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Travel Security Advice for Belize

 

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belize_mapBelize_Overview


 

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Belize is a developing country.  Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and resorts on the cayes to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside.  Crime is a growing concern. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belize for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

 

All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize.  U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize.  Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize.  All tourists and non-Belizean nationalities are required to pay an exit fee of U.S. $35 (payable in U.S. dollars only) when leaving Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC  20008, Tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site: http://www.embassyofbelize.org/.

Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, and Los Angeles, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York.  Visit the Embassy of Belize web site at http://belize.usembassy.gov/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize.  Crime can be a serious problem (see Crime), particularly in Belize City and remote areas.  Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions) and traffic fatalities have included Americans.  Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment.  Medical care is limited and emergency response services such as ambulances or paramedics may be either unavailable or limited in capability or equipment (See Medical Facilities and Health Information).

Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather.  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 to some of Belize’s more challenging sites. Deaths and serious mishaps have occurred as a result of negligent diving tour operators and the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in scuba diving and snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour.  Both tour guides and boat captains are now required to be licensed by the Government of Belize. Safety precautions and emergency response capabilities may not be up to U.S. standards.

Following a fatal accident at the Cave Branch Archeological Park in September 2008, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) is implementing new regulations, effective and legally enforced beginning October 15, 2008, to improve safety at cave tubing attractions.  Those policies will include an enhanced, mandatory guest-to-guide ratio of eight-to-one for all operating cave tubing tour companies in Belize.  Additional signage will be posted in each cave tubing excursion site, informing participants of park rules and current water conditions and/or warnings.  Mandatory specialty training for each cave tubing guide will continue and include education on new regulations.

Helmets will also be required for each cave tubing participant starting January 1, 2009.  Furthermore, the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), which manages the Cave Branch Archeological Park, will be installing additional monitoring equipment for cave tubing excursions which measure currents and other factors needing to be taken into considerations to ensure participant safety,

Cave tubing participants are urged to exercise due caution and their own best judgment regarding safety and river conditions at the time of their tour, particularly during the rainy/hurricane season from June 1 through November 30.  Rainfall upstream from tour sites, sometimes miles away, can cause rapid changes in current strength and water level conditions without notice.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.  There have not been any terrorist activities in Belize.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov/, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad .

CRIME:

The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shooting, stabbing, murder, and rape, is on the rise.  The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways and river ways.  The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break.  Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds.  Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups have occurred this past year.  Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. One of these occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while others have occurred during armed robberies in resort areas.  One of these assaults has resulted in the death of the victim.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only in daylight hours, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items.  As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach.  Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street.  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.

If traveling by taxi, use only vehicles with green license plates, do not get in a taxi that is occupied by more than the driver, and do not let the driver pick up additional fares.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups occurred during the summer of 2006 in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Caracol regions of the western district of Belize.  Due to increased police patrols, coordinated tours among resort security managers, and the arrest of two of the "highway bandits," there have not been any additional robberies since June, 2006. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region.  Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites.  Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another.  Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities.  Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous.  Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization.  It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads.  Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary.  Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations.  Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites.  And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings.

Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment.  Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Country Specific Information for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://guatemala.usembassy.gov for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved.  Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes as well as notifying the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011(after hours and weekends 610-5030).  Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit in addition to the main police office for assistance.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011 (after hours and weekends 610-5030).  The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim’s home state.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas.  American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances.   Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.  Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.  In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.  More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.  The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas.  Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas.  Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country.  The Government of Belize reported an outbreak of dengue fever in April, May and June of 2005.

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 hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspxFor information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/enFurther health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas .

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry.  Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.  Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country.  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.  The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks.  The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning, and have few markings or reflectors.  Even in urban areas, few streets have 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 single lanes.  The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services.  The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction.  Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

During Tropical Storm Alma/Arthur in May-June 2008, the Southern Highway bridge over the Sittee River, north of Kendall, Stann Creek District, was destroyed.  In the interim, a temporary causeway has been constructed pending permanent replacement of the Kendall bridge but at times the causeway may not be passable due to conditions on the Sittee River.  The causeway itself has had to be replaced several times following major rainfall and flooding.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance causes many fatal accidents on Belizean roads.  Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted.  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 child car seats are not required.  Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. Moreover, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved.

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 red lights or stop signs.  Few bicycles have lights at night. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars.  The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances.  Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving.  Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard.  Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas.  For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained from the National Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.

It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize.  However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Special Notice for Dual Nationals:

A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is approximately 10 working days.

Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms.  It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize’s Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements.  Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Persons violating Belize laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.  Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Belize has strict laws making possession of a firearm or ammunition illegal unless a valid permit is obtained.  Penalties for firearms violations are severe.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information, see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction .

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

Americans living or traveling in Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site in order to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located in the capital city of Belmopan, approximately 50 miles west of Belize City.  The U.S. Embassy is on Floral Park Road, Belmopan, Cayo District, and the telephone number is 822-4011.  The American Citizen Services section fax number is 822-4050.  In the event of an after hours emergency, the embassy duty officer may be reached at 610-5030. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for the 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. lunch hour, and on U.S. and Belizean holidays.  The Embassy web site is http://belize.usembassy.gov/; the e-mail address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 


 

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office has information regarding Belize HERE......

Looking for an Embassy ?, you can check out our World Wide Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)..................

Regards

The SW Team........

 

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