How To Move To Jamaica - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
Do You Need A Visa To Travel To Jamaica?
The citizens of some countries are allowed to stay in Jamaica for as long as either 30 or 90 days without obtaining a visa. All other nationalities must apply for a tourist visa.
If you want to know which nationalities must obtain a visa for travel to Jamaica, you can check the national requirements on the official website for the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency, commonly referred to as PICA.
Regardless of your nationality and visa requirement or waiver, you will have to be in possession of a valid passport throughout the entirety of your stay. This must include a clear photograph of you and must not be due to expire for at least three months after your visit is expected to end. When you arrive, immigration officials will stamp your passport, showing the final date you are permitted to remain in the country.
Officials may also ask to see your return ticket to confirm that your stay is short term.
You may not work in Jamaica at any point during your 90 day stay.
How Do I Get A Jamaican Visa?
The official PICA website sets out information on the various types of immigration and citizenship for which you can apply. Office opening hours are also displayed, along with examples of some of the forms.
Unfortunately at the time of writing, the site contains several links which don’t work as well as insufficient information about some routes for visa application.
Travel visas for nationalities who may not enter Jamaica visa-free can be obtained on arrival at the airport. You must bring the following evidence with you for your visa application:
● A photo which meets standard passport photograph requirements
● A passport with at least six months’ validity from the date of entering the country
● A completed application form
● The visa processing fee
● A return ticket
● Evidence of adequate financial means to support your stay.
How Much Is A Jamaican Visa?
You can find the official processing fee for every type of visa issued by the Jamaican government on the PICA website.
Bribery is a common feature of Jamaican life, but this should be one area where the stated price is exactly what you are asked to pay.
Can You Extend Your Stay In Jamaica?
If you want to have a longer tourist trip in Jamaica, you can apply to PICA for an extension of stay. This will only take three days to process. The maximum amount of time you can be in the country between your visa (or visa-free period) and the extension of stay is six months. After that, you must leave.
All International Workers Must Obtain A Work Visa
The website for the government’s Jamaica Information Service (JIS) sets out the process for work permits better than the PICA site.
Whether you intend to work for an employer or for yourself, you must obtain a work permit before you can legally work in Jamaica.
Jobs are scarce in Jamaica and wages are low, as we discuss in the ‘Employment’ section of this country guide. The government is therefore keen to see posts filled by local workers rather than migrants.
Employers must explain clearly why the expat is being offered a job, how long it will last, and why local candidates were not offered the work. Self-employed individuals will be required to submit a resume of their skills, qualifications and experience, along with the nature and duration of the work to be done. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security will consider each application for four to six weeks before officially reporting their decision.
If you successfully obtain a work visa, don’t forget to pay your taxes correctly. You can find out more about this in the ‘Taxes’ section of this country guide. Once you have a Tax Reference Number, you can apply to join the National Health Fund, although for a number of reasons, as outlined in the ‘Health’ section of this country guide, most expats choose to take out private health insurance too.
If you are accompanying your husband or wife to Jamaica, and they are an expat who will be working in the country, you must obtain a dependency visa. You cannot just arrive to join them. Your children will also be processed so that they can obtain the legal right to stay.
Please be aware that attitudes to same sex relationships are conservative in Jamaica. Same sex marriages are not legal, the police can prosecute men for sexual activity together, and homophobic physical and verbal attacks are sadly commonplace. Local activists are working to change social attitudes, but this is a slow process.
Marriage Exemption Visa
If you are married to a Jamaican person and wish to join them in the country, you cannot just arrive and stay. Instead, you will need to apply for a marriage exemption visa from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
If you intend to study in Jamaica, you must obtain a student visa. Firstly, you will need to enrol with the educational institution, which must be registered with the Department of Education.
Within two weeks of your arrival, you will then need to apply for a student visa. You will have to attend a PICA office and pay the appropriate fee. In addition to the usual identification documents, you will need a letter confirming your enrolment at the educational institution.
Jamaica recognises dual citizenship and for some people, obtaining Jamaican citizenship is the right decision.
The PICA website sets out the various ways you can be granted citizenship, including by descent. If you are a migrant with no family ties to the country, you can apply for naturalisation as long as you are over 18 years old and have lived in the country for more than five years including the past 12 months.
If you hold a full and valid driving license in your home country, you are usually permitted to use it to drive legally in Jamaica for up to six months. After that time, do not drive without obtaining a Jamaican driving license.
Cars in Jamaica are driven on the left-hand side, the same as in the UK. However, the driving experience is completely different. Vehicle safety standards are below what you will be used to in the Western world, while road layouts and signage are poorly designed and maintained, if they are present at all. Driving styles can be chaotic, while speeding and drink-driving are common. You will hear a lot of car beeping.
You also risk getting lost or diverted into an area known for high levels of crime and gang violence. Sometimes criminals target certain junctions which allow them to steal from waiting cars.
