COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Belize is a parliamentary democracy and British Commonwealth country with a developing economy based primarily upon agriculture and tourism. Tourist facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business-class hotels in Belize City and luxury resorts in the offshore cayes (pronounced: "keys") to a range of luxury resorts, eco-tourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside. Violent crime, especially in areas of Belize City, remains a serious concern. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Belizefor additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to visit or live in Belize, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), we can keep you up-to-date with important safety and security announcements. Enrolling will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Our Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes and the Android market, also provides easy access to updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations.
Travelers can also set up e-tineraries to keep track of arrival and departure dates and make notes about upcoming trips. U.S. Embassy Belmopan, Belize contact information:
U.S. Embassy Belmopan
# 4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Cayo District
Belize, Central America
Emergency after-hours telephone: 011-501-610-5030
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ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid beyond their planned departure date, proof of an onward or return ticket, and sufficient funds (a minimum of U.S. $60 per day) to cover the cost of the length of stay. No visas are required for citizens of the United States for tourist visits. Visitors planning to stay more than 30 days must have their passport restamped by a local immigration office and pay a fee of approximately $25. All tourists and non-Belizean citizens are required to pay an exit fee of U.S. $39.25. This fee is included in the price of all U.S. airline tickets. Cruise ship passengers are charged U.S. $7 whether they leave the ship or remain onboard, and this charge is included in the price of the cruise ticket.
At the land borders, U.S. citizens are charged U.S. $15 if their stay was less than 24 hours and U.S. $18.75 if the stay was more than 24 hours. No specific immunizations are required for visitors to Belize. Visit the Embassy of Belize to the United States website for the most current visa information.
U.S. citizens traveling with their children may be asked by immigration officials to show U.S. birth certificates for each child. When children are not traveling with both parents, immigration officials often request signed documentation to establish the children are traveling with the permission of both parents. Such documentation may include notarized letters from the parent(s), custody or adoption papers, and death certificates in situations where one or both parents are deceased.
Persons who are citizens of both the U.S. and Belize are able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport. Such dual nationals should be aware, however, that a valid U.S. passport will be required in order to board a U.S.-bound flight from Belize. The average processing time to obtain a full-validity U.S. passport at the Embassy is approximately 10 working days.
Cruise ship passengers: U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (i.e., cruises that begin and end at the same U.S. port) will be permitted to depart or enter the U.S. with a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID. However, the U.S. Embassy recommends that passengers carry a passport in case an emergency occurs. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documentation. U.S. citizen passengers leaving their cruise ship and returning, for any reason, by air to the U.S. will be required to present their valid U.S. passports to airline officials before being permitted to board the aircraft.
Embassy of Belize: Belize maintains the following diplomatic and consular posts in the United States:
Belize maintains 13 other consulates general/consulates/consular agents in the U.S.; please see www.embassypages.com for their contact information.
HIV/AIDS restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Belize.
Special Notice for Dual Nationals: Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport but must enter the U.S. on the U.S. passport. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Terrorism and Security: The potential for domestic terrorist activity such as bombings, kidnappings, or hijackings is considered low in Belize. However, domestic gang members and other criminals have used fragmentation grenades and firearms to settle disputes. Neither U.S. citizens nor other foreign nationals are known to have been the victims or targets of terrorist activity in Belize. U.S. citizens are not believed to be specifically targeted for robbery or other crimes but are instead targets of opportunity. No areas are closed to travel but visitors should exercise caution, particularly in southern Belize City and remote areas along Belize’s borders.
General Safety: As with any travel, visitors should exercise situational awareness and good judgment while visiting Belize. Crime is a serious and growing problem throughout Belize. Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions) and traffic fatalities have included U.S. citizens. Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack basic safety equipment. Many unlicensed taxis are present in Belize and U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid traveling in them; genuine taxis may be identified by their green-colored license plates. Medical care is limited in many areas, including the larger cities of Belize City and Belmopan, and emergency response services such as ambulances or paramedics may be either unavailable or limited in capability and equipment (see Medical Facilities and Health Information).
