Overview: The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and construction assuming increasing importance. Agriculture accounts for about 30% of GDP and provides 75% of export earnings, while sugar, the chief crop, accounts for almost 40% of hard currency earnings. The US, Belize's main trading partner, is assisting in efforts to reduce dependency on sugar with an agricultural diversification program.
National product: GDP - purchasing power parity - $575 million (1994 est.)
National product real growth rate: 2% (1994 est.)
National product per capita: $2,750 (1994 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 5.5% (1991)
Unemployment rate: 10% (1993 est.)
Exports: $115 million (f.o.b.,
Imports: $281 million (c.i.f.,
External debt: $158 million (1992)
Industrial production: growth rate 3.7% (1990); accounts for 12% of GDP
Industries: garment production, food processing, tourism, construction
Agriculture: commercial crops: bananas, coca, citrus fruits, fish, cultured shrimp, lumber
Illicit drugs: transshipment point for cocaine; an illicit producer of cannabis for the international drug trade; minor money laundering center
Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March
1993 population census put Belize's population at approximately 205,000. The average annual growth rate is 2.6%. The main ethnic groups are Creole (African Descent), Mestizo (Spanish Maya), and Garifuna (African Descent). There is also a number of people of Spanish and East Indian descent. The ethnic groups, however are heavily intermixed. There is also a small Mennonite community of European origin. The multi-racial make-up of the Belizean society includes Chinese, Arabs and other ethnic groups. Up to June 1994 some 9,000 refugees had settled in Belize. Populations of the major area are as follows:
Population growth rate: 2.42% (1995 est.)
Birth rate: 33.71 births/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Death rate: 5.86 deaths/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Net migration rate: -3.7 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 34.7 deaths/1,000 live births (1995 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
Total fertility rate: 4.25 children born/woman (1995 est.)
Ethnic divisions: mestizo 44%, Creole 30%, Maya 11%, Garifuna 7%, other 8%
Religions: Roman Catholic 62%, Protestant 30% (Anglican 12%, Methodist 6%, Mennonite 4%, Seventh Day Adventist 3%, Pentecostal 2%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1%, other 2%), none 2%, other 6% (1980)
Languages: English (official), Spanish, Maya, Garifuna (Carib)
Literacy: age 15 and over has
ever attended school (1970)
Labor force: 51,500
In Belize, as in all Central American countries, to live at bargain prices it is important to adapt to a local lifestyle. This country has one of the worlds lowest cost of living, but when you see store prices, you wonder how this could be true. Also, since Belize has already been discovered as a hot tourist destination, real estate prices are more in line with spendy Caribbean rates than those of Central America.
Due to the country's high import tax, all imported consumer items, household appliances, clothes, and brand name food items, are two to three more times expensive here than in the U.S. Some foreign residents travel to the town of Chetumal in Mexico, where most consumer items can be purchased at more reasonable prices. Even though, there are restrictions on the items that can be taken back to Belize.
Housing in areas suitable for North American tastes start at around $100,000. It is possible to find a comfortable home for less, but it will be a little on the rustic side.
Buying local fruits, vegetables, meats and nationally produced food products will go a long way toward reducing the monthly food budget.
Coastal areas on the mainland are hot and humid day and night, with average temperatures ranging from 50 degrees ferenheit to 96 degrees ferenheit . Higher in the mountains the temperature drops to a comfortable warmth and humidity.
On the Caribbean cayes, temperatures are equally sweltering, but cool trade winds and ample shade from palm trees make the heat much more tolerable.
The dry season runs from October to May, and the hurricane season from June to November. The region is hit by several tropical storms every year, but in 1931, , 1961, and 1978 Belize City was badly damaged by hurricanes, with heavy loss of life.
The southern rain forest are humid all year round due to an astonishing yearly rainfall of almost 157 inches (400 cm.).
Travelers should best avoid the busy winter season from December to April, when prices are high and hotel rooms scarce.
Business hours generally run from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon. through Fri. Commerce and industry hours are 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Mon. through Fri. Many businesses and shops are closed Wednesday afternoon. Some businesses have evening hours from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.. Most banks are open from 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. everyday except Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Mail service from Belize to North America and Europe is usually a fast 7 to 14 days. Only major towns have post offices, which are open from 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Mon. through Fri.. Outgoing parcels must be taken open to the post office, where they will be inspected and sealed before being mailed.
Incoming mail can be addressed to Poste Restante (General Delivery), Main Post Office, Belize City. You'll need your passport to claim the mail, but there is no charge.
National and international phone service in Belize is very good and inexpensive. While there are very few public phone booths, all hotels and restaurants offer phone service for a low, flat fee. Belize Telecommunications, (BTL) has offices in all major towns, usually in the same building as the post office. Dialing direct is possible and collect calls can be made to the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, and France.
To dial direct from one location to another in Belize, first dial zero, then the one or two digit area code, then the four or five digit telephone number. Collect calls must be made through an international operator (115)
AT&T, USA Direct, and Sprint long distance services are all offered in Belize, but rates via the national phone company, BTL, may be less expensive.
The Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) owns the automatic telephone services which covers the entire country. BTL operates a regional service to Mexico, Guatemala and Central and South America , as well as all other external services. A recent expansion programme has doubled the capacity of the telephone system. A satellite earth station in Belmopan provides high quality telecommunications with the outside world. The office of Telecommunications acts on behalf of the Government in monitoring and regulating all telecommunication services within Belize, including the assignment of frequencies. A cellular network has now been introduced in its preliminary stage. BTL's services include:
The international dialing code for Belize is 501. Hotels have fixed rates for local and international calls.
The Belize dollar (BZ$) is divided into 100 cents. Coins are minted in denominations of one, five, ten, twenty-five, fifty cents and one dollar. Bills are of one, two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred dollars. The value of the Belize dollar has been fixed for years at $1.00 = BZ $2.00. Prices are quoted in dollars, which could mean Belize dollars or U.S. dollars. It is often necessary to ask which currency is being quoted.
U.S. and Canadian dollars and
pounds sterling are easily exchanged everywhere. Literally everyone excepts
U.S. dollars as payment. Credit cards are widely accepted, especially at
car rental companies. Visa and American Express are the most popular.
English is the official language
in Belize and is the language taught in schools. Spanish is also popular
and is widely taught as a second language. In some places, such as the
western Cayo district and the Corozal
district to the north, Spanish is spoken as a native language. In the south,
Garifuna, and Mayan dialects can be heard
among some people. Almost everyone speaks an english dialect known as Creole.