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American Express -- American Express Travel Services is represented in Belize City by Belize Global Travel Services Ltd., 41 Albert St. (tel. 227-7185; www.belizeglobal.bz), which can issue traveler's checks and replacement cards, and provide other standard services. They are open Monday through Friday from 8am to noon and 1 to 5pm, and on Saturday from 8am to noon. To report a lost or stolen Amex credit card or traveler's checks within Belize, call the local number above, or call collect to tel. 336/393-1111 in the U.S.

Area Codes -- There are no area codes in Belize. All local phone numbers are seven-digit numbers.

Business Hours -- Banks are generally open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4:30pm. However, in many small towns, villages, and tourist destinations, bank hours may be limited. In very few instances, banks have begun opening on Saturday. Belizean businesses tend to be open Monday through Friday from 8am to noon, and from 1 to 5pm. Some businesses do not close for lunch, and some open on Saturday. Most bars are open until 1 or 2am, although some go later.

Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in Belize is 18 years old, although it is often not enforced. Beer, wine, and liquor are all sold in most supermarkets and small convenience stores from Monday through Saturday. No liquor is sold on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. On Election Day, no liquor can be sold until 6pm.

Drugstores -- There are a handful of pharmacies around Belize City, and in most of the major towns and tourist destinations. Perhaps the best-stocked pharmacy in the country can be found at Belize Medical Associates, 5791 St. Thomas Kings Park, Belize City (tel. 223-0303; www.belizemedical.com).

Electricity -- Electricity is 110-volt AC, and most outlets are either two- or three-prong U.S.-style outlets.

If you wish to access the Internet with your own computer, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.

Embassies & Consulates -- The United States Embassy is located in Belmopan on Floral Park Road (tel. 822-4011; http://belize.usembassy.gov). The British High Commission is located in Belmopan, at Embassy Square (tel. 822-2146). You can contact the Canadian Honorary Consul in Belize City at 80 Princess Margaret Drive (tel. 223-1060).

Emergencies -- In case of any emergency, dial tel. 90 from anywhere in Belize. This will connect you to the police. In most cases, tel. 911 will also work.

Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gasoline is sold as "unleaded" and "super." Both are unleaded; super is just higher octane. Diesel is available at most gas stations as well. When this guide was published, a liter of super cost around BZ$10 (US$5/£2.50).

Hospitals -- Belize Medical Associates, 5791 St. Thomas Kings Park, Belize City (tel. 223-0303; www.belizemedical.com), is a modern, 24-hour private hospital, with emergency care and numerous private-practice physicians. The country's main public hospital, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, Princess Margaret Drive, Belize City (tel. 223-1548), is also open 24 hours and has a wide range of facilities and services.

Insurance

    Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and they reimburse you only after you return home.

    As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you're traveling to a remote or high-risk area where emergency evacuation might be necessary. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710).

    Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated overseas.

    Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845 606 2030; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC only covers "necessary medical treatment," and for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought (www.travelinsuranceweb.com).

    Travel Insurance -- The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information, for prices from more than a dozen companies.

    U.K. citizens and their families who make more than one trip abroad per year may find that an annual travel insurance policy works out to be cheaper. Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multi-trip policies.

    Most big travel agents offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes Holiday Insurance, a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033-9988; www.columbusdirect.net).

    Trip Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and State Department advisories. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of expanded hurricane coverage and the "any-reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel packages. For details, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com); Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com); and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).

Internet Access -- Cybercafes can be found at most major tourist destinations around Belize. Wi-Fi is also increasingly common, and many hotels are offering it for free. Rates at cybercafes run between BZ$2 and BZ$10 (US$1-US$5/55p-£2.65) per hour. Alternatively, BTL (tel. 0800/112-4636; www.btl.net), the state Internet monopoly, sells prepaid cards in BZ$10 (US$5/£2.65), BZ$25 (US$13/£6.90), and BZ$50 (US$25/£13) denominations for connecting your laptop to the Web via a local phone call.

Language -- English is the official language of Belize, and it is almost universally spoken. However, Belize is a very polyglot country, and you are likely to hear and come across Spanish, Creole, and Garífuna.

Laundromats -- Most folks rely on their hotel's laundry and dry-cleaning services, although these can be expensive.

Legal Aid -- If you need legal help, your best bet is to first contact your local embassy or consulate. Alternatively, ask at your hotel for an appropriate recommendation.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. It's a good idea to write this number down and carry it someplace separate from your wallet or credit cards. Visa's emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 toll-free in the U.S., or call 410/581-9994 collect from Belize. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282 toll-free in the U.S., or tel. 336/393-1111 collect from Belize. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 toll-free in the U.S., or 636/722-7111 collect from Belize.

