Here are the most frequently asked questions about Belize with short and concise answers to get you on your way fast.
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Belize is located on the northern edge of Central America. Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is on the northern border of Belize, Guatemala is to the west and Honduras is to the south. The Caribbean Sea forms Belize’s eastern border. Belize is an easy two hour flight from Dallas, Houston and Miami. The Belize government is currently extending one of the main runways at the airport to accommodate long-range, wide body jets from Europe and Asia. Currently visitors from Europe and Asia must land in the U.S. or Guatemala first, then transit to Belize on smaller jets. It is forecast once the Belize airport is upgraded there will be many more visitors from Europe and Asia since visitors from these countries will be able to fly direct to Belize.
Belize is the only country in the Americas south of the United States border that uses English as it’s official language. Click on Image for larger version This is one of the main attractions for many ex-pats and retirees who decide to settle in Belize….there’s no need to learn another language. Although mostly everyone can speak English in Belize, Spanish, Creole, Garifuna and Mayan are also widely spoken throughout the country.
And if you venture to neighboring Guatemala, Honduras or even Mexico, you’d better brush up on your Spanish since English is not very widely spoken in these countries.
Belize, unlike most other Central and South American countries, enjoys a stable and democratic government. Click on image for larger versionThe country was formally a British Colony, and many of the British governmental, monetary, and lands systems still influence the way things are done today.
Of course, like anywhere, one must be wary of petty crimes of opportunity. If you leave something laying out in the open over night, chances are it will be gone by morning. But the overall incidence of violent crimes in Belize is lower than what occurs in most major American cities. Belize City has a reputation for being a crime-ridden, violent city, but the violence is almost exclusely Belizeans against Belizeans. In other words, the same precautions you would take in any large city at night anywhere in the world are recommended in Belize City.
There are some dangerous critters in the ocean and in the jungles, and the common advice given is to use caution when touching anything in the wild.
All visitors entering Belize must provide a valid passport before entering the country. However, this does not apply to the approximately 750,000 cruise ship passengers who visit Belize every year. Click on image for larger version.Border officials will not accept drivers licenses or birth certificates as travel documents. You should also make sure your passport will be valid until your scheduled time of departure from Belize, or entry could be refused. (Some airlines will not allow boarding unless your passport has at least six months of validity remaining!)
Belize has a three-tier system for visa requirments to enter the country. Citizens from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, United States, Venezuela and CARICOM member states do not need a visa to enter Belize. There is a list of 31 countries, including many European and South American nations, whose nationals must get a visa to enter Belize. And there is another list of about 24 countries whose citizens must get a visa, pay appropriate fees, and obtain clearance from the Director of Immigration in Belize. Please refer to the Belize Immigration website to see which list your county is on.
Visitors to Belize are initially allowed to stay for up to 30 days. After 30 days visitors can get one month extensions by applying in person at any of the Immigration Offices throughout the country. Click on image for larger versionEach extension will cost $25 U.S. for the first six months, then $50 U.S. for the last six months. After one year visitors are required to leave the country for at least 48 hours before returning to Belize and starting the process over again.
Please note that the rules and regulations change frequently in Belize, especially regarding immigration issues, so you would be wise to double-check with the Belize Government or the local Belize Embassy in your country regarding the latest rules.
The Belize dollar has a fixed exchange rate of two to one with the American dollar. Click on image for larger versionCheck current international exchange rates to find out how other currencies are valued against the Belize dollar
Most hotels, restaurants, tour guides and any other tourism related businesses will accept American dollars, usually giving change in Belize dollars. All major credit cards are also accepted in Belize, and some Belize banks will give cash advances on credit cards.
It is advisable to always clarify whether prices are being quoted in American dollars or Belize dollars since some unscrupulous businesses will try to charge American dollars when the normal price is actually in Belize dollars.
There are five main banks in Belize; Belize Bank with 12 locations throughout the country and 15 ATMs, Atlantic Bank with 10 locations and seven ATMs, Scotia Bank with nine locations and 11 ATMs, First Caribbean Bank with four locations and four ATMs, and Alliance Bank with five locations and five ATMs. Click on image for larger versionCurrently only Belize Bank’s ATM’s will accept debit cards and Visa and Mastercards under the Cirrus and Plus networks. First Caribbean’s ATM’s will dispense cash for Visa and Mastercards under the Plus network. The other banks generally will issue cash advances on Visa and Mastercards with proper identification.
All of the banks open at 8am and close in the early afternoon, usually around 2:30pm to 3pm.
If you plan on opening a bank account in Belize, be prepared to show TWO letters of reference from TWO different banks from your home country.
