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Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:16 PM

Belize is located along Central America’s eastern coast, bordered to the north by Mexico, to the west and south by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. It measures 175 miles north to south and 69 miles across at its widest point. Total land area is about the same as New Jersey.

The savannas of northern Belize are flat and dry compared to the rest of the country (receiving only 50 inches of rain a year). The primary source of income for the predominantly Mestizo population there is sugarcane. South and westward, the hilly inland terrain is more forested, including some remaining stands of mahogany. Next is the Mountain Pine Ridge range, with pine-covered peaks of over 3,000 feet that enjoy cool nights year-round. To the south are citrus plantations, fishing, and rainforests where the annual rainfall increases to 120 inches. The Mayan Indian and Garifuna inhabitants subsist primarily upon small-scale farming and fishing.

Much of the coastline consists of either dense growths of mangrove habitats, or broken, low-lying and narrow sandy shoreline. Belize City itself rests upon filled mangrove forest, with an elevation that is actually a foot below sea level.

The central Belize District is the most populated of six and is predominantly Creole. Economic activity centers around commerce and some light manufacturing.

Belize’s barrier reef is the second largest in the world, running some 150 miles, nearly the entire length of the coast, featuring three of the Caribbean’s four atolls. Small islands or cayes (pronounced keys) abound in the crystal-clear waters of the reefs.

Belize’s subtropical climate is hot and humid most of the year. In Belize City, the average daily temperature is 85°F, but the daytime high is often in the 90s between May and October, with uncomfortably high humidity. Dry season runs from January through April. Heavy rains begin in June and can continue through December. Mosquito outbreaks are a perennial result. From March to November, a fairly steady breeze makes the heat in Belize City less intolerable. The coolest period is December to February, when the average daily temperature is only 75°F. During this period, night temperatures can drop into the upper 50s. Tropical storms and hurricanes can occur from June through November. In 1931 and 1961, hurricanes devastated Belize City; Hattie in 1961 put 15 feet of water in the chancery. Hurricane Greta (1978) was much less intense, but still covered the first floor of the chancery with 18 inches of water.

Belmopan. Although the Embassy is located in Belize City, the country’s capital is Belmopan, at the country’s geographic center in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. It was conceived and constructed as the capital after hurricane Hattie’s devastation. Though Belmopan is still vulnerable to hurricane winds, its distance inland (50 miles) and 180-foot elevation protect it from the waters that inundate Belize City. Belmopan is an easy hour away by paved highway. Embassy officers must make the trip frequently.

Belmopan’s modest main point of interest is its government buildings, styled after ancient Mayan architecture, arranged around a wide plaza. While it lacks the amenities of Belize City, it does have a handful of shops and produce stalls, a supermarket, banks, three hotels, and a hospital. Plans to increase the city’s 7,000+ population have stalled in recent years, and Belize City remains the principal shopping, business, and entertainment center.

At present, only half of all foreign missions are located in Belmopan. It is anticipated that all embassies will eventually be based in the capital.

Population Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:18 PM

Belize’s three major ethnic groups are the Mestizo (Spanish/Indian descent), the Creole (African/European descent) and the indigenous Maya Indians. Garifuna (African/Arawak Indian descent), East Indian, Lebanese, European, Mennonite and Chinese people make up the rest of the population, which is estimated at 230,000. Average annual growth rate is 2.6%, due to a high birth rate coupled with a higher immigration than emigration rate.

The Creole and Garifuna together comprise roughly 36% of the population. Descended from African slaves, the two groups are distinguished by lineage and culture. The Creole, who predominate in Belize City, intermarried with Europeans, and their local English dialect is also known as Creole. Their culture is a blend of West Indian, British and American. The Garifuna are slaves intermarried with Carib Indians, who were deported by the British from the French West Indies around 1800. Garifuna communities are in the south. They maintain distinctly African cultural traits, while their first language combines an African dialect with Maya and Spanish words.

About 45% of Belizeans are of Latin and/or Indian lineage. Some are direct descendants of the regional Mayan tribes, who have become part of the money economy, learned Spanish, and married Latin descendants; this group is often referred to as the Mestizo. In remote areas, such as in the south, some Mayans still maintain some ethnic purity in custom and language.

In recent years, the influx of Hispanic refugees has had a significant impact on the population of Belize. The refugees came mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras during the wars of the 1980s. A reduced number still come, primarily for economic reasons. Official estimates place their numbers at 40,000. Some are being assimilated into Belizean society, working as laborers or in service industries in the larger towns. Many live as squatters, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture on interior lands.

Mennonites of European stock are often seen in black clothing and horse and buggy. They inhabit the northwest, and produce lovely furniture and much of the country’s poultry and vegetables. The few remaining British subjects, the Lebanese, East Indian and Chinese business communities are predominantly in Belize City. English is the official language and mother tongue of over half of the population, with Spanish, Mayan dialects and Garifuna spoken as the first language of the rest of the population. Literacy is liberally estimated at 90%.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:18 PM

After more than 200 years of British colonization, independence was granted on September 21, 1981. But Belize has enjoyed internal self-government since 1964, boasting the most stable democracy in the region, with a British-style parliamentary government, headed by a Prime Minister and 10 or more Cabinet ministers who all serve in the House of Representatives or Senate. Upon independence, Belize joined the Commonwealth, making Queen Elizabeth the head of state. The monarch is represented by a Governor General, whose appointment is recommended by the Prime Minister.

