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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Belize

Belize- Consular Information Sheet
April 2, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from business class hotels in the old capital of Belize City, to comfortable ecotourism lodges, to very basic accommodations.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens need a passport valid for duration of stay. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds. Visitors for other purposes must obtain a visa. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 332-9636. Information is also available at the Belizean Consulate in Miami or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Local and international water taxis do not always carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Travelers should exercise caution when using water taxis.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.

CRIME: Crime, including robbery and mugging, continues to be a problem. Belize City has been the site of more reported incidents than other areas of the country. While still rare, crimes against tourists at resorts are on the increase. The incidence of such crimes as theft, burglary and pickpocketing rises around the Christmas and New Year holiday season. Although rape is not a common occurrence, several American female travelers were the victims of assaults and rape in 2000, usually after accepting rides from strangers.

To minimize the risk of being targeted, visitors should travel in groups, keep valuables out of sight, avoid wearing jewelry, and avoid going out at night.

Armed robberies have been reported near the western border with Guatemala. Americans visiting the border area should not travel alone, and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment, if possible.

The ability of the police to investigate crimes adequately and apprehend serious offenders suffers from a lack of resources and training. As a result, a number of murders of Americans remains unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Visitors may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

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. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Belize is a hurricane-prone country. The coastal islands of Belize, which are low-lying and lack high ground, are particularly vulnerable to direct hits by hurricanes and tropical storms. The islands have been cut off from communications and assistance during previous hurricanes. Extensive flooding as a result of storm activity is common both on the islands and in areas of the country not directly affected by hurricanes. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is limited, and severe injuries or illness requiring emergency care may require evacuation to another country.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions 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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/.

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 it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. There are no emergency numbers to call when serious problems are encountered, and there are very few public telephones along the road. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. Most are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga is easily flooded after storms. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is under construction, and sections are in poor repair.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving.

Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, and most villages have at least one service station nearby. For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles have apparently broken down.

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. 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 posted. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. There are very few motorcycles, but bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges.

Local traffic customs include: stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic, pulling to the far right in order to make a left turn, and tailgating at high speeds.

For additional information about road travel in Belize, please see the U.S. Embassy home page at http://www.usembassy.state.gov/belize. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department Of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, home page at http://travel.state.gov/road safety.html. For specific information concerning drivers' permits, vehicle requirements, and insurance in Belize, please e-mail the U.S. Embassy at amboffice@btl.net.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, the Belizean air carriers currently flying to the United States will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the United States by Belize's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, the DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Penalties for possession of unlicensed firearms or unlicensed ammunition are strict, including high fines and mandatory jail sentences for repeat offenders. U.S. citizens contemplating bringing firearms or ammunition into Belize should contact the Belizean Embassy for additional information.

Individuals and organizations must obtain a permit to possess pre-Columbian artifacts. Permits are not granted for the export or sale of such artifacts. The possession, sale or export of artifacts, or the attempt to sell or export artifacts, carries stiff fines and jail sentences. Individuals in possession of such artifacts have been arrested and fined.

Individuals and organizations must obtain a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit to collect, possess and/or export certain plants, animals and plant and animal products. Failure to obtain the proper permits can result in confiscation of the item and imposition of fines and jail sentences.

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 Belizean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: It is not possible to access U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. Travelers, however, can obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Belize are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize City and obtain updated information on travel and security in Belize. The U.S. Embassy is located at the intersection of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street in Belize City; telephone 011 (501) 2-77161/62/63. 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.

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated September 14, 1999, to update the sections on Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, to add information on Disaster Preparedness, and to delete Y2K information.

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