Culture and Language
Q: What language is spoken in Belize?
English is the official language and is widely spoken, as is Spanish. Other languages include Creole, Mayan and Garifuna.
Q: How many people live in Belize?
The population of Belize is approximately 324,060 (2012). There is a great deal of ethnic diversity among Belizeans, who include Creoles (African-European), Mestizo (Spanish-Indian), Garifuna (African-Indian), Mayan, Anglo-European, Middle Eastern and Asian.
Climate and Location
Q: Where is Belize located?
Belize lies on the eastern coastline of Central America, bordered on the north by Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula), on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is separated by sea from its neighbor to the southwest, Honduras.
Q: What is the climate like in Belize?
Belize is subtropical, with a mean annual temperature of 80 degrees F. Winter storms may bring the temperature down to the low 60's but it can also reach the mid-90's on the mainland during the hottest part of summer.
Trade winds blow along the coast and on the cayes most of the year, keeping temperatures pleasant even in the hottest months, except for a few weeks, generally around mid-August through mid-September.
The dry season generally lasts from November through May while the rainy season is typically June-November. Hurricanes occasionally occur between August through October. Rainfall is heaviest in the south and the jungle areas (around 180 inches) lightest in the north and on the Cayes (around 50 inches). Water temperature averages between 79 and 83 degrees F.
Note: Some adventures, such as cave tubing or other caving and jungle expeditions can be effected by either too much or too little rainfall. These adventures usually indicate this as part of their descriptions.
Q: Should I be worried about Wild Animals or Poisonous Snakes?
The reef islands have no poisonous snakes and most of the critters are pretty benign. There are rare sightings of Fer-de-lance, Bushmaster and Coral snakes in the mainland jungle areas. There are also occasional sightings of tarantulas and scorpions. Belize is rich in exotic wildlife- iguanas, amazing birds, manatees, reef fish, howler monkeys. Larger animals, such as the Jaguar do exist in the jungle but are rarely seen. The biggest pest, well, smallest actually, is the no-see-um or sand fly. They can be irritating during dusk and dawn.
Health and Vaccinations
Q: Do I need Malaria pills or special shots?
Shots are not required to enter the country. However, one should consider having a gamma globulin for Hepatitis A, booster for Typhoid, as well as Tetanus. On occasion Malaria has been found in Belize and can be prevented or cured with Chloroquine. Chloroquine can cause liver damage when used for a prolonged time period. Often travelers on long visits choose to carry mosquito repellant while in the jungle in lieu of taking Chloroquine for a prolonged period. For professional advise, consult your local Health Department or family physician.
Q: Can I drink the water?
Try your best to stay away from food items sold on the street and wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Buy bottled water while out on trips and excursions and do the see and smell test on all food purchases.
Q: What type of medical facilities are available?
Belize City has not only a hospital, but also an MRI clinic and other medical services including a number of doctors. District towns and larger villages have either a hospital or a clinic as well.
Customs and Immigrations
Q: Do I need a passport?
A valid passport and return ticket is necessary for entry into Belize. No visas are required for citizens of the U.S., British Commonwealth nations, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay.
Q: How long can I stay in Belize while visiting?
A 30 day visitors permit will be issued to you upon arrival. Extensions are routinely granted at Immigration offices located in San Pedro, Punta Gorda, Belmopan, Orange Walk, and Belize City, or contact the Immigration and Nationality Department in Belmopan at 501-822-0284 or 501-822-3860.
Q: What can I expect going through Belize Customs?
After getting off the plane have your passport and travel documents available to go through customs. The officer may ask you to open your bag. Your personal items are allowed in Belize. There is an import allowance of 200 cigarettes or 1/2 pound of tobacco goods, 20 ounces of alcohol and one bottle of personal perfume.
Q: Can I ship things to Belize?
There are several methods from which to ship goods into Belize:
BY AIR: your can ship items via air to the Phillip S.W. Goldson International Airport, P.O. Box 367, Belize City, which is approximately 10 miles from Belize City (Phone: 501-225-2045). The main airlines are Belize Air International, Continental, American Airlines (from Miami, Dallas, Houston), Taca Airlines (from Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans).
BY SEA: The main seaport of entry into the country is the Belize Port Authority, Belize City. Other seaports of entry are Corozal Town, Dangriga, Punta Gorda Town, San Pedro and Barranco. The requirements of a boat are the boat's official documentation, clearance from the last port of call, three copies of the crew and passenger manifesto, three copies of stores used or a list of cargo on board (if there are not any, an imballast manifesto). The main Ocean Carriers are NedLloyd from Europe, Hyde from Miami, Harrison from Europe, Hapag-Lloyd from Europe, Hamilton Brothers from Tampa, Carol from the Caribbean and Europe.
Q: Is there an Arrival or Departure Tax?
There is a US$0.75 security fee when entering Belize by plane and going on to another in-Belize flight.
A US$37.50 departure tax is charged when leaving Belize, payable in cash or travelers' check (credit cards are not accepted). This tax will not be charged for those who have been in the country less than 24 hours. There is also a visa charge of US$5.00 to enter Guatemala through the western border. To leave Belize through this western border, to see Tikal, for instance, the charge is US$3.50 to depart. This charge is subtracted from the US$20.00 departure tax when finally departing the country at the Airport.
Electricity and Communications
Q: What type of electricity is used in Belize?
Electrical power is 110 volts, which is the same as the United States and Canada. Many places provide electricity via diesel generator equipment so a small surge suppressor is highly recommended for computers and other sensitive equipment.
Q: What type of communications and phone system do they have?
The country code for Belize is (501). Remote jungle lodges usually have short wave radio communications linked to cellular service. The main communications company is the Belize Telemedia Limited, a private company who owns the telephone service which covers the entire country. A satellite earth station in Belmopan provides high quality telecommunications with the outside world. A cellular network has now been introduced and is available country wide.
If you are a business visitor planning to spend some time in Belize and want a temporary internet account, you can make arrangements by contacting B.T.L. directly via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can we mail letters and post cards from Belize?
Belize has a full postal service although it's not known for its delivery speed. Rates to the US are $0.60 BZ for letters, $0.30 BZ for postcards. Rates to Europe are: $0.75 BZ for letters, $0.40 BZ for postcards. First class mail between Belize and the US averages 8-10 days for delivery. International Express mail from the US to Belize usually arrives in 3 business days at an average cost of $14.00 BZ.
Money and Exchange Rates
Q: What currency does Belize use?
Local currency is the Belize Dollar. One U.S. dollar is worth two Belize dollars. The Belize dollar is fixed to the U.S. dollar so this rate of exchange does not fluctuate. The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere in Belize and should be exchanged directly in purchasing goods and services, as banks will charge a fee to exchange U.S. to Belize dollars.
DO NOT carry large amounts of cash or jewelry.
Q: What credit cards are accepted in Belize?
Nearly all hotels, restaurants and shops in the major towns and tourist areas take all major credit cards. Street vendors, smaller establishments in remote areas or those hotels in the jungle environment may accept only cash or travelers checks. Representatives of VISA, MasterCard and American Express can be contacted at the four main commercial banks in Belize City.
PLEASE NOTE: it is very important to keep in mind that your credit card company usually adds additional service charges or may charge a slightly higher exchange rate for purchases made in foreign countries. For example, if you purchase a package in Belize for a quoted $500 US, your credit card will charged $1000 Belize (2:1 ratio), however, when your bank or credit card company converts the Belize dollars to your own homeland currency they typically charge you a higher exchange rate and/or add an additional service charge or processing fee (typically the same way a bank has one rate if you buy money, another rate when you sell money).
These additional charges are outside the control of the resort or tour company making the initial charge to your credit card and are not the result of them overcharging your account. Some Belize resorts or tour companies may charge you a rate of $2.04 Belize to $1.00 US to cover their bank charge for credit card processing, but the company should inform you of this before any payment is made.
Q: What banks can be found in Belize?
Atlantic Bank Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia, Heritage Bank, First Caribbean Bank, and the Belize Bank are the main banks in Belize, primarily located in Belize City but some can be found in other areas throughout Belize. Banks are generally open Monday-Friday from 8 AM-1 PM and Saturdays, 8 AM-11 AM. American Express also has a representative at Belize Global Travel Services Inc., at 501-227-7185.
Government and Taxes
Q: Is there a tourism board for visitors?
The Belize Tourist Board is a good place to go for additional information about Belize. They distribute free up-to-date bus schedules, city maps, a visitors' magazine, and a comprehensive list of accommodations. They're located on the second floor of the Central Bank building in Belize City. You can telephone them at 501-227-2420.
Q: What type of Government is in Belize?
Belize has been an independent nation since 1981 but remains a member of the British Commonwealth. Parliamentary democracy with two major political parties, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People's United Party (PUP). UDP currently holds power, led by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Belize has a Constitution.
Q: How much tax is charged on purchases and services?
Sales Tax is currently set at 12.5% and applies to all goods and services except hotel accommodations. There is a 9% hotel tax. Some hotels also add a 10-15% "service charge" to the bill so inquire about this when checking hotel prices.
What to Bring - clothing and extras
Q: What type of clothing and extra stuff should I bring?
Chances are, unless there is a specific function which requires it, you’re not going to need formal attire while in Belize. Cool, comfortable, casual clothing such as shorts, T-shirts and/or camp shirts, light weight cotton pants, and sundresses will cover all your clothing needs.
Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes for sightseeing, and sandals for the water and beach. If you’re going to be trekking in the jungle, a pair of well-treaded hiking shoes is also recommended.
A knapsack, or daypack is a great idea for day trips and expeditions. In it you can carry water bottles, snacks, camera, film, and other essentials such as sunscreen and insect repellent. The intensity of the sun makes polarized sunglasses, good sunscreen, and a brimmed hat essential.
Just in case there’s an unexpected (or maybe very expected) rain shower, include lightweight rain-gear in your suitcase as well. Your valuables are best left at home.
Q: How safe is my jewelry?
Nothing invites trouble like a tourist with lots of jewelry, expensive or not. If you can, leave it at home, else leave it locked up at your hotel when you are out site seeing or doing any activity away from your hotel.