First hand experience with Port Authorities, Customs and Immigrations in Belize.
"...Before closing the chapter on Belize, I think I should try to clear some confusion about rules and regulations, fees and charges. But, is that possible? The more cruisers we speak to, the more officials we meet with, the more confused we get about all that is Belize. All I can do here is to report what our experience has been..."
Punta Gorda: City dock & Port Authorities, Customs & Immigration (white building)
Before closing the chapter on Belize, I think I should try to clear some confusion about rules and regulations, fees and charges. But, is that possible? The more cruisers we speak to, the more officials we meet with, the more confused we get about all that is Belize. All I can do here is to report what our experience has been.
PORTS of ENTRY: San Pedro, Belize City, Placencia and Punta Gorda.
We entered at Belize City. We called the Belize Port Authority on VHF16 and they gave us a waypoint at which to anchor. In typical confusion, they actually gave us 3 waypoints and we just picked one, the closest to the Radisson hotel. That’s the only tall glass building on the peninsula. It is a better choice than entering at Cucumber Beach Marina (Old Belize) where officials charge even more for their commuting fees. We were directed to meet a Mr. Handy, the Port Authoriy Official who was waiting for us at the Radisson Hotel Pier. We were successively visited (and charged commuting fee) as follows:
- Health Officer US $10
- Customs x 2 US $20 (Includes ship report and customs clearance)
- Immigration US $10 (Passport stamped)
- Port Authority US $10 (Took his report with him to the Port Captain)
Total visiting fees: US $50
We were (erroneously) told that we were done and could continue on our way, free to cruise for 30 days, and to return to Port Authority for our exit or an extension. In fact, we should have hired a cab and presented ourselves to the Port Authority office downtown to pay the cruising fees. We did this 30 days later, for our renewal. Cruising fees turned out to be:
- Port Authority: BZ 100 (US $50)
- Cruising fee: BZ 5/day (US $100 for 40 days)
Total cruising fees: US $150
(Note: Cruising fees are paid ahead of time and no refund is given if you don’t use all your cruising days, but there is no penalty if you stay longer than expected. The balance of your cruising days is charged to you when you exit.)
EXIT – We exited in Punta Gorda, paying the following fees:
- Exit fee: BZ 30/person
- PACT fee: BZ 7.50/person
- Agent fee: BZ 10.00 (to type crew list and exit document)
Total exit cost: US $42.50
The US $250 for all Belize stay did not include access to any of the parks and marine reserves. As I’ve reported in the previous post, most areas in Belize are protected areas and the ranger will be on top of you to collect fees. Visitors’ fees are usually US $5/person/day, unless you stay 3 days or more (but less than a week) in the same area and in that case you can get a US $15/person weekly pass. Of course, the Blue Hole is more expensive: US $40/person/day.
NEW LONG TERM CRUISING PERMIT. A couple of weeks ago, the Port Authorities instituted a new long-term (up to 90 days) cruising permit. We met John in Placencia who had just gone through the process of filling out a lengthy application and paying US $125 for the permit (half of what we paid for 40 days). He was at anchor in Placencia, waiting for the authorities to approve the permit, a process that could last 2 weeks. Meanwhile, he was allowed to cruise to the local cays as long as he returned to Placencia to retrieve his permit.
TO CHECK IN or NOT? Opinions differ around the cruising community. Some profess that there is no need to check into Belize if you only anchor outside of the outer cays. All I can share here is that we have been controlled by immigration in several anchorages: San Pedro and Tom Owen’s cay particularly. As for the park fees, we were visited by the ranger in every single anchorage, except Nicholas Cay.
Private Island at Gallows Point
As burdensome as the checking process may be, we encourage skippers to comply with the Belizean authorities and follow the rules. Even though the reef may be depleted compared to what it used to be, Belize is still a wonderful destination and we hope that the authorities will eventually clear the general confusion.