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Santa Elena Mexico-Belize Border Crossing

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Given that we really struggled to find information on the border crossing between Mexico and Belize in the post-covid world, I thought I would do a quick post about this check point. Don’t assume that my word here is gospel as these things do change rapidly, but here is a synopsis of how we experienced it in July 2022.

Why Santa Elena Overland?


You CANNOT cross from Mexico to the Belizean islands directly in a one step process at present. It used to be possible to do this via the Chetumal but these oversea routes are still not available since covid locked down the borders. You need to cross into Belize overland through Santa Elena (which is a car bridge over the border river), then catch a ferry as a separate process either from Corozal (the Belizian border town) to San Pedro/Ambergris Caye or get down to Belize City and take a ferry to Caye Caulker (more on these below).


How to Cross the Border at Chetumal


Here are our step by step instructions to the most chilled border crossing of our lives!


1. Get a Taxi to Santa Elena


Our last stop in Mexico was the magical Bacalar. We got a taxi should cost around $400 MEX to Santa Elena, but your taxi driver or hostel/hotel will almost certainly know which border you need for the crossing. The ride was around 40 mins. We kept reading that Santa Elena is the “new border”, not the “old border” and we think the old border is “Chetumal” proper, rather than the bridge. They are very near each other, but some guide books and blog posts will tell you to visit the old one and it's quite confusing. You currently cannot cross the border via water —this is your only border crossing option.

We arrived around 5pm Mexican time on the Thursday in July, and there wasn’t another soul around. We had read this crossing is 24 hours but didn't know if we should believe this. BE AWARE there is a one hour time shift - we gained an hour and reset our clocks to 4pm once we arrived.


2. Have Your Travel Documents Handy for Both Border Checks


The first thing that happened to us upon arrival was us and all our belongings were ejected from the taxi and placed in front of a Belizean taxi driver. I knew in advance that we needed to cross to the Belize border over a long bridge that you cannot walk down and that we would have to get a taxi. He wanted $35 all the way to Corozal, which wasn’t too good or bad – I was too tired and stressed to haggle. I’ve since read $25 is possible but $35 is more common. I’m glad we just accepted it in hindsight as he was so friendly, great with the kids and really helpful at each stop.


You are then directed to a counter to hand over your passport. At this point I think it depends on what you look like and who you deal with as to what happens next! I had previously heard that some people have had to pay $500 pesos departure tax/tourist tax to leave Mexico, some $600, and some aren’t even asked. I’ve also read that this is often included in airfare. We were asked for just over $600 each – everyone in our family of five!! This seemed really quite extreme, and we pushed back but quickly rolled over and paid when they had my passport in hand - I’m really gutted we paid it and should have put up more of a fight. Never really experienced this throughout all the weird Myanmar and Chinese crossings we've done!

Tip: You can ask for an itemized receipt from the airline that shows this fee already paid—then screenshot it and show it to them. Many people have had to pay this “fee” even though they probably already paid it if they flew into Mexico. Be prepared ahead of time and you can avoid being charged twice! This will save you 630 Mexican pesos each.


One thing that did go in our favour was that some how no one checked our bags at all. On the Mexico side I had read that they will thoroughly check your luggage, and then make sure you already have reservations in Belize, which is a requirement (screenshot everything on your phone so this is very quick and easy). We weren’t asked a single thing nor were our bags even looked at. We didn’t have anything dodgy with us at all, it was just a relief that this took no time at all, literally less than 10 mins for someone to look at our passports and charge us the sceptical tourist tax.


Next, your Belize taxi will cross the bridge to the Belize Customs Control area.


3. Prepare for the Belize Border Process


At Belize Customs, first you must fill out the customs form and health declaration. They will confirm you have hotel reservations already booked and that you have transportation waiting (the taxi who collected us at the Mexican side of the bridge waved and it was just fine).

Tip: Book a hotel in Belize — you must have a reservation before arriving at the border! I had read consistently that a taxi to Belize City costs a flat $180 USD to anywhere in the area. I had also read that you could book a hotel in Corozal, stay over and then take a chicken bus to Belize City for around $8 USD. They are strict about making sure you DO NOT take the chicken buses at the border—it must be private shuttle or taxi—which they can arrange for you on the spot if you haven’t pre-booked a taxi (this will cost you more).


Other options for onward travel: To Corozal they charge $35 USD per taxi, from there to San Pedro you can take water taxi at 7 AM for $50 USD or a plane at 9:30 AM or 5 PM for ~$70 USD (flights don’t appear to be running everyday so check in advance).


4. Pass through the mandatory insurance booth


After filling out the forms at the Belize border, you must then deal with the mandatory travel insurance booth. You MUST buy Belize travel insurance – there are no exceptions for tourists staying longer than 24 hours, even if you have your own cover from your home nation, you will not be allowed to enter without this. It is $18 USD for up to 21 days and covers medical treatment. You can buy this in advance, and show them your QR code from the downloadable certificate from here, which speeds up the process and minimising time in the heat (this is what we chose).


It’s worth mentioning here that I made a mistake on my form and put the wrong dates. No one noticed (and I didn’t point it out), they also never scanned my QR code at all, they just wanted me to show I had 5 certificates and that was that!! This might be because it costs the same regardless of how many days you are there. Our taxi driver was always helpful where required and even carried some of our bags.


5. Undergo Covid Testing Protocol at the Belize Border


The current requirements are that fully vaccinated travellers show proof of vaccination and do not have to test. The UK foreign office website says that children without two jabs will need tests at the border. Our 7-year-old could only receive one jab before we left the UK as they didn’t open for children in time for this trip so we expected him to be tested, HOWEVER when they asked for proof of vaccine for him and we said “he’s too young” and they just let him through, no questions, no worries!


As we expected from our research and an antigen test on the spot costs $50 USD, with results in 15 minutes. Do NOT test in advance — this is NOT accepted at Belize land borders (airport is a different process).


We then jumped back in the taxi again and drove 2 mins down the road to the last step in the process.


5. Finish Up the Belize Border Process in the Hottest Building on Earth


The driver again waited outside the customs building. We were the ONLY travellers in the whole area, so it took approximately 60 seconds. We filled out the same forms re addresses and passport numbers AGAIN. Have any reservation information ready on your phone before you head for the border. It will speed everything up and reduce your stress level.


The last booth in the building was security/baggage check. This was unreal – several armed officers casually asked us where we were staying and if we’d been to Belize before, and then let us go without so much as touching our baggage at all!


After that, we continued with our lovely taxi driver to Corozol which took approximately 15 mins. The driver was great, the car was comfortable, and I was in my Belizian hostel at less than 2 hours from leaving our Bacalar hostel!! Faster than flying by a long way! For much cheaper cost and better experience.


In Summary


This crossing didn’t seem to be the most efficient in terms of driving about, stopping and starting and things, and the Mexican departure/tourist tax thing really pissed me off. That being said, it was so fast, no people, very stress free once in Belize, with no one hassling us, no queues and no bother! I would recommend to those about to do this to be 100% sure whether they have already paid the tax in Mexico, or at least cheekily trying it on and telling them you’ve already paid and see what happens, put up a bit of a fight about it. It’s certainly true that this $630 pesos each seems very random indeed so try your luck with refusing to pay. Otherwise, this should be straight forward, quick and easy. I hope this has been helpful, let me know if things have changed in the comments or getting in touch via the contact page.

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