Money in Belize
The Belize currency is the Belize dollar (BZ$), which typically equals about BZ$2 per each US$1. Travelers can use both currencies at most businesses in Belize, although smaller establishments may only take Belize dollars. Prices may be listed in American dollars, and you can receive change in either American or Belize dollars.
Before you board your plane for the tranquil beaches of Belize, here is some assurance that there is little cause for concern when visiting the country: The nation of Belize has a stable democratic government. Specifically it is a parliamentary constitutional democracy. The Belizean economy did suffer some setbacks during 'The Great Recession' (as most countries did), but is now enjoying a growing economy. There are no issues with the government, economy, or currency which might negatively impact your trip or cause you difficulty during your holiday in Belize.
Belize isn’t cheap — it’s on par with Costa Rica, which is probably the most expensive country in Central America. If you’re traveling to Belize from Guatemala, Mexico, or Honduras, you’re going to have to get used to traveling in a more costly country. This is partially because Belize’s economy relies upon imports and has fairly high taxes. Even so, costs here are still cheaper than most places in the United States or Europe.
Midrange travelers will likely spend BZ$200 to BZ$300 a day for comfortable hotels and good food. Midrange hotels run around BZ$150 to BZ$200 a night, while more luxurious accommodations begin at around BZ$300. Hotels are more expensive during the dry season (December through May) and around holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, and Semana Santa. A tasty meal with a couple of drinks will cost you anywhere from BZ$20 to BZ$50.
Banks and ATMs
ATMS are available in most major towns, and will typically accept Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus cards. ATMs only dispense Belize dollars. Some ATMs may charge a fee for each use and enforce a withdrawal limit per day (usually around BZ$500). Banks that are part of the Global ATM Alliance do not charge a fee for cash withdrawals at the ATMs of other Allegiance members — this includes Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, BNP Paribas, and Scotiabank.
Major banks in Belize include Bank of Nova Scotia, Atlantic Bank, and Belize Bank. Most banks are open from Monday–Thursday until 2 P.M., but are open slightly later on Fridays. They are usually closed for lunch, and are always closed on Sundays.
You can exchange money at most banks in Belize to obtain Belizean currency. Many banks that exchange currencies – including Barclays Bank, Atlantic Bank Ltd., Belize Bank, and the Bank of Nova Scotia – are often set near the main plaza in cities. Money can also be exchanged at a casa de cambio (exchange house). After exchanging currency, keep your receipt of sale.
Though you won't be able to use your debit card in Belize, most major credit cards are accepted.
Larger hotels, restaurants, and shops typically accept Visa and MasterCard. Certain places accept American Express (AmEx), but few establishments will take Diners Club or Discover. Some establishments will include a 2–5 percent surcharge for travelers using a credit card. Credit cards can be used to obtain cash advances from major banks in Belize; you will, however, incur additional charges when doing this.
It’s a good idea to notify your credit card company (and bank) before traveling abroad. That way, they won’t get suspicious when foreign charges start showing up.
Traveler’s checks can be exchanged at most banks. Having a reputable brand – like Visa or AmEx – will make this easier, as will having checks made out in American dollars. You may have to pay per-check fees when cashing each traveler’s check. Traveler’s checks are accepted at many hotels in Belize, but it’s uncommon for restaurants to accept them.
Taxes and Tipping
Many hotels and restaurants include a 10–15 percent service charge on the bill. Even if this isn’t included, it’s good form to tip this amount. Taxi drivers don’t need to be tipped, but feel free to tip them if they provide solid service. Tip tour guides 10–15 percent if they’ve done a good job.
A general sales tax of 10 percent is applied to all purchases, and hotels will add a 9 percent tax to the price of a room. Furthermore, there’s a US$20 departure tax when leaving the airport, but this is usually included in the price of a flight. Using a credit card will also incur a tax; most businesses tack on an extra 2–5 percent to the bill.
Frequently asked questions
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- Should I Leave Tips in Belize?
Waiters and hotel porters in Belize expect tips. An average tip is 15%, while 20% is given for excellent service. At small, local restaurants where there is only counter service, 10% is acceptable.Unlike in many countries, cab drivers in Belize typically work for themselves and make a solid living. They do not expect tips, and there is no need to tip them (unless a driver has gone way out of his way to provide above-and-beyond service).
- Where Can I Exchange Money in Belize?