Find out more about this topic in the ExpatFocus articles ‘Top Ten Insider Tips About Jamaica’ and ‘Staying Safe In Jamaica As An Expat’.
Find A Job[back to top]
Anyone who is not a Jamaican citizen must obtain a work permit before starting employment or self-employment on the island.
This process requires the submission of a number of original documents, each of which must meet official specifications. A non-refundable fee is paid to open an application, so you will not receive the money back if your application fails for whatever reason.
You will be asked to attend an interview with an official from Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA). They will start by checking that your stated identity and criminal record are genuine, as well as ensuring you have enough means to support yourself without asking the Jamaican state for financial help.
The key aspect of the process is to ensure your employment is not being offered to the detriment of the local Jamaican population. Therefore, the employer must provide convincing evidence that they have tried to recruit locally and explain why this was not successful. Furthermore, your own qualifications, skills and experience will be examined to ensure you are genuinely better suited to the role offered than a local worker would be.
Self-Employment In Jamaica
If you are intending to earn money in Jamaica working on a self-employed basis, you must receive a work permit before doing so.
The process is the same as for employment, except that the evidence from employers is replaced with your own submission to explain your work and suitability for that work. The PICA officials will again be assessing your plans against the impact on the local population.
So, for example, if you are hoping to set up a cleaning company or a market stall selling local goods, your application is unlikely to succeed. The skills provided are readily matched by the local population and your presence would reduce the income of existing local businesses.
However, if you are an experienced factory manager looking to set up a consultancy business, or a digital nomad running an established online business, then you are bringing new skills and experience into the country. Do remember, though, that your finances must be stable enough to support yourself throughout your stay. PICA officials will not approve your work permit if it looks like your money could run out in three months.
Remember to run your business properly throughout your stay in Jamaica. That includes paying the correct taxes – see the Taxes section of this country guide for more information. If you employ someone, follow all the employment laws properly – there are a lot – and treat the required employee taxes correctly.
Insurance For Working Life In Jamaica
Consider your insurance position carefully. Think about the impact that loss of possessions or good health would have on your ability to earn your living in Jamaica.
The country’s crime rates are high, and there are some areas you should avoid altogether. This means you will need to insure your digital equipment and premises in case of burglary, and make sure all vital information is consistently and efficiently backed up. You don’t want to lose a month’s income if the one digital version of a client’s report disappeared along with your laptop in the middle of the night.
If you have a car, you have to insure it by law. If you are a self-employed person, remember to include ‘business use’ when buying the policy. However, before you decide to buy a car in your new home, read the ExpatFocus article Staying Safe In Jamaica As An Expat to think about whether driving in Jamaica is for you.
A health insurance policy is a must. In the Health section of this country guide, we discuss the difficulties facing the public healthcare system. As a self-employed person, or an employee without adequate sick pay, you cannot wait months for treatment if this stops you working. Private medical treatment is expensive at a time when you can least afford it. This is a risk that is often overlooked before an accident or illness strikes. Taking out the right level of health insurance means you can get the treatment you need when you need it.
Major Industries In Jamaica
Agriculture has formed a major part of Jamaica’s commercial history. Labour for the plantations, especially sugar plantations, fuelled much of the British demand for West African slaves. Many people were enslaved and transported to work in Jamaica. The British slave trade was abolished by an act of parliament, and many years later all British slaves were freed. However, agriculture continued to be the main business on the island until the 2000s. With money to be made from the export of sugar, bananas, rum and coffee, one in five jobs remains in agriculture today.
Bauxite and aluminium production are also important sources of employment thanks to the composition of local sedimentary rock. Health tourism has been a small but growing industry. That may seem strange given the pressures on the public health system, but Jamaica allows private patients to combine treatment with a restful and enjoyable holiday.
The creative sector is thriving in Jamaica. Reggae is known all over the world for its distinct sound, while schoolchildren in the UK learn the work of Jamaican poets. Art, theatre and a wide range of digital work provide much inspiration and employment for Jamaicans today.
However, by far the major source of employment and income for Jamaica comes from the tourism industry. More than one million visitors a year spend approximately US$2bn on hotels, restaurants, spas, activities, attractions, taxis and other vacation items on the island. This industry benefits the tourism businesses of course, but also provides jobs in construction, technology and training services. The government is also a beneficiary, thanks to the tax receipts across the supply chain.
What Is The Average Salary In Jamaica?
It’s easy to take a look at the salaries in Jamaica and not understand how low they are, thanks to conversion rates. Each Jamaican dollar is worth less than a hundredth of a US dollar or British Pound, so what appears at first sight to be a large number is a lot lower than it appears.
According to AverageSalarySurvey.com, a registered nurse would typically earn US$ 8,529 per year while a software developer would earn US$28,188 in Jamaica in 2017/18.
Expats tend to be higher paid because they have been given permission to work in the island specifically for their higher-level qualifications, skills and experience.
What Is The Unemployment Rate In Jamaica?
