Gentle haggling is common in tourist markets for souvenirs; in all other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price.
Coastal temperatures are consistently warm, and while temperatures fall steadily with increasing altitude, even in the Blue Mountains the thermometer averages 18°C (64°F) or more. The annual rainfall averages 1980mm (78in), but nationwide there are considerable variations, with the east coast receiving considerably more rain than elsewhere. Despite wet and dry seasons, rain can fall any time of year and normally comes in short, heavy showers, often followed by sun. Jamaica lies in the Caribbean ‘hurricane belt.’ Officially the hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30; August and September are peak months.
Dangers & Annoyances
Jamaica is probably more plagued by bad media about safety than it is by violent crime that affects tourists. Many travelers fear the worst and avoid the country; those who do make it here are far more likely to come away with positive impressions than horror stories. Petty crime is the most serious issue, although some travelers may be more concerned with the increasingly fluid legality of ganja.
While areas including Spanish Town and some parts of Kingston are best avoided due to gang trouble, crimes against tourists have also dropped greatly, and the overwhelming majority of visitors enjoy their vacations without incident.
Travel advice is common sense: keep hotel doors and windows locked at night, and lock car doors from the inside while driving. Don’t open your hotel door to anyone who can’t prove their identity. If you’re renting an out-of-the-way private villa or cottage, check in advance to establish whether security is provided.
Carry as little cash as you need when away from your hotel. Keep the rest in a hotel safe, and don’t flash your valuables (particularly smartphones).
Ganja (marijuana) is everywhere in Jamaica and you’re almost certain to be approached by hustlers selling drugs. Cocaine is also widely available (Jamaica is a major trans-shipment point for the Colombia–US route), along with hallucinogenic wild mushrooms. The globalization of the drugs trade has undoubtedly helped fuel gang violence in Jamaica.
While ganja has been decriminalized, other drugs are strictly illegal and penalties are severe. Roadblocks and random searches of cars are common, undertaken by well-armed police in combat gear. Professionalism is never guaranteed, and ‘dash’ – extortion – is often extracted to boost wages. Drug checks at airports can be particularly strict.
Ganja is an integral part of life for large sections of Jamaica's population – whether as a recreational toke or Rastafari sacrament – though it has long been illegal. In 2015, however, the Jamaican parliament decriminalized possession. Possession of up to 2oz (56g) is now treatable in the same manner as a parking offense, garnering a fine of up to US$100 but no criminal record. Full legalization is on the cards, if not immediately imminent. For now, the only way to buy ganja legally is with a permit from the Health Ministry if you have a prescription for medical marijuana.
While some travelers are keen to seek it out, even those wanting to avoid it are unlikely to get through their trip without at least a whiff of secondhand smoke. You'll undoubtedly be approached by people offering to sell you ganja, whether a 'nudge wink' hustler, or a vendor at a dancehall street party openly selling it alongside candies and rum. If you want to smoke, we still recommend doing so discreetly, at your hotel. Some local strains are particularly strong, and tourists have reported suffering harmful side effects from ganja, especially from ganja cakes and cookies.
Jamaica's tourism board already sponsors the Rastafari Rootz Fest, which hosts the Ganjamaica Cup for growers, and come legalization, ganja tourism will undoubtedly become a big thing. But while we hear of winery-style 'tasting' tours to ganja plantations, if you’re hiking in the Jamaican backcountry and come across a field of ganja, it's best to give it a wide berth for now unless you're with a trusted local companion – Jamaicans are fiercely protective of these secret spots and there’s a good chance they will loudly (and perhaps aggressively) demand you leave the area.
Usually the traveler’s biggest problem is the vast army of hustlers (mostly male) who harass visitors, notably in and around major tourist centers – Montego Bay, Negril and to a lesser extent Ocho Rios.
Be polite but firm with unwanted advances; never ignore them, which is taken as an insult. Aggressive persistence is the key to their success and trying to shake them off can be a wearying process. Hustlers often persist in the hope that you’ll pay just to be rid of them. If harassment continues, seek the assistance of a tourist police officer or the local constabulary.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Jamaica’s country code is 876, which is dropped if dialing in the country.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Expect a wait in the immigration halls at the airports in Kingston and Montego Bay. There are often only two or three immigration officers on hand to process the planeloads of passengers, and often multiple flights land within minutes of each other, increasing the burden on officials.
- Passengers may bring into Jamaica duty-free goods in amounts that they 'might reasonably be expected to carry with them for personal use.'