In 1993, British Forces withdrew all but a small training detachment of its former garrison. Today, defense is the responsibility of the small but dedicated Belize Defence Force (BDF). Policemen, like the British bobby, are unarmed on the beat.

There are two principal political parties — the People’s United Party (PUP), and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The two have exchanged control of the government in every election since independence.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:19 PM

Most exponents of Belizean art are the Garifuna, Creole, Maya and East Indian peoples. The work of wood and slate carvers, black coral jewelers, and local musicians and vocalists are readily available in stores where tourists shop, although much of the handicrafts are imported from Guatemala. There are many talented and popular painters, some of whom are exhibited fairly regularly in Belize City, especially at the National Handicraft Center and the Mexican Cultural Center.

Various choral societies practice and perform regularly. There are five national dance companies under the auspices of the National Arts Council, a couple of which have toured overseas on occasion.

The Belize National Theater Company and the Arts Council put on three to four shows a year, favoring works by local and Caribbean writers.

Scientific activity centers around the excavation of some of the 900 pre-Mayan/Mayan ruins throughout the country. A historical society, run by an American expatriate, is active.

The government and private citizens have set aside tens of thousands of acres of wildlife and ecological habitats where researchers study everything from herbal medicines to the coral reefs, manatees, mangrove trees and the spiny lobster. Reportedly, Belize has a higher percentage of its land (40%) held as nature reserves or parks than any other country; and ecotourism is popular.

The University College of Belize (UCB), the only 4-year junior college with U.S. accreditation; the Belize Agricultural College; the University of the West Indies (UWI) Belize campus; and the Belize Teachers College are the premier institutions of higher learning. Check with the individual institutions, however, for their accreditation and academic levels of proficiency, as relevance and carry-over to American programs may differ greatly.

There are relatively few cultural traces of two centuries of British colonialism; widespread cable television, in particular, has increasingly Americanized the country.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:20 PM

Sugar, citrus, rice, bananas, fishing, cattle ranching, and tourism have long since surpassed logging as the country’s major economic activities. Still, only a small percentage of the cultivable land is in use, and tourism is now the largest industry (160,000 tourists, 65% of them Americans, visited in 1997).

Historically, Belize has exported agricultural products such as sugar and bananas, and has imported everything else. Through the efforts of Mennonite and Central American immigrants, it has achieved a modicum of self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs like rice, corn, and red kidney beans. There are only a handful of small industries — cigarettes, beer, soft drinks, floor milling, concrete blocks, dairy products and agricultural processing.

Since Belize’s modest market imports almost everything from the U.S., the UK or the English-speaking Caribbean, the cost of living remains high. Many Belizeans do their shopping in Mexico or Guatemala, where goods are cheaper.


Automobiles Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:20 PM

Private cars are a necessity and air-conditioned, heavy-duty vehicles are popular. High clearance vehicles are needed for traveling out of town. Parts and service are most easily obtained for Fords and Toyotas, which have full dealerships here. Jeep, Chrysler, Land Rover, Mitsubishi and Suzuki have agencies, with a limited supply of parts. The Ford Explorer and Suzuki Vitara or Sidekick are among the most popular models. Flood damage and poor maintenance make urban streets so full of potholes that tires and shock absorbers often need replacement (some would say high clearance is needed in town as well). Bring an extra set of tires and other essential parts to post.

Personnel can import a personal car duty-free. However, duty must be paid if the car is sold in less than 36 months. Second-hand cars have a reasonably good market, and prices are in line with prevailing U.S. prices. New cars can be purchased in Belize, but most employees prefer to ship or drive their car to post.

Driving licenses and registration certificates are issued with minimum formality and free of charge. Third-party liability insurance is compulsory and can be obtained locally at reasonable rates (post recommends, however, that you seriously consider obtaining comprehensive coverage). Regular, high-octane, leaded and unleaded, and diesel fuels are readily available. The price of gas, duty-free for personnel, is about US$1.16/gallon.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:21 PM

Tropic Air and Maya Island Airways are the two local airlines, using single- and twin-engine planes to serve the district towns, resort cayes and Tikal, Guatemala.

Paved roads link Belize City north to the Mexican and west to the Guatemalan borders. A dry-weather road (now being paved) connects to Punta Gorda in the far south. Roads on to Tikal, Guatemala and Cancun and Merida, Mexico are paved and in good shape.

Regular, inter-city bus service (on modern as well as aging buses) operates on the all-weather roads. In-town bus service is infrequent and is not used by Embassy staff. Traffic moves on the right, American-style.

Taxis are reasonably priced (Bz$5 per person within the city during the day), and are usually available.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:22 PM

From Houston and Miami, Belize is a 2-hour flight. TACA makes daily flights from these cities, San Salvador (with connections to all Central America), and Roatan and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Continental Airlines flies twice daily from Houston, while American Airlines flies daily from Miami. Commuter airlines link Belize City to Tikal, Guatemala, and Chetumal and Cancun, Mexico.

