A Birder's Guide to Belize

 Border Crossings: Mexico & Guatemala

For visitors arriving by air or water, the border crossing is straightforward and quick.  A passport valid for more than six months after entry is required.  Residents of the USA, UK, and Caribbean countries do not need a visa prior to entering the country.  Passports are automatically stamped with a 30-day visa upon entry that must be renewed if you plan on staying more than 30 days.

For those arriving by car or RV, the procedure is more complicated and time-consuming.  Entry points are at Benque Viejo on the Guatemala border near San Ignacio and at Santa Elena on the Mexico border near Corozal.  Most USA visitors will enter initially through Mexico, a second time through Guatemala if they visit Tikal. 

Here are the steps that must be accomplished: 
(1) on the Mexico side, show your passport and turn in your Mexican visa or ask for it to be stamped “double entry” so that you do not need to purchase a new visa on your return trip,
(2)  fill out a Mexican form, although this step is often omitted,
(3) cross the border and drive to the fumigation station and wait for the bottom of your vehicle to be sprayed with insecticide at a cost to you of US$7.50 or less,
(4) drive to the immigration building and go to the immigration desk,
(5) fill out a Belize immigration form, one per person,
(6) walk to the customs desk with vehicle title or registration, license plate number, passport, and driver’s license in hand,
(7) fill out a vehicle form, have paperwork validated and passport stamped,
(8) if you are transporting a pet, typically a dog or cat, go to the agricultural inspection room and fill out another form, pay the importation fee and the fine assessed because you did not apply for importation months before your arrival, fee and fine totaling US$50,
(9) return to your vehicle and wait for the agricultural inspector to check the contents of your vehicle and confiscate disallowed items,
(10) receive a form from the agricultural inspector and show this and your passport to the border guard as you cross with your vehicle,
(11) stop at the insurance office to purchase liability insurance and receive an insurance sticker to display on your windshield, and
(12) drive to the police checkpoint where an officer will check for valid insurance.

The list of disallowed items that the agricultural and customs officer can confiscate is extremely long (five legal-size pages) and includes surprising items such as rice, soft drinks, and toilet paper.  The inspection can range from cursory to thorough, apparently at the discretion of the officer.  Items most often confiscated are fruits, vegetables, excess alcohol (more than a 6-pack of beer or a bottle of liquor), live plants, eggs, dairy products, and fresh or frozen fish, poultry, pork, and beef.

Vehicle liability insurance is required for traveling in Belize.  A one-month policy is about US$30 per vehicle (in 2009) and can be purchased at the border.  To save time, you can apply for the insurance in advance by e-mailing the Insurance Corporation of Belize, supplying owner name and address; make, model, year, color, seating capacity, and number of cylinders; license number; and VIN.  For the Mexico border crossing, the e-mail address is icb_corozalborder@icbinsurance.com. Other addresses are on the ICB web site at www.icbinsurance.com.

Permits are issued only for 30 days and must be renewed for a longer stay.  The procedure is complicated by the order in which it is to be done and the locations where it can be accomplished.  First, the passport must be authorized for the extension.  This can be done in Belmopan and Dangriga.  Second, the vehicle permit must be renewed and this can be done in Benque Viejo, Belize City, Big Creek, and Punta Gorda.  Rules and procedures often change in Belize and misinformation abounds, so be prepared for a runaround.

Departing Belize is simpler and quicker.  Park at the customs office, carry your passport and vehicle permit, pay the departure fees (US$39.25 per person in 2011), and have the officer stamp your passport in recognition of you having taken your vehicle out of Belize.

Guatemala border crossing
If you are crossing the Belize-Guatemala border while traveling with an organized tour, your hosts will handle all the details.  You will need your passport and cash for the Belize exit fees (US$39.25 in 2011) if these are not already included in your tour package.

An alternative is to drive your vehicle, park at the border, perhaps paying someone ~$10 to watch it.  Then have a Guatemalan driver take you from the border to Tikal.  The driver can also help with the border crossing described below and you can arrange for pickup at Tikal for the return.

If you are crossing the border in your own or a rental vehicle, typically the border crossing involves four steps: get yourself out of the country, get your vehicle out of the country, get yourself into the next country, get your vehicle into the next country. That is the expected order; however, it is usually more complicated than that and, besides, the procedures change frequently.

Park your vehicle near the Belize border administration buildings, as directed by the many money changers standing nearby. Don’t exchange money yet. Carry with you your passport, driver’s license, and vehicle title or registration.

(1) Inside the administration building, pay the Belize exit fee and conservation fee for each person.
(2) Drivers (only) now go to the next desk and present vehicle papers. Passports will be marked to show the vehicles have exited Belize.

So far everything has been handled in English.  If you are fluent in Spanish, you can handle getting into Guatemala as well. If not, look for a money changer who speaks English. When you find one, he likely will offer to help you through the border crossing steps. Ask him how much he will charge, although he likely will decline specifying a number and you will then tip him when everything is accomplished. Although not necessarily in the same order, accomplish the following tasks:

(3) Exchange dollars for quetzales.
(4) Pay for vehicle fumigation.
(5) Go to the migration desk with your passport.
(6) Go to the customs desk with your passport, driver’s license, and vehicle title/registration. An officer will fill out a paper form.
(7) Take the paper form you are handed to the bank window, pay a fee (unofficially 20-40 quetzales) and receive the paper now stamped as paid.
(8) Return to the customs desk and give the officer the form marked paid. Receive a windshield sticker that you should attach to your vehicle.
(9) Return to your vehicle and proceed across the border, stopping to show an officer your passport.
(10) Drive your vehicle through fumigation (keep your windows closed).
(11) Stop for an officer who will review your paid customs form and check the windshield sticker you attached after step 8.
(12) Pay the attendant a bridge-crossing toll.

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  Website created by Bert Frenz.  Last updated January 08, 2012.