Facts about Belize

Government: Independent nation since 1981, member of British Commonwealth of Nations. 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 Manuel Esquivel. Belize has a Constitution, which includes a Bill of Rights.

Location: Belize lies on the eastern coastline of Central America, bordered on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. It is separated by sea from its neighbor to the southwest, Honduras.

Size: Approximately 8,866 square miles. Belize's mainland is approximately 180 miles long and up to 68 miles wide. Belize also consists of over 200 cayes (islands), ranging in size from a few hundred feet to 25 miles long and four miles wide; most of which are located inside the 200 mile Belize Reef.

Population: The population of Belize is approximately 200,000. 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.

Language: English is the official language and is widely spoken, as is Spanish. Other languages include Creole, Mayan and Garifuna.

Getting to Belize: Belize is about 2 hours and 15 minutes by air from Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas. U.S. gateway cities to Belize include Miami, Houston and New Orleans, Louisiana. Direct flights are also available from Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C; and from Toronto, Canada. From Mexico, direct flights to Belize are available from Cancun and Chetumal. Most Central American countries offer direct flights to Belize, including Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. Direct service from the UK and/or Europe may be available sometime in 1996.

Getting Around by Air in Belize: International travelers fly into the newly renovated and expanded Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. From there, connections can be made to various destinations within Belize, including: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Corozal, Dangriga, Big Creek, Placencia and Punta Gorda; as well as to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. Travelers already in Belize City should utilize the smaller Municipal Airport for in-country flights, as costs are much lower.

Private Aircraft: Private aircraft must enter Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City.

Ports of Entry By Sea: Boats may clear customs and entry at Belize City, Dangriga, Big Creek, Punta Gorda and San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. There is no customs officer in San Pedro; boats wishing to enter must pay the cost of transport for the customs officer to and from San Pedro from Belize City.

Bus services: Several bus lines--Battys (501-27-4924), Venus (501-27-3354), and Novelos (501-27-7372)--depart out of Belize City for most of the major towns (Corozal, Orange Walk, San Ignacio, Belmopan, Dangriga, Punta Gorda) and border towns in Mexico and Guatemala.

Departure Tax: A tax of $11.25 US is charged when leaving Belize; this must be paid in cash or travellers' checks (credit cards not accepted for departure tax.) Further, travellers entering Belize International by air and connecting to in-country flights are charged a $.75 US security fee.

Entry Requirements: A passport and return ticket is required to enter 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.

Firearms: It is illegal to take firearms and ammunition in or out of Belize.

Animals: Animals must be accompanied by a certificate of freedom from infection/contagious disease by a veterinarian following examination not more than 48 hours prior to shipment; animals must also be certified as having been vaccinated against rabies not less than one month nor more than six months prior to departure; and must be free of open wounds. Dogs must have a valid certification of vaccination against distemper, parvovirus, infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis. Animals may be required to be re-vaccinated against rabies on arrival if certifications are deemed unsatisfactory.

Customs: U.S. residents are permitted a $400 per person (or $1,100 per family) duty-free tax exemption upon returning to the U.S., and can also bring back one quart of alcohol and 200 cigarettes duty-free.

Currency: Local currency is the Belize Dollar. One U.S. dollar is worth BZ$2. U.S. dollars should be exchanged directly in purchasing goods and services, as banks will charge a fee (currently is at .0125) to exchange U.S. to Belize dollars. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere in Belize.

Credit Cards/Travellers' Checks: Nearly all hotels, restaurants and shops in the major towns and tourist areas take all major credit cards. Street vendors and smaller establishments in remote areas may accept only cash or travellers' checks. It's important to keep travellers' checks in a waterproof pouch, as they are considered void if they get wet. Representatives of VISA, MasterCard and American Express can be contacted at the four commercial banks in Belize City (Atlantic Bank Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays Bank, and the Belize Bank. 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 27-7257.

Getting Married: Foreign visitors who wish to marry in Belize can now apply for a marriage license after being in the country only three days, plus give one day's notice. Blood tests are not required, but you must provide proof of citizenship, a certified copy of your birth certificate and certified copy of divorce certificate or death certificate, if applicable.

Electrical System: Same as US (110 volts AC).

Telecommunications: All telecommunications services (direct dial phones, fax, telex, cable) are available; but calls from Belize are much higher than an equivalent call to Belize. The country code for Belize is (501) and there are currently 17 area codes within Belize. Remote jungle lodges usually have short wave radio communications linked to cellular service. If you are business visitor planning to spend some time in Belize and want a temporary internet account, you can make arrangements by contacting Belize Telecommunications, Inc. ("BTL"), Belize's sole internet access provider (email them at: sales@btl.net).

Postal Rates: Rates to the US are: BZ $.60 for letters, $.30 for postcards. Rates to Europe are: BZ $.75 for letters, $.40 for postcards. First class mail between Belize and the US averates 8-10 days to delivery. International Express mail from the US to Belize usually arrives in 3 business days; cost is $14.00.

Time Zone: Belize is in the Central Standard Time zone, and does not utilize daylight saving time.

Sales Taxes: Belize recently instituted the "value added" ("VAT") tax. This tax, set at 15%, is applied to all goods and services except hotel accommodations. There is a 7% hotel tax. Some hotels also add a 10-15% "service charge" to the bill; inquire about this when checking hotel prices.

Tipping: Tipping is voluntary; tips of 10% are acceptable; more if the service is exceptionally good.

Climate: Belize is subtropical, with a mean annual temperature of 80 degrees F. Winter storms may bring the temperature down to the low '60's; it can reach the mid-90's on the mainland in 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; the rainy season is typically June-November. Hurricanes occasionally occur; they are most likely to hit in August and September. Rainfall is heaviest in the south and the jungle areas, lightest in the north and on the Cayes. Water temperature averages between 79 and 83 degrees F.

Water: Most Belizean homes and hotels use cisterns to collect rainwater for drinking and home use; thus, tap water is potable with no ill effects. In severe droughts, cisterns may run dry, making bottled water advisable. Visitors should be aware of the need to conserve water during the dry season, especially on the Cayes.

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