Commercial cargo flights arrive in Belize weekly. Freighters make port calls from Miami two or three times a week, taking three days to make the journey. It is also possible to sail on cruise ships that call at Belize City in the winter.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:25 PM

Belize enjoys excellent but expensive telephone service. All districts and major population centers are now linked by dial service. Direct-dial capability to the U.S. and many other countries is available through the local phone company. It is possible to use USA Direct for both AT&T and MCI from Belize if you have a calling card. All Embassy-leased houses have touch-tone telephones and tie-line extensions. Post telephone numbers are:

Embassy 501–2–77161 Fax 501–2–35321 MLO 501–25-2009 Fax 501-25–2553 IBB/VOA 501–7–22063 Fax 501–7–22147 DEA 501–2–33857 Fax 501–2–33856 Peace Corps 501–2–31771 Fax 501–2–30345

Internet Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:25 PM

The country is internet-friendly, with a well developed net, lots of web sites, and home e-mail service readily available. Most Belizean contacts of the Embassy have e-mail.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:26 PM

International airmail service between Belize and the U.S. is reliable. Postage for a one-half ounce letter to the U.S. is 75¢ (US38¢ equivalent). International air parcel post from the U.S. is expensive, but fast and reliable. Airmail packages sent from Belize to the U.S. are slightly less expensive and service is equally reliable. International mail from Belize can be registered and insured. The international mailing address is:

Miss Jane Doe U.S. Embassy P.O. Box 286 Belize City, Belize Central America

The U.S. Embassy and other U.S. agencies enjoy APO service. Personal mail between the U.S. and Belize can take from four days to a week (first class or priority mail). The same is true of parcel post. Fourth class mail generally arrives within a month; and mail is received on a daily basis. Personnel can receive letters, newspapers, magazines and packages through the APO. Both certified and insured mail is accepted by the APO. Size and weight restrictions are 70 pounds, 100 square inches. All classes of mail, insured or certified, can be sent from Belize. U.S. stamps are available at post. The address is:

Mr. John Doe Unit 7401* (State Dept.) APO AA 34025

*Each agency within the U.S. Mission has its own Unit number. Individuals coming to post should ask their agency for the appropriate number.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:26 PM

There are few facilities for entertainment and recreation, so two local TV stations and 60-plus cable channels make a TV and VCR a necessity.

There has also been a rapid increase in the number of radio stations across the country. For the most part, programming consists of contemporary and Caribbean music. Live programming takes the form of newscasts, talk shows, government, and public service announcements and political propagandizing. Though the country is English-speaking, Spanish stations and programs are on the rise.

British Forces Belize broadcast on FM in Belize City, and IBB/VOA can be heard on AM. Short-wave reception is good.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:27 PM

There are five weekly newspapers in circulation in Belize. All are in English and each represents a different point of view. Four are published in Belize City, and one in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

The Embassy subscribes to the Miami Herald which arrives daily except Saturdays, on the day of publication, and to the International Herald Tribune.

A variety of U.S. magazines, including the Latin American editions of Time and Newsweek, are sold locally. Several poorly stocked bookstores carry detective, western, gothic romance and comic books.

Belize City has a new public lending library with novels, text and reference books, but few are new.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:27 PM

Some local doctors are well-trained and competent to thwart common ailments. Diagnosis and treatment of complicated illnesses are difficult due to lack of equipment and facilities. Trained laboratory technicians are available, but equipment and supplies in the government hospitals are limited. For these reasons, serious conditions and cases involving special care are treated in Miami. Many Belizeans travel to Mexico or Guatemala for medical attention. Local ophthalmologists provide high quality care, and glasses, contact lenses, and exams are comparatively priced to the U.S. Emergency dental work should be evacuated to the U.S.

Several pharmacies carry a wide variety of basic medicines. However, bring to post a supply of prescription drugs, medicines and first aid supplies, since these items are imported and scarcities occur.

The regional medical officer for Central America is in San Salvador and makes quarterly visits. Routine health services are provided by a Health Unit Nurse.

Community Health Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:28 PM

Although Belize City now has a modern water treatment plant, and sanitation has improved greatly in recent years, things are still well below U.S. standards. All Embassy houses have water distillers. About 90% of urban households are connected to the citywide sewage system, but sewage still runs in some open canals which empty into the sea. Some Embassy-leased housing have septic tanks. Although there is regular removal of city garbage, it is common to see it strewn about.

Houseflies, horseflies, sandflies, mosquitoes, roaches, land crabs, rats, and mice are widespread, and mildew, rot rust, and salt air corrosion are a continuous problem. Embassy homes are fumigated every month for ants, roaches and other biting insects. The Mission supplies one dehumidifier per household. For pets, ticks and fleas are a constant annoyance. Bring plenty of tick/flea shampoo, spray, collars, powder or whatever you normally use to control the problem (what is available here is expensive).

