This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: Santa Elena or simply Chetumal
Between cities: Subteniente López (Chetumal), Mexico and Santa Elena (Corozal), Belize
Cost for visas: $0
Cost for vehicle: $5 USD for fumigation, $23 USD for 2 weeks insurance
Total time: 45 minutes
This border crossing is about 15 minutes outside of the bustling Mexico city of Chetumal, and another 15 minutes from the town of Corozal on the Belizean side. There are smaller towns on the border, and a “free zone” if you’d like to stock up on cheap Chinese junk.
We left our fantastic campground (the Yax-Ha Resort) in Chetumal around 10am and reached the border crossing a few minutes later. We parked on the right side before the customs road block. There is a small dark blue building with a sign in English and Spanish noting that it is the immigration/migración office.
We waited in line for a few minutes, then handed our passports and tourist cards to the official behind the window. He did ask to see the receipts that we had paid for the tourist cards in Tijuana. It is important to bring this receipt or you may be required to pay the tourist card fee again. The official kept our tourist cards and receipts, stamped and returned our passports.
At this point we began to search around for any sign of the banjercito office. A strange Mexican man with gold teeth politely offered to escort us to the office. For a small tip, of course. The banjercito office at this border crossing is on the opposite side of the road (the left, as you are approaching Belize). It is past the Mexican customs checkpoint. You will need to drive there so the banjercito official can verify your VIN number.
We parked our car, tipped the gold-tooth man with our leftover peso coins and stood in another line. The lady was quick. She took our Mexican import permit with the receipt stapled to it. She checked the VIN on our car matched the paperwork, ripped off the permit from the windshield and then entered a few things on the computer. She provided us with a new receipt and an official piece of paper that stood as our cancellation confirmation. She explained, in excellent English, that the refund would be made directly to our credit card, but we would not see the balance until Monday.
We got back in the car and drove over the bridge to Belize.
There is a strange “free zone” shopping area, and a lot of touts that try to convince you to buy insurance here. Keep to the road to the right and ignore them. It’s maybe a half a mile until you see the Belize customs checkpoint.
Because we aren’t so good at reading road signs, we drove right past the fumigation building, and the sign out front that says “mandatory stop for all vehicles”. Thankfully this wasn’t a big deal. You should however stop here first and pay for the fumigation just to save some time. It’s currently $10BZ dollars for fumigation. You can pay with US dollars or Belizean Dollars, but not pesos.
After the fumigation area, there is a signed parking lot on the left, just before two large buildings. The first building is for those leaving Belize, the second building is for those entering.
We went to the immigration counter, and the nice lady took her time to look up if South Africans need a visa or not. She reckoned we were fine with a few stamps. It took 5 minutes and we each had a 30 day visa, no charges at all.
Then we went to the customs counter and handed over our vehicle title and Kobus’ (the driver’s) passport. We were issued a 30-day temporary permit for no charge. They entered information, but did not require any copies of documents. The customs agent asked us to take everything out of the car and bring it through the building for inspection. When we explained we had a lot of crap, and this would take a few hours, she decided that it would be easier for her to inspect the vehicle outside at the customs gate.
Kobus had to go back to the fumigation area and have the car sprayed. With the receipt in hand he drove through the customs gate. The officials looked through a few items in the car, and questioned whether we had any fruit, vegetables, or meat. Thankfully we had consumed all our perishable foods the night before.
The customs agent did warn us that alcohol of any kind was not allow across the border, although they didn’t confiscate the few beers we had, they made it clear that they could have.
After crossing through customs we stopped at the giant, clearly marked insurance building. We had been offered insurance by three other people in our process trying to get through customs. All claimed that we needed to buy before we crossed and all quoted slightly ridiculous prices in US dollars. It’s just a ploy. Buy insurance after you cross the border.
The man at the insurance office took our vehicle title and Kobus’ passport again. He typed in the info and issued us a sticker for our windshield. Total cost was $23 USD for two weeks. It took less than 10 minutes to get the insurance and we were confident that we weren’t being ripped off.
Forty-five stress free minutes and we were on our way to Corozal town to stock up on groceries. Hurray for easy border crossings!