According to the website Trading Economics, Jamaica’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2018 fell to a historic low of 8.4 percent. It reached its peak of 16.35 percent in 1997, but over the past 25 years, unemployment has averaged at just over nine percent.
Unemployment is often skewed towards young people, so those aged under 25 are more likely to be unemployed than the older age groups. Women are also more likely to be unemployed than men.
Entitlement to unemployment benefits and other benefits such as the state pension are calculated on the basis of contributions paid by the individual. You cannot arrive in Jamaica and immediately claim benefits.
Rent Property[back to top]
Jamaica offers a wide range of properties for rent. Beachfront homes, apartments and houses in gated communities, bungalows in rural settings and small city centre apartments close to amenities can all be found. However, there are a few important factors you need to consider before choosing your location.
For a start, if you arrive in Jamaica as a tourist, you do not have the right to work in the country or even stay for a prolonged period until you get a visa. You can find out more about this in the Visas section of this country guide. This is important to know because a good landlord will ask to see proof of your right to stay in Jamaica before accepting you as a tenant.
Your Budget Might Not Stretch To Luxury Property
Jamaica’s tourist industry is an important part of its economy. Restaurants, hotels and attractions serve more than a million international visitors every year. The short-term rental of flats and houses to tourists has been happening for a long time in the country, and the rise of companies such as Airbnb is expanding the number of holiday rental units further. Sometimes investors have purchased property on the island; while they want a holiday home for themselves, they will also be happy to let the property earn money when they aren’t there.
Jamaica has a number of regulations in place demanding that all tourist rentals, including Airbnb properties, are licensed and that all due taxes are paid. Unfortunately, tourists are usually unaware of this and will happily book into properties where the owners are flouting the law in order to save money and offer a more competitive rental fee.
The presence of all these rental properties is an issue for anyone looking to rent long term, as it takes many homes out of the pool of available rental properties.
Moreover, tourists typically want the type of properties you may be seeking as an expat. Sea view homes and luxury pads in gated communities command a high price for the holiday season, which means that landlords who are considering a long-term rental period for those homes will charge a high monthly rent to cover any lost tourist income.
Bearing this in mind, you may find it difficult to meet your expectations without having a generous budget. Instead, work out which aspects of a new home are important to you, and prioritise your funds towards them.
Neighbourhoods In Jamaica
You will want to avoid moving to an area of gang violence and high crime. Whilst robbery and theft are the crimes most widely experienced by tourists and expats in Jamaica, murder, shootings and sexual assault are also genuine risks. In a poor neighbourhood, some local people will assume you have enough resources to justify requests for money or even to burgle your new home.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office urges visitors to avoid West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, August Town, Harbour View, Spanish Town and certain parts of Montego Bay, including Flankers, Barrett Town, Norwood, Glendevon, Rose Heights and Mount Salem.
In 2018, extended Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) were in place in certain neighbourhoods in Kingston (Denham town and other areas in West Kingston), along with an official State of Emergency in the following areas:
● The Parish of St James, including Montego Bay
● St Catherine North State (specifically Spanish Town, Linstead and Bog Walk)
● Specified boundaries in parts of Kingston Central, Kingston Western and St Andrew South Police Divisions.
Expats generally prefer to live on the northern coast, especially around Negril. St. James and St. Ann are popular, while Westmoreland, Runaway Bay, Discovery Bay and Port Antonio are also worth investigating. The area around Falmouth is one of the many areas that could offer a suitable rural retreat.
Jamaica suffers frequent damage and disruption from natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, landslips, earthquakes and the occasional tsunami. You can find out more in the Climate and Weather section of this country guide
When looking for a long-term rental, think about the risks of the property being affected by a natural disaster. These risks can be difficult to predict, but you might want to look out for whether a house is sitting on a hillside where part of the road has had to be rebuilt due to previous landslip. Additionally, a ground floor apartment could be affected by a flood in the area whereas an upstairs apartment won’t be.
It’s important to obtain the right level and range of insurance to protect yourself and your possessions. You don’t want to lose most of your belongings in a hurricane just to find you agreed to a large excess for the sake of a small policy cost saving.
Your landlord is legally required to have buildings insurance, but you might want to ask for proof of this.
Estate Agents In Jamaica
There are a number of realtors or real estate agents on Jamaica, most of whom will list long term rental properties. They have databases of property arriving on the market every day. These people understand the reputations and advantages of neighbourhoods and can explain where the good schools are.
Make sure you visit a property before agreeing to rent it. Don’t be fooled by pretty pictures and a careful sales patter just to arrive and find that the photo of the sea view was taken a street away and the apartment is over a noisy bar.
If you can’t get in to see a property or are asked for money to do so, walk away.
A good estate agent will give you the costs of their services upfront; don’t be afraid to ask if they don’t. If you get as far as signing a lease and are then asked for a payment you didn’t know about, the issue is legally difficult as by then they have provided the services you needed.