Personnel and their families generally enjoy good health, but the constant mildew and dust in the city can aggravate allergies and sinus conditions, and colds are common. The high heat and humidity make this a debilitating climate, and extra exertion can quickly bring on heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:28 PM

No specific immunizations are recommended for Belize.

Bring an ample supply of insect repellant (Belizean mosquitoes are immune to Skin So Soft) and sunscreen to avoid the damaging effects of overexposure to the sun’s rays. The latter is particularly important when traveling to the cayes by boat where the sun's intensity is amplified by the reflection from the sea.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:29 PM

Belize has a low wage scale and chronic unemployment. The government will not issue a work permit to a foreigner if in so doing it would displace a Belizean. Nevertheless, permits have occasionally been granted to spouses with desired qualifications, e.g., as teachers in the local schools. Opportunities for work do arise at the Embassy. The FLO reports that Belize has a ‘de facto bilateral work agreement’ for eligible family members.

American Embassy - Belize City

Post City Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:30 PM

Belize City is a mixture of modern concrete buildings, Victorian-style wood houses, and old buildings dating back to the 1800s. A branch of the Belize River, known as Haulover Creek, divides the city into “northside” and “southside.” Three bridges join the two halves. Downtown (alternately described as dumpy and charming) and the poorer sections of town are southside. The Fort George area and the Southern Foreshore, facing each other at the mouth of the Creek, are the older residential areas. Kings Park, Caribbean Shores, and Bell Vista, where most Mission personnel live, are newer developments on the nourished, upriver toward the airport.

The city is built on reclaimed mangrove swamp and expansion can occur only by further reclamation, an expensive process. The two roads leaving the city pass through several miles of wetland before reaching slightly higher ground.

Seaward, the view is interesting. Four or five scenic cayes with good fishing, swimming, and skin-diving, lie within a 30-minute boat ride. The island villages of San Pedro and Caye Caulker are the favorite jumping-off spots where skin-diving and scuba equipment can be rented.

Close in to Belize City, the sea is shallow, muddy, and polluted. Freighters dock at a cargo pier outside the city, while cruise ships often anchor offshore in winter. Though locals can often be seen swimming along the city shoreline, there are no beaches. You should swim only at the cayes, along the reef, up rivers or at designated beach areas. The nearest white-sand beaches are 30 minutes east by boat or a one-hour drive south.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:31 PM

America’s only wooden chancery, the Embassy, occupies a three-story building in the Fort George residential area within walking distance of the business district. The building was moved board by board from New England in 1866. Its wide veranda, wooden columns, and shuttered windows give it an old-fashioned charm that is enhanced by tropical trees and flowering shrubs. Window air-conditioners cool the entire building, including the Consular Section annex in the rear. The Administrative offices, including the General Services Section and warehouse, are located one block up the street.

At independence in 1981, the post moved from Consulate General status to an Embassy, with an expanded range of work and increased staff. The U.S. Government began major programs in economic and military assistance, and in anti-narcotic cooperation.

The Embassy forms part of the Special Embassy Program (SEP). It includes Political/Econ/Commercial, Consular, and Administrative Sections; a 50-volunteer Peace Corps program; DEA; an IBB/VOA relay station 200 road miles south in Punta Gorda; a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector 50 miles west in Belmopan; and a Military Liaison Office at Belize airport.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:31 PM

Newcomers usually stay at the Radisson Fort George, the Chateau Caribbean, or the Fiesta Inn hotels, all in walking distance of the Embassy. The Embassy rate for a single room is about US$70. These are three-star hotels, and the facilities are comfortable. In some cases, temporary housing may be arranged in an available Embassy residence.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:32 PM

The U.S. Government owns the chancery and the Ambassador’s residence. It leases all other housing. Generally, houses are modest but adequate. All leased quarters are fully government furnished, and air-conditioned with window or split air units. All residences have automatic washers, dryers, gas stoves, refrigerators, and freezers. Many houses have canal frontages and/or docks where a boat can be kept. E-mail the General Services Office for more information on quarters likely to be assigned.

Furnishings Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:32 PM

Bring essential household items, including kitchen equipment, dishes, and linens, infant and children’s furniture. The climate is hard on furniture, silver, brass, and leather, due to the humidity and the city’s proximity to the sea. Do not bring expensive items.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:33 PM

Electricity is the same as in the U.S. — 110v, 60-cycle, AC, with three-prong, 220v outlets for air-conditioning. Power is reliable, blackouts rarely occur. All residences are nonetheless equipped with diesel generators to provide emergency electricity for all household needs except air-conditioning. U.S. appliances are suitable here, but repair service and parts are limited. Surge protectors are recommended for sensitive equipment.

Food Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:34 PM

Most packaged, canned, and bottled items needed in the average household can be bought in Belize. Four supermarkets and several small groceries carry a good supply of imported U.S. and British food and housekeeping supplies. Most baby foods, formulas and disposable diapers are available. Prices on all items are high. The supermarkets have imported fresh butter, margarine, various cheeses and a modest assortment of frozen products, including fruits, vegetables, bakery goods, and processed meats.

Frozen whole chickens, chicken parts, beef and pork from local producers are stocked as well. Fresh meat is sold in various meat markets and, with the exception of lamb which is increasing in popularity, is in generous supply. Beef is not as tender here as in the U.S., but is lean and of quite acceptable quality. Local chickens are good, as are local dairy products in general.

