Negotiating our way out of corrupt Belize

Normally, when a taxi pulled up to our condo building we were either welcoming new friends or saying goodbye to them. This time was different. The taxi was for us and we were leaving Belize. A bittersweet moment as we looked forward to our next adventure, but still wanted to keep this one for a little while.

We were heading to Chetemal, Mexico via water taxi from San Pedro. Our plan is to slowly make our way to Cancun, where we are flying out of. We’ll be spending some time in the states to sell the rest of our stuff and then flying off to Bali.

We drove to the Water Jets water taxi station on the lagoon side of the island, dropped off our bags and then went to our favorite chicken taco joint on the island, Nery’s. They make the BESTEST chicken tacos and watermelon juice and we devoured several dollars worth, using up our small change from Belize.

Sharing a Horchata at Nery's

Sharing a Horchata at Nery's

Negotiation 1: Port and Mexican Holiday Fee Scam

Back to the water taxi station, the office had opened and we went inside to purchase tickets. One way tickets to Chetamal are $30 US. We were prepared to pay our $60 fare, when the gentlemen behind the counter added an additional $60 US Mexican Holiday Fee on to the bill. I did notice a computer printed sign that stated every ticket would have to pay an additional Port/Mexican Holiday fee of $15 US, but I didn’t expect it.

My initial reaction was – “No way, no one told me about this, this is a junk fee”. So that is what I told the gentleman behind the counter. Here’s how our conversation went:

Him: “Because it’s Mother’s Day in Mexico (and Belize), you have to pay the fee”

Me: “I’m not paying the fee because of a holiday, that’s not a reason to have a fee, it doesn’t make sense.”

Him: “Well, you could leave tomorrow when it’s not a holiday”

Me: “That is not an option. This is a junk fee, I bet Mexico never sees the money”

Him: “I assure you they do.”

Me: “Then I’ll pay the Mexican government the fee when I get to Mexico, but I’m not paying you now”

He turns to the older lady sitting with him behind the counter and they have a discussion. Meanwhile, a line of people wanting to purchase their tickets has formed behind me that stretches out the door.

Him: “She (meaning the lady he just spoke with) said you can pay only one fee and it will be for all four of you – $15 US instead of $60.”

Me: “I’m not paying the junk fee.”

Mr. King (speaking to me): “How long do you want to stand here and argue with the man?”

Me: “Long enough to not pay this junk fee.”

In the end, I paid the extra $15 for all four of us only to save my husband the embarrassment of me waiting it out. I would have won, mind you. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, this is a completely bogus fee. Any thoughts? Why would a water taxi company in Belize be collecting fees for the Mexican government?

Note: after doing some Google research, I have found this to be a scam.

Upon entering Mexico at the water terminal, no immigration officer checked to see if we had paid the ‘Mexican holiday’ fee, further confirmation that this was a junk fee. But, as a bonus since it was Mother’s Day, I was able to go to the head of the immigration line and got a free taxi ride to the bus station.

Negotiation 2: Belize Immigration

After paying the ticket and junk fee, our next stop outside the office door was Belize immigration. A simple podium desk awaited us with one of the most non-happy immigration officers. We’ve seen this lady every month for six months and never once have we seen her smile.

Our lovely immigration checkpoint.

Our lovely immigration checkpoint.

Luckily, most of the time we dealt with a very gregarious, young immigration officer during our monthly visa extensions. But this time, we have her. Mr. King goes up with all of our passports and, without looking at him, she says “$30 bz”.

The departure fee for leaving Belize via water is $7.50 bz each (a steal compared to leaving by land or air, which has a departure fee of $37.50 each). 
Mr. King tells her that we don’t have to pay for the small children and, again, without looking at him, she says “Okay, $15″. Mr. King gives her $20 bz and of course she does not have change and then waits on the next few people until she gets change. Mr. King gets his change, we get stamped and, just like that, we change our emotions from missing Belize to waiting to get the heck out.

Belize, why are you so corrupt?

It’s one thing to negotiate with a street vendor, but a government official representing Belize is another story. The above two incidences bring up lots of conversation of the open embezzlement and corruption that we have witnessed in our short time here. Why did we have to remind the immigration officer that small children do not pay the Belize exit fee? She knew this, yet withheld the information.

