Jamaica is the third largest of the Caribbean islands, and the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean Sea. Situated 90 miles south of Cuba, 600 miles south of Florida, USA, and 100 miles south-west of Haiti, Jamaica is approximately 146 miles long, 51 miles wide, and has an area of 4,411 square miles. The capital, Kingston, is the largest city and is located in the south-eastern part of the island.
The island’s name, Jamaica, is derived from the Arawak word Xaymaca, which probably means “land of wood and water” or “land of springs”.
Although the official language is English, most Jamaicans speak an English-based dialect which is known as patois.
Jamaica’s multi-racial population of approximately 2.5 million, is predominantly of African, European, East Indian and Chinese heritage, and Jamaica’s motto – “Out of Many, One People” is based on these multi-racial roots.
Jamaica has a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model of Government.
The country gained independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain on 1962 August 6. At Independence, Jamaica became a member of the Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. The Queen is represented in Jamaica by the Governor-General, the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, ON, GCMG, CD.
Where do I fly into?
SANGSTER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Address: Montego Bay, St. James
The climate in Montego Bay is hot, oppressive, windy, and partly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 73°F to 89°F and is rarely below 71°F or above 91°F.
Based on the beach/pool score, the best time of year to visit Montego Bay for hot-weather activities is from mid-December to mid-April.
Jamaica Visa and Passport Requirements
Foreigners coming to Jamaica
Jamaicans going overseas
|AUSTRALIA||NO||YES – visitor visa (subclass 600) www.immi.gov.au|
|BRAZIL||NO – 90 days for tourism or business||NO – 90 days for tourism or business|
NO – Dip. & Off. Pp. holders
|CANADA||NO||YES – PTA|
|COSTA RICA||NO – 30 days|
NO – Dip. & Off. Pp. holders
|NO – If in possession of multiple entry US, Canadian, Schengen or Japanese visa that has been used and valid at least 6 months|
|FRANCE||NO – 30 days||YES – Schengen visa (Embassy of Spain)|
|MEXICO||NO – 90 days||NO – stays for up to 6 months|
NO – Dip. & Off. Pp. holders
|PORTUGAL||NO – 30 days||Yes – Schengen Visa (Embassy of Spain)|
|UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||NONE – 6 months||YES – pta|
Health and Safety
Most crimes targeting visitors in tourist areas like Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios are property-oriented — pickpocketing and petty theft, for example. Armed robberies do occasionally involve tourists, and can turn violent if victims resist. Special tourist police have been employed in these areas in an attempt to control crime: you can spot them by their uniform of white hats, white shirts, and black pants.
Tourists in Jamaica have been robbed as they slept in their hotel rooms, so be sure to lock all doors and windows at night and keep valuables in a safe and secure location, such as the in-room safe.
Credit-card skimming is an ongoing problem in Jamaica. Some scammers will make a copy of your credit card information when you give your card to a restaurant server or shopkeeper. ATMs also may be rigged to steal your card information, or individuals may observe you at the ATM and try to steal your password. Avoid using credit cards or ATMs whenever possible; carry just enough cash for what you need that day. If you do need to use a credit card, keep an eye on the person handling your card. If you need to get cash, use the ATM at your hotel.
Sexual assaults by hotel employees in resort areas on Jamaica’s north coast have occurred with some frequency, as well. Male prostitutes offering their services to white women (“rent-a-dreads”) is a problem relatively unique to Jamaica, and the demand by some female tourists for such services can spill over in negative ways on other visiting women, who may be viewed as “easy” by some local men.
For emergency police response, dial 119. Police in Jamaica are generally short on manpower and training. You will see an increased police presence in areas of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios frequented by tourists, but if you are a victim of crime you may find the response of the local police to be lacking — or nonexistent. Locals generally have little trust in the police, and while visitors are unlikely to be mistreated by police, the Jamaican Constabulary Force is widely viewed as corrupt and ineffectual.
Tourists are advised to avoid traveling in notoriously high-threat areas of Kingston including, but not limited to, Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece, and Arnett Gardens. In Montego Bay, avoid the areas of Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street. Several of the latter neighborhoods are adjacent to Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport.
Gay and Lesbian Travelers
Homophobia is unfortunately widespread in Jamaica, and gay and lesbian visitors may be subjected to harassment at a minimum and violence at worst. Gay sex is illegal and can result in prison terms. Until this aspect of Jamaican culture changes, gay and lesbian travelers should seriously consider the risks before planning a trip to Jamaica.
