Belize is a small Caribbean country on the eastern coast of Central America. It formerly went by the name British Honduras. Belize shares its borders with Mexico to its northwest and Guatemala to its south and west. To its east is the Caribbean Sea. Located between North and South America, Belize enjoys both Caribbean and Central American culture. It is a country blessed with biological diversity and a rich wildlife. Belize is an independent Commonwealth nation, Queen Elizabeth II being its monarch and head of the state. The country got its independence as late as in September 1981. The country has its capital at Belmopan, even though the largest city is Belize City.Early history
The Maya civilization in Belize dates back from 1500 BC to 900 AD. The civilization was at its peak from 600-1000 AD and an estimated one million people lived in the region that is now Belize. Spanish explorers started taking control of the region from 16th century onwards. From the 18th century onwards, British influence started increasing in the area and by early 19th century the British started claiming the rights to rule the region. It was also the time when Spanish rule was on the wane in Latin America due to the numerous wars of independence in Spanish America. It was in 1862 that the region formally became a part of the British Empire. Under the British, the region that is Belize now formally got named as British Honduras. In 1964, the British granted the colony self-rule and in 1973, British Honduras was officially renamed as Belize. However, complete independence was delayed because of neighbouring Guatemala laying claim to Belize in whole or in part. Independence was finally achieved on 21 September 1981.Politics and government
Belize is a constitutional monarchy and the system of government is quite similar to the British parliamentary system. Just like in Britain, the head of the government is the Prime Minister who is elected through popular vote. The parliament goes by the name National Assembly. It has two houses. The Senate or the upper house and the House of Representatives as the lower house. The role of the monarch is symbolic in nature and Queen Elizabeth II goes by the title Queen of Belize. Since the Queen resides in England, in Belize she is represented by the Governor General. The executive power is with the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues who are all elected through popular vote.Economy
The economy of Belize is primarily based on agriculture and its agro based industries. In recent times, tourism is picking up in the country and with economic progress construction activities too are gaining in strength. Merchandising, production of crude oil, petroleum and minerals is also part of the economic activities in Belize. Export of sugar and banana is a big foreign exchange earner for the country. Sugar comprises as much as 50% of the total exports of goods from the country. The United States, Mexico, the European Union and the Central American nations are the major trading partners of Belize. The strategic location of Belize is not only a boon for the country, it is also a bane. Drug traffickers and money launderers benefitting from its lax policies has set up bases in Belize. Drug traffickers are attracted to the rugged topography of the coastlines and its extensive jungles. Foreign relations
Belize has a long standing territorial dispute with its neighbour Guatemala, which lays claim to Belizean territory. The dispute is still unresolved and has been there ever since 1821. On numerous occasions the international community had to mediate between the two nations to prevent any kind of escalation or war. Except for its somewhat bitter relations with Guatemala, the country has a good standing in the international front. It is member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, Organization of American States, Caribbean Community and the Central American Integration System. Geography and climate
Located on the Caribbean coast, most of its coastline is predominantly marshy. Along the coast and in the northern interior there are many lagoons. Totaling around 22,960 square kilometers, the county is a little bigger than Israel or Wales. There are two rivers that define the country’s northern and southern border respectively. At places the coastal plains are heavily forested and a wide variety of flora and fauna can be found in this region. With 60% of its land area covered with forests, Belize is a leading player in protecting its biodiversity and natural resources. Almost 37% of its territory has some kind of protection. The territorial waters surrounding Belize Barrier Reef too is protected. Its is also a UNESCO recognized world heritage site.
The climate of Belize is primarily tropical. There are wet as well as dry seasons. The weather pattern varies with region. Coastal regions have a mild temperature with average temperature ranging from 24 degree centigrade in January to 27 in July. Inner regions are a bit more warmer and the plateaus and the hill region are cooler the whole year around. More than the temperature it is the humidity and the amount of rainfall that varies in Belize. Places to visit in Belize
Belize is an excellent country for tourists. It is a place frequented by many tourists from around the world because of its beautiful white sandy beaches, hundreds of low lying islands called cayes, barrier reefs, coral islands and the lush green jungles. There are a good many outdoor activities that one can indulge in Belize. You can go snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing, drive around on golf carts or simply lazy around its numerous beaches.
