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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Belize 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Belize. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Belize-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Belize at Level 2, indicating travelers should Exercise increased caution due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime & Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belmopan as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There is no indication that criminals actively target U.S. citizens in Belize. Tourists and expatriates residing in Belize are more susceptible to incidents of crime due to perceived wealth, particularly when not practicing robust personal security practices and situational awareness. The concentration of major crimes continues to shift from the high-population area of Belize City to districts in the north, west, and south of Belize. A number of violent crimes, including multiple murders, thefts, and home invasions affected long-time expatriates residing in rural communities in 2019.

Confrontational crimes, such as armed robbery and theft, have increased in tourist areas and remote areas alike. Murder, sexual assault, and armed robberies occurred in areas tourists and expatriates frequented in 2019. Those who practice good personal security are less likely feel an impact. Criminal acts, including extremely violent acts, occur in all areas of Belize. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Notable murders of U.S. citizens occurred in 2019, including the widely publicized murders of U.S. citizens on Ambergris Caye in June, and Hopkins in November. The police are actively investigating; however, most recent murders remain unsolved.

Incidents of pickpocketing, burglary, and hotel room theft are the most common types of non-violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Belize; these occur throughout the country. Domestic violence is prevalent. Non-confrontational petty thieves are particularly active in tourist areas and on public transportation. Reports of theft from lodging are common; keep doors locked, even when at home, and secure valuables in locked containers or provided safes. Cooperate if confronted by an intruder. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Break-ins and vandalism of automobiles do occur. Car alarms are a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts and break-ins. Theft of easily pilfered items and sound systems is common.

Corruption, human smuggling/trafficking, the drug trade, money laundering (institutional and trade-based), and local criminal gang activity remain significant criminal problems made more so by the low conviction rate. Criminal organizations and individuals often operate beyond the ability of the police to disrupt them.

 There is some evidence to suggest that Salvadoran and Guatemalan-based transnational criminal organizations provide logistical support to international drug and human trafficking organizations, and use Belize as a transit country along smuggling routes. Gang tags from 18th Street (Barrio 18) and MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) have been reported in multiple districts, including Belize and Cayo districts (the latter being home to the U.S. Embassy). In 2019, Police reported arrests of individuals with possible gang ties, although there is no indication that formal gang cliques are established in Belize.

Belize is a source, transit, and destination country for those subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. No human trafficking cases were reported in 2019. Cases from previous years remain pending. Limited resources are available to victims. 

Due to the small population and high per capita murder rate, Belize consistently ranks among the worst five countries in the world for homicides, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Belize averages approximately 40 homicides per 100,000 residents. The official murder total in 2019 nationwide was 142, with an additional nine cases potentially classifiable as murders pending the conclusion of investigations. The highest annual murder total on record in Belize is 145, which occurred in 2012. In previous years, the increase was likely due to the displacement of crime from the central hub of criminal gang activity in south Belize City. The murder total in the Belize district declined by 12 in 2019, while Cayo district recorded an increase of 7.

MURDER FIGURES

2016

2017

2018

2019

 Belize

70

82

94

82

 Cayo

34

28

19

26

 Orange Walk

11

9

8

8

 Stann Creek

11

12

13

13

 Corozal

7

8

5

4

 Toledo

5

3

4

9

 Total

138

142

143

142

 

The Belize District, which includes Belize City, continues to have the highest number of murders due in large part to dozens of street gangs that operate in the city. Belmopan, a tiny capital with a population of approximately 16,000 residents and home to several diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy, recorded 14 murders in 2019, just two less than in 2018. Murders in Belize mostly involve guns (66%), knives (17%), and machetes (8%). Firearm offenses come with strict penalties and can result in lengthy jail sentences.

Fraud related to credit/debit cards occurs in areas frequented by tourists, particularly Belize City and San Pedro. Skimming is most likely to occur in restaurants, bars, and hotels, when the victim's card is out of view. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

There have been numerous reports of fraud committed against expatriates and Belizeans attempting to purchase land. Corrupt officials are reportedly involved in fraudulent land title transfers. Consult with a reputable Belizean attorney when purchasing property. Many expatriates have reported being the victim of scams in which land is purchased that was not available, was legally owned by other parties, or was subsequently resold without their knowledge. Due to media coverage implicating high-level complicity in land fraud, the government has renewed efforts to address property disputes by converting physical records to electronic records.

