Customs now in San Pedro Town

On July 29th, 1997, the Customs Department stationed customs officers in San Pedro Town to carry out needed customs duties. According to Michael Sosa, one of two officers in charge of the San Pedro office, he and Euan Godfrey rotate on a weekly basis. During the week of September 1st - 5th, Mr. Godfrey was the officer on duty and was kind enough to share information about his and Mr. Sosa's duties here in San Pedro.

Mr. Godfrey, a grade II customs officer, explained that San Pedro has never had a stationed officer. Presently, he and Mr. Sosa are responsible for inspecting every vessel arriving in Belize from a foreign port - local vessels returning from any foreign port, such as X'calak and Chetumal, are also included. The law states that all vessels must be checked within 24 hours upon arriving in Belize. If a vessel is not reported within 24 hours, owners will be guilty of "illegally entering a vessel" and can be denied entry into the country and fined up to $1,000.00 BZ, local vessel owners can also be fined a maximum of $1,000.00BZ.

Foreign vessel owners must present their passports; a clearance from the last port - it is extremely important that they legally left the last port; a list of all crew members and if any, a list of passengers. A manifest of all goods on board should be submitted, including foods items brought for the journey, clothing etc... Mr. Sosa explained, "every Belizean is entitled to a duty exemption of $200.00BZ twice yearly. If they have goods in excess of this then duty is charged. We are looking for restricted items such as beer, agricultural products and wood. These items can be brought into Belize but only with a special license. Also, vessels are inspected for weapons, guns, ammunition and drugs. If we find any such items we turn over the offenders to the police. To ensure that foreign vessels report their entry into Belize, the Belize Defence Force (BDF) has a special maritime patrol branch responsible for patrolling Belizean waters. Foreigners who plan to stay for a while will be issued a cruising permit and their passports stamped at the police station. This stamping of passports is not to be confused with the immigration stamping that takes place every other Wednesday in San Pedro here at the Town Hall. The police accommodate only foreigners on board foreign vessels."

Mr. Sosa said Customs and Immigration will be expanding and upgrading their presence in San Pedro in the near future, especially if San Pedro becomes a port of entry. Mr. Sosa and Mr. Godfrey, for the last month, have been stationed at the Town Hall but will be moving in a few weeks to the Island Galleria building.

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