Border Control Freaks

Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Belize  , Belize Cayes,
Saturday, February 18, 2012

A necessary evil of long-term travel is the overland border crossing. They are a law unto themselves, conjuring up rules and charging mystery fees at a whim. Scams abound. That's why you need to be on high alert. Observant, assertive yet polite. After all they have the power to detain you.

Success is getting through this painstaking process without feeling hard done by. The day before our departure we diligently paid the official Mexican exit/tourist card fee of 262 pesos in advance at a bank so we hoped for no issues.

But this time our beef was with the Water Taxi sharks! We were already not in the mood, already annoyed that we'd been overcharged for the ferry ticket by a tout at Chetumal bus station who swore that "it's cheaper here cos here we don't pay terminal fees". Apparently that's why he could sell them for 400 instead of 450 pesos. Terminal fees? A charge for selling tickets at the port terminal? Sounds feasible.

How do you know what the hell to believe?

We bought the ticket, hopped in a taxi and drove to the Chetumal port terminal. Here more touts attacked us, racing to get to us first only to be visibly disappointed that we already had our tickets. One cheeky bugger asked where we bought our tickets and how much we paid. He kissed his teeth at our response and spewed forth his venom: "You paid too much!" Apparently here they charge 350 pesos. (The next day we'd learn that our Norwegian buddies had paid only 150 pesos after a tug-of-war between the two companies). The price is rather fluid then!

Shrugging off this annoyance and putting it down to experience, we stepped inside the water taxi office to be signed in and briefed. Amidst carnival-related small talk and a little jig by one of the ladies, they casually dropped another bombshell. 15 US dollars for the port fee! Port fee? No one has mentioned that before!

In response to our protests they explained that apparently it's a new fee that everyone must pay. However what they couldn't explain is exactly what it was for. It's not an exit fee from Mexico. Not an entrance fee to Belize. Not a visa. Just a mystery "port fee"! Confused? Well, imagine how we felt in the heat of the moment!

Thanks to Mario's quick-thinking we were able to stall. He asked if we could pay on arrival in San Pedro, Belize, instead. They said "fine", made a note on the control sheet but insisted that it will have to be paid. Little did we know that the same woman would board the water taxi with us and watch us in line for customs with her beady little eyes! We were the last ones to get our passports stamped. Immediately she pounced on us with a stern reminder to pay.

Well, if we HAD to pay it, we'll make it as inconvenient as possible! "Where's the nearest cash machine, please? 4 blocks away? Ok, then." We could have paid in US dollars or a credit card. Meanwhile everyone else was waiting impatiently on the boat to continue our journey to Caye Caulker. It was nearly sunset. The lady moaned while scribbling the requested receipt, something about holding up the works and already being late. At that painful moment of handing over the cash we noticed an A4 printed sign stuck to the wall. It explained that on 1st February 2012 a new port fee of 15 US dollars was introduced for travel on weekends and holidays.

Why didn't you just say so in the first bloody place???!!

Footnote for fellow travellers - their website confirms the premium weekend and holiday rate consolidated into one price.
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