Estate agents usually have their own website. Some of these are basic and list extremely cheap properties. However, most meet the same standards of presentation you would expect in the US or UK, with a lot of pictures and information about each property.
Signing A Lease
Are you signing a lease with a partner or friend? Remember that everyone whose signature is on the document is jointly liable for the payment. In other words, if your friend goes home three months later and sends no rent money, the entire cost will fall on you. The landlord will not accept a half payment just because you are the only one left.
Check whether there’s a break clause. If you take out a year-long lease and are called back to the UK because your elderly parent is sick and needs 24-hour care, the law means you are liable to keep paying the rent until the end of the lease. The same applies if you lose your job. However, a break clause will typically allow you to give three months’ notice to end the lease early. Three months of rent money for a property you aren’t living in is better than 10 months or even another year.
The landlord will usually ask for a full month’s rent in advance, plus a security deposit. If you are renting a small, unfurnished one bedroom flat in Jamaica, the security deposit is likely to be only one month. However, for a five-bedroom seafront home with infinity pool, you may be asked for a deposit equal to three months of rent.
By rights, the landlord should return all of your security deposit at the end. To ensure this happens, take the following steps:
● Pay your rent on time
● Take many detailed photos when you move in
● Identify and report all damaged and missing items when you move in
● Take many detailed photos on the day you move out
● Take photographic evidence of returning keys and any other items
Ask Other Expats For Help
Buy Property[back to top]
The good news for anyone looking to purchase their own hideaway on the tropical island of Jamaica is that there are no restrictions on who can make a property purchase there. As long as you have the funds or loans in place, it doesnt matter where you live or what your citizenship status is.
Living in your new property as a migrant is, however, a different issue. You can only arrive and stay in Jamaica under the terms and conditions permitted by your visa. Buying a property in Jamaica does not give you an automatic right to residency.
Find out more about this subject by reading the Visas section of this country guide.
Jamaica has the largest territory of the Commonwealth Caribbean nations. Since it is one large island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, and is dotted with islands, reefs and cays to the south, Jamaica boasts 635 miles (1,022 kilometres) of coastline. It’s easy to see why the first known settlers from South America named their home Xaymaca, which means the land of wood and water.
However, sea views and easy access to a beach command premium prices in the property market.
If you have several million dollars to spend, you can buy a fancy house with enough bedrooms and bathrooms to satisfy any aspirational dreams. In this market, infinity pools facing the sea are a must, along with a gym, cinema rooms and a huge double curved staircase in an impressive atrium.
Buying a two-bedroom apartment in a desirable coastline resort could set you back more than a million dollars. However, you can reduce this price by moving along the coast to less prestigious gated communities or by looking for simpler homes.
For many people, moving away from the coast to obtain more living space is a good compromise, especially since swimming pools are found in abundance in Jamaica.
Location, Location, Location
In reality, expats can be found in a number of locations, but many buyers seek their new home along the northern coast. Why is this area so popular? Well, in addition to the beautiful sandy beaches and resorts, there are a number of select golf courses, and you will have plenty of choice when it comes to upmarket shopping and dining experiences.
Negril, St. James and St. Ann are well established areas. Expats often start their property searches here. If you’re happy to look at other coastal areas, Westmoreland, Runaway Bay, Discovery Bay and Port Antonio could present some interesting opportunities.
Of course, not everyone comes to Jamaica to live near a beach. You will also find many beautiful homes with breath-taking views across the hillsides in the countryside. The area around Falmouth is a good place to start a countryside property search. The rural setting belies the relatively short car journey required to access the nearest coastline for a change of scene.
Areas To Avoid
You will notice a few homes for sale on ordinary streets whose barred doors, windows and verandas are less than inviting. Whether these indicate past break ins or the fear of a future one, they do suggest the area is not as safe as you may be used to.
There are a number of areas in Jamaica associated with gang violence and shootings. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office urges visitors to avoid West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, August Town, Harbour View, Spanish Town and certain parts of Montego Bay, including Flankers, Barrett Town, Norwood, Glendevon, Rose Heights and Mount Salem.
As part of security enhancement measures, the Government of Jamaica is taking in areas of concern and has issued States of Emergency in the following areas:
● The Parish of St James, including Montego Bay
● St Catherine North State (including Spanish Town, Linstead and Bog Walk)
● Specified boundaries in parts of Kingston Central, Kingston Western and St Andrew South Police Divisions
The Jamaican government has also extended Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) in certain neighbourhoods in Kingston (Denham town and other areas in West Kingston).
If you come across a property in these areas and consider the price too good to be true, that’s because it is. Make sure you always visit a property before agreeing to buy it, and that you take a close look at the area.
The crimes you are most likely to experience in Jamaica are robbery and theft. If you want to reduce your chances of being mugged outside your front door, or arriving home to find your home ransacked by burglars, you may find the security of a gated community to be a price well worth paying.
