we also take down things like macaroni and cheese which are ridiculously expensive in the Virgin Islands.

We find that many people take down coolers full of food – especially steaks. If you are taking a cooler, it’s probably worth throwing a few food items in it. (We take things that we buy cheap in bulk at Sam’s Club that are good for happy hour snacks like all the salami, ham, and crackers.) But if you’re not already taking a cooler, it’s probably just as easy to order groceries in the BVI. You can check current grocery prices in the BVI by checking prices Bobby’s Marketplace. (You order ahead of time and they deliver to your boat).

Here’s some more from our experiences of buying food for your BVI sailing vacation.


  1. Taking a cooler with – what can and can you not take through customs on the way to the BVI? We charter twice a year, and were thinking of taking a cooler of food with this time. What can and cannot be brought in for personal use? What forms must be filled out, and duties paid?

    • We take a cooler full of meat, spices, nuts, etc. We just tell them the value of all the food we have with us when we enter.

  2. Doesn’t BVI Customs have restrictions on bringing in meat and poultry? I think I saw something in the Sunsail guide about how you have to apply ahead of time to bring meat into the country.
    I do plan on bringing in dry goods that will not push us over the weight limit for the checked bags (so far I have pasta, rice, instant oatmeal, drink mix, trail mix, spices, coffee, Soymilk (2 unfridgerated cartons), cookies, condiments). Any other suggestions?

    • It looks like you might have to apply ahead of time to bring in meat because of Hoof and Mouth disease.

      We’ve never had any problem though and never been questioned about our food at all either.

      You can check the prices online for Bobby’s Marketplace to see what makes sense. I think for things like spices where you don’t want to buy a whole new bottle, it really makes sense.

  3. Just got back from our trip.

    We took a cooler with 30 pounds of meat and chicken with us, as well as 4 pounds of dry ice. Even with an overnight delay in puerto rico, the cooler was still frozen with a few small chunks of dry ice left when we arrived in Tortola. We did have to pay a 10% duty, but that’s no big deal.

    To recieve a permit to import meat, simply send an email to bvigov_vet@gov.gv They will email a form for you to fill out and return to them. Seems as though you can pretty much bring anything with you except for raw sausage.

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