There is a well staffed and equipped hospital in Belize City which is the recommended place to receive treatment for any serious ailments. There are also some very well trained private doctors available in Belize City. Click on image for larger viewThe rest of the country has regional hospitals located in the towns and major villages. These hospitals often receive visits from American medical volunteers and also usually have one or two ambulances available for emergency calls. The hospitals in Belize are considered above average by Caribbean standards, but of course they aren’t what you’d see in more developed parts of the world.
The water is considered drinkable in most towns and villages, but of course it’s recommended that tourists stick to bottled water, just to be on the safe side. Because the overall water quality is higher than other countries in the region, there are fewer cases of traveller’s diarhea compared to, say, Mexico.
Belize has a modern telecommunications infrastructure, including cellular towers which provide cellular signal coverage for most of the country. International communications between Belize and the rest of the world are reliable and not overly expensive. Click on image for larger viewThe cellular service, although spotty in some areas, is also fairly reliable and reasonable priced compared to other parts of the world.
Internet service is another story, however. Dial-up service is available throughout most of the country, and broadband DSL is also offered in most areas. The rates for these services are considered overpriced for what is provided, but since BTL currently has a monopoly on Internet services in Belize, there few alternatives.
Belize enjoys a subtropical climate, tempered for most of the year by steady trade-winds blowing off the Caribbean Sea. Temperatures along the coast range from a low of about 10 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) to a high of 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit). Man really wants to kill a flyThe dry season, from November to May, tends to be a couple degrees cooler than the rainy season, from June to October.
Belize tends to get a bad rap about bugs. Yes, there are mosquitoes, especially during early morning and late afternoon. And yes, there are “sand-flies” or “no-see-ums” or “gnats”—people seem to have many different names for the little black biting insects. However, in most areas at most times of the year they are not any worse or annoying than the mosquitoes and deer flies you would experience in many parts of the United States and Canada (and Europe, for that matter).
There are some areas which ARE particularly buggy all of the time….the Sittee River area for example. But in most areas during the dry season (November to May) you don’t really have to worry about the bugs. There are occasional “hatches” when you will see more bugs than usual, but there are also many times when you won’t see any bugs at all!
Belize uses 110 volts for it’s power grid which is the same as in the United States. Power is produced mostly by large diesel generators located at generating stations throughout the country. In most parts of the country the power supply is fairly stable and reliable, although some parts of Belize are plagued by regular outages. Click on image for larger viewEven when the power does go out, it is usually back online fairly quickly.
The lightening and thunderstorms in Belize can be quite spectacular at any time of the year, and good quality surge protectors are recommended for all electrical appliances of any value. It is almost guaranteed your house will get hit by lightening sooner or later.
Many people considering a move to Belize wonder if they are able to bring a very important member of their family along—their pet!
Considering the restrictions many countries place on importing animals of any sort, including pets, Belize has a rather straightforward system in place for domestic pet importation. Click on image for larger viewThe importation of pets falls under the jurisdiction of the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA).
BAHA requires pet owners to provide a valid import permit, an international veterinary certificate, and a valid rabies vaccination certificate. The domestic pet import permit is obtained by requesting one from the BAHA “Permit Unit” located in Belmopan.
Upon entry to Belize, a $30 U.S. permit fee must be paid in addition to $12.50 U.S. faxing fee BAHA charges for faxing the permit to you prior to your departure from the U.S. or Canada.
Of course one should consider whether their pet can adjust to the tropical conditions of Belize, complete with exotic parasites and diseases which are not prevalent in North America. Normally a veterinarian should be able to prescribe any extra preventative medications that you can give your pet monthly to prevent any tropical illnesses while in Belize.
Every year in Belize there are a couple dozen isolated cases of Malaria and Dengue Fever, but these are usually confined to areas of dense jungle near the Guatemala border.Click on image for larger view 2007 saw a small “outbreak” of about 40 cases of Dengue Fever in Orange Walk and Cayo, but normally Belize does not experience any serious outbreaks of these diseases.
There are no required vaccinations to enter Belize, although most health professionals would recommend you have your Tetanus, Hepatitis A and B shots up to date. The best practice is to consult with medical travel specialists to see what they recommend for the part of the world you will be travelling in.
It is recommended to take anti-malarial medication if you are planning on spending an extended period of time in the remote jungle regions of Belize, otherwise you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
The regular business hours in Belize are Monday to Friday 8am to 12pm, 1pm to 5pm.
Some shops and businesses are open on Saturdays and most businesses close on Sundays although some of the Chinese grocery stores open in the mornings.
Almost all businesses physically CLOSE during the lunch hour from 12pm to 1pm, so if it is your habit to run errands during lunch hour, you should change your schedule while in Belize.Click on image for larger view
There are 13 National Holidays in Belize. There are the normal holidays North Americans are familiar with—Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Monday. There are also Labour Day on May1st, Commonwealth Day on May 24th, St. Georges Caye Day on September 10th, Independence Day on September 21, Columbus Day on October 12th, Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19th, and Baron Bliss Day on March 9th.