Ok it isn't as bad as the picture portrays but it is pretty different from renting with Avis in the States. This past weekend we rented a mini-van in Belize City and drove down to Punta Gorda to enjoy the Mayan Day Festival. It was a real treat and I will write about it on another day but I thought today I would focus on the vehicle rental process.
I want to preface this conversation by explaining that we have rented vehicles (both of them vans) from the two local Belizean companies in Belize City. We have seen that companies like Budget and Avis are starting to do some business in Belize City but their inventory is very small and appears (at least at this point) to be limited to only cars. So, all of the following suggestions are based on renting from either Crystal Auto Rental and AQ Belize Car Rental.
Start by comparing costs online. Both of these companies have decent websites(by Belize standards). You can shop what is currently in stock, get an idea of pricing and even reserve a vehicle.
Even if you plan to reserve one of their vehicles online, or find the site says they are out of stock, I would suggest you call the company. Remember this is Belize and not everything runs like first world. A call seems to get many things done that online can't quite make out.
Let Them Know Your Shopping
When you call let them know your shopping. If you prefer one of the companies to the other let them know you found a better price on the other and often they will match the lower price. You may find the first person you talk with (a customer rep) can't approve a lower price but if you ask for a manager things change.
Follow Up Via Phone After You Reserve
After you reserve a vehicle online there will be a confirmation email sent to you. At this time you may think you are done, but if you read it carefully there is a link to a PDF form you must download, fill out and email back. I know it is insane but welcome to Belize where no job is complete without enough paperwork to require three workers. You can avoid this form, and verify your vehicle is being reserved, by calling the company at this point.
Don't Take A Taxi
If you're arriving via plane then you have little problem getting to the rental cars. They both have an office just across the parking lot of the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport. Here is a little secret if you're coming in via water taxi. Both of these companies will pick you up at the water taxi for free and bring you to their office to rent your vehicle.
Ok, lots of points here about insurance. The odds are very good that your auto insurance from the states will not cover you here in Belize. I have a rider on my policy, and usually I do not buy the insurance from a car rental place, but luckily for me I reached out to my agent before I drove off. Turns out (according to State Farm) very few companies will cover a person in Belize so they HIGHLY suggested I take the insurance from the rental firm.
If you plan on using your credit cards insurance benefit you might want to read the fine print. In my case I used my American Express Card (which offers liability insurance) but found out if I did not decline the rental company's insurance then I would not be covered by American Express. Also I learned that if I did not use my Amex to reserve and pay for the car the American Express insurance would not cover me.
There is a $1000 deductible on the insurance offered by the rental companies. Yep that means you're on the hook for that first grand if something happens.
Sorry You Are Over Your Limit
Be warned, when you rent a vehicle in Belize they charge you for the full amount and then put a hold on your credit card for up to $5,000. Yep you read that right (it is why I put the comma in there so you would really pay attention. When you call them to confirm your reservation (remember earlier when I suggested doing this) and you're talking to the manager to get your discount (by this point you should catch on) make sure you ask about this amount and request it be lower.
Walk The Car
After you do all the paperwork in the rental office they will give you a chance to walk the car with them and mark down all defects. Take your time with this. Especially brush off dirt and look for dents (yes the vehicle will have dirt on it, again welcome to Belize). If you see ANY marks on the windshield mention this and get it on the report. We have heard stories of people being charged for new windshields if there is a chip.
Take The Phone
Both of the rental companies offer a cheap flip phone as part of their service. If you do not have a local phone then take it. The phone comes in handy for scheduling excursions, ordering pizza and (probably best of all) calling for roadside assistance if the vehicle breaks down.
This Is A Rental?
The vehicle you rent in Belize will not be anything like one you would rent in the states. We have never seen one that didn't have close or over 100,000 miles. (see why I said take the phone?) Don't be too worried, the mechanics have taken pretty good care of these but don't be surprised when you get in and there is a rip on the driver's seat.
Fill It Up
Before you return the vehicle make sure you fill it up with gas. The penalty they can charge is pretty steep and you don't want to find that charge latter on your card.
Don't Be Late
Unlike the States weird things happen if you return the vehicle late. Most important is your insurance lapses on the day you are suppose to return the vehicle, so from that day forward you are financially responsible for this bad boy!
Get Your Waiver
When you return the vehicle request a written waiver for that huge hold they put on your card. With it the hold may take three or five days to come off, without it....
One last item (but I think the most important). There are not police monitoring the speed on Belizean roads. Instead there are HUGE speed bumps (called Sleeping Police down here) randomly located along each road. These puppies will destroy your vehicle and bounce everyone in the car to the roof. Keep your eye's open because it is easy to miss them and many (most) are unmarked.
I hope these tips will help you on your next trip when you rent a vehicle. Please don't feel intimidated, it really isn't too bad and Belize is a great country to enjoy from a car.