Fish, conch, shrimp and lobster are caught and frozen locally. The supply of fresh fish varies according to the weather and prices are cheaper than in the U.S.

Embassy personnel enjoy access to the British commissary at the airport, which features imported U.S. beef and fresh vegetables. Mexico offers less expensive shopping: Chetumal is just over the border (two-hour drive), while Cancun and Merida (6-hour drives) boast fully stocked Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs.

Clothing Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:35 PM

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying clothing to wear in Belize is that the fabric must be suitable for the hot and humid climate. No garment will be wearable if the fabric is heavy or retains heat. Synthetics and double knits are too hot. Pure cotton is ideal, but always think lightweight and permanent press. There is one dry-cleaner in Belize City.

Another consideration is the type of recreational activity most popular here. Personnel use casual clothing for swimming, fishing, boating and travel to out-of-the-way archeological ruins. It also is a good idea to have a hat for protection from the sun. Ladies straw hats and men’s summer caps can be purchased in Belize, but beachwear is best brought to post. Remember that clothes wear out quickly, as there is no change of season. Therefore, bring more, rather than less; little is available on the local market and most personnel order clothing from the U.S., or shop in Mexico and Guatemala. Lightweight hiking boots and outdoor clothing or jungle fatigues are a good idea for hiking in the rainforest.

Men Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:36 PM

Dress is cool and casual. Guayaberas (embroidered Mexican shirts with evenly hemmed tails worn outside the pants) are appropriate on most occasions and are worn in the office and for evening social events. Any open-necked short- or long-sleeved shirts are acceptable for business and most informal social occasions. Lightweight suits are worn for a few special events, especially official functions. On some occasions, particularly within the British community, semiformal evening dress is long-sleeved shirt with necktie and/or jacket (planters). Black-tie is almost never worn, but when it is, both black and white jackets are acceptable. Poor drainage in the city, which is one foot below sea level, floods streets and hides ditches during the rainy season, so getting wet is a part of life here. Sweaters are needed for winter evenings.

Women Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:36 PM

Dressing is casual, although less so in the office where air-conditioning is efficient. Dresses or slacks are worn. Lightweight slacks and tops, and sleeveless dresses are worn for shopping and marketing. Sundresses are also popular for everyday wear. Stockings are never worn except occasionally in the evening and in the office. Hats are rarely required. Short cocktail dresses and patio-type clothes are worn at evening parties. Formal parties are rare, so the need for long evening dresses is minimal. In December and January, dresses with sleeves are comfortable. A light stole is useful to have in the evening during the cooler months. Bring a sweater and heavier clothing for traveling to mountain areas.

Completely closed leather or synthetic shoes are a bit warm for Belize. So canvas espadrilles and sandals are common daytime wear. Women’s casual shoes are sold here, but styles and fit are limited. Narrow sizes are not available.

Children Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:37 PM

Infants and children wear simple clothing. Cotton T-shirts, light pants, shorts, and simple dresses are worn. Sneakers are the usual footwear, so bring a supply. Children tend to dress up for birthday parties and religious services.

All schools mandate that uniforms be worn. If you wish to purchase fabric in the U.S. for school uniforms, contact the CLO for information on the required colors and patterns for the right school.

Children’s shoes are available, but don’t count on the local selection. Some British and American toys and baby supplies are sold, but prices are high.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:38 PM

Most all necessities can be bought at one of the several department, hardware, and drugstores, but shortages occur. Hobby, recreational, beauty and medicinal/medical items can be another story. If they are available, they’re expensive. Make sure you bring along books, art supplies, CDs, and special needs like cosmetics, medicines and toiletries. A good rule of thumb is: If it’s not in every store in the U.S., don’t assume it’s to be found anywhere in Belize (though sometimes Belize can surprise you).

Basic Services Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:38 PM

There is one drycleaner in Belize City and three or four commercial laundromats. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics, etc., are easy to find, but service is generally slow, and replacement parts not always on hand. Barbers and hairdressers are competent, as are upholsterers, drapery makers, dressmakers and jewelers.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:38 PM

Most American households have a maid, though experienced and trained servants are difficult to find. Domestic workers typically do not live in, and work 6–8 hours per day. The legal minimum wage for domestics is Bz$2.25 per hour. Overtime is paid for extra hours. Employers pay Social Security tax for all domestics who work over 23 hours per week. Maids do routine cleaning, laundry and child care, and may speak Spanish and/or English. Night babysitting and help at parties requires overtime pay. Hours and fringe benefits should be agreed upon at time of employment. A small file of domestics is kept by the Personnel Office.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:39 PM

Belize is roughly 60% Roman Catholic and 38% Protestant. Although church attendance is relatively low, the country is very religious; prayers accompany virtually every public ceremony. Denominations represented in Belize include Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonite, Methodist, Mormon, Muslim, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist. All conduct services in English.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:40 PM Local schools provide good education through the junior high school level. The basics are taught, but creative art, music, and laboratory science are lacking. The school year usually begins the first Monday after September 10, and ends in mid-June. There is a 3-week vacation at Christmas and a 2-week vacation at Easter.

