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Jamaica - Banking

Many of the hotels, restaurants and shops serving the tourist trade in Jamaica will accept US dollar bills. If you are living and working in Jamaica, this is a useful way to use up your spare cash. However, the reality is that you’ll need to get to grips with the local currency sooner or later.

The Jamaican dollar has the currency symbol J$. It can be divided into a hundred cents, although cents as legal tender coins have been withdrawn as they are worth so little. One Jamaican dollar is worth less than a hundredth of a US dollar or British pound, so you will need time to acclimatise to the prices.

Many items are imported into Jamaica and therefore cost more to buy, so it’s important to understand the purchasing power of the Jamaican dollar. Currency fluctuations and an inflation rate which is typically higher than that in the US and UK also impacts the relative amounts you will pay if your income arrives from abroad.

You don’t want to be walking away from a bargain thinking it is too expensive, but at the same time, you need to quickly identify when you are buying something with a premium price tag. Wages are low in Jamaica and large retirement incomes cannot be replenished. Translating the cost of a meal into your home currency will distract you from understanding the true impact on your new financial situation. This means that whatever your circumstances, learning to think in Jamaican currency terms and work out what your budget does and does not stretch to will be beneficial.

Notes And Coins Used In Jamaica

Jamaican legal tender is supervised by the country’s central bank, which is the Bank of Jamaica.

In 2018, the Bank of Jamaica withdrew the remaining cent coins. There had been a steep reduction in demand for these coins because of their insignificant value, which meant the manufacturing and monitoring costs were not worthwhile.

As a result, the smallest denomination of coin that is now accepted as legal tender is the $1 coin. Interestingly, the cost of manufacturing a $1 coin is more than double its face value. The only reason it remains in circulation is to meet consumer demand for it.

Businesses have been asked to round their prices up or down so all goods and services would only cost a round number of Jamaican dollars, with no cents.

This means that today only the J$1, J$5, J$10, and J$20 coins are legal tender in Jamaica. The Jamaican banknotes in circulation are J$50, J$100, J$500, J$1000 and J$5000.

Using Debit And Credit Cards In Jamaica

Large companies and retailers will accept payment by debit and credit cards, including American Express. However, if you are making small purchases from a roadside seller or marketplace, expect to pay cash.

Expats living in a foreign country for any length of time should investigate the credit cards that are available in their new home. If you continue to use the card issued in your home country, you will be charged a foreign transaction fee and currency conversion rate for every transaction. The higher your monthly spend, the more these charges build up.

Debit cards are normally issued when you open a bank account. Again, currency conversion and foreign currency fees can chip away at your monthly budget.

Credit cards can often be a better financial product for making purchases because of the insurance offered over specified transaction values. That said, be careful to keep your credit card spend within a set budget and pay the balance off in full each month. Interest rates charged on outstanding credit card balances are significantly higher than you would obtain from taking out a bank loan.

Customer Services

As explained in the ExpatFocus Article ‘Here Are Five Things Expats Love About Living In Jamaica, And Five Things They Hate’, customer services across the island often fail to live up to the standards expected in the UK and particularly the US. Poor pay and an easy-going attitude to life as well as inefficient bureaucracy and systems can make the process of getting things done slow and painful. So don’t be surprised if you find teething problems when you are opening an account or trying to get something sorted quickly.

Opening A Bank Account In Jamaica

When choosing a bank account, some of the factors you can consider are:

● The charges for different bank account transactions

● Any monthly fees that may be levied

● The level of initial deposit required

● The rate of interest offered for credit balances

● Online services

● The proximity of the bank’s branches to your home or work

● The opening hours of the bank branch

● The proximity of the bank’s ATMs to your home and work

● The local reputation of the bank

The Bank of Jamaica publishes a list of the commercial banks which are licensed to operate in Jamaica. This includes the contact details and the website links for each bank.

Documents Required To Open A Bank Account In Jamaica

Each bank is required to confirm the identity of every bank account applicant, as well as to check their source of income.

Cybercrime is a significant global issue. According to the Insurance Information Institute, based in New York, the scale of the problem is breath-taking. They tell us that: “McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimated the likely annual cost to the global economy from cybercrime is $445 billion a year, with a range of between $375 billion and $575 billion”.

For cybercrime to happen, bank accounts in false names are required somewhere in the money transfer chain.

Even on a smaller scale, bank accounts can facilitate crime. Drug dealers and other criminals accumulating large cash stocks need somewhere safe to keep them, while officials accepting bribes rarely want piles of cash sitting in their homes. Bank staff are supposed to check the level of income an individual has and what their source of money is. If suspicious cash deposits or higher than expected transactions take place, these workers are supposed to investigate and, if appropriate, report the situation.

In 2015, Barclays PLC withdrew its operations in a number of countries including Jamaica. Reasons cited for this decision included the risk of money laundering through local accounts.

All of this means that when you are asked for your birth certificate, documents confirming where you live and your right to stay in Jamaica, along with copies of your payslips and other income documentation, you will know why these checks are necessary. You’ll also be asked to supply your most recent bank statements from your current bank account.

It’s likely that you will be asked for references. One will be your employer, if you have one.

Paying Taxes In Jamaica

Your bank will ask for your tax reference number. You can find out more about the range of taxes levied in Jamaica in the Taxes section of this country guide.

Read more about this country

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