Properties At Risk Of Natural Disaster
As discussed in the Climate and Weather section of this country guide, a range of natural disasters occur in Jamaica. These include:
● Earthquakes and tremors
● Cyclones and hurricanes
● Heavy rains which lead to floods and landslides
Any one of these has the power to damage or destroy properties in the affected area.
If you have found a property you would like to purchase, get a surveyor to evaluate the risk of natural disasters for that structure. With the exception of tsunamis, which only affect the coastline, all the other natural disasters could occur anywhere across the island. However, the structure and fabric of the building, along with the plot on which it is built, will affect how significant the damage is likely to be.
It can be tempting to seek a piece of land or property direct from an owner, in the hope of snapping up a bargain.
However, a good estate agent will get you viewings for a range of properties, allowing you to assess the true value of the market. Fraudsters don’t list properties for sale with an estate agent as the truth would be identified before any money was handed over. The agent also takes over the price negotiations, saving you the stress of sorting this out in person.
Estate agents’ websites in Jamaica vary enormously. You’ll usually find expensive houses which meet expat expectations listed on sites which include beautiful photographs and full descriptions. Cheap houses in undesirable areas will be listed with different agents. This means that having a look at a few different websites will give you a good idea as to which real estate agent will be appropriate for your budget.
Find An Independent Lawyer
Purchasing a property in Jamaica is an important investment decision. Your funds must be secure and paid to the correct party, the deeds for the land and building must be correctly registered and clear of any current or potential issues, and you must be aware of all risks that exist in relation to the purchase. You must therefore use the services of a qualified, registered and insured lawyer.
If you are purchasing a new-build property, the developer may try to persuade you to use their suggested lawyer. Similarly, a real estate agent may produce the details of a recommended lawyer. In these cases, you have no idea what existing family, friendship or business links exist between the parties. Therefore, you should always find your own independent lawyer.
The UK government maintains an online list of lawyers in Jamaica. Each firm’s contact details and areas of expertise are included in the listing.
The Costs And Procedure Of Buying Property In Jamaica
The ExpatFocus article ‘Dont Buy Property In Jamaica Until Youve Read This’ gives a clear explanation of the offer and purchasing procedure for Jamaican property transactions. It also explains the additional costs you will need to cover.
Ask Other Expats
Home owning expats living in Jamaica know from experience which estate agents are helpful, and which lawyers make the purchasing process run smoothly. They can be a great source of help.
However, a word of warning, which must be remembered for all financial investments, including property purchases; many scammers and criminals look for their prey online. If you get into discussions with someone about the funds you have and the investment you want to make, they can take advantage by trying to sell you properties, goods and services which they don’t own. Be clear about the questions you are trying to get answered, and don’t get drawn into unsolicited sales patter.
We have a Jamaican Forum on the ExpatFocus site. If you are a Facebook fan, check out either the ExpatFocus Jamaica Page or the closed discussion group Expats In Jamaica. Just ask to join and you can start a private discussion with expats in Jamaica straight away.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
QUICK LINK: Jamaica health insurance
Taking Care Of Your Health In Jamaica
If you need to call the ambulance or fire services in Jamaica, the emergency number is 110, while the police service are on 119.
You’ll need to contact your insurance provider immediately if something happens, so make sure the number is programmed into your mobile phone, along with a note of your reference number.
You will also need to update your mobile phone contacts list with the telephone number for your home country’s embassy in Kingston. In the case of an emergency, you may find their assistance invaluable.
What Injections Do I Need For Jamaica?
The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) lists the vaccinations recommended for your travel to Jamaica.
Ideally, you will see your medical practitioner about six weeks before you head out. Remember to book the appointment in plenty of time in case the clinic is short of staff when you ring.
At the time of writing, everyone heading to Jamaica is advised to be up to date with their vaccinations and boosters for:
Additionally, vaccinations against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B could be considered.
A vaccination against bat lyssaviruses (bat rabies) may be advisable if you are likely to work in an ecological field.
If you have a pre-existing condition, talk to your doctor about the advice, treatment and medication you need. You can then make a plan about accessing those essential healthcare services in Jamaica.
If you need to take medication with you to Jamaica, carefully research the procedure for doing so. If you arrive at the airport with six months’ supply of medication and you don’t have the correct evidence that the medication is for you, or if you bring in substances which are not licensed in Jamaica, you will immediately find yourself in a serious and frightening predicament.
Mosquito Borne Diseases In Jamaica
The health authorities have worked long and hard in Jamaica to reduce the transmission of disease through mosquito bites. The situation has undoubtedly improved over the years but cases still do occur.
Malaria tablets, which often have side effects, are not required for travelling to or living in Jamaica. With the exception of a malaria outbreak at the end of 2006, which did not cause any deaths, all recent cases of malaria identified in Jamaica were contracted in other countries.
Similarly, yellow fever does not occur locally in Jamaica. This means that anyone coming to Jamaica from a country at risk of yellow fever must, by law, hold a certificate proving that they have received a vaccination against it.