Several high-profile investigations have linked Belizean officials in the alleged sale of illegal Belizean identity documents including passports.

Minimize travel to the south side of Belize City to official business only, and avoid personal trips due to gang activity. The Belizean government has designated certain areas as crime-ridden, enabling law enforcement and security authorities to conduct random searches without a warrant.

Several tourist areas along the western border with Guatemala have active military patrols due to security incidents. Some excursions to view ruins on the western border with Guatemala require a military patrol. In 2019, robberies of tourists were reported in these areas.

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions are improving, but are still poor; they range from short stretches of newly paved roads in Belize City to decades-old pavement on major highways. Roads in rural areas/villages are typically dirt or loose gravel; road conditions worsen during the rainy season. The primary highways – Philip SW Goldson Highway (northern), George Price Highway (western), Hummingbird, and Southern highways – are generally in better condition (paved) than most roads. The Hummingbird Highway is presently undergoing an improvement project to widen sections of the highway significantly. The combination of inconsistent paving, bridges with low guard rails, and slick roadways due to rain have been contributing factors in several fatal accidents. Traffic fatalities remain a very real danger.

The major highways are the only reliable avenues to transit the country, aside from airplanes operated by two Belizean commercial carriers. Pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and buses use the same roads. Stray dogs and wildlife also wander freely in close proximity to the many small villages that line the major highways.  Driving can be extremely hazardous after dusk and during rainstorms.

Defensive driving is critical to navigate the road systems. Local drivers may use turn signals to signify different vehicle movements. For example, a left turn signal may be a signal for your car to pass on the left, or it could indicate a left turn by the vehicle. Always maximize follow distances to ensure an appropriate reactionary gap. Drivers must pull over to the right shoulder of the road and wait until both lanes are clear before turning left on major highways.

Due to the absence of stoplights and vehicular police patrols, speed bumps control speeds, especially in/around small villages, schools, and population centers. Speed bumps can be a significant hazard, as they tend to be very large and are often unmarked; always be aware of them, especially around dusk and dawn, and during night driving; vehicles may slam on their brakes to avoid hitting an unmarked bump.

Most parking is on the street. When parking overnight, ensure you park in an area that is well illuminated, with security guards (larger hotels have security guards), and within view of your destination.

The police regularly operate checkpoints, especially in/around Belize City and Belmopan, and occasionally along the major highways leading west and south. The police may ask for a form of identification; vehicles must stop at these checkpoints and cooperate fully. Reports of false checkpoints or extortion have been reported but are uncommon. In 2019, four U.S. tourists died and 17were injured in two days by traffic accidents along the George Price Highway.

Individuals wishing to travel via personally owned vehicles through the interior of Mexico and other Central American countries should exercise caution and seek country specific information.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxi stands and plazas are located throughout major cities and villages. Identify taxis by their green license plates. Only hail taxis from reputable establishments. Make it clear to the driver that you do not wish to ride with additional passengers. Many vehicles imported into Belize are salvaged from neighboring countries that may not have operational security features such as airbags.

Buses often operate under poor conditions and lack adequate maintenance. Bus drivers often exceed the speed limits, pull over without warning for passengers, and pass where it is unsafe.

Buses and cars often do not yield to pedestrians. Do not walk or exercise outside after dark, especially if you are a woman. Make a note of emergency telephone numbers and locations you may need, and program numbers for police, fire, your hotel, and the U.S. Embassy into your phone.