The best place to visit in Belize is the very popular Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. It is here that one also comes across The Great Blue Hole, a top tourist attraction in Belize. The numerous low lying islands called cayes are also popular with the tourists. Cockscomb basin Wildlife Sanctuary is another great spot. Then there are places like Placencia, San Ignacio and Belize City itself that are good enough to travel around. San Ignacio provides the ideal base to explore the historic Mayan ruins.Traveling around in Belize
It is quite easy to travel around Belize as it has an excellent public transport system. The country has transport mechanisms like public buses, cars, cabs, etc. Buses are very popular mode of transportation in Belize, with most residents preferring the same. Buses very well connect the various towns and cities in the country with their cheap fare. Buses come in two categories: the regular runs and the express runs. The express services are quite fast and a bit costlier compared to the regular ones. One may also travel in cars and two-wheelers by taking them on rent. Many even travel on cycles to reach their destination.
- Belize has its capital in Belmopan. Earlier, Belize City used to be the capital, but ever since Hurricane Hattie struck Belize City and destroyed much of it in 1961, the capital was shifted to Belmopan, near to the geographical centre of the country.
- Belize City is the largest city in Belize. It was the capital of erstwhile British Honduras, a name Belize was known by during its rule by the British.
- Belize won its independence from the British as late as 21 September 1981. It was thus one of the last countries to win its freedom from the British Empire.
- Belize is the only country in the Central American region, which has English as its official language. Languages like Creole, Spanish, Garifuna and Mayan are also widely spoken here.
- St. George’s Day or Annual Day of Belize is celebrated on 10 September. It was in 1798, on this day that Spanish forces were successfully repelled by the British settlers and the locals. There was no reported casualty on either side.
- As per the estimates of 2017, Belize has a population of around 388,000 people.
- The ethnicity of the Belizian people is quite diverse. The large majority is Mestizo, but there are significant percentage of Creoles, Mayans, Garifunas, Whites, Asian Indians and East Asians.
- Christianity is the dominant religion in Belize. A significant majority of the Christian population is either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Among other religious faiths are Baha’is, Hinduism and Judaism.
- Almost 4% of Belize’s population are Indians who descended from the Indian community that migrated from the Indian subcontinent during the late 19th century to work as indentured labor in sugarcane plantations.
- The Belize dollar (BZD) is the official currency in Belize. One US dollar equals 2 Belize dollar.
- Simone Biles is a popular Belizean gymnast, who representing the United States, has won four gold medals and a bronze in the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016.
Admission Process in Belize
Before applying for a study abroad program in Belize, one first needs to find out the necessary details about the higher education system in Belize, the universities where one may enrol and the requirements for obtaining a student visa for the Central American country. One needs to find out the cost of living and the tuition fees in Belize. Do a bit of research on all these aspects and then decide upon the university and the course you will like to take up. For applying for the student visa, you will have to first apply to the institution where you will like to study in Belize. While applying for enrolment you will need to send copies of your educational documents and certificates. Once your candidature is accepted, the concerned institution or university will send you its acceptance letter. While you wait for the arrival of the acceptance letter, gather all other necessary documents as enumerated above.
Armed with the visa application form, acceptance letter and all supporting documents visit the nearest Belize embassy. On approval, the embassy will issue you with the student visa in a few weeks to a month’s time. Depending upon the need and merit of the case, the embassy may or may not interview the candidate for granting the visa.
Student Visa Application Process
Students from most countries require a study visa to stay and study in Belize. In order to apply for a student visa for Belize, one first needs to obtain an acceptance letter from the institution in Belize, where the candidate is likely to study. The study visa will be specific to the institution that the candidate applies. To obtain admission to a different institution one will have to apply afresh for the study permit. Along with the acceptance letter, a host of other documents, primarily among them being a valid passport, will be required. One should also have the required qualification from a recognized educational institution. The applicant will have to fill the visa application form and submit it along with necessary fees and supporting documents to the nearest Belize embassy.