Cases of dengue fever happen frequently in Jamaica and in 2018, a number of related deaths were confirmed. In 2014 and 2016, outbreaks of Zika virus and Chikungunya were identified. Each of these diseases are transmitted through mosquito bites, although the Zika virus can also be passed on through unprotected sex.
As a result of these risks, you should proactively reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitos. Check your property for any empty plant pots collecting rainwater or other potential mosquito breeding grounds. Protect your skin with insect repellent and clothing between dusk and dawn, and stay out of the open air during these hours if you can. Keep your patio doors closed at night to keep mosquitos out of your home.
Generally, mosquito nets are not required in Jamaica except for pregnant women and new-born babies, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Zika virus.
Healthcare Insurance For Jamaica
Jamaica runs a public healthcare system for those who are registered with the National Health Fund. You need a taxpayer reference number to benefit from this, and your earnings will be taxed at the appropriate rates to contribute to the fund.
The Jamaican public healthcare service is not well-funded. Jamaica’s population is small and far from wealthy. Increasing numbers of elderly patients with complex needs have put the system under strain. Rural facilities in particular can be poor, while many hospitals insist on patients paying for expensive medicines. Waiting lists are generally lengthy and specialist areas of medicine are often not available on the island.
That said, staff working in the public healthcare sector are hard-working and widely admired. Nine out of 10 hospital beds are provided in the public sector. Areas targeted for government attention, especially in respect of communicable diseases, have often been very successful.
According to the World Health Organisation, the average life expectancy in Jamaica in 2015 was 73.9 years for men and 76.2 years for women. By comparison, the average life expectancy in the United States, which has the highest medical expenditure per person in the world, is 76.9 years for men and 81.2 years for women.
Private Medical Insurance
As an expat, you will probably find that the rationed and limited public healthcare services in Jamaica do not meet your expectations. If you want fast access to appointments with key staff, you will need to pay privately.
Furthermore, complicated procedures or specialist treatment may require travel to a country with a larger medical industry.
The best way to protect yourself from sudden and substantial medical bills is to get private medical insurance. Remember, if your income comes from work and you become ill, you may well lose your income and financial stability overnight if you’re not insured.
When choosing your policy, check the terms and conditions and think carefully about what your needs might be. It can be hard to make these decisions when you are fit and well. But choosing a policy which won’t fund treatment abroad for the sake of saving a small amount of money each year could be a big mistake.
Mental Health Services In Jamaica
Traditionally, mental illness has been a taboo subject in Jamaica. People living with mental ill health have often been too ashamed and afraid to seek help in the country.
However, attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. In 2012, James and Peltzer interviewed 60 psychiatric patients from the University of the West Indies, Kingston and the Princess Margaret outpatient clinic, and found more than a third of these participants believed that supernatural factors had caused their mental illness. However, younger people in Jamaica today are beginning to seek help rather than suffer in silence, and the demand for mental health services has rapidly increased. Much concern is expressed about the cost and difficulty of accessing treatment.
When the system is working correctly, mental health services available include:
● Private mental health services, including psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors providing community-based care, and who can respond to individual needs without delay.
● Private group homes which provide a supported residential facility for those leaving hospital treatment or where individuals don’t have a family to provide the support structure during times of difficulty.
● Free or subsidised medicine for members of the National Health Fund.
● Free mental health services, albeit with long waits for access and the stigma of being seen going into a community facility.
● Crisis teams which can respond to an individual with mental health issues who needs immediate care.
● Hospital services at a number of locations for those with serious psychiatric issues, although waiting lists can again be long.
● Daytime hospital treatment, for cases in which full time hospital admission is not appropriate.
● Social services support, accessed by registering with the Jamaica Council for persons with a disability, can provide subsidised bus passes and other help to those suffering from long term mental illness.
Open A Bank Account[back to top]
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.
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.
Learn The Language[back to top]
Languages In Jamaica
The official language of Jamaica is English. However, most of the Jamaican population speak a Creole version of English known as Jamaican Patois.
Why Do Jamaicans Speak A Creole Language?
Jamaica was a Spanish colony until 1655. The British then forcibly took it over to run agricultural plantations, with an emphasis on sugar plantations. They imported West African slaves to work on the plantations under very harsh conditions. In 1807, the British Parliament abolished the slave trade, although it took another 27 years to abolish slavery itself and a further four years to emancipate every slave in the British Empire. Workers now had to be paid, but amounts were low and many people survived on subsistence levels of income.
The British rulers and masters insisted on English being spoken by their slaves and workers, whose origins lay in different and distinct West African ethnic groups. However, Jamaica is 4,561 miles away from London, and conversation between natural British citizens and the Jamaican labourers would have been limited. Moreover, many of the slaves wanted to use as little English as possible as a quiet form of resistance against their unjust situation. As a result, enslaved West African people and their descendants naturally developed a unique version of English within their community.
A distinct accent formed, along with grammatical quirks and new vocabulary. Patois is predominantly a verbal language for local people to communicate with each other informally.
