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.
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
Overall Crime & Safety
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
While kidnapping is rare in Belize, kidnapping
incidents in 2014 and 2016 involved U.S. citizens. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
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.
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.
police contact information is as follows:
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
The Zika virus was identified in Belize in
2016. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no Country Council in Belmopan.
Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western
with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Embassy Belmopan, 4 Floral Park Road, Belmopan
of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0800-1200 and 1300-1700; closed on U.S. and Belizean holidays.
Embassy Number: +501-822-4011
Before you travel, consider the following
- Belize Country