Travel to Belize is no different from traveling to other countries, except that as a developing country you can expect more than your share of possible glitches whether caused by poor infrastructure or tropical weather. The country has one active international airport (there is an international airport in Stann Creek but as of March 2017, not open to the public) and it can easily become congested during the peak travel season that starts in November and runs until March.
Petty crime has seen an increase in recent years, especially against tourists. Crime against visitors is not something that the Belize Tourism Board is keen to report, but it is very common, especially in Belize City and Ambergris Caye. Thieves tend to go after personal belongings such as wallets, cameras, cell phones, iPods, travel bags and back packs. It is very unfortunate to lose your documents and credit cards in a foreign land. Criminal activity on Ambergris Caye proper has seen an upsurge in the past 5 years due to the illicit drug trade.
While your local embassy will try to quickly replace stolen travel documents, it will do little to nothing to help with emergency lodging, medical or legal services, cash or a way to get back home. That is where overseas travel insurance can be helpful.
Travel insurance is one of the most overlooked items on most traveler’s agenda. Even experienced travelers tend to do without travel insurance. That is until they hit their first really bad travel experience. Like the airline lost all your luggage – and if it is ever found it’s somewhere in another country, or worse, Brazil, (baggage handlers at times confuse Belize and Brazil). Or the ship left without you and you have to pay additional airfare to “catch” the ship. Or a corrupt cop arrests you for a minor driving infraction, or worse, a smoking substance charge. So what is travel insurance good for?
Travel insurance is a combination of travel coverage and 24 hour emergency assistance services designed to give travelers on the road peace of mind. The belongings that you take on your trip are covered, and you are covered for emergency medical services (this depends to a certain degree on the type of travel insurance you purchase – see separate entry below on medical insurance).
Overseas Travel Insurance Benefits
* Reimbursement of the non-refunded portion of your travel investment if your trip is cancelled or interrupted for a covered reason
* 24-hour access to emergency medical referrals and assistance
* Reimbursement for unexpected travel expenses, including lost luggage, loss or damage to a rental car, or medical emergencies
* Coverage in case of travel delays
* Emergency medical transportation
Travelers are under the assumption that their credit card, health care plan or homeowner’s insurance will take care of their insurance needs when traveling. A recent study by Chadwick Martin Bailey Inc. consultants for Travel Guard International found that:
* Medical Evacuation – Emergency medical evacuation and transportation to the nearest adequate medical facilities is a standard benefit of most comprehensive travel insurance plans. While some credit cards will arrange emergency medical transportation, it is always at the card holder’s expense. The more complete travel insurance plans will also pay airfare for a special medical escort if recommended by the attending doctor.
* Baggage Protection – A comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers lost or damaged baggage will often provide coverage above and beyond the standard reimbursement by the airlines. A travel insurance policy that offers comprehensive baggage protection will not only pay for damage to or loss of baggage, but may also take over baggage tracking by liaising with airlines to find and return lost luggage to insured travelers. Homeowner’s insurance, conversely, may not cover bags that are stolen, and may only cover bags that are damaged by “fire and water.”
* Car Rental Accident Insurance – A dedicated car rental collision damage policy that pays “primary coverage” will pay for damage to a rental car, regardless of the insured renter’s personal auto insurance coverage, and will protect a traveler against the threat of higher future premiums. Personal auto insurance, when used to insure a rental car, is subject to premium increases and insurance surcharges in the event of an accident. Some credit cards also offer car rental protection when the card is used to pay for the rental, but most coverage is secondary, and will only cover expenses that are not covered by personal auto insurance.
* Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption – A comprehensive travel insurance policy is the only source of trip cancellation coverage available to travelers for reasons of illness, injury, inclement weather, jury duty or organized labor strikes. A complete travel insurance policy will reimburse a traveler for the pre-paid, unused, non-refundable portion of a trip payment, plus the cost of returning home or rejoining the trip. Credit cards do not offer trip cancellation coverage.
* Medical Expenses – comprehensive travel insurance policies cover necessary medical and surgical expenses while traveling, usually as primary coverage. Primary coverage means that the travel insurance company will pay the traveler first, rather than supplementing any payment by the traveler’s health plan or HMO. Domestic medical plans generally provide some coverage outside of the United States, but a traveler must carefully review the fine print to understand conditions and exclusions, since some plans only cover emergency care. Travelers with Medicare are not covered outside of the U.S.
Medical Travel Insurance For Expats
The notes below are courtesy of Lancelot Sluder a retired but still active travel writer:
For routine primary care, most tourists or foreign residents make do with the low-cost public system, or they go to a private physician, dentist or clinic, where typical fees are a fraction of those charged in the U.S. Mostly they pay cash. Many “self-insure,” are taking a calculated risk that what they save in medical insurance premiums will more than pay for their actual medical costs in Belize.
Medical Travel Insurance for care in Belize is available through a few local insurance companies:
RF & G Insurance, 1 Coney Drive, Belize City; Tel. 501/227-5734; offers a complete suite of insurance packages.
Belize Insurance Center, 212 North Front St., Belize City; Tel. 501-227-7310. This group offers a variety of insurance products including health.
International insurance companies and insurance brokers write health care policies for expatriates, with the premiums sometimes covering medical transportation back to the home country along with actual health care.
One that specializes in coverage for foreigners living in Latin America and the Caribbean and which has gotten good reviews from expats and locals here who have used it, is: Bupa, 7001 Southwest 97th Avenue, Miami, FL 33173; Tel. 305-398-7400. This company says it has more than 10 million policyholders around the world. It usually works through medical insurance brokers such as Pacific Prime, based in Hong Kong.
Travel Insurance Fraud
Be aware that travel insurance fraud is common in tourism destinations. The scheme arises when low-budget travelers, AKA backpackers, concoct a theft or robbery at their hotel, report the matter to the authorities, and try to get an official copy of the alleged theft report. With this, they will attempt to file an insurance claim in their home country. Law enforcement officers in tourism destinations are well-trained in this scam and how to deal with it.