Retiring in Belize, Part 5: Safety & Crime

By Jim Veinot

When you consider retiring in Belize, you’ll want to know how safe the country is. You may have seen Ross Kemp’s TV documentary about Gangs in Belize.

While the documentary revolves mostly around violent activity in Belize City, the country’s crime stats as a whole aren’t that rosy either.

Belize ties with Colombia with regards to crime rate. The murder rate in Belize is somewhere between 3rd and 6th highest in the world. To put it in perspective, that puts it on a par with Detroit, Chicago and Houston in the USA.

The Belize State Department warns “Gang members and other criminals have historically used high-powered weapons to resolve disputes.”

And the Government of Canada writes: “Criminal activity, including armed robbery, mugging and sexual assault, is a significant problem throughout Belize. Robberies and assaults have been reported in resort areas. There has been a noted increase in violent crime targeting tourists since the end of 2013.”

Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is an English-speaking country. This seems to bring an unwarranted level of security to many people. Generally the degree of crime in a place is a matter of opportunity, education, culture, poverty level and lack of police expertise.

The only one of those five that you can control is opportunity, and we’ll talk more about that shortly.

Retiring in Belize: What You Need to Know about Safety and Crime

Retiring in Belize: Types of Crimes and Regional Differences

Belize is, quite often, the country of choice for criminals from the USA and other countries who are fleeing the local justice system. It is also a major port in the transportation of illegal drugs.

And folks, it’s a third world country; when residents are poor they want stuff that we might take for granted. Some resort to stealing to get what they don’t have. If you resist they will treat you with violence; there’s no built-in safeguard to prevent that.

One area where the crime rate is higher than usual is the border crossing into Guatemala or Mexico. People have been known to have been assaulted, raped and robbed in these areas. Another high crime location is the south side of Belize City as this is where the gangs hang out. 

Safety in Belize: Border Crossing to Guatemala
Border crossing into Guatemala: One of the more dangerous areas in Belize [Image credit:]
Finally, violent crime is not the only factor affecting safety. Be aware of hurricane season, of scams and tourist traps, of back roads damaged to effect a hold-up, of mosquitoes infected with Zika virus, of con artists offering unsolicited services and of potential pain or damage from creatures of the sea.

Danger is something that must always be evaluated in your undertaking.

Does this mean that Belize overall is a dangerous country for tourists and expats? No, but it means you should use common sense precautions when traveling and crime-prevention measures when living in Belize.

Tips to Keep You Safe When Traveling or Retiring in Belize

Many of these tips are pretty universal, and some you’ll recognize from our safety advice for other countries. Hint… they’re all about denying opportunity!

  • Travel in groups whenever possible and particularly at night. If you need to get somewhere after dark then take a cab. Look for a green license plate and know that all taxis are shared in Belize.
  • Avoid the dangerous areas like the border crossings mentioned earlier. Never travel there at night!
  • Don’t be wearing baubles and bling. This is like waving candy in front of a kid or meat in front of a predator. If a thief sees it the next thought is to steal it.
  • Stay in areas where there’s lots of people. Don’t go into a bar, for example, where you’re the only expat in the place. Go where there’s other foreigners and staff. Same applies to restaurants and other attractions.
  • Many expats have large dogs, walls, fences and burglar bars on windows to guard their houses.
  • Have a trustworthy friend or neighbor watch your property when you are away.
  • Don’t go trekking by yourself. Find a group with a reliable guide and research the company; ask for references from fellow expats or in Belize online forums.
  • Most hotels have people or companies on hand that arrange trips, dives, snorkeling, parasailing and the like. This might include car rentals and bus trips as well.
  • Don’t give anyone money in advance for a service to be rendered; you may never see them again.
  • Have small bills on hand for tips, taxi fares or when shopping at the local markets. If someone says they’ll be right back with your change, either follow them or wave your money goodbye.
  • Don’t go on back road trips in rainy season, even if a guide says he knows the way. Chances are you’re being set up and the roads are impassable.
  • If you’re going snorkeling, diving or just about anywhere on or in the water, make sure that there’s a boat and guide taking you, that the boat is serviceable, that there’s lots of fuel.
  • Use bug spray regularly and profusely. Much of Belize is swamp and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Zika virus is not to be fooled with.

These Belize safety tips are a small sample of the many common sense things you can do to stay safe when retiring in Belize. I could regale you with stories about times when I didn’t do them and what it cost me, so I speak from experience. Fortunately I’m still here to tell you about it!

Next article: Housing and Property in Belize; see you there!