You can exchange money at any bank or at the airport. It is cheaper to buy Belizean currency than it is to sell it, so try to only purchase as much Belizean cash as you’re going to use. Make sure to exchange your money at the international airport before you return home – it’s difficult to exchange Belizean currency outside of the country.There are private moneychangers who will approach you at the borders near Guatemala and Mexico. Sometimes they offer good rates, but these transactions are riskier than dealing with a bank.
If you have a bankcard on you, you can withdraw Belizean money from ATMs. ATMs are widely available.
- How Much Are Meals, Drinks, Taxis and Other Daily Expenses in Belize?
According to the U.S. Travel Bureau, you need to budget at least $60 USD per day during your trip to Belize. For a midrange hotel, you’ll probably spend anywhere from $50 to $180 USD per night, depending on its proximity to the beach.
In some places near the Caribbean Coast, you can find a nice seafood meal for under $20 USD. Food from street vendors is very cheap, and costs around $5 per dish. Many restaurants cost about the same as they do in American cities – it costs around $10 to $15 USD per person for an average restaurant, and $20 to $40 USD to dine somewhere really nice.
Prices of public transportation vary greatly, depending on the location. Make sure to ask your driver about the price of the ride before you get in the vehicle. Buses are cheaper, but don’t expect a comfortable ride.
Keep an eye out for happy hours. Rum and fruit juice cocktails can be quite very affordable. Wine and imported beers are quite expensive, but locally brewed beer and local rum cost $2 to $3 USD.
Remember to keep a little extra spending cash for tips and souvenirs.
- What Kinds of Gifts and Souvenirs Can I Find in Belize?
Local artists make oil paintings, jewelry, masks, ceramics, and bamboo carvings inspired by Caribbean scenery. You can find items like these in outdoor craft markets.In Maya communities, some of the local women still carry on the traditional art form of basket weaving. Their baskets have stylized representations of plants and animals. Some of the more popular Maya ruins have their own museums with small gift shops.
Bring back some favorite Belizean libations to share with your friends. One Barrel Rum is the most popular rum in Belize, and it is made from locally grown sugar cane. Belikin Beer is also made locally, and will make a lovely gift for the craft brew enthusiasts in your life.
Marie Sharp’s is a popular Belizean brand of hot sauce. She makes a variety of hot sauces, as well as jams another other condiments.
Make sure not to buy anything that encourages the destruction of the local environment. It is illegal to buy and sell pieces of coral. You should also avoid any souvenir that looks like it came from an endangered animal (for instance, a shell from a sea turtle).
- Can I Bargain In Belize?
Belizeans don’t haggle, especially not in restaurants or hotels. It’s sometimes possible to bargain in outdoor markets, but you can’t be sure how the vendor will react. Bargaining isn’t part of the commercial culture in Belize, and attempting to negotiate a price could be seen as rude.Many visitors don’t bother, since so many Belizeans live below the poverty line, and rely heavily on tourism for their livelihoods.
- How Much Cash Should I Carry in Belize?
If you prefer to spend cash, you can usually get by on around $50 to $100 BZD per day. Keep in mind that Belize isn’t cheap compared to the rest of Central America, and sales taxes are a hefty 12 percent. If you do carry a significant amount of cash, be discreet.Porters, waiters, and bar tenders expect a tip, so it’s a good idea to have at least a little cash on hand. It’s also normal to tip your tour guide.
Most businesses in Belize accept credit cards, and credit cards are generally the safest way to make purchases while you’re traveling. Only in Belize’s smaller villages will you find businesses that only accept cash.
- Are There Tourist Taxes in Belize?
There is an exit fee of $39.25 USD charged by officials upon a traveler’s departure from Belize. For cruise ship passengers, the fee is $7 USD. Even for a day trip into Guatemala that returns to Belize in the same day, a fee may be charged, depending on the immigration officer on duty.There are no extra taxes on individual items purchased by tourists, and in fact, U.S. citizens are allowed a $400 duty-free tax exemption in Belize.
- Are Credit Cards Accepted in Belize?
Bank-issued cards or debit cards will not work in Belize. Credit cards work, but anything other than a Visa or MasterCard may garner cash advance interest charges.
- Are Traveler's Checks Accepted in Belize?
Generally, most businesses that cater to visitors will accept traveler’s checks, especially hotels and tour operators. Restaurants and shops are less likely to accept them. Remember to write your passport number or driver’s license number on the back of the check. Traveler’s checks should be for US dollars.Mastercard and Visa credit cards are also widely accepted. Many businesses will even accept US currency.