An Expat Guide to Jamaica

If the white, sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea appeal to you, and you absolutely love the relaxed vibes of reggae music, then moving to Jamaica might be for you. The expat life can provide a better quality of life in a cheaper economy than in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Europe. Therefore, many expats are looking to the embark on moving to Jamaica, so WeExpats has decided to write an expat guide to Jamaica.

 

STEP 1 – WHERE SHOULD I LIVE IN JAMAICA?

 

Before you decide to live in Jamaica, you should visit Jamaica several times to be firmly acquainted with the culture. Engage in expat forums and read testimonials from expats that live in Jamaica. Research other islands in the Caribbean and their upsides and downsides.

 

However, once you have decided that Jamaica is the right country for you, then you must decide where to live in Jamaica. All areas have their good and bad points, so we compiled a short list of places where expats often live in Jamaica.

 

– What is it like to live in Ocho Rios, Jamaica? –

 

A common port for cruise ships in northern Jamaica, Ocho Rios only has a population of 15,000. This draws many expats that long for a quieter life away from the hustle that they had grown accustomed to at home. Rife with nature destinations such as Fern Gully, Ocho Rios is drawing attention after a $21-million-dollar stimulus package for the small resort destination. This funding is aimed at bringing more modern, revitalized infrastructure to this hidden Jamaican gem, such as running water throughout the whole town and reliable electricity. Be aware that electricity in Ocho Rios is costly, even more than the rest of Jamaica.

 

– What is it like to live in Negril, Jamaica? –

 

Located where two the two Jamaican parishes of Hanover and Westmoreland meet, Negril is a sparsely populated beach town that stretches across it’s famous and aptly named 7-mile beach. In the last few years, Seven Mile Beach has seen massive development from large-name hotel brands.

 

When looking for an apartment in Negril, it is best to check on the ground at the grassroots level. Rentals are posted in grocery stores, electric poles, and fences. There are no safe and unsafe areas, more so, there are safe and unsafe locations, so be sure to check the street, the yard, and ensure that the windows have grills.

 

– What is it like to live in Falmouth, Jamaica? –

 

Falmouth is the capital of the Trelawny parish, and possibly Jamaica’s best-preserved Georgian town, and this endearing architecture will draw you in from the start. Only 40 minutes from Montego Bay in northern Jamaica, Falmouth is one of Royal Caribbean’s main destinations in Jamaica—building a $180-million-dollar port which is being advertised as a chance to experience “historic Falmouth”. This port was built by locals, which has helped to revitalize the local economy.

 

– What is it like to live in Mandeville, Jamaica? –

 

Mandeville is the capital of the Manchester parish in Middlesex, Jamaica—the only capital in Jamaica not located near the ocean or a river. Instead, it is situated on an island plateau of higher elevation than the rest of Jamaica, which helps to keep the weather cool.

 

Mandeville is a great place to settle down, with all the modern amenities that you would expect in a developed nation, such as reliable, high-speed internet. The nightlife is not as prominent a feature in Mandeville because it is largely geared towards retirees and those expats raising families. However, it is universally recognized in Jamaica that Mandeville has the best private schools where attendees from all around the world can be found. If you are raising a family in Jamaica, you should definitely consider Mandeville. Be warned though that costs for electricity and other utilities are on the higher-end for Jamaica, and that gasoline becomes a hidden cost if you wish to travel to Kingston or the beaches often.

 

– What is it like to live in Montego Bay, Jamaica? –

 

The fourth largest city in Jamaica, Montego Bay is the capital of the St. James parish. Known as “MoBay” by the locals, Montego Bay is home to a thriving city with the largest airport in all of Jamaica. Montego Bay is the tourist capital of Jamaica, which has drawn the attention of all major hotel chains—and even attracted such tourist hot spots as a Hard Rock Cafe and Jamaica’s first Starbucks. Montego Bay has a thriving nightlife and is a fantastic choice for a younger expat or digital nomad crowd looking to partake in the nightlife while experiencing the natural beauty that Jamaica has to offer.

 

Many British and American expats tend to live in the outskirts of Montego Bay in areas like the small fishing village of Hopewell, which lies just a 20-minute drive outside of town. There, they can escape the hectic lifestyle of Montego Bay, while still enjoying having the amenities and infrastructure available nearby.

 

– What is it like to live in Kingston, Jamaica? –

 

The largest city in Jamaica, Kingston has roughly 700,000 inhabitants in its entire metropolitan area. Kingston is known for its huge disparity in socioeconomics, where mansions are separated from ghettos by only a couple of kilometers. Kingston is the hub of economic and legislative activity in Jamaica, and thus if you are in business, you should consider living in Kingston. Not only is tourism a booming industry, but also apparel manufacturing, exporting, and shipping are all run through Kingston.

It has a more reliable infrastructure than some of the off-the-beaten-path locations in Jamaica, and there are many gated communities which market themselves towards expats from the United States and the United Kingdom, which offer premiere living conditions at a reasonable price for Jamaica.

 

STEP 2 – DO I NEED A VISA FOR JAMAICA?

 

– Which countries are visa exempt for Jamaica? –

 

If you’re looking to visit Jamaica for a month or more to experience the culture and discover whether or not Jamaica is right for you, then there are 116 countries which are visa-exempt for Jamaica—most of which offer a 6-month tourist visa, many of these countries are Commonwealth nations. Several others offer a 3-month tourist visa, and the rest offer at least 30 days. To see a full list of countries that are visa-exempt in Jamaica, click here.