Water Safety: Tourist safety standards and emergency response capabilities in Belize are not equal to those in the United States, and significant injuries and deaths continue to occur while tourists are swimming, snorkeling and SCUBA diving. Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, do not observe safety regulations or stay within defined water lanes while operating in the presence of tourists in the water. Many carry an excessive number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Tourists should check with their hotel before choosing to snorkel and swim off shore to ensure that they avoid the boat lanes, as tourists have been severely injured by passing boats. Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives. Deaths and serious injuries have occurred as a result of the negligence of dive tour operators, the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations, water taxis diverging from routes when tourists are in the water, and tourists’ neglect of their own physical limitations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in SCUBA diving or snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses, and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour. The Embassy further recommends that U.S. citizens be forthcoming in reporting pre-existing medical conditions to their dive tour operators, and comply when a dive tour operator prohibits participation in such activities due to a U.S. citizen’s health condition. The situation may improve, as all tour guides and boat captains are now required to be licensed by the Government of Belize. The only hyperbaric recompression chamber in Belize is located in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye.
Cave Tubing: As a result of a fatal accident at the Cave’s Branch Archeological Park in September 2008, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) implemented new regulations, effective as of October 15, 2008. However, deaths from cave tubing accidents continue to occur. Cave tubing policies include an enhanced, mandatory guest-to-guide ratio of eight-to-one for all cave tubing tour companies operating in Belize. Signage is required at each cave tubing excursion site to inform participants of park rules, current water conditions, and/or warnings. Mandatory specialty training for each cave tubing guide continues and includes education on new regulations. Helmets are required for each cave tubing participant. Additionally, the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), which manages the Cave’s Branch Archeological Park, has installed additional monitoring equipment for cave tubing excursions which measure currents and other factors. The Embassy encourages U.S. citizens participating in cave tubing to do so only with a guide and cave tubing tour companies that adhere to the above requirements and guidelines and who operate only when water currents are deemed safe by those tour companies.
Border Areas: A long-standing border dispute between Belize and Guatemala has not been resolved and many areas of the border area are not adequately patrolled. Smugglers, narcotics traffickers and wildlife poachers enter Belize in the shared border region, and there have been incidents of clashes between some of these individuals and Belize military and law enforcement personnel, some of which included the exchange of gunfire. Visitors should avoid trekking or other activities near the Belize-Guatemala border to ensure that they do not inadvertently cross the border into Guatemala. The Embassy cautions U.S. citizens who choose to travel on cross-border public buses between Guatemala and Belize in response to a spike in armed bus attacks by bandits in January 2011. Illegal cross-border activities increase after nightfall. Visitors to the border areas should travel only during daylight.
During 2012 no serious incidents directed at tourists were noted in the border area in Guatemala near Belize. The Guatemalans have increased their police presence in the area leading to the popular Mayan tourist site at Tikal and the surrounding Peten area. However, tourists and other travelers in the area are still urged to be very cautious as the area is the center of illegal smuggling and forest harvesting activities. Tourists traveling to the important Belizean Mayan site of Caracol, deep in a national forest and close to the Guatemala border, must travel in convoys with Belize Defense Force escort, which has effectively ended attacks against tourists in that specific area. As with other tourist areas of Belize, there is no information to suggest that perpetrators in the border regions attempt to target individuals or tourists of any specific nationality, and victims appear to have been targets of opportunityTake some time before travel to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: Organized crime beyond street gangs is primarily connected to drug trafficking or trafficking in persons. Incidents of crime remain high, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, home invasions, shootings, stabbings, murders, and rapes. The Embassy has noted an increase in crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roads and river ways. U.S. citizens are primarily the victims of opportunistic crime. There is no evidence suggesting criminals specifically target U.S. citizens, but nonetheless, foreigners have been targeted for crime due to their perceived wealth. Incidents of crime (such as theft, burglary, home invasion, purse-snatching, and pick-pocketing) increase during the winter holidays and during spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals received serious injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken limbs. Although the majority of reported incidents occur in Belize City, particularly southern Belize City, crime may occur anywhere including tourist destinations such as San Pedro Town (Ambergris Caye), Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, Dangriga, Corozal, and Placencia.
Belize recorded 145 homicides in 2012, a record number. With a population of only 312,698 according to the 2010 country census, Belize’s per capita homicide rate of 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 ranks among the highest in the world. While the country’s per capita homicide rate is still lower than that of other Central American countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador its year-on-year increase is of concern.
The majority of homicides in 2012 occurred in the Belize district, with most in the southern portion of Belize City, an area that has become increasingly violent due to ongoing gang warfare between local groups for control of lucrative narcotics smuggling routes and sales rights. Tourists have not been targeted in this recent increase in the murder rate, but armed robberies of tourists remain a possibility at archeological sites, national parks, and other areas frequented by visitors. In July 2011, there was an increase in the number of robberies, home invasions, and daytime assaults in the Cayo District near the town of San Ignacio. There is no information suggesting the perpetrators were targeting tourists of any specific nationality; rather, the victims appear to have been targets of opportunity.