Everything in Belize has a price that can be paid as a bribe to the appropriate government official. Want residency quick? A $15,000-$30,000 payment will do the trick. Need a permit for a vehicle on the island? $3,000 and it’s done. And on, and on. This is open knowledge, this isn’t even a secret! What a shame, I say.

Although this type of system has made several government officials rich, it depletes the citizens of Belize. Instead of money going to government programs, schools, roads or medical care it goes into the pockets of already well-off government officials. Sorry citizens of Belize – you lose. There are many uneducated children and adults (who can’t read) in Belize, simply because they cannot afford to go to the public schools, which charge $150/month for each child, yet government officials steal thousands of dollars per month and put it on their own pockets. Fair? I don’t think so. Who would elect these people?

During our 6 month stay we had the opportunity to witness a full election process. There was a lot of yelling and screaming and riling up of citizens for particular political parties, that is just the norm everywhere. But what we witnessed on election day was insidious. Voters being paid directly by political parties $100 bz for their vote, a gentleman that was paid $400 bz to fly from Placencia to San Pedro by a political party to cast his vote for that party and on and on. When stories of vote tampering came on the news, there was no surprise.

And how about all the money collected for the bridge tolls on Ambergris Caye for the last 8 years? It was never used to maintain the bridge and now it is falling apart and needs $300,000 worth of repairs, but there is no money. What happened to 8 years worth of $10 tolls?

Oh, Belize

Oh, Belize. You are so beautiful on the outside and so ugly and decaying on the inside. Unless your government can provide its citizens with a positive example, you will be doomed to being rats grappling at each other for the left overs. What a shame to a country full of rich diversity and beauty.

As we pulled away from the dock and headed toward Mexico waters, there was a movie that was playing on the boat about the overfishing of Belize waters that summed up what I was feeling at the moment perfectly:

“I love my people, I detest the government” – Local Belize fisherman

Goodbye Belize. We still love you (despite what I wrote above).

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27 Responses to “Negotiating our way out of corrupt Belize”

  1. Mary May 12, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    The sad thing is that I think worldwide this type of this is not that uncommon. We have run into loads of it here in Asia. So sad, like you said especially when there are so many struggling!

    Can’t wait to hear about your Mexico adventures. I loved Cancun, be sure to see Cozumel (great diving and cute town) and Chichen Itza:)

  2. zita May 12, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Sad but true..Before the election a couple of my friends from newyork went to Belize to vote they got free tickets and money in their pockets for a week…Belize is getting worse and its really sad ..Ritch getting Richer and the poor getting poorer. .I was a bit upset reading what ur writing but,then I kept reading and you are soo earn right. ..

    • S King May 12, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      I can understand that you would be disturbed by this post. I hesitated for a little bit to publish it, as I’m certainly not a political revolutionary, and don’t like to offend. But I thought that people needed to know so they don’t get scammed.

      I like this quote: “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. ” -Saul Alinsky

      The tide will never change if everyone is silent. I understand that your friends would want a free trip back to their homeland, but that still doesn’t make it right. It is what it is.

      Thanks for reading and confirming that, unfortunately, this is the situation. (And, just to note, Belize is not companionless in the corrupted country category).

  3. Emily May 12, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Ain’t it the sad truth? Of course, we had a very similar experience being scammed by a Mexican Immigration official into paying a $25 US exit fee each after only being in Chetumal for 4 hours. The fee is only required if you stay 7+ days. We did everything in our power to get out of it, but could not. We also had an experience with Belize Immigration when we came back into Belize from our boat trip to Guatemala. My husband’s passport stamp only gave him 7 days in Belize, mine 30. I had filled out both our entrance papers and put “30” on both. There was no arguing with the very same Belizean Immigration official pictured in your blog above. We had obviously made a mistake and would have to renew his tourist stamp in 7 days. It is a very sad situation, and I agree with everything you have written.

    • S King May 12, 2012 at 9:34 am #

      Emily, Thanks for your input. I will definitely NOT be paying my Mexico exit fee since we are only staying 6 days here.