 

– How do I get permanent residence in Jamaica? –

 

To get permanent residence in Jamaica, you must first apply to the Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency of Jamaica (PICA). You will have to pay a fee of $30,000 JMD to PICA. You will also need to include:

 

  • Evidence of Personal Finances (ex. Bank Records)
  • Original Copy of Your Birth Certificate
  • Proof of Health Via Medical Certificate
  • Police Certificate
  • Letter Stating Reason for Desire of Permanent Residence in Jamaica
  • Two Passport Photos
  • Marital Certificate if Necessary

 

– How do I get a work visa in Jamaica? –

 

Jamaica aims to prioritize the employment of Jamaican nationals before hiring foreigners. However, under the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens Employement Act of 1964, Jamaica recognizes the need for foreigners to be hired when their expertise is necessary for the betterment of Jamaica and its economy. Before you can apply for a work visa in Jamaica, you will need a confirmed job offer in Jamaica.

 

If you are interested in getting a work permit in Jamaica, then you will have to apply at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Jamaica. Click here to visit their website. You can also apply for a work visa at your local Jamaican embassy or consulate. For the application, you will require:

 

  • An Original Letter from a Work Organization Confirming the Job Offer
  • Filled Out Visa Application
  • Original Work Permit Approval Signed on Behalf of the Ministry of Labour
  • Valid Passport
  • One Passport Sized Photograph

 

– How do I get citizenship through marriage in Jamaica? –

 

While you are applying for your permanent residency, you must also include the following if you are applying for citizenship in Jamaica:

 

  • Official Marriage Certificate
  • Birth Certificate of Applicant
  • Spouse’s Birth Certificate
  • Spouse’s Current Passport
  • Tax Compliance Certificate
  • Two Certified Passport Sized Photographs by Your Local Jamaican Consulate
  • Police Certificate from Country of Residence
  • Recent Bank Statement
  • Verification of Income (Employment Letter, Bank Statements)
  • A Postal Order of £155 payable to PICA
  • An extra £10 for postage of completed document

 

For more information on obtaining a visa in Jamaica, click here.

 

STEP 3 – CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE MOVING TO JAMAICA:

 

– Is Jamaica safe? How do I stay safe in Jamaica? –

 

Jamaica is a wonderful country filled with fantastic people. However, like any developing nation, there is crime and one must be aware of this fact before deciding to move to Jamaica. Most of the crime is petty theft and robbery due to the poverty that many Jamaicans face. However, there are more extreme forms of violence such as gang violence, drug trafficking, and sexual assault. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates of any country in the world, so be sure that you live in a safe area, and always watch your surroundings.

 

One of the many things to remember is to be wary of who you invite to your home. Get to know them first in traditional settings and once you know them well, then you can begin to invite them to your home. Also, be sure that your home has bars on the windows. Unless you live in a luxury highrise condominium, you can get burgled if your windows are not secure. This applies to common neighborhoods and gated communities alike. In fact, living in a gated community is not guarantee that you will not get robbed. If your gated community is massive and you live in a secluded section of this community, then you risk being vulnerable to burglary.

 

However, there are several safe areas in Jamaica where people—especially women—can feel safe. For a list of the safer parishes in Jamaica, click here.

 

For lists of areas to avoid in Jamaica, click here and click here.

 

– What should I bring before moving to Jamaica? –

 

Many expats comment that they wished that had been more pragmatic when moving to Jamaica. For example, expat testimonials say that they wish they had never brought their elegant clothing because they never use it.

 

Instead, many expats recommend purchasing lots of battery-powered and solar-powered devices because these things come in handy. Often times, the electricity in Jamaican towns is run entirely on gas generators. These can go out for days at a time, and being prepared with a gas generator of your own is the best way to go about moving to Jamaica.

 

Also, other residents comment that things like toiletries and baby clothing are expensive because Jamaica is an island. It is always a good idea to stock up on hard-to-find materials before you move to a tropical island.

 

Lastly, many expats recommend packing light. Bring less clothing, less useless materials like your fine china plates—just less in general. Life is simple in Jamaica. Embrace this lifestyle as your own.

 

– The Lifestyle is Slower in Jamaica –

 

Nearly all expats comment on how the pace of life is incredibly lax in Jamaica. Things take a while to get done and this is universally one of the hardest things for Western expats to get used to when they move to Jamaica. However, many expats say that despite the occasional frustration in infrastructure or bureaucracy, they wouldn’t change it for the world. Just be prepared to wait days, weeks, and even months for repairs or replacements if something should go awry. Do not expect your life in Jamaica to be like a tropical vacation getaway. Be sure to do your research to avoid uncomfortable circumstances before you move.

 

STEP 4 – HEALTHCARE IN JAMAICA:

Healthcare in Jamaica can be a disaster in some hospitals. Most of the best doctors are hired by the resort chains to service their particular hotels. Many other good doctors start private practices outside of their own homes. It is important to find a good doctor when you first arrive in your area. If you have a nearby doctor that locals trust, then you should develop a relationship with that person in order to take care of non-life-threatening matters.

 

If you do have an emergency, many expats opt for Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance. Expat forums are filled with stories of lives saved because they were evacuated to a hospital in Florida instead of being treated in Jamaica. For more information on how to get Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance, click here. To explore more insurance options, including finding the right expat insurance for your particular circumstances in Jamaica, click here.

 

Another important factor to consider is that prescription medication is not always available on the island—and if it is available, it can often time be shockingly expensive. Many expats suggest ordering prescription medication in bulk inside the United States or abroad and then picking it up when you visit the mainland.

 

One thing is certain, that when it comes to your health and the health of those whom you love so dearly, it always pays to be prepared.

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