Jamaica gained independence in 1962. It chose to remain as a Commonwealth Country with Queen Elizabeth II as the Monarch and English as the official language.
As more Jamaican people became literate and a local market developed for written advertising, songs and poetry, Patois increasingly developed a presence in the written word. Patois words are free of the silent letters and complicated irregular vowel sounds that continuously crop up in standard English
Do All Jamaicans Speak English?
Any Jamaican person who has grown up on the island will speak English. However, most of the population will speak Jamaican Patois most of the time.
Unfortunately for Jamaican school children, the education system demands the use of standard English. Patois is not even given the recognition of being an official language in Jamaica; that honour solely belongs to standard English.
Travellers can struggle to understand some of the Patois terms while they adjust to the sound and rhythm of the language. However, it will not take very long to get used to it.
If you are having problems understanding someone, politely explain that you haven’t understood and ask them to please repeat what they said. As long as you are respectful and don’t have an attitude of superiority, this will not cause a problem.
Do People Speak Spanish In Jamaica?
Children in Jamaica’s private schools will often be taught Spanish, but it has little presence in public schools.
There are a number of Spanish speaking countries close to Jamaica, which means Spanish speakers have long come to Jamaica to live and work. In the past, some Spanish words have been incorporated into Jamaican Patois. Today, small communities exist of people who speak Spanish at home.
In 2017, Spains Secretary for International Cooperation, Fernando Garcia Casas, even went as far as suggesting Spanish should become the second language of Jamaica as this would open up the tourism market. Far from having its intended effect, the suggestion instead prompted a number of Jamaican newspapers to question why Jamaican Patois doesn’t have recognition as the official language in a country where it is the dominant means of communication.
This means that few people in Jamaica can understand Spanish speakers unless they also speak English.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Jamaican resident John Grinan handed his personal radio equipment over to the government in accordance with wartime regulations. However, in an interesting twist, he persuaded officials to use his equipment to start a public broadcasting service
The radio service was privatised under license in 1949, and the first commercial broadcast delivered in 1950, with advertisement slots funding the service. Some 200 wireless sets were distributed to meeting places in rural areas to ensure all areas of the island could benefit from radio broadcasts. Music started to form the backbone of radio shows in the 1960s and continues to do so today.
Radio broadcasts in Jamaica are produced in both English and Jamaican Patois.
TV In Jamaica
A wide range of TV stations and broadcasts can be accessed in Jamaica. Some are made on the island, while others are produced elsewhere in the Caribbean for widespread consumption.
Viewers can obtain cable and satellite broadcasts to enjoy programmes from all over the world, and large numbers of households subscribe to these services.
Netflix is available in 190 countries around the world and Jamaica is one of them. Unfortunately, there are complicated licensing and cost issues which means that the catalogue of TV content is not the same as in the UK. Netflix is trying to address this issue, which formed the impetus for the Netflix studio productions, but it will be some time before parity is obtained.
Being a religious society with a highly active church membership, it is not surprising that Jamaica receives a lot of religious programming. Love TV, for example, is a TV channel whose entire output is centred on Christianity and worship.
Most TV programmes in Jamaica are in English or Jamaican Patois, but with cable and satellite services, it is also easy to access a huge number of Spanish shows.
Many Jamaicans enjoy using YouTube and a number of young people have made a name for themselves creating their own online content. While it is difficult to make a living from YouTube on an island of less than three million people, the YouTubers do give a voice to young Jamaicans whose presence is largely ignored by the world’s media.
Newspapers In Jamaica
A number of daily newspapers are in circulation in Jamaica, and they also have an online presence.
You will notice that articles are written in standard English, but the online comments made by members of the public are almost always in Jamaican Patois.
The Gleaner was established in Jamaica in 1834, making it the country’s oldest newspaper.
The Jamaica Observer is another popular source of news, entertainment and local information.
Generally, the press in Jamaica acts independently. They do not have some of the freedom rights to report on specific areas of government activity that journalists in other countries can enjoy, but neither are they controlled by the state. There are plenty of degrees in communication and journalism in the country, ensuring that Jamaica produces fresh generations of well-trained journalists.
Choose A School[back to top]
Jamaican children who are aged six to 12 can go to primary school for free in Jamaica. However, all high schools charge tuition fees, which means education after the age of 12 is voluntary on the island.
The free primary schools in Jamaica are poorly resourced. Classes are generally very large. Some schools do not have electricity, and all suffer from a shortage of classroom equipment. Teacher training colleges produce more qualified teachers than are needed in Jamaica, yet pupil achievement levels remain consistently low.
All high schools charge tuition fees. Places are selective and allocation is based on the school entrance exams.
Some children are forced to leave education through poverty or inability to pass the entrance exams. Others attend the free primary school and have parents who can afford to send them to high school. A lucky few attend the most expensive private schools with the best facilities, such as the international schools.