      I’m not sure how I feel about all these borders and fees, etc.

      I am sure of one thing: the less interaction with government officials we have, the better.

      • Emily May 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

        I’m not sure if the fee will apply or not in your situation since you are not returning to your country of origin after entering Mexico as we were. The rule for entering from/returning to the same country is that the fee applies after 7 days. Not sure about the situation where you are transiting through. You will have to report back. Good luck!

    • Living Outside of the Box May 14, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      There is no exit fee for Mexico! How absurd they tried (and perhaps succeeded) getting something out of you! Grrrr!! Good for you! Hahaa…Belize officials didn’t try to pull anything on us on our way out…but the Mexican officials tried on our way out of Mexico, and into Belize! GRRRRRRR…it is despicable to see people in authority abuse their power! Ooops…just realized it wasn’t the Mexican officials that tried to make up a bogus fee on the way into Belize…it was the Guatemalan officials. The “helper” standing next to me talked back to them when they made the request for a free from me. They got him to be quiet. But I understand enough Spanish to know what they said, and I knew it was bogus. I said “no way”, and they relented.

  4. THERESA May 12, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    The last time we took the water taxi to Mexico, we had our Belizean Friends purchase our tickets. Their tickets cost $44.00 Bz, our tickets cost $70.00 Bz. When my friend questioned them about the price difference,t he said..if it cost $70 Bz for locals they wouldnt go to Mexico. The double pricing gets old.

    • S King May 12, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      I often find it very unfair when there is separate pricing as well. And then to tack on a bogus $15 US Charge. I should have made a bigger stink out of it, so that the rest of the people behind me didn’t pay it.
      At least I get to write about it on my blog and potentially warn others.

  5. Andy May 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    It’s always really sad to have to deal with people that are trying to rip you off. It’s even worse when it is government officials in a foreign country. I would have probably just paid the fee since I am not very confrontational. I’m glad someone has the courage to stand up to these people.

  6. Allison May 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    You go, girl. I love your spunk.

  7. Brandon Pearce May 12, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    You’re amazing. I’d probably be more like Keith and want to quit after an initial effort. With your negotiating skills, you’ll probably be able to get some amazing deals at the market here in Bali. :)

  8. Jennifer Pearce May 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Sounds like the government could use someone like you to step in and turn things around for them. :) I don’t know why those people can’t see that they are only ruining their own country with all their corruption and bullying. They can’t escape the effects of that type of behavior forever.

    • S King May 13, 2012 at 6:30 am #

      HaHaHa! The last thing I want to do is deal with governments!
      It really is an unfortunate situation. In Belize City you’ll find a large number of drunks roaming the streets at all hours of the morning, day and night. They’ve given up. There is a saddening loss of self-respect and it is evidenced by the depravity of emotion and the incidences of swearing, begging and brutality on the streets.
      When those you trusted are untrustworthy, who is there to trust?

  9. Sharon Hiebing May 13, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    I’m really sorry for the lousy way your stay in Belize ended. Just to be fair to Belize, however, the water taxi company is privately owned, not government. So Belize shouldn’t be blamed for the company creating extra fees-companies all over the world do that all the time (has anyone stayed at a hotel lately?).

    And voter fraud is also a rampant problem world-wide (in the States we disguise it by calling it campaign contributions and lobbyists)-at least Belize is honest enough to admit they do it.

    In any case, I do hope the next country you travel to leaves you with a better impression than Belize, and we’ll look forward to reading about your next adventure.

  10. Glenn Tillett May 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    The article and comments highlight the how the three horsemen of our apocalypse – impunity, subjectivity and uncertainty, continue to ensure our demise as a society and ultimately a nation. As a Belizean I cringe and feel a shudder of shame.

  11. Melody May 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I live on ambergris caye and am from here originally. It does not cost 150 for public school it is free. Private school is 150. People get scammed because they allow it if more people stopped paying bribes then it would stop but rich lazy americans come and want their papers in a week and how do you think bribes started? I know plenty of americans who waited the whole year to get their residency and five years to get citizenship and i also know people who have been here six months and bought their passports. If more people choose to follow the laws for Belize and quit trying to find shortcuts there wouldn’t be this problem. Lets not even start with politics because thats bad everywhere….why you ask because we let them. Good on you for not paying the fake fee!

