Creole Proverb: Wen teef teef fram teef, God laff.
Literally: When a thief steals from another thief, God laughs. (When thieves fall out, honest men come into their own)
Security is a concern for many people moving to new places, and I’m often asked about safety in Belize and my experiences here.
Belize can be a wonderful sun-and-fun-filled place to live, but like anywhere, there are some things to be aware of.
The first thing I tell people about crime in Belize is that Belize does not have organized crime like we see in Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries in the region. There are no drug cartels fighting for dominance or control. Luckily, our sleepy little country seems too small to interest nefarious groups in the region.
There is gang-related crime in certain areas of Belize City, brought on by the socioeconomic problems endemic in the region, but it doesn’t spill over into the general population. And most people don’t choose to move to Belize City unless they are there for work purposes. The Cayes, Cayo, Northern Belize, and the Deep South are all more preferred locations for expats to move to. So, while statistically in Belize some serious crimes appear high, their distribution is usually much localized in certain areas of the city. Interestingly, even among the worst gangs in Belize City, the idea of harming a police officer is forbidden. The fact that the population of Belize is so small, and that everyone seems to be related to each other (including police and gang members), helps in some part to calm the situation.
Kidnappings for ransom are practically unknown—the only instance I am aware of in all my time in Belize was resolved in hours when the entire village was alerted and a group of 200 locals and police mobilized—retrieving the couple unharmed and with no payment even considered.
Personally, I spent four happy years living and working in Belize City and didn’t experience, or even see, a single incidence of real crime.
I always tell people that the best way of remaining safe in Belize (as with anywhere in Central or South America) is to:
- Be aware of your surroundings especially when in areas you do not know well.
- Be careful not to display conspicuous wealth (wearing expensive jewelry for example) while walking in areas where it might attract attention.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
- Be wary of letting people know you have a safe in your house. There is an assumption here that if you have a safe, it must be full of treasure—maybe it’s a throwback to the pirate days of yore.
- Treat locals with courtesy and respect unless given specific reason to do otherwise.
Again, as in any Central or South American country, and most importantly:
- Don’t interfere in other people’s personal relationships—either romantic or familial. Crimes of passion are common here and elsewhere in the region.
I have lived in Belize altogether for nearly eleven years now. In rural Cayo (alone and away from neighbors), in San Ignacio town, and, as I said, four years in the much-maligned Belize City (where I found myself on the wrong side of the tracks assessing my late-night street food options regularly and without incident). I have never felt threatened by anything more than a couple of spider sightings, my neighbor’s terrifying 180-pound dog (who took an intense dislike to me after I wouldn’t share my tacos with him), and one unhappy ex-girlfriend (I admit, she might have had good reason for that—and Belizeans are a passionate people).
That’s not to say I have not experienced petty crime while in Belize. I have. I had a weed whacker disappear after I left it outside for two weeks when I went back to Ireland. I was living in town, in a low-rent neighborhood, so it was probably my own fault.
On another occasion I left my house unlocked, and was relieved of the contents of my fridge and alcohol cabinet, but not of anything of real value. I have friends who have had handbags disappear when they left them in public parks, but conversely, I have seen others nearly stampeded by local panhandlers rushing to return lost wallets and bags (admittedly with the hope of a beer or two as a reward).
People commonly have burglar bars on their windows in Belize, which usually provides reasonable protection from petty theft when they are at home or away. Those living in residential developments or condo units usually have less need for any of the extra home security measures discussed here.
The best safety mechanism, in terms of your house, is to remain on good terms with your neighbors. A watchful eye on your home while you are away is very helpful.
There is practically no vehicle theft in Belize, as there are only four highways, and there is a police checkpoint at the start and end of each of them. There is just no way to easily move a stolen vehicle. On the off chance that your car did go missing, it would probably mean someone had drunkenly borrowed it to get home and it will turn up the next day.
Gun Ownership In Belize
I have never owned a gun, in Belize or anywhere else, and I certainly have never regretted not having one. But for those for whom guns are an important element of peace of mind, ownership is legal in Belize.
Gun ownership here is a privilege, not a right. Strict gun laws mean draconian measures are on the books for those found with any unlicensed guns or ammunition.
There are three classes of gun ownership in Belize.
- Farm shotgun: Licensed for the protection of livestock from predators and vermin on your farm (with the size of the farm or vermin not really mattering). It should only be taken off your farm once a year to get relicensed at the district police station.
- Hunting license: Rifle or Shotgun. These can be carried openly but must be unloaded and in a case, or wrapped in cloth, if in towns or villages. Non-Belizeans are also supposed to get tags for some specific game animals. Hunting is a popular pastime in Belize, and while many animals are protected, specific hunting seasons are in place for plenty of non-endangered game animals.
- Special Protection License: The right to carry a concealed sidearm or—much less commonly—a pump-action shotgun for security or self-defense. These licenses are vetted by the police before they can be issued. The latter option would only be allowed in very special circumstances.
In Belize you have the right to defense of yourself, your loved ones, and of your property, but not a right to an overly aggressive or pre-emptive response to a perceived threat. An intruder simply being on your property, outside your house, would not be enough cause to take lethal action. However the law allows for the righteous defense of one’s own person, if one’s life is actually threatened.
Gun licenses are not granted to people in Belize on tourist visas—you would need a work permit or some form of legal residency at the very least.
Being able to show a genuine need for a Special Protection License makes the approval process easier. Anyone operating a business that carries cash, women living alone, anyone spending time in remote areas, or even an elderly couple, can make the argument that they need a gun for special protection. However, you can’t claim one just because you want it, nor can you expect to import your entire arsenal from your home country.
If you are granted a license it will initially be for one gun only. With time you can apply for more licenses, up to a reasonable limit.
Once a license for a specific gun has been granted, you can purchase the gun locally from an authorized dealer. If the model you have a license for is unavailable, you can import one of your own.
How to legally export a gun from your country of origin varies by country, but however the weapon reaches Belize, be it in your checked luggage, by post, or into the Port of Belize, it must have been declared before its arrival and will be impounded until registered by the police department. This simple last step requires a police constable to collect the weapon from the port of arrival and convey it to Racoon Street Police Station in Belize City, where the serial number is logged, and your gun license is issued. The license itself is about half the size of an A4 sheet of paper, so you’ll need to miniaturize and laminate it, to ensure you can always have it on your person.
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All the gun talk aside, there is a joke locally about the two things that really scare Belizeans…
Getting rained on. Even the most laid-back locals who call to you on the street and tell you “Take it easy” and “Go slow” show a championship turn of speed when the first drops of rain start to fall.
And dogs. There is no bigger deterrent to most people entering your yard or home in Belize than there being a dog.
I have seen fully armed and armored soldiers, bunched at the gateway to a house in the city, assisting police with an arrest, being held at bay by the yapping of a little terrier. All their guns were trained directly on it, but the five soldiers refused to open the gate to enter the yard until the dog was tied up.
Come to Belize, buy a dog, be safe, have fun and enjoy life with us!