Is Belize a safe place to visit?
Much of the violent crime in Belize occurs on the south side of Belize City, home to several street gangs. Belizean officials in November 2012, in an attempt to control the security situation in these areas, invoked a “declaration of crime-infested areas” under the Belizean law that allows for law enforcement and security forces to conduct warrantless searches of personnel and property in these “crime-ridden” areas. Organized crime beyond street gangs is primarily connected to drug trafficking or trafficking in persons. Incidents of crime remain high, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, home invasions, shootings, stabbings, murders, and rapes. The Embassy has noted an increase in crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roads and riverways. U.S. citizens are primarily the victims of opportunistic crime. There is no evidence suggesting criminals specifically target U.S. citizens, but nonetheless, foreigners have been targeted for crime due to their perceived wealth. Incidents of crime (such as theft, burglary, home invasion, purse-snatching, and pick-pocketing) increase during the winter holidays and during spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals received serious injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken limbs. Although the majority of reported incidents occur in Belize City, particularly southern Belize City, crime may occur anywhere including in tourist destinations such as San Pedro Town (Ambergris Caye), Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, Dangriga, Corozal, and Placencia.
Violent crime has risen steadily in Belize over the past several years. In 2012, Belize recorded 145 murders, setting a new record for homicides in the country, nearly 15% higher than in 2011. With a population of only 312,698 according to the 2010 country census, the extremely high murder rate per capita of 46 homicides per 100,000 residents, makes Belize the sixth most dangerous country in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. While the country’s per capita homicide rate is still lower than that of other Central American countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador, its year-on-year increase is of concern.
The majority of homicides in 2012 occurred in the Belize district, with most in the southern portion of Belize City, an area that has become increasingly violent due to ongoing gang warfare between local groups for control of lucrative narcotics smuggling routes and sales rights. Tourists have not been targeted in this recent increase in the murder rate, but armed robberies of tourists remain a possibility at archeological sites, national parks, and other areas frequented by visitors. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of robberies, home invasions, and daytime assaults committed across Belize. It does not appear that the perpetrators have targeted tourists; the victims are mostly Belizeans who were targets of opportunity. Violent crime has remained low in tourist areas. Though some notable murders have occurred, including the widely-publicized murder of a U.S. citizen in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Crime Threats: We encourage U.S. citizens to exercise caution and good situational awareness in all their travel activities. Visitors to tourist attractions should travel in groups and remain at the main plazas at Maya ruins and the central areas. Although there are armed guards stationed at many of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking alone or in small groups from one site to another. While many victims of theft are unharmed and only robbed of personal belongings and cash, victims who resist assailants have suffered an injury, sometimes serious. U.S. citizens who become victims of a robbery should report it immediately to the nearest police station and notify the Embassy.
The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only during daylight hours. Avoid wearing jewelry or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in vehicles, in hotel rooms, or on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high-value items such as cameras. Women’s handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.
Economic Crimes and Drugs: The reporting of financial crimes committed against patrons of tourist destinations in Belize increased in 2012. There were several reported instances of credit card fraud against patrons or resorts and other local establishments. It is believed that several credit card fraud rings are currently active in Belize.
“Confidence scams” also occur in Belize, especially in resort areas. While there is no indication U.S. citizens are specifically singled out because of their nationality, tourists, in general, are particularly vulnerable to these crimes, resulting in visitors being pick-pocketed or robbed. More serious crimes have included armed robbery, physical assault, and being swindled out of large sums of money from fraudulent real estate and land sales or other business deals.
There have been reports of fraud committed against expatriates who have attempted to purchase land in Belize. Many expats have reported being the victim of scams in which land is purchased that wasn’t available, or land was purchased that was legally owned by other parties. It has been reported that Belizean authorities have not been proactive in investigating these crimes and enacting measures to ensure that they do not occur in the future. There have also been several reports of tourists being “set up” or solicited to purchase illegal drugs. The tourist is then arrested. Most are fined and then released, but visitors should be aware that they could be sent to prison to await trial, and, if convicted, could serve their sentence in Belize, in accordance with Belize’s strict laws on illegal narcotics. Marijuana and other recreational drugs are illegal in Belize and police aggressively target drug consumers in sting operations.
Drug use is common in some tourist areas, but U.S. citizens should not buy, sell, hold, or take illegal drugs under any circumstances. Belize classifies marijuana or ganja (i.e., cannabis) as an illegal drug for which a conviction of possession of even small amounts could result in heavy fines or imprisonment. Belize does not recognize the medical use of marijuana as permitted in some U.S. states, and U.S. citizens can be charged, fined, or serve time in jail for possession of an illegal substance.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootleg items illegal in the United States, but if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Firearms: Possession of a firearm or ammunition requires a license from the Government of Belize. The government recently tightened its restrictions on the possession of guns and ammunition. Residents and tourists found by Belize law enforcement to be in the possession of such items without a license may be sentenced to a prison term in Belize, and several U.S. citizens are in prison for what would be considered a small amount of ammunition in the U.S.
Sex Crimes: Sexual harassment and/or assault of persons traveling alone or in small groups have occurred in recent years. In recent years, there were a handful of sexual assaults on U.S. citizen women after leaving nightclubs, and even during daylight hours while walking with friends and while cycling alone on isolated stretches of local highways.
A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to effectively investigate sex crimes and apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against U.S. citizens in Belize remain unresolved.