We encourage U.S. citizens to exercise caution and good situational awareness in all their travel activities. Visitors to tourist attractions should travel in groups and remain at the main plazas at Maya ruins and the central areas. Although there are armed guards stationed at many of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking alone or in small groups from one site to another. While many victims of theft are unharmed and only robbed of personal belongings and cash, victims who resist assailants have suffered injury. U.S. citizens who become victims of a robbery should report it immediately to the nearest police station as well as notifying the Embassy.
The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only during daylight hours. Avoid wearing jewelry or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in vehicles, hotel rooms or on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras. Women’s handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.
Specific groups such as the elderly, women, or homosexuals are not specifically singled out for victimization; however, neither are they immune from being targeted for robbery or assault. Homosexuality is not widely accepted in Belize culture and homosexual behavior may be subject to prosecution as an “Unnatural crime” under Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code. LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page.
Sexual harassment and/or assault of persons traveling alone or in small groups have occurred in recent years. From July to September 2011, there were a handful of sexual assaults on U.S. citizen women after leaving night clubs, and even during daylight hours while walking with friends and while cycling alone on isolated stretches of local highways.
A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to effectively investigate crime and apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against U.S. citizens in Belize remain unresolved.
“Confidence scams” also occur in Belize, especially in resort areas. While there is no indication U.S. citizens are specifically singled out because of their nationality, tourists in general are particularly vulnerable to these crimes, resulting in visitors being pick-pocketed or robbed. More serious crimes have included armed robbery, physical assault, and being swindled out of large sums of money from fraudulent real estate and land sales or other business deals.
Drug use is common in some tourist areas, but U.S. citizens should not buy, sell, hold, or take illegal drugs under any circumstances. Belize classifies marijuana or ganja (i.e., cannabis) as an illegal drug for which a conviction of possession of even small amounts could result in heavy fines or imprisonment. Belize does not recognize the medical use of marijuana as permitted in some U.S. states, and U.S. citizens can be charged, fined or serve time in jail for possession of an illegal substance.
Possession of a firearm or ammunition requires a license from the Government of Belize. The government recently tightened its restrictions on possession of guns and ammunition. Residents and tourists found by Belize law enforcement to be in the possession of such items without a license may be sentenced to a prison term in Belize, and several U.S. citizens are in prison for what would be considered a small amount of ammunition in the U.S.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootleg items illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police first to obtain a Belize police report and then the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The embassy’s consular staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how U.S. funds may be transferred to Belize. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local Belize authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find a Belizean attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Belize is also 911. Please see the Department’s information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Belize, you are subject to Belize’s laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Belize law enforcement reserves the right to hold any individual for up to 48 hours to verify identity and conduct other security checks prior to a formal arrest at which time the Embassy would be given consular access to that U.S. citizen. Persons violating Belize’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Belize has strict laws making possession of a firearm, ammunition, or anti-ballistic body armor illegal unless a valid permit is obtained. Penalties for firearms violations are severe. U.S. gun licenses or permits have no validity in Belize. Engaging in sexual conduct with children, using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country, including Belize, is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, under the Protect Act. U.S. law requires that all sex offenders notify U.S. law enforcement authorities of any travel outside of the U.S.
Persons illegally present in Belize may face a sentence of imprisonment of up to 6 months if they are unable to pay the fine imposed by a court. Illegal presence in Belize remains a civil matter and one in which the U.S. Embassy does not have the jurisdiction to resolve on behalf of U.S. citizens.
Consular access for U.S. citizens who are detained or arrested is uniformly good. If you are arrested in Belize, the Belize arresting officials are required to notify the U.S.embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Visitors entering Belize must make a customs declaration of any currency or financial instruments exceeding a total value of U.S. $10,000.
With regard to business investments and contractual relationships, U.S. citizens should always conduct their own due diligence before entering into business ventures or other commercial arrangements. There have been recent cases where investors have disputed commercial agreements with the Government of Belize through formal commercial dispute resolution procedures and the Government of Belize has failed to honor its agreements. There have been several cases of fraud involving land title in recent years that affected U.S. citizens in Belize. The Embassy cannot intervene to settle business disputes, though local business and trade associations, including the American Chamber of Commerce and Belize Chamber of Commerce, as well as government offices, may be able to provide information regarding Belize commercial requirements, validity of businesses, and reputable vendors and business agents. More information about investing in Belize is available here.