Water taxis are an inexpensive and reliable method to travel from Belize City to the cayes (e,g. Caye Caulker, San Pedro). Water taxis are generally safe, but ensure that there are adequate life vests on board and avoid use during hours of darkness or reduced visibility.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belmopan as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In 2017, police in the Philippines killed an individual identified as a Belizean citizen with suspected ties to the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) terrorist group.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belmopan as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Civil unrest is rare. Lawful protests/demonstrations do occur, but are generally peaceful and orderly. The Belizean government requires a permit that organizers must request at least 24 hours prior to a planned protest. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violence. Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

In 2020, tensions are expected to arise between the two major political parties as the country gears up for the 2020 general elections. Corruption by senior government officials continues to be a systemic problem. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most frequent natural disasters to affect Belize are hurricanes and tropical storms.  Hurricane season in the western Caribbean is June 1 through November 30; however, September-October is when tropical storms generally affect Belize. In 2016, Belize suffered a direct hit by Category 1 Hurricane Earl, resulting in power outages for 65% of the country, extensive flooding, and the blockage of major highways. The eye of the hurricane crossed Belmopan, causing serious damage across the Cayo district.

The National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) analyzed Belize’s vulnerability to hurricanes and established an evacuation plan, although response capabilities are limited even for a Category 1 storm. Hurricane shelters exist along the coast, but the high number of potential victims would exhaust emergency food/water stockpiles quickly.

Because Belize is tropical and has regular rainfall, clogged drainage systems and waterways often lead to flooding of roadways, even during the dry season. Severe storms cut off vehicular movement in many coastal and inland areas as the low bridges flood.

There is a significant risk of forest fires during the dry season (December-May).

Earthquakes and tsunami warnings have occurred in Belize. Few earthquakes have their epicenter in Belize, but major earthquakes on fault lines outside of Belize can be felt in the country, typically in the south.

Much of Belize is protected rainforest, and there is the threat of attack by indigenous animals. Rivers contain crocodiles, and isolated attacks have been reported. Review OSAC’s report, When Wildlife Attacks.

There are significant safety concerns for tourists who engage in adventure tourism, to include underwater activities. While engaging in diving, snorkeling, cave tubing, etc., assume that safety procedures and standards are not up to U.S. standards; carefully consider safety procedures prior to engaging in “at your own risk” activities that can involve long hikes, climbs, and dive sites that are not within cell phone range. Keep portable first aid kits and satellite phones available. Several U.S. citizens died while diving or snorkeling in Belize in 2019; inconsistent and overall lax safety standards may have been a factor in some of these incidents, along with age, pre-existing health conditions, swimming capability, inexperience of the divers, and/or poor weather conditions.

Personal Identity Concerns

While Belize is generally a friendly, accommodating society, female travelers should be particularly attentive to risks associated with being in public alone or in the company of only one other female. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There is significant hostile sentiment toward the LGBTI+ community. The press frequently highlights LGBTI+ issues, which can spur passionate discussions at community forums and on social media. There have been instances of violence reported against LGBTI+ individuals. Despite all of this, Belize remains a popular location for LGBTI+ travelers from other countries, and Pride festivities have occurred without major security incident. Courts struck down a law criminalizing same-sex sexual activity in 2016. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Individuals with disabilities will find accessibility and accommodation in Belize very different from in the United States. The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air or other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The law does not provide for accessibility to persons with disabilities. Most public and private buildings and transportation are not accessible. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Due to Belize’s location along popular trafficking routes, the transit of drugs (including cocaine and precursor chemicals for methamphetamine) has risen. It is common for tourists to be openly offered drugs, in tourist areas, during all times of day.

In 2017, the Misuse of Drugs Act (MODA) decriminalized the possession of marijuana in quantities of 10g or less in a private domicile with the owner’s permission. Smoking in public locations, including parks, is still illegal, as is the importation and purchase of marijuana; violators are subject to substantial penalties, including lengthy jail time.