- It's possible (though highly unlikely) that you may need to show proof that laptop computers and other expensive items (especially electronics) are for personal use; otherwise you may be charged import duty.
- For more information, see Jamaica Customs (www.jacustoms.gov.jm).
Passports valid for at least six months from the date of entry are required for all visits to Jamaica.
Most nationals require no visa to visit Jamaica. Most of those who do can obtain one on arrival.
For stays of six months or less, no visas are required for citizens of the EU, the US, Commonwealth countries, Mexico, Japan and Israel. Nationals of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece and Japan don’t need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
All other nationals require visas (nationals of most countries can obtain a visa on arrival, provided they are holding valid onward or return tickets and evidence of sufficient funds).
Jamaica is a very laid-back country, but one that also insists on good manners: witness the way that people never fail to say 'good morning' to fellow passengers when getting in a route taxi. Always greet people properly, and treat elders with extra respect. That said, don't be surprised at the directness of many conversations.
Jamaicans dress smartly when they can (even more so when heading to a party or social event), and many government offices and banks have written dress codes on the door – beachwear should be very much confined to the beach.
There is a gay scene in Kingston, but it is an underground affair as Jamaica is a largely homophobic society. Sexual acts between men are prohibited by law and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Many reggae dancehall lyrics by big-name stars could be classified as antigay hate speech. Gay-bashing incidents are almost never prosecuted, with law enforcement, in most cases, looking the other way.
Nonetheless, you shouldn't be put off from visiting the island. In the more heavily touristed areas you'll find more tolerant attitudes, and hotels that welcome gay travelers, including all-inclusives. Publicly, though, discretion is important and open displays of affection should be avoided.
Gay Jamaica Watch (http://gayjamaicawatch.blogspot.com)
Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (www.qcjm.org)
- Wi-fi is available in Jamaican hotels, but internet access is still restricted in rural areas. Data services are available throughout the country, although 3G reception can be patchy.
- Most town libraries offer internet access (US$1 for 30 minutes), and there's usually at least one commercial entity where you can get online.
- Jamaica’s drug and drink-driving laws are strictly enforced.
- Don’t expect leniency just because you’re a foreigner. Jamaican jails are distinctly unpleasant.
- Ganja has been decriminalized, and possession of up to 2oz attracts a fine, rather than arrest.
- If arrested, insist on your right to call your embassy in Kingston to request assistance.
- The Jamaican Tourist Board (JTB) publishes a Discover Jamaica road map (1:350,000). No topographical details are shown.
- The best maps are Hildebrandt’s Jamaica map (1:300,000) and ITMB Publishing’s maps (1:250,000), available online or at travel bookstores.
- Newspapers The Jamaica Gleaner (www.jamaica-gleaner.com) is the high-standard newspaper. Its rival is the Jamaica Observer, followed by the gossipy tabloid Jamaica Star.
- Radio Of the 30 radio stations, Irie FM (105.1FM; www.iriefm.net) is the most popular.
- TV There are seven channels; most hotels have satellite TV with US channels.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most medium-size and larger businesses, particularly in tourist areas.
- The unit of currency is the Jamaican dollar, the ‘jay,’ which uses the same symbol as the US dollar ($). Jamaican currency is issued in bank notes of J$50, J$100, J$500, J$1000 and (rarely) J$5000. Prices for hotels and valuable items are usually quoted in US dollars, which are widely accepted.
- Commercial banks have branches throughout the island. Those in major towns maintain a foreign-exchange booth.
- Most towns have 24-hour ATMs linked to international networks such as Cirrus or Plus. In more remote areas, look for ATMs at gas stations. In tourist areas, some ATMs also dispense US dollars.
- Traveler’s checks are little used and attract fees for cashing.
- Major credit cards are accepted throughout the island, although local groceries and the like will not be able to process them, even in Kingston.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
A 10% tip is normal in hotels and restaurants. Check your bill carefully – some restaurants automatically add a 10% to 15% service charge. Some all-inclusive resorts have a strictly enforced no-tipping policy. Outside Kingston, tourist taxi drivers often ask for tips but it is not necessary; JUTA (Jamaica Union of Travelers Association) route taxis do not expect tips.
The following are standard hours for Jamaica; exceptions are noted in reviews. Note that the country virtually shuts down on Sunday.
Banks 9:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Bars Usually open around noon, with many staying open until the last customer stumbles out.
Businesses 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday.
Restaurants Breakfast dawn to 11am; lunch noon to 2pm; dinner 5:30pm to 11pm.
Shops 8am or 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to noon or 5pm Saturday, late-night shopping to 9pm Thursday and Friday.