Some schools have U.S. priests and nuns on their staff, but most of the schools are staffed by Belizeans. The educational system is basically British (although the textbooks in some schools come from the U.S.), and some of the curriculum and the approach to learning differs from that in the U.S. Most students re-entering schools in the U.S. have no difficulty at their expected grade level.

To enter first grade, a child must be 5 years old by January 1, following the beginning of the school year. Infant I (kindergarten) enrolls children from ages 3 to 5, and there are morning and afternoon sessions.

Most foreign grade-school children attend the British Toucan School, located at the Belize Defense Forces Airport Camp. Some others attend the new and privately operated Belize Elementary School.

At the high school level, girls can attend St. Catherine Academy or Palloti, both of which are run by Roman Catholic nuns. St. John’s College, run by Jesuit priests, is the premier school for boys. The Anglican Cathedral College is a coeducational high school. Belmopan Christian Academy in Belmopan offers an American curriculum and several American teachers. These schools are regarded as the best in Belize.

Away From Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:40 PM A generous away-from-post educational allowance for children in grades 9 to 12 is provided. Check the standardized regulations to determine current allowance figures.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:41 PM

St. John’s Sixth Form is a coeducational junior college with U.S. accreditation. St. John’s College Extension and the Extramural Department of the University of the West Indies offer a few evening courses for adults. Several people have learned Spanish through these courses as well as the Mexican Cultural Institute. These night classes are attended by working people who are studying to pass the high school equivalency test or who are upgrading their office skills by taking commercial courses.

The University College of Belize provides higher education. Degrees are offered in Business Administration, Math, English, Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Health, Education and Social Work. Elective courses are in English, Literature, Economics, History and Mathematics. Check with UCB or the CLO for U.S. accreditation of courses.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:43 PM

Adequate exercise and outdoor recreation are essential to morale and physical well-being in Belize. Opportunities for outdoor recreation are limitless, while those who don’t like the outdoors are likely to find life here frustrating. Jogging and bicycling are popular. Close proximity to some of the world’s most beautiful boating and swimming makes this an ideal post for water sports. Sailing, canoeing (on rivers), sea kayaking, motorboating, SCUBA, snorkeling, fishing, and exploring the barrier reef and the cayes are popular activities. From Belize City, water taxis take you out to the cayes. There are plenty of boats for hire, or bring your own. Some U.S. personnel have even purchased excellent locally built craft. Outboard motors are in ample supply and cheaper than in the U.S. Races for various classes of local and imported sailboats are held two or three times a year. Fishing tournaments, too, are held several times a year. Manatee can be seen upriver; and it is possible to canoe from the Guatemalan border into Belize City in 3 or 4 days (experienced outfitters can arrange the trip). The Belize Pickwick Club, the main tennis and social club, is in decline and membership is expensive. There are a few free or less expensive courts to be found around town, and partners are easy to find.

There is one private golf course. The Caye Chapel course is on an island 10 miles east, and is being upgraded whilst the entire island is remade into an exclusive resort. It charges Bz$50/round. (Bring your own set of clubs, rentals don’t exist here.) Golf is also possible in Cancun.

The cost of recreational and hobby equipment is high. It’s a good idea to bring your own supplies and equipment. A fully equipped gymnasium is available northside at reasonable monthly fees.

Bird watching and hiking are popular activities. Belize is a world famous bird-watching destination with over 560 species. An enthusiastic and professional Belize Audubon Society is active throughout the country. Belize has several caves to explore. Some can even be floated through on rivers in inner tubes.

The Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina, and the Fiesta Inn open their main pools to non-hotel guests, who have come for a meal. However, the Radisson and Fiesta graciously allow Embassy personnel and their immediate families to use the pool. Also, a public pool has just been completed.

The Belize Fishing Association benefits sports fishermen and promotes fishing-related tourism. The association explores all kinds of sport fishing, organizes fishing tournaments, and advances marine conservation by maintaining records of fish caught in Belizean waters, such as grouper, snapper, tuna, marlin and swordfish.

Popular sports include karate, softball, basketball, horseracing, bodybuilding, soccer, and cross-country bicycle racing.

The government reciprocally issues amateur radio licenses upon presentation of a U.S. license. The Belize Amateur Radio Society offers code and technical courses. In addition to high frequency operations, there is widespread two-meter activity across the country, with the assistance of active repeaters.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:45 PM

Possibilities for weekend excursions are limitless. Roads, hotels, food and restaurants are generally good, the language is English, distances are short, and the variety of scenery great. A wide variety of ethnic groups can be found, and rural people are friendly. Particularly welcoming are the resident Americans, who are scattered all across the country, and are preeminent in the tourism industry.

A number of Mayan ruins in Belize have been excavated and partially restored. The two well-excavated ruins are Xunantunich, 70 miles west of Belize City, and Altun Ha, 30 miles north. The latest ruin, Caracol, rivaled (and in fact once defeated) Tikal, and requires an adventurous 4-wheel trek into Belize’s tropical rainforest. Many sites are still under excavation and archeologists sometimes welcome visitors.

