Over the years, many people from various countries have chosen to make Jamaica their permanent home. Some came on temporary assignment and fell in love with the country’s natural beauty. For others, their heart was stolen by someone special. Whatever the reason, Jamaica’s ‘out of many one people’ mindset means that foreigners are usually welcomed with open arms into the communities that they chose to call home. If you’re thinking about moving to Jamaica, here are eight things you should know.
1. Keep an open mind
Contrary to what you may have read or heard, Jamaica is a very inclusive society and will gladly welcome outsiders into their community. That being said, you will be expected to fall in the line with the local culture. Racist utterances and ideologies will quickly earn the ire of the local people in the predominantly black country.
2. Get used to island time
In Jamaica, time pretty much moves at its own pace. This includes meetings, delivery times and pretty much anything that you would consider to be time sensitive. You will need a whole lot of patience to appreciate the fact that your “urgent” matter will be dealt with at a time convenient to those entrusted to deal with the matter rather than when it’s convenient to you.
3. Get to know the people
Like anywhere else in the world, there are good and bad people. Jamaicans are warm, friendly people who will help you to settle in to your new home, show you where to shop for bargains, and share fruits and vegetables from their backyard garden. Their approach to you, however, depends a lot on your approach to them. If you are friendly and welcoming, you are very likely to be treated likewise by your neighbours. But if you choose to isolate yourself from the locals, don’t be surprised if you suddenly become the target of petty crimes.
4. The crime rate is very high
There’s no sense beating around the bush. Jamaica has an usually high crime rate for such a small country, mostly involving warring gangs and petty criminals. However, innocent citizens are sometimes targeted for robberies and other serious crimes. Avoid venturing into areas that are known crime hotspots – usually innercity communities where poverty is widespread. Watch the news and talk with your neighbours to keep abreast of what’s happening around you. It would also be wise not to flaunt your wealth in public, and avoid walking around with flashy jewelry or wads of cash.
5. Cost of living is high
The first thing you should know about shopping in Jamaica is that you will pay between 16.5% to 20% consumption tax on nearly everything that you purchase. Supermarket shelves are stocked with your favorite North American and UK brands but they cost way more than you would pay for them back home. Many expats prefer to eat the foods that they’re used to but you’ll pay dearly for the cost of import. Save money by buying Jamaican made products, and getting your fruits and vegetables at the local market. Also bear in mind that electricity rates may be lower than your home country but they are relatively high by Jamaican standards and will be one of the biggest recurring costs of living in Jamaica.
6. Decide where you want to live
Housing costs vary greatly depending on where you want to live. In upper class, suburban communities, the rent is still cheaper than in developed countