Essentials A-Z

Customs and duty free

Clothing and articles for personal use are allowed in without payment of duty, though laptop computers, video cameras, mobile phones and CD players and radios that you bring may be stamped on your passport to ensure they leave with you. Other import allowances are: 200 cigarettes or ½ lb of tobacco; 1 litre of alcohol; 1 bottle of perfume. Visitors can take in an unspecified amount of other currencies. No fruit or vegetables may be brought into Belize; searches are infrequent, but can be thorough. Pets must have proof of rabies inoculations and a vet's certificate of good health.

Electricity

110/220 volts single phase, 60 cycles. Some hotels use 12-volt generators.

Health

Those taking standard precautions will find the climate pleasant and healthy. There are no mandatory inoculations required to enter the country unless coming from a country where yellow fever is a problem. Malaria prophylaxis is necessary only if staying in rural areas with poor medical care. Dengue fever is also rare but possible for travellers, and using insect repellent for mosquitoes is the best prevention for both diseases. Insect bites should be carefully scrutinized if not healing or if odd symptoms occur, as the possibilities of Chagas, leishmaniasis, or botfly larvae are all present.

Internet

The relatively high cost of telephone calls makes internet surfing and cafés prohibitive. With the exception of San Ignacio, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, internet cafés are less common than in neighbouring countries.

Language

English is the official language, but Spanish is very widely used, especially in border areas. Creole is spoken by some throughout the country. Mennonite settlers in the north speak a Low German dialect. Several Mayan languages and Garífuna are spoken by ethnic groups to the south.

Money

The monetary unit is the Belize dollar. Currency notes issued by the Central Bank are in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 2 dollars, and coins of 2 dollars and 1 dollar; 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cent coins are in use. The American expressions quarter (25c), dime (10c) and nickel (5c) are used, although 25c is sometimes referred to as a shilling. US dollars are accepted everywhere. A common cause for complaint or misunderstanding is uncertainty about which currency you are paying in. The price tends to be given in US$ when the hundred Belizean dollar mark is breached; make sure it is clear from the start whether you are being charged in US or Belizean dollars.

Exchange

The government has recently restricted the exchange of foreign currency to government-licensed casas de cambio, but these only operate in major towns. You can still find some money changers at the borders, but the exchange rate is not as high as it has been, and there is a risk of both you and the money changer being arrested and fined.

Cost of living and travelling

The cost of living is high, compared to neighbouring countries, because of the heavy reliance on imports and extra duties. Budget travellers can find exploring the interior difficult because public transport is limited to main highways and car hire is beyond the means of many. VAT has been replaced by a 9% sales tax, which is charged on all services, but should not be charged on top of the 9% hotel tax charged on your room. A 1% 'Environmental Tax' is levied on all goods brought into the country.

Safety

While attacks on foreigners are extremely rare, precautions are still advised, particularly if travelling alone or at night or in deserted areas. Crimes against travellers are harshly punished. Despite the apparent availability of illegal drugs, the authorities are keen to prevent their use. The penalties for possession of marijuana are 6 months in prison or a US$3000 fine, minimum.

Telephone

Information T113. International operator T115.

If you have many calls to make, a card phone works out much cheaper. There is a direct-dialling system between the major towns and to Mexico and USA. The entire country's telephone directory is online at www.belizetelemedia.net.

The much-maligned Belizean telephone system is steadily modernizing. Formed in 2007 out of the old BTL, Belize Telemedia is promising to provide the world down the phone line.

Most people now have a mobile phone and most parts of the country have coverage. All towns have a telephone office and in most villages visitors can use the community phone. Payphones and card phones are fairly commonplace in Belize City and elsewhere.

Time

- 6 hrs GMT.

Tipping

In restaurants, 10% of the bill. Taxi drivers are tipped depending on the length of the transfer, whether 'touring' took place or for extra stops.

Tourist information

The quality and quantity of tourist information in Belize varies greatly. In the popular centres of the cayes, Placencia and the developed sections of Cayo there is a steady supply of information available. Moving away from these popular areas the information is less reliable.

There is an ID card system to validate official tourist guides, which works well in the popular areas. Off the main routes there is less government checking of guides so a more ad hoc system works.

Maps of the country are limited and topographical maps have not been readily available for several years. The best internationally available maps are from ITMB.

Belize Tourism Board, www.travelbelize.org provides information on hotels and a variety of handouts on parks and reserves.

Useful websites

www.belizenet.com, www.belize.net and www.belize.com.

www.governmentofbelize.gov.bz. The government site on the country, packed with information.

www.belizeaudubon.org and www.pfbelize.org cover many protected areas and have a strong conservation focus.

www.ambergriscaye.com, www.gocayecaulker.com, www.placencia.com and www.southernbelize.com.

www.belizex.com covers the Cayo area.

www.belizereport.com is the online version of the Belize Report.

Visas and immigration

All nationalities need passports, as well as sufficient funds and, officially, an onward ticket, although this is rarely requested for stays of 30 days or less. Visas are not usually required by nationals from countries within the EU, Australia and New Zealand, most Caribbean states, the USA and Canada. Citizens of India, Israel, Austria and Switzerland do need a visa. If you need a visa it is best to obtain one in Mexico City or your home country before arriving at the border.

Weights and measures

Imperial and US standard weights and measures.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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