Not much about Belize, not even a mundane post office, is what you expect.
Based on my experience with U.S. post offices—where a main requirement would seem to be low IQ, where “Can I help you?” is less a question than a profanity, and where accurate mail forwarding is a fantasy—the Belizean version is an improvement.
Like everything else in Belize, it’s colorful, quirky, and personal.
When my husband and I arrived in late December 2015, I went to the post office to arrange for a P.O. box. I had my American driver’s license with me but not my passport. The man behind the single-screened window, whom I now consider a casual friend, refused to rent a box to me because, he insisted, I need to show my passport. He helpfully handed me the application form with the requirements listed on the back.
In fact, it specified that either a passport or a driver’s license is acceptable for identification.
Welcome to Belize, where all rules and laws are subject to personal interpretation.
Accidentally, though, my postman friend had been very helpful. Belizean P.O. boxes (the only way to receive mail here) rent from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. I would have been wasting money to rent one on Dec. 28, as I would have had to pay again starting Jan. 1. At BZ$40 per year (or BZ$80 for a larger box; US$20 and US$40, respectively), it’s hardly a bank-breaker, but it would have been frustrating to have to go through the process twice and pay again.
My postman friend in San Ignacio—which provides P.O. boxes to those living in outlying areas like Santa Familia, Duck Run 1, 2, and 3, Billy White, and other nearby villages—is a slight, bouncy chap who clearly enjoys his job. He has dark curly hair and a beard that reminds me of a young Cat Stevens.
When delivering to me a bundle of letters large enough to qualify as a package and hence require inspection (BZ$1.75), he asked for my ID.
“I have to get familiar with you,” he said.
What kind of familiarity does he have in mind… I wondered… but kept my thoughts to myself.
I don’t blindly trust government mail services anywhere, but, to my knowledge, I’ve had everything delivered to me here in Belize just fine, including a U.S. tax refund and other love letters from the IRS, Medicare bills, bank statements, and packages of forwarded mail, large and small. Small packages show up in my box, but larger packages can require inspection.
Mail to and from Belize is as reliably slow as it seems to be reliable overall. When paying bills to folks in the States, I warn them it may take two or more weeks for the check to arrive. Where the mail spends its time en route is anyone’s guess—I’ve heard rumors it lingers in Belize City for unknown reasons.
I recently found that sending mail to Belize from abroad can be an interesting proposition. The post office in Montpellier, France, charged me 36 euros (US$44) to send a small package (less than a kilo) to Belize.
“It’s not well-served,” the clerk explained to me, as if that justified charging me almost more than what the packet of books and used clothing was worth.
If you’re stocking up on envelopes before moving to Belize, the only ones worth bringing are the kind you peel the strip off to seal. The humidity here is so high that any others tend to seal themselves while still empty. I have thrown away a whole box of 500 “self-sealed” envelopes… which proved a bit too eager to self-seal.
The same goes for those PIN numbers the bank sends with the tape you pull off after scraping them with a coin—they tend to disintegrate in the humidity before you can read them.
The only mailbox I have seen resides in the Philip Goldson International Airport. It’s a relic of colonial days, complete with the shiny red paint job reminiscent of British Royal Mail. Because there are no other mailboxes around, mailing anything requires a trip to the post office, which you may find closed if you forget you’re in Belize. It closes for at least an hour at lunch, at 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Saturday? Forget about it!
The prices for these somewhat limited services are reasonable. It cost me BZ$15 (US$7.50) to mail a paperback book weighing 1 pound all the way to Europe. Letters are priced based on the number of sheets rather than the weight. One sheet is BZ$1.10 (55 U.S. cents), and each additional sheet adds 50 Belizean cents to the tab.
Postcards to the United States are a global postal bargain as far as I can tell. They cost a mere 30 Belizean cents (15 U.S. cents). When was the last time you bought anything for 15 cents in a post office anywhere in the world?
After getting used to having my P.O. box as my only address here in Belize, it became tempting to use that address for any item shipped from the States. Resist this temptation. DHL and UPS do not deliver to P.O. boxes in Belize.
You can receive shipments at the DHL and FedEx offices in downtown San Ignacio, but, if you order something to be shipped via UPS, you’ll have to go to Belize City (a two-hour drive each way) to pick it up.