    One more note the U.S charges 250 dollars to apply for a visa if you get denied they keep your money anyways and lots of people get denied. I understand if you get the visa but 250 is alot of money for a five minute interview.

    • maxine July 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      thank you for clarifying the school cost..i recently read 15$ per month in a book i was prepared to buy & for a minute i almost lost confidence in the author’s knowlwdge :)

  12. Travel with Bender (Erin) October 15, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Maybe we wont visit Belize?

  13. Jamie December 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    My family and I were about to go to Belize for vacation. We have an extended family of 10 people. After reading this, we will be going somewhere else instead. Belize don’t get our money and we’ll spread the word for you to our friends and family, and one of our family members is in television business- he’ll share the info for us. No tourist should ever visit corrupt countries!

    • S King December 6, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Jamie, My intention was not to deter you from visiting Belize. It’s a stunning country with incredible culture and a wide variety of activities and natural resources. It’s well worth a visit or even a move there!
      In my opinion, every country that has a government is corrupt, some more openly than others. If we truly were to NOT go to places that were corrupt we’d all be living on the moon.
      Sometimes corruption is just the normal way of doing business.

      • icysurfer December 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

        C’mon now, You are backtracking. Maybe that was not Your intention, but that is the result. Can’t take it back now.

        As far as I can glean. You are leaving, and glad about it.

        • S King December 23, 2012 at 1:15 am #

          Well, I suppose we are glad about it, but we didn’t leave because of corruption. We were just ready to explore more and Asia was calling our name. I didn’t like the nature of our departure, being taken advantage of is not the way I wanted to leave.

  14. steve April 13, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    This needz to be exposed more. i have lived in belize for 4 years and was denied entry at the western border without paying a $500 fee.
    the immigration officer threatened to seize my canadian passport if i didnt pay the bribe.
    i refused and an argument ensued. mostly the immigration officer on all the nasty things he was going to do, if i didnt pay him.
    I stood my ground despite the intimidation of being arrested etc etc
    my passport was taken and i was told i would not get it back without paying a $500 bribe fee.
    i hit the news, internet and canadian embassy with my story and heads were rolling. i even got a personal call from the PM as it got so much exposure apologizing. And of.course i got my passport back.
    Word of advice to travellors. squak loud And take pictures of immigration officials and go to news and internet. these people cant work in the dark when u blast them with light on the news.and net with pictures.

  15. D.G.Mohney February 6, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    I lived in Belize about 6 years, and I loved the time I had spent in the Chiquibul jungle, I was prospecting for gold and presious metals, It took 6 months to get a prospecting permit, everybody want something, I first went to Canytano minister,and he wanted to know what was in it for him. I told him I would not give him one thin dime,but I could tell him how it would help Belize, well I didn’t get a permit. So. I wanted to talk to Dito Juan, But, the only way I could was to go to Ditos house on a sunday. I did speak to Dito, and I told him I would like to have a prospecting permit, I told him Honduras welcomes my business and either give me a permit or tell me why I can’t get one. That was on sunday and the next day he called me and said, to go to Punt Gorda and Canytano would sign my permit. I asked Dito what he wanted for doing this and he said, nothing for himself, but If I wanted I could give something to the PUP party. Dito was the only person in the government that did not ask for a money.
    All the police are crooks. The police came into my house and told me the ammunition in my house was not llegal and I would go to jail unless I paid them $ 2,000 u.s., I told them I did not have a gun or ammunition they could go to to hell, they put me in a car and drove around telling me that I would go to jail for a long time, I would not give in so they took me back home to my house and dropped me off. If your a American, or I should say from the States, everybody wants more money for everything. Belize is a beautiful little country and its a terrible thing for the whole country to be ran by a bunch of crooks. People that go to Belize and spend 3 or 4 days will come back and tell people how great Belize is, but, try to live in belize is another thing. Belize was so much better when the Brits were in control, it was safe, now Belize City is a danger to anybody, and cayo is getting that bad also. I will never live in Belize again, I’m going to Panama

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