If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000 in the U.S. and Canada, or 227-0014 in Belize; www.westernunion.com), although the service charges are substantial.

Mail -- Most hotels will post a letter for you, and there are post offices in the major towns. It costs BZ$.80 (US40¢/21p) to send a letter to the United States, and BZ$1 (US50¢/27p) to send a letter to Europe. Postcards to the same destinations cost BZ$.40 (US20¢/11p) and BZ$.50 (US25¢/13p) respectively.

If your postal needs are urgent, or you want to send anything of value, several international courier and express-mail services have offices in Belize City, including DHL, 38 New Rd. (tel. 223-1070; www.dhl.com); FedEx, 1 Mapp St. (tel. 224-5221; www.fedex.com); and Mail Boxes Etc., 166 N. Front St. (tel. 227-6046; www.mbe.com). All can arrange pick up and delivery services to any hotel in town, and sometimes in the different outlying districts.

Measurements -- English measurements are the norm in Belize, although the metric system is making slight inroads.

Newspapers & Magazines -- Belize has no daily newspaper. There are four primary weeklies and bi-weeklies, Amandala (www.amandala.com.bz), the Reporter (www.reporter.bz), Belize Times (www.belizetimes.bz), and the Guardian (www.guardian.bz). All come out on Friday, with the bi-weeklies also having a Tuesday edition. All are relatively similar in terms of content, although with some differing (and usually obvious) political leanings and loyalties.

Passports

    The websites listed below provide downloadable passport applications as well as the current fees for processing applications. For an up-to-date, country-by-country listing of passport requirements around the world, go to the "International Travel" tab of the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov. Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 4 to 6 weeks (3 weeks for expedited service) but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.

    For Residents of Australia -- You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

    For Residents of Canada -- Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca). Note: Canadian children who travel must have their own passport. However, if you hold a valid Canadian passport issued before December 11, 2001, that bears the name of your child, the passport remains valid for you and your child until it expires.

    For Residents of Ireland -- You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 21/494-4700) or at most main post offices.

    For Residents of New Zealand -- You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

    For Residents of the United Kingdom -- To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

Photographic Needs -- While I recommend bringing as much film as you foresee needing and waiting until you return to develop it, you can buy and develop film at most popular tourist destinations (but it's more expensive in Belize).

Police -- The police in Belize are generally rather helpful; there is a dedicated tourism police force in Belize City. Dial tel. 90 or 911 in an emergency. You can also dial tel. 227-2222.

Smoking -- Belize has yet to pass any no-smoking legislation, and aside from a handful of hotels that are entirely nonsmoking, few others have true nonsmoking rooms or floors. Similarly, many restaurants don't have a nonsmoking section. Luckily, so much dining in Belize is alfresco that this may not be a problem, especially if you can snag an upwind seat.

Taxes -- There is a US$35 (£19) departure tax that must be paid in cash at the airport upon departure. There is a 9% hotel tax added on to all hotel bills, and there is a 10% GST tax on all goods and services. A 10% service charge is sometimes added on to restaurant bills. Take this into account when deciding how much to tip.

Telephones

    Belize has a standardized seven-digit phone numbering system. There are no city or area codes to dial from within Belize; use the country code, 501 (not to be confused with the area code for the state of Arkansas), only when dialing a Belizean number from outside Belize.

    For directory assistance: Dial tel. 113 if you're looking for a number inside Belize, and for numbers to all other countries dial tel. 115 and (for a charge) an operator will connect you to an international directory assistance operator.

    For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 115, whether you're trying to make a local or an international call.

    Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 0800 and 800 within Belize country are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in the States from Belize is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.

Time -- Belize is on Central Standard Time, 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Belize does not observe daylight saving time.

Tipping -- Most Belizeans don't tip. Many restaurants add a 10% service charge. However, if the service is particularly good, or if the service charge is not included, tipping is appropriate.

Toilets -- There are very few public toilets or restrooms in Belize. About the only ones I know of are located at the little cruise-ship tourist village on Fort Street in the Fort George section of Belize City. However, most hotels and restaurants will let tourists use their facilities.

Useful Phone Numbers -- Time, date, and temperature, tel. 121; U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory, tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.); U.S. Passport Agency, tel. 202/647-0518; U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hot Line, tel. 404/332-4559.

Water -- The water in most major cities and tourist destinations in Belize is ostensibly safe to drink. However, many travelers react adversely to water in foreign countries, and it is probably best to drink bottled water throughout your visit to Belize.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.