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: 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.
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.
Related: How to Get Residency 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!
Belize Safety FAQ
Belize is a place worth visiting. It offers beautiful tourist attractions and a fun variety of local foods. However, it’s not entirely safe for tourists unfamiliar with the area, so to help improve your security in Belize, there are some precautions to keep in mind.
Below are the most common questions people considering visiting Belize ask.
Is Belize a dangerous country?
Although Belize is a generally exciting and thrilling place to visit, it’s best to be cautious and avoid any risky situations. Especially areas south of Belize are known for violent crime, most of which are gang-related.
Some of the most common crimes that occur in Belize include:
- Home invasions
- Sexual assault
- Armed robbery
Crime in Belize knows no hours and occurs even in broad daylight. When in Belize, never rely on their police force for your safety because they lack the resources and training to deal with most hostile situations effectively
When traveling to Belize, its best to exercise the following safety measures:
- Never physically resist an armed robbery.
- Avoid exploring the city during the night.
- Avoid any unnecessary displays of wealth.
- Be very careful when visiting ATMs or Banks.
- Always be vigilant of your surroundings.
Is Belize safer than Costa Rica?
In terms of safety and well-being, Costa Rica is safer. Belize was ranked as a level 2 security threat for tourists, while Costa Rica’s rating was a level 1 security threat. Strategically speaking, Costa Rica is safer than France, and the UK ranked as a level 2 security threat to tourists.
Though Belize is still safe if you avoid the dangerous sides (South Belize), unlike the Belize government, Costa Rica provides additional security for common tourist areas.
In Costa Rica, the most common safety cases are petty robberies that you can evade by avoiding the isolated areas.
How bad is crime in Belize?
According to the UN, Belize ranks among the top five in terms of drugs and crime. The most common non-violent crimes include; burglary, pickpocketing, and hotel room theft. Vehicle theft and break-ins are also common; therefore, ensure your car has an alarm.
Crime in Belize often involves guns, knives, or machetes. Bank fraud and credit card fraud mainly occur in tourist areas, especially San Pedro and Belize City.
Belize is also known as a source and destination for sex trafficking and forced labor. Money laundering, drug trade, and criminal gangs are commonplace in Belize. Over the years, there have been cases of US citizen murders, which have been widely publicized, such as the murder in Ambergris Caye in June.
What is the safest part of Belize?
Areas like the Placencia village, San Pedro and Caye Caulker are considered the safest areas for tourists. However, even in these areas, it’s still necessary to uphold safety precautions.
Avoid flashing out money and don’t portray any signs of wealth by wearing expensive clothing or jewelry.
Is Belize a safe place to live?
For seasoned expats, Belize is safe because they know the safer areas and the areas to steer clear of.
Crime in Belize mainly occurs in Belize City and the areas near it, and it primarily occurs during the night as people purchase drugs and return home drunk. Petty crime is always high in the country, although this is a problem you’ll have to face every day.
In tourism areas, theft is high, and observing the necessary precautions will take you a long way. However, living in Belize is worth it. You’ll get to enjoy their exotic tourist sites, rich food, and fun cultural experiences.
What is Belize’s safety index?
Belize lies at a crime index of 49.94%, which is relatively moderate because it means it has a safety index of 50.6%. According to Belize’s crime index, the highest threats are:
- Corruption and bribery – 80% (high)
- Vandalism and property theft – 57.78% (moderate)
- Abuse and dealing of drugs – 56.11% (moderate)
- Home break-ins – 54.89% (moderate)
- Assault and robbery – 52.72% (moderate)
However, there are several other issues in Belize’s crime index.
Is Belize safer than Mexico?
Although crimes in Belize are considered more serious, Mexico is still considered the most unsafe Latin American country. Most of the standard extreme crimes in Belize rarely impact the tourists in the area, so Mexico is not safer.
In Mexico, violence is a significant issue for tourists, and the security situation could pose a threat. Most foreigners opt to hire private security during their stay in Mexico. It’s advised that you travel only during the day while in Mexico.
Is water safe to drink in Belize?
When in Belize, it’s best to drink bottled water. However, water from Placencia village is considered safe. Also, when buying any foodstuffs from the store, check their expiry date to avoid any surprises.
Next article: Housing and Property in Belize; see you there!