By David Gobeil
Here are the most frequently asked questions about Belize with short and concise answers to get you on your way fast.
If you would like more detailed information on any of these questions and answers please use the search button at the top of the page, or contact us with your questions. We will cheerfully answer all your questions about Belize!
Where on earth is Belize?
What language(s) do they speak in Belize?
I’ve heard Central American countries are dangerous. Is Belize dangerous?
Do I need a passport or visitor’s Visa to enter Belize?
How long can I stay in Belize?
What kind of money do they use in Belize and what is it worth?
Where on Earth is Belize?
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.
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What Language do they speak in Belize?
Belize is the only country in the Americas south of the United States border that uses English as it’s official language. 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.
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Is Belize Dangerous?
Belize, unlike most other Central and South American countries, enjoys a stable and democratic government. The 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.
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Do I need a passport or visitor’s visa for Belize?
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. 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.
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How Long Can I Stay in Belize?
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. Each 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.
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What Kind of Money do They Use in Belize?
The Belize dollar has a fixed exchange rate of two to one with the American dollar. Check 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.
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Copyright 2008 By David Gobeil
The Simple Life in Belize
By Domini Hedderman
Five hours of driving on paved highways with jaw-dropping views of mountains and farmland brought us from the international airport in Belize City to our destination: Monkey River Village in the Toledo District, the southernmost area of Belize. We parked our truck and hopped on a boat taxi for the five-minute ride to our new but temporary home, a two-story Caribbean-style home that we are house sitting for six months.
Our journey here began when my husband and I had decided to get off the "earn-and-spend" treadmill. Belize offers that—and the chance to teach our four children the value of a simpler life, away from materialism and consumerism.
Here, in the Toledo District, you get a respite from strip malls and overdevelopment, from pollution and stress. There’s no Wal-Mart in sight (I have heard the closest one is in Mexico). And there's not one fast-food restaurant in the entire country.
We wake each morning to a cool breeze and the sounds of the jungle and the sea: the lapping waves, the calls of exotic birds and, occasionally, howler monkeys making their racket in the trees.
Our village is home to only about 300 residents who rely mostly on fishing and tourism for their income. It’s an authentic Creole fishing village where everyone knows everyone else. Neighbors help neighbors. When I needed a lift across the river (where we park our truck at a friend's house), a local guy was happy to give me a ride. Another new friend brought to our dock a lovely gift of lobster. "For the kids," he said, smiling. And when we want to sit awhile over a Fanta or Belizean-brewed beer Belikin (each in returnable bottles), and ask questions about Belize, the locals are always willing to chat at our neighbor's Barebones Bar up the beach or Ivan's Cool Spot in town.
On the days when we head into town, we pass an elderly Creole gentleman, Horace, who sits on his neat porch, as if he has nothing but time. He greets us each day with the same refrain: "Good morning, mon! Have a good day, mon."
Once we reach the town of Independence, which is just across the line into Stann Creek District, we hit the shops and are met with smiles and waves by shopkeepers. They all recognize us—and they are always willing to help.
Like the time we needed to buy a long-sleeved shirt for our two-year-old, who is too fair for the tropical sun. A little girl, about 10 years old, happily led us around to all the stores in town that sold clothing, offering her sweet and child-like perspective on the place she lives. Her mother, who owns a local restaurant, smiles and calls out a greeting every time she sees us drive by. She also makes a mean plate of stewed chicken, rice, and beans. Lunch for two, with fresh orange juice—better than I've ever tasted—will set you back just $9.
When we want a day in the "big town," we head into Punta Gorda, or "PG," the largest town at the south end of the district, about 1.5 hours away from us.
Views of the rugged Mayan Mountains provide the scenic backdrop as we drive south. Thatched roofs dot the countryside. Every local passing on foot or bicycle offers us a friendly wave as we pass by.
These locals farm the land to provide for their family's needs and rely on fishing for their livelihood. Many still bathe and wash their clothes in the rivers and streams. They cook in outdoor kitchens, letting the rich smells of fried plantains, chicken soup, and spicy beans float into the open air. They wake up and go to sleep with the sun, in a natural human rhythm as old as the earth itself.
When we reach PG, we head for one of the multitude of shops and restaurants here. Or else, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we visit the lively market where we can buy eight bananas, a huge bouquet of cilantro, and three big bunches of chives. Each of these costs us only 50 cents.
There’s more to the Toledo District than food, though. The Sapodilla Cayes—and the area around Monkey River Village, as well—provide adventure seekers with fishing, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and diving, all activities we’re looking forward to enjoying as a family. We've already tried zip-lining and cave tubing at Big Falls Extreme Adventures—where we talked to the fun and engaging staff in between zipping from tree to tree and floating down the peaceful, cool Rio Grande River.
We're also planning to soak up as much education as we can while we’re here. We’ve taken our kids on history tours of Maya ruins, with their smooth stones and deep shadows. And now that the kids are on Christmas break from the village school, we'll set out to explore both banana farms and the ecological preserves to learn more about sustainability and preserving the earth.