The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, 30 miles west of the city, is a trendsetting world-class facility, started and run by an American. It offers not only an interesting selection of Belizean wildlife in their natural settings, but also has educational programs on the flora and fauna of the region. A Baboon Sanctuary (actually black howler monkeys), butterfly farms across the country, bird sanctuaries (featuring the Western Hemisphere’s largest bird, the jabiru) near Belize City and several national parks nationwide have established trails and guides. The world’s only jaguar reserve is in the south.

The Mountain Pine Ridge, about 3 hours from Belize City off the Western Highway, provides a change of climate with cool nights. A number of resorts in the 3,000-foot high Pine Ridge offer horseback riding through Mayan ruins, inner-tubing through ancient river caves, and ecological camping trips. Caves, waterfalls, natural pools and scenic views abound.

The Mexican town of Chetumal (a 2-hour drive), with freshwater, crystal clear lagoons for swimming close by, makes a good weekend excursion. The modern resorts of Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres are six hours by car and are popular vacation sites for Embassy staff. Cancun boasts every American chain restaurant and a Wet ’n Wild waterpark. Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan is also a six-hour drive. It has excellent shopping and sightseeing facilities, and can be used as a base for visits to the famous ruins of Uxmal and Chichen-Itza.

Guatemala City and the colonial town of Antigua are an inexpensive and easy flight away. The quaint, sinking Guatemalan island village of Flores and the nearby Mayan ruins of Tikal are three hours by car.

Closer to home is Ambergris Caye, a large sandy island, only 15 minutes by plane or 1½ hours by boat from Belize City. A fishing village turned tourist hub, San Pedro, is the premier jumping off spot for the best fishing, diving, and boating. Many other lovely cayes are minutes from Belize City by boat, a couple with cabana guestrooms. Placencia, a rustic, mainland fishing village about 30 minutes by air or three hours by car, is one of several popular beachfront village vacation spots in the south.

Entertainment Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:45 PM

The Calypso Bar and Grill, part of the Fiesta Inn, has a live band and dancing every Thursday through Saturday nights, and attracts an older crowd. Lindbergh’s Landing is a popular hangout, and the happy hour at Mangos restaurant is well attended. The Bellevue Hotel is favored by older young people. Karaoke is popular. There are several nightclubs, but no movie theaters.

There are a number of festivals year-round. September 10, the anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, and September 21, Independence Day, both feature parades, beauty contests, street dances, and special events. Pan American Day and Garifuna Settlement Day (the anniversary of their arrival in Belize) are also celebrated.

Social Activities

Among Americans Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:46 PM The 3,000-strong American community consists mainly of business people who have enterprises, hotels, or farms on the cayes or in the interior. Several American clergy and religious orders live in Belize City and in the districts. An American Chamber of Commerce formed in 1998.

International Contacts Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:46 PM Your social life can be active or quiet depending on inclination. Belizeans are friendly and easy to get to know, and a wide circle of acquaintances can easily develop. Most social activity takes place in the home, out on the cayes, and through scheduled events of the various clubs. Both Rotary and Lions have active branches in Belize and Embassy staff are welcomed. Embassy wives participate in the International Women’s Club.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:47 PM

Receptions and dinners are the most common form of entertainment. Large receptions and cultural events often take place at the lovely Government House in Belize City or the Baron Bliss Institute. Diplomats are usually invited to these parties.

Most resident foreign missions celebrate their national days with receptions. Diplomatic missions are split between Belize City and Belmopan, and include the British High Commission; Embassies of Colombia, Taiwan, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Mexico, representatives of the European Union, UNDP, UNICEF, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization and a Consulate General of El Salvador. Several other nations are represented by honorary consuls.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:47 PM

Requirements for making calls are not rigid in Belize. U.S. personnel should make initial calls on Belizean government officials at their own operating levels. Officers need business cards. They can be printed here.

Special Information Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:48 PM

U.S. Military Liaison Office. The USMLO is located near the international airport; about 15 minutes drive from the Embassy.

Housing. Personnel assigned to MLO are provided government-leased quarters and government-owned appliances (air-conditioner, refrigerator, freezer, gas range, washer and dryer).

School. The Toucan School and Belize Elementary are DOD-sponsored schools and have U.S. accreditation. DOD dependents, kindergarten through the 8th grade, may attend any of these schools. Students in grades 9 through 12 must attend St. Catherine Academy (for girls only) or St. John’s College (for boys), which are both DOD-sponsored and U.S. accredited.

Clothing. All military personnel should bring a minimum of one summer uniform and one Class A uniform. Few occasions require summer mess dress. Communicate with post before making this purchase. Regular office wear for MLO personnel is a Class B uniform. A long-sleeve shirt with tie is acceptable evening wear during special occasions.