Parents can expect to pay up to $15,000 a year on school fees. Other costs for uniforms, extracurricular activities, books and trips can easily add a further $10,000 each year.
Infant School In Jamaica
Infant school starts when children turn six. However, many facilities also offer preschool, nursery or kindergarten sessions for younger children. Some of these are offered on public school sites and others are located in the grounds of private schools, while most children attend sessions run by community-based services. These are typically funded by parents.
Jamaican School Hours
Jamaican schools typically begin at 8.30am, or half an hour earlier or later. The school day usually ends around 3.30pm.
Schools on the island have a strict attitude to homework. Pupils can often spend two hours each evening completing their tasks.
Extracurricular activities are an important part of school life for those whose families can afford the additional costs. A wide range of sport, drama and hobby sessions start immediately after school each evening and end at roughly 5pm.
In addition, many schools have early morning activities. Christian schools may begin the day with a religious service. Fundraising raffle events or exam talks often begin as early as 7.30 in the morning.
Recently, a population bulge led to a number of schools being significantly oversubscribed. The response to this was to start a shift system. Pupils would arrive at school as early as 7.30am, perhaps after an hour or so of travel. At lunchtime they would go home, and after a staff break, lessons began for an afternoon group of students. The day could end as late as 5.30pm, at which point the afternoon pupils would begin a long journey home.
As of 2017, only one school was still operating this system, because twice as many students needed places there as the building could accommodate. However, the system is expected to come to an end entirely in the foreseeable future.
The Jamaican School Year
The term dates for public schools are formally issued each year by the Minister of Education, Youth and Information.
The school year begins at the start of September. In mid-October, schools close for one week. A two-week break for Christmas starts at the end of December. Schools open again a week into January, but close for another one-week break in mid-February. Easter Holidays are in March or April depending on when Easter Sunday falls. Two weeks later, the summer term starts. Mid-June brings another one-week mid-term break. In early July, pupils break up for a long summer vacation.
There are a number of public holidays throughout the year, but they tend to fall during school holidays.
Exams In Jamaica
High school students in Jamaica work towards two sets of qualifications. After five years of study at high school, students take the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. Pupils who do well will continue for a further two years of high school education. They then take the Caribbean Advanced Placement Exam (CXC CAPE), which allows them to progress to university.
What Is The Literacy Rate In Jamaica?
In 2016, the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) reported that the adult literacy rate in Jamaica is now at 87 percent.
Back in 1974, only half of all Jamaican people could read and write. Up to 10 percent of the population leaves the country each year, and while this number is reducing, there is still a widespread desire to leave the island and find work elsewhere. The people most able to do this are the educated professionals. In light of this, it is an achievement that the literacy rates have risen and continue to do so.
However, despite this improvement, Jamaica’s literacy levels are still not only well behind the Western world, they also lag behind the rest of the Caribbean nations.
Each successive government attempts educational reform and improvement, but progress is slow. Jamaican society values education, yet the combination of the school system and the emigration of the educated feeds the cycle of illiteracy, unemployment, crime and poverty.
Private Schools In Jamaica
As an expat, you are unlikely to send your child to a public school in Jamaica. Fortunately, the island also has a range of private and international school options. There are a number of websites which list local private schools. Work and Jam is one such example.
Schools tend to have a website which explains their philosophy, lists their fees and displays photographs of the facilities on offer. However, remember that you and your child must be happy with a school for it to be a positive experience. Visiting a school armed with a list of questions is essential, no matter how comprehensive the website appears to be. Try to get a feel for the school’s vibe and assess whether it works for your family.
International Schools In Jamaica
International schools offer the curriculum and teaching methods of an overseas nation. A number of the school’s staff will be recruited from the relevant country, while the student body will typically include a number of expat children. These schools are more expensive than local private schools, but for expat parents living in Jamaica, the cost is seen as a good investment.
The expat population is large enough in Jamaica to support a small number of international schools.
The Hillel Academy in Upper Mark Way, Kingston was founded by the Jewish community of Jamaica. It is co-educational and multicultural, and pupils can attend from the age of three right the way through to the age of 18. Accredited by the US body SACS/AdvancED, the school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.
The American International School of Kingston is located on College Green Avenue. The school is co-educational and teaches students aged three to 18. While the curriculum predominantly follows the US system, the IB diploma is also offered. In addition, a section of the school delivers a French curriculum for French-speaking students.
The Belair School in DeCateret Road, Mandeville, accepts pupils from the age of three to 18. It offers a curriculum based on the British system, until Grade 7. Older students then work towards the CSEC and CAPE exams, as well as the SAT tests which are required for US university admission.
Ask Other Expats
Other expats already living in Jamaica know from experience which schools have been successful – or not – for their family. Why not reach out and ask for advice?
We have a Jamaica Forum on the ExpatFocus site. If you’re a Facebook fan, you might want to check out the ExpatFocusJamaica Page and the closed discussion group Expats In Jamaica. Just ask to join and you can start a private discussion with expats living in Jamaica straight away.
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