The visa application form and other details about the student visa can be obtained from the website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belize
. To work in Belize, after your courses are all over, you will need a work permit that is to be applied for by your prospective employer.
While in Belize you get to live a Caribbean lifestyle. Everyone here has a very laidback kind of attitude, common almost to every Caribbean. Compared to its neighbouring North American countries, Belize offers you a very low cost of living. Being surrounded by the sea, one can experience the sea and its shores as and when one wishes. Attracted by its rich and diverse lifestyle many expatriates from the US, Canada and other places relocate to Belize to experience its charm, culture and easy lifestyle. Instead of cars or SUVs, at some places, people here prefer to travel by golf carts.
Like every Caribbean country, restaurants and bars are at plenty in Belize and quite popular with the crowd. There are beach barbeques where plenty of tasty food is made available and Belizeans get to assemble there to socialize and have fun while live music is being played.
Just like other Caribbean communities, music is quite popular with the Belizeans. Punta and Brukdown are popular music styles in Belize and quite similar to reggae and calypso. Others like rap, hip-hop, rock music and heavy metal are also quite popular with the youth. Similar to other Latin and Caribbean countries the carnival is quite popular with the Belizeans and draws thousands of them into the streets as performers or spectators.
Belizean cuisine is very much similar to that of Mexico and other Central American or Caribbean cuisine. For foodies a whole range of exotic foods are there in Belize to savour. There are the tortillas, fry jacks, panades, meat pies, tamales and stewed chicken to dig your teeth in.
Belizeans love to play football along with other games like basketball, volleyball, cycling and athletics. A few other sports are also popular. One of the most important sporting events in Belize is the Cross Country Cycling Classic that is a one day event with worldwide following. Canoe racing is also quite popular in Belize.
Cost of Living for Students
The cost of education and living in Belize is relatively cheaper than most other countries in its neighborhood in Central and North America. The country has different rate of tuition fees for students depending upon where they come from, whether local, from the developed world or from developing countries. The least fees are for those from Belize itself. For those from the developing countries like the Indian subcontinent, the semester tuition fees come to around 1300 US dollars. For those from the developed countries the fees is around 2000 US dollars per semester. The tuition fees however, also depend upon the type of course and duration.
Depending upon budget there are various kinds of accommodation available for students in Belize. There is the dormitory type of education, staying with host families in Belize or simply renting an apartment or room of your own. Staying with local families in Belize is a great learning experience for students coming from other countries. It helps you to pick up the country’s culture and languages very fast. The dormitories will cost you around 175 dollars and shared rooms around 60 to 130 US dollars. Staying with a host family in Belize is a somewhat expensive as you need to spend around 225 to 300 US dollars. The apartments have similar rent, something around 225 to 550 US dollars.
Among the utilities, you will have to pay for electricity, water, cooking gas, mobile recharges, internet rentals as well as for food. You will have to spare a few dollars for entertainment as well as travel too. Public transport is easily available and quite cheap and comfortable. The electricity charges come to around 80 dollars, water and cooking gas 25 dollars each, internet usage around 80 dollars, food 250 dollars and entertainment cum traveling some 300 dollars a month.
Documents for University Admissions in Belize
While applying for a student visa for Belize, the applicant has to submit the following documents to the nearest Belize embassy.
- Filled and signed visa application form.
- Applicant’s passport with a validity of at least six months beyond the scheduled duration of the program.
- Letter of acceptance from the concerned institution that the candidate has enrolled for undertaking higher studies in Belize.
- Two recent passport size photograph of the applicant.
- Academic certificates, mark sheets and other achievements if any.
- Travel arrangements in the form of return air tickets and proof of having arranged accommodation in Belize.
- Proofs regarding your ability to finance your stay in Belize. Provide bank or other income statements of parents or sponsors to substantiate the claim.
- Latest vaccination record. One should have taken all the mandatory vaccines as required by the immigration department of Belize for foreigners travelling to the country.
- Applicant’s birth certificate.
- Receipts of fees paid, including visa processing fees.
- A covering letter detailing why you want to study in Belize and stating your intention to return, once your education is over.