Kidnapping Threat

While kidnapping is rare in Belize, kidnapping incidents in 2014 and 2016 involved U.S. citizens. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The police have limited access to equipment, resources, and training. As a result of lengthy responses to requests for assistance by the citizenry, media reports of human rights violations by police officers, and cases of perceived corruption, the police do not enjoy the full confidence and cooperation of the general population. Crime is likely underreported and often resolved through confrontation, due to absence of an immediate police response. Investigative units generally have the will to respond. However, availability of transportation and lack of professional training in investigative techniques remain obstacles. Equipment shortages (e.g. radios, vehicles) limit the ability of authorities to deter or respond to crimes expeditiously. Other impediments to effective law enforcement are unsupportive laws, general distrust, and the limited cooperation between the police, prosecutors, and corrections officials. The conviction rate remains low. When criminal acts happen in remote areas, there is little protection or assistance available for victims.

If you are the victim of a crime, contact the local police first to obtain a Belize police report (Call 911 or +501-822-2222).  The police and emergency telephone lines may be busy and contacting police can be difficult. In 2018, U.S. citizens reported difficulties in receiving police reports due to a lengthy and time-consuming reporting structure, which may contribute to underreporting of thefts in tourist areas. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Reports of police harassment and extortion attempts of U.S. travelers are rare but do occur and should be reported. In 2016, Western tourists reported being offered drugs and were “set-up” for arrest and payment of a cash fine.  In 2017, three police officers detained and robbed a U.S. citizen tourist in San Pedro. Two of the officers were suspended.

Police/Security Agencies

Belize Police Department (BPD) headquarters are located in Belmopan; contact BPD at +501-802-1404,+501-822-0202, or +501-828-4684 or see the BPD webpage.

The National Crimes Investigations Branch (NCIB), under the Commissioner of Police, is the lead investigative agency for serious crimes. Reach NCIB at +501-802-3818.

Nationwide police contact information is as follows:

  • Belize City: +501-207-2222
  • Belmopan: +501-802-1404,+501-822-0202,+501-828-468
  • Benque Viejo: +501-803-203
  • Caye Caulker: +501-206-0179
  • Corozal: +501-402-0022
  • Dangriga: +501-522-2022
  • Independence: +501-523-2022
  • Orange Walk: +501-322-2022
  • Punta Gorda: +501-722-2022
  • San Ignacio: +501-804-2022
  • San Pedro: +501-206-2022

Medical Emergencies

Medical care in Belize can be costly and inadequate by U.S. standards. There are nine hospitals and numerous medical clinics throughout the country. While certain hospitals are equipped to treat certain medical emergencies, clinics treat only outpatient cases and are not staffed to handle emergencies. Belize City is the center for medical care, with the three major hospitals best equipped to handle serious medical problems: Belize Medical Associates, Belize Health Care Partners, and Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH). Medical facilities outside Belize City are not adequate to handle serious medical conditions, and often fail to meet basic U.S. standards. Emergency medical care and search-and-rescue capabilities are extremely limited, particularly on the Cayes and in remote areas. The U.S. Embassy has compiled an Emergency and Medical Listing of licensed medical providers in Belize, as well as a Listing of Air Ambulance Companies servicing Belize. For those traveling the more remote areas of Belize or to the offshore cayes, emergency transportation to adequate medical facilities may be unavailable. Astrum Helicopters provides MEDEVAC flights in coordination with the Belize Emergency Response Team (BERT). For emergency response and transportation, BERT and Belmopan Emergency Services (BES) are Belize’s only qualified providers.

Arrive prepared with any legally prescribed drugs you may need during your visit, and ensure that those medications are legally permissible to bring into Belize. There are reasonably well-stocked pharmacies in most major towns and tourist destinations; prescriptions are usually not required. Counterfeit medication is found throughout Belize.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

Those who experience serious or life-threatening medical problems and require evacuation to the United States may require an air ambulance service. Check with your insurance company to verify you have sufficient coverage before traveling and consider supplemental medical evacuation (medevac) insurance. The U.S. Embassy does not pay medical bills. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The Zika virus was identified in Belize in 2016. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Belize.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no Country Council in Belmopan. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

U.S. Embassy Belmopan, 4 Floral Park Road, Belmopan

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0800-1200 and 1300-1700; closed on U.S. and Belizean holidays.

Main Embassy Number: +501-822-4011

After-hours emergency: +501-610-5030

Website: https://bz.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

  • Belize Country Information Sheet

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