Post Orientation Program Post orientation is on an ad hoc basis.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:49 PM

Personnel can drive or fly to post. From the Texas border, it is a 1,650-mile drive across Mexico to Belize City, most of it on 4-lane toll expressways. Good hotels, restaurants, spectacular scenery and mild mountain temperatures mark the route. Or, one can drive to Miami and take a plane from there to Belize City. In this case, the vehicle is left with the U.S. Despatch Agent for shipment, which takes about 3 weeks for delivery to Belize City. The U.S. Despatch Agent’s address:

General Mail Facility P.O. Box 522396 Miami, FL 33125 Tel: (305) 526–2905 Fax: (305) 526–2596

Plane connections to Belize are through Miami and Houston.

An Embassy officer meets all arriving personnel. If an Embassy officer is not present at the entrance to Customs and Immigration, take a taxi to the Embassy or telephone the office. If you telephone after regular duty hours, the security guard will contact the duty officer.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:49 PM

All baggage, furniture, effects, supplies, vehicles, etc., of employees are permitted duty-free entry whether for official or personal use. Peace Corps staff enjoy comparable exemptions. No time limit is placed on the exemptions, which extend to the purchase of liquor, cigarettes, major electrical items, etc., from local merchants on an in-bond basis. Paperwork for unaccompanied baggage, HHE and in-bond purchases is minimal.

Liftvans originating in the U.S. are shipped to Belize from Miami by sea in roll-on/roll-off shipping containers. Personnel coming from the U.S. can expect their HHE to arrive about 3 weeks after arrival in Miami.

Pets Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:50 PM

Before bringing a pet to Belize, notify the Embassy of your intention. Although no restrictions exist for bringing pets, and no quarantine is imposed, a current rabies shot and a health certificate (valid for no more than 6 months prior to arrival in country) are required. Also, a pet importation permit is required from the Vet Clinic in Belize, and a copy of it is required by the international carrier before personnel can board with their pet(s). A fee of Bz$10 per pet is levied, and the permit is valid for 60 days. A veterinarian’s health certificate must show an examination conducted not more than 10 days before arrival in country.

Heartworm is a deadly illness in Belize; therefore all dogs must receive constant preventative medication. Daily and monthly worming medicines are available, but you may want to bring your own supply to guard against shortages. Belize has a good clinic with several veterinarians, usually trained in the U.S. or Britain.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:51 PM

Weapons must be registered with local authorities upon arrival. Only the following non-automatic firearms and ammunition may be brought to Belize.

Item Quantity Pistols 1 Rifles 1 Shotgun 1

Ammunition: Rifle/pistol 100 rounds Shotgun 50 rounds

The above-listed firearms and ammunition may be shipped (but not mailed) to post without an export license, provided they are consigned to U.S. personnel for their personal use and are not for sale.

To bring additional firearms and ammunition into the country, you must obtain advance permission from the Ambassador. To ship additional firearms and ammunition from the U.S., forward copies of your exchange of correspondence with the Ambassador, along with a completed Form DSP-5 (export application) to:

Office of Munitions Control (PM/MC) Department of State Washington, D.C. 20520

The application should include all firearms and ammunition to be shipped to post. The export license issued by PM/MC must be given at time of shipment to the U.S. Despatch Agent who will surrender it and other shipping documents to U.S. Customs.

No Department of State license will be necessary if you ship only shotguns (with barrels 18 inches or over in length) and shotgun ammunition in excess of the quantities listed. You must however, comply with the Chief of Missions determination and with export regulations of the Office of Export Control, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:51 PM

The Belize dollar (Bz$) rate of exchange has remained steady for over 20 years at Bz$2=US$1. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. The Embassy provides accommodation exchange facilities. Embassy personnel maintain bank accounts at one of the four banks operating here (Atlantic Bank, Belize Bank, Barclay’s Bank and Scotiabank). Personnel with diplomatic credentials and a letter of request from the Embassy are also allowed an exemption from stamp duties and government banking taxes at all local banks.

Distances are measured in miles and weights in pounds.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:52 PM

Embassy personnel are not subject to Belizean income tax, nor do they have to pay automobile registration and license fees. Items imported duty free and sold by Embassy personnel on departure are subject to duty on the depreciated value. Because no exchange restrictions exist, prices net of duty are not inflated. In practice, most personnel sell their car and other household items like computers and stereo and lawn equipment, etc., when they leave.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:53 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on Belize. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Conroy, Richard (Vice Consul here 1960–62). Our Man in Belize. St. Martins Press, 1998.

Fernandez, Julio. Belize: A Case Study for Democracy in Central America. Avebury, 1989.

National Geographic. “Belize, the Awakening Land.” January 1972.

National Geographic. “La Ruta Maya.” October 1989.

Rabinowitz, Alan. Jaguar. Struggle and Triumph in the Jungle of Belize. Arbor House: New York, 1986.

Smithsonian Magazine. “Illuminating the Maya’s Path in Belize.” December 1989.

Sutherland, Anne. The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins. Bergen & Garvey, 1998.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 11/28/2003 2:54 PM

New Year’s Day January 1 Baron Bliss Day March 9 Good Friday Friday preceding Easter Sunday Easter Monday Monday following Easter Sunday Labor Day May 1 Commonwealth Day May 24 St. George’s Caye Day September 10 Independence Day September 21 Pan American Day October 12 Garifuna Day November 19 Christmas Day December 25 Boxing Day December 26

* The actual day off from work is subject to change.

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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