Harassment of Tourists
Harassment of tourists, while not necessarily a crime per se, is a problem acknowledged at even the highest levels of Jamaican government. This can range from harmless pitches on the street, beach, or shopping area to buy souvenirs, marijuana, or services like hair-braiding, to bogus offers of tourist-guide services, to racial slurs aimed at white visitors and sexual harassment of women.
Despite a concerted, decades-long effort to address the problem, one in three visitors to Jamaica still reports being on the receiving end of some time of harassment (that is down from the 60 percent who reported being harassed in the mid-1990s).
Most Jamaicans are friendly and helpful to visitors, however, and guests to the country can improve the atmosphere by not seeking out paid sex or drugs during their visit. To the extent possible, be respectful but firm when confronted by someone offering something you don’t want — it’s a combination that can go a long way toward avoiding further problems.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can hit Jamaica, sometimes causing significant damage. Earthquakes are a rarer hazard, but also occur.
Nightclubs can be overcrowded and often are not in compliance with fire-safety standards.
Jet ski accidents in resort areas are uncomfortably common, so use caution whether operating a personal watercraft or enjoying recreational activities in waters where jet skis are present.
General Emergency: 119
Kingston and Montego Bay have the only comprehensive medical facilities in Jamaica. The recommended hospital for U.S. citizens in Kingston is the University of the West Indies (UWI). In Montego Bay, the Cornwall Regional Hospital or the Montego Bay Hope Medical Center are recommended.
For more details, see the Jamaica Crime and Safety Report published annually by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
There are few public toilets, and those that do exist are mostly best avoided, except in major tourist areas.
Most restaurants have restrooms, but many require you to make a purchase before you can use them.
Jamaica Currency & Exchange
Jamaica Dollar (JMD; symbol J$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of J$1,000, 500, 100, and 50. Coins are in denominations of J#20, 10, 5, and 1, and 25, 10, and 1 cents.
Jamaican law requires that local currency is used when paying for all goods and services, though that law is followed very loosely, and the US Dollar is accepted almost universally. To avoid confusion, determine which dollar unit is being quoted in the price prior to any transaction being made.
Jamaican currency is the Jamaican dollar. Don’t be confused and think it is tied to the current rate of the American dollar; One Canadian dollar equals around 100 Jamaican dollars. Bank ATM’s are found throughout Jamaica, but our recommendation is to take out enough cash to last a few days.
Although both the US and Jamaican currency is accepted in Jamaica, you will find it easier to deal with the local currency, and you won’t have to worry about figuring out correct exchange rates when receiving Jamaican change back from your US funds. Be sure to let your bank and visa company know your travel plans before you leave home to avoid a hold on funds.
Plastic is invaluable when traveling in Jamaica. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa are all widely accepted as are other cards bearing the Cirrus or Plus logo. Most Jamaican ATMs accept international bank cards and many banks give credit card cash advances.
Although the concept of traveler’s cheques has become antiquated in recent years, thanks to Jamaica’s erratic ATMs, traveler’s cheques in US Dollars are widely accepted throughout Jamaica.
Banks and taxes
Mon-Thurs 830-1700, Fri 830-1600, with 24h ATM’s in Major Cities and resort areas.
ATM: Most Jamaican ATMs accept international bank cards and can be found at the airports, in larger towns and in major hotels and resorts. However, the island’s ATMs still have a reputation for unreliability and shouldn’t be relied on exclusively. Bank cards supported by Visa and Mastercard will work in most situations and the island’s Scotia Bank cashpoints are generally considered the most reliable. As a precaution, it’s recommended that you use ATMs during business hours and avoid visiting them after dark. If a bank is open but the ATM isn’t functioning, many banks will give cash advances on a credit card.
Taxes: The rate of tax is 33.3%. SALES TAX/VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) General consumption tax (GCT) is generally imposed at the standard rate of 16.5% on the supply in Jamaica of goods or services by a ‘registered taxpayer’ and on the importation of goods or services by any person for consumption in Jamaica.
Although one of the most culturally independent islands in the region, Jamaica still retains some of the influences from its days as a British colony. The following tips will help you fit in, and avoid accidentally offending more conservative islanders:
- If you are traveling for business, a suit jacket and tie are expected, and the usual formalities and courtesies are observed;
- Shorts and bathing suits are acceptable on beaches, but should be avoided in town without cover-ups such as a long t-shirt of sarong;
- Generally speaking, travelers should consider long shorts or skirts and pants, and men may want to bring button-up shirts;
- Club attire is generally more revealing than clothes worn any other time during the day or night, particularly for women (but it is best to err on the side of caution!).