Accessibility: While in Belize, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what one would find in the United States. While some government buildings, schools, businesses and restaurants are accessible for individuals with disabilities, many places remain inaccessible. Accessibility may be especially difficult in the rural and non-tourist areas. Paved roads and sidewalks are rare outside tourist areas, and public buses and taxis are not accessible. Please check with hotels, restaurants, and tour operators in advance for information about accessibility.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care for minor ailments is generally available in urban areas. Trauma care or advanced medical treatment is limited, even in Belize City or Belmopan, and may be extremely limited or unavailable in rural and remote areas. Pharmacy services are generally good in larger towns; many medications such as antibiotics which are available only by prescription in the U.S. can be obtained over-the-counter from licensed pharmacists. However, more specialized prescription medications may be completely unavailable. U.S. citizens bringing their own prescription medications with them must ensure they carry a current doctor’s prescription for each medication.
In much of the country, emergency services will be either unavailable or delayed and serious injuries or illnesses often require evacuation to another country. The Embassy strongly suggests visitors obtain traveler’s insurance and medical evacuation coverage in advance of their travel to cover unexpected medical emergencies.
The Government of Belize last reported an outbreak of Dengue fever in July 2011 and of H1N1 influenza in May and September 2009.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Belize does not recognize the medical use of marijuana as permitted in some U.S. states, and U.S. citizens will be charged, fined or serve time in jail for possession of an illegal substance.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. citizens must not assume that their medical insurance automatically provides overseas coverage. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave the United States whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. Additionally, U.S. Medicare does not cover treatment received outside of the U.S. Questions to ask your insurance company are the following:
In many places in Belize, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Regular U.S. medical insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. Purchasing medical coverage specific to a trip is always encouraged. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: Belize’s road conditions differ significantly from those in the United States.
Valid U.S. or international driver’s permits are accepted in Belize only for a period of three months after initial entry.
Public buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no railways currently operate in the country. Like in the United States, drivers operate vehicles on the right side of the road and road signs are in English with distances indicated in miles. But driving norms do not always follow U.S. practice, and due caution must be exercised at all times. Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belize’s roads. Speed limits are a maximum of 55 miles per hour on highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom observed or even posted. Drivers should particularly watch for speed bumps and rumble strips as they pass through villages on the major highways. These usually denote pedestrian crossings and are not always marked by clear signage or reflective yellow paint. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. While cell phone service is fairly reliable, reception in remote areas such as on Hummingbird Highway is spotty or non-existent. The Belize Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.
Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt or gravel tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned, meaning that the roads are built to a slight point in the middle and slope down on the sides. There are usually no shoulders on the sides of the roads such that when vehicles get too close to the edge, the vehicle may lose traction on the loosely packed gravel, which contributes to cars overturning. There are few markings or reflectors; even in urban areas, most streets lack lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only a single lane. The Manatee Road (Coastal Road), leading from the Western Highway east of Belmopan to Dangriga, is mostly unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is now completely paved and in good condition. Service stations are available along the major roads although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.
Belize’s official hurricane season from May to November annually creates hazardous road conditions. Motorists should not attempt to cross any low bridge with water flowing over the surface of the bridge as both the strength and depth of the current may be stronger than is apparent.
Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but children’s car seats are not required and are not widely available for purchase. Maintaining a safe driving distance will help avoid accidents.
Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; however, if an alcohol-related road accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. U.S. citizens can and have been imprisoned in Belize as a result of road accidents, even where alcohol is not a factor.
Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.
Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times. Bicyclists often ride against traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as stopping at red lights or stop signs. Although commonly encountered after nightfall, few bicycles have lights or wear reflective clothing. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including small children balanced in their laps or across the handlebars.
During daylight hours, particularly during weekends, highway drivers may encounter cross-country racing bicyclists, engaged in either training or in organized competitions. These may be accompanied by slow-moving vehicles such as pickup trucks or even motorcycles. Exercise caution when passing such persons as their attention may be on each other rather than passing motorists.
The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. U.S. citizens who have struck bicyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalties or even prison sentences.
Driving at night is not recommended even in populated areas. Major driving hazards include poor signage and road markings, a tendency by drivers to not dim their lights when approaching other vehicles, drunk driving, and poor or unfamiliar road conditions. Pedestrians and motorcyclists without reflective clothing and bicyclists without lights or reflectors also constitute very serious after-dark hazards exacerbated by the lack of street lighting at night. Local wildlife, dogs and livestock in the road are also hazards even outside of rural areas. For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles appear to have broken down as it may be a robbery scheme.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belize’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
All direct commercial air service to the United States is by U.S. air carriers registered in Belize.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belize dated March 2012 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Border Areas, Criminal Penalties, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.