We had mixed feelings leaving Guatemala. Belize is supposed to be expensive. And fancy. And they speak English there. Are we ready for a completely different experience than we’ve had these past 8 months? One thing’s for sure – they don’t want our damn dirty ape-food entering their country.
Leaving Guatemala – Thursday, Dec 3, 2015 @ 10:00am.
Border at Melchor de Mencos, 1.5 hours southeast of Tikal.
Leaving Guatemala turned out to be a breeze. Who knew they had a sweet all-in-one Customs & Immigration building with organized lines and an information desk? Maybe this is so as not to shock the people coming in the opposite direction. Leaving fancy Belize to enter the Guatemalan norm of disorganization? This experience stands out from anything we’ve experienced in Guatemala to-date.
There are well-signed lines at Immigration for entry and exit. Line up and they’ll stamp your passport. The counter immediately to your left is for Customs. Cancel your vehicle’s temporary import permit here. 30 minutes total. No money exchanged or documents other than our vehicle permit and passports.
Entering Belize – Thursday, Dec 3, 2015 @ 10:30am.
Fumigation is what you’ll hit first on the Belize side. Roll up your windows and stay inside your car. Once complete, park over on the right hand side or have one of you jump out to pay the 10 Belizean dollar ($5 USD) fumigation fee.
At first glance, this purple pastel building seems inviting: entry signs in English and Spanish, and both Immigration and Customs in succession in the same building. This semblance of organization is quickly evaporated.
If you’re like us, you’ll line up for immigration among Belizean nationals, since there is no separate line. It’s moving quickly and everyone seems to be handing over only passports. We get to the front of the line and are told that foreigners must fill out an immigration form. These forms are available back at the building entrance, from a kiosk on your left that looks like a tourist info booth. Nothing to indicate that this is required nor where to find the forms. So we get the forms and get back in line. Filling out the form on each other’s backs while we wait.
After getting to the front of the line (again) and handing over the forms, the official will return the bottom portion that is required when you exit the country. It’s a small piece of paper. Keep it in your passport and don’t lose it while in Belize. Passports get stamped in. No entry fees.
Next line is Customs and everyone is having their luggage inspected. They are big on disallowing fruits, vegetables, meats, seeds, eggs, dairy… Best just to come empty-handed or risk having it all thrown away like we did. The agricultural inspection guy was not messing around. He came out to the car when he realized we had more than just a few pieces of luggage – and a fully functioning fridge.
Afterwards, Travis kept calling me the cheese smuggler, since we caved and paid a lot for some in Guatemala and it got “missed” in the fridge inspection. He he he.
This is the poster up in the Customs area indicating how to import your vehicle. Should be easy as pie.
It turns out that the Agro-man was the least of our worries! The Customs dude, with the casual island vibes was anything but chill. He requested originals of all the usual documents: car title, registration, drivers licenses and passports. Not a strange request, but most other countries were okay with photocopies being passed as originals. Fine Belize, if you want to be all official like that.
The outrageous request was that he had us make a list of EVERYTHING IN THE CAR. Can you imagine?? And he wanted 3 copies of this list! I was feeling stubborn (Travis will tell you I often am), so I copied it out by hand three times on scrap pieces of paper from my notepad. Ugly, scrawly handwriting, too. We kept it vague, like “tools” and “camping gear”. This was supposedly so that upon exit from the country, Customs would know you haven’t left anything behind (?!).
After receiving the list, Customs dude does a through inspection of the car and sends you to pay the cashier in the booth on the outside of the building. 30 BZD ($15 USD) to import your vehicle. They did not provide any paperwork for the vehicle permit. Travis’ passport received a stamp that links the passport with the temporary import of the vehicle.
Purchasing car insurance in Belize is mandatory and you do this about 3 minutes down the road from the border area. Look for it in a small lot on your right hand side. You can purchase insurance for the exact number of days you’ll be in the country. We paid 20 BZD ($10 USD) for 3 days of insurance.
All in all, we spent about 2 hours at the Belize border. Stuffing our faces with fruits we couldn’t bring in and trying to appease the officials. I genuinely think we got a border agent who was either bored or having a bad day. We haven’t heard of anyone else having to jump through hoops like these. Ah well. Just another border in our rear view mirror!