As always, it’s best to be aware of the attire expected at a specific location. Many all-inclusive resorts have little to no dress code in place, but some resorts and hotels require women to wear dresses or slacks and men to wear suits and ties at their restaurants. Kingston is known for being a bit more upscale, and women particularly may want to avoid wearing jeans in this city, meanwhile, Negril has a more laid-back side. To be safe, stick to packing clothing that is considered to be resort casual — that is, collared shirts, sundresses, a linen or khaki bottoms that are clean and pressed. Bright prints and bold colors are welcome.
In Jamaica, the standard voltage is 110 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. You can use your electric appliances in Jamaica if the standard voltage in your country is in between 110 – 127 V (as is in the US, Canada, and most South American countries).
Locals don’t tip in Jamaica, but it is common in touristy areas. If you do decide to tip in Jamaica, tip bellhops $1-2 per bag. If you require the concierge’s services, tip him according to the value of your request.
Cabs/Taxis:10-15% of set price
Airport Help: 1-2$USD per bag
Transfers: 1-5$ USD per person, based on length of trip
Hotels: N/A, Service charge included
Bellman:1-2$ USD per bag
Chambermaid:.1-2$ USD per day *directly to the maid
Room Service:10-15% of the final bill
Parking Valet: N/A
Concierge: Tip according to the value of your request
Water is generally safe to drink from faucets throughout the island except in the most far-flung rural regions. It is safest, however, to stick with bottled water, which is widely available. It’s a good idea to avoid ice, particularly that sold at street stands as ‘bellywash,’ ‘snocones’ or ‘skyjuice’ – shaved-ice cones sweetened with fruit juice. Unless you’re certain that the local water is not contaminated, you shouldn’t drink it. In Jamaica’s backwaters, clean your teeth with purified water rather than tap water.
Eastern Standard Time – EST (GMT-5)
Transport & Transit System
Licensed taxis – called ‘contract carriages’ – have red PPV license plates (those without such plates are unlicensed). They’re expensive, but affordable if you share the cost with other passengers.
Jamaica Union of Travelers Association operates island-wide and is geared almost exclusively to the tourist business. Kingston has a number of private radio taxi firms. The Transport Authority has established fixed rates according to distance (different rates apply for locals than for tourists, who pay more). Licensed cabs should have these posted inside. Taxis are also supposed to have meters, but many don’t use them.
The following are typical fares, based on up to four people per taxi:
|Montego Bay–Ocho Rios or Negril||US$100|
|Norman Manley International Airport–Kingston (Uptown)||US$35|
|Donald Sangster International Airport–Montego Bay||US$20|
The north coastal road linking popular tourist destinations such as Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril is much improved in recent years. However, most roads are poorly maintained and have poor signage. Smaller roads may not be paved, and often are narrow, winding, and crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, and livestock.
Driving is on the left, and Jamaica’s roundabouts (traffic circles) can be confusing for drivers used to driving on the right. Seat-belt use is required and recommended especially for taxi passengers, given the hazardous driving conditions.
If you rent a car, avoid parking on the street if possible: look for a spot inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or within your view. When shopping, park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Lock all doors, close the windows, and hide valuables in the trunk.
Use of public transportation is not recommended since public buses are often overcrowded and can become venues for the crime. Take a cab from your hotel or use transportation from vendors that are part of JUTA — the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association.
What to pack for a trip to Jamaica
- 2-3 Bottoms: capris / loose island wear / or shorts.
- 3 Tops: Print Tank / Print Top / Print Tank.
- 3 Blouses: Coral Peasant Top / Crinkle Beach Shirt / Navy Tee.
- 2-3 Vacation Dresses: Sleeveless Romper / Floral Print Maxi Dress.
- 2 Bathing Suits: swimsuits/bikini.
- 1-2 covers-ups or sarong
- Nylon bra & panty, summery pajamas
- Sandals, flip-flops, walking shoes, wedges
- Sun protection
- Some medicines are delivered only with a medical prescription. Bring your own medicine.
- Bring electrical outlet adapter and Voltage Converters
Things to carry on with you
- A copy of your passport and driver’s license.
- Money If you are going to make a purchase or go out to dinner, take more and take a credit card as well. Use the card only if you don’t have enough cash.
- Your emergency telephone list of phone numbers from back home.
- A business card showing the phone and address of your hotel.
- Credit cards only if you plan to go to the bank.