- Offices of Jamaica Post (http://jamaicapost.gov.jm/) are found in every town. The postal system is reliable, if not terribly fast – expect 10 days to a fortnight for a postcard to reach North America or Europe.
- The major international couriers all operate in the country. Jamaica Post offers a DHL package service.
New Year’s Day January 1
Ash Wednesday, Good Friday & Easter Monday
Labor Day May 23
Emancipation Day August 1
Independence Day First Monday in August
National Heroes Day Third Monday in October
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
- Smoking Banned in public places (including bars and restaurants).
Taxes & Refunds
- General Consumption Tax (GCT, or sales tax) is 16.5%. Beware restaurants that don't automatically include this on menu prices but add it at the end (especially if the establishment also adds a 10% service charge: bills inflate quickly).
- A small number of authorized vendors can issue Tax Refund Voucher Forms with purchases – take it along with your receipt to Kingston or Montego Bay airports for GCT tax refunds.
Jamaica’s country code is 876. To call Jamaica from the US, dial 1-876 + the seven-digit local number. From elsewhere, dial your country’s international dialing code, then 876 and the local number.
For calls within the same parish in Jamaica, just dial the local number. Between parishes, dial 1 + the local number. We have included only the seven-digit local number in Jamaica listings.
You can bring your own cell phone into Jamaica (GSM or CDMA). Be aware of hefty roaming charges or buy a local SIM card.
If your phone is unlocked, buy a local SIM card from one of the two local cell-phone operators, Digicel (www.digiceljamaica.com) or Flow (www.discoverflow/jamaica), or you can buy a cheap handset. You'll need to bring ID to buy either. SIM cards are free – ask for the best current offers, usually from around J$500 for calls plus data. Prepaid top-up cards are sold in denominations from JS$50 to J$1000, and you’ll find them at many gas stations and grocery stores.
Jamaica runs on Eastern Standard Time (GMT minus five hours), but does not operate daylight saving. Hence, from April to October, it is six hours behind London and one hour behind New York.
- 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.
The Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB; www.visitjamaica.com) has offices in key cities around the world. You can request maps and literature, including hotel brochures, but they do not serve as reservation agencies.
Travel with Children
All-inclusive resorts cater to families and have an impressive range of amenities for children. Many hotels offer free accommodations or reduced rates for young children in their parents’ room; many provide a babysitter/nanny with advance notice. Increasingly, resorts and upscale hotels offer free childcare centers.
Negril, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are perhaps the best towns for children, each replete with kid-friendly attractions and activities, most notably Dunn’s River Falls, outside Ocho Rios; Kool Runnings Adventure Park, Negril; Aquasol Theme Park, Montego Bay; and horseback riding (all three).
- It’s a good idea to prearrange necessities such as cribs, babysitters, cots and baby food at hotels other than family resorts.
- Many car-rental agencies in Jamaica do not offer safety seats.
- Some vaccines are not approved for use in children and pregnant women, so check with your doctor before traveling.
- Be particularly careful not to drink tap water or consume any questionable food or beverage; hand-sanitizer gel is recommended (and widely available in Jamaica).
- Breastfeeding in public is somewhat taboo but not illegal.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children gives you the lowdown on preparing for family travel.
Very few allowances have been made in Jamaica for travelers with disabilities, although larger hotels and all-inclusives (especially those owned by international brands) tend to be more accessible, with ramps and elevators.
Many Jamaican men display behavior and attitudes that might shock visiting women, often expressing disdain for the notion of female equality or women’s rights. Despite this, women play pivotal roles in Jamaican society.
If you’re single, it may be assumed you’re on the island seeking a ‘likkle love beneat’ de palms.’ Protests to the contrary will likely be met with wearying attempts to get you to change your mind. If you go along with the flirting, your innocent acceptance will be taken as a sign of acquiescence. Never beat about the bush out of fear of hurting the man’s feelings.
Rape is not uncommon in Jamaica and occasionally involves female tourists. Women traveling alone may reduce unwanted attention by dressing modestly when away from the beach. Women should avoid walking alone at night and otherwise traveling alone in remote areas.
Weights & Measures
Metric and imperial measurements are both used. Distances are measured in meters and kilometers, and gas in liters, but coffee (and ganja) is most often sold by the pound.
Visitors are admitted to Jamaica on the condition that they ‘not engage in any form of employment on the island.’ Professionals can obtain work permits if sponsored by a Jamaican company, but casual work is very difficult to obtain. For more information on work permits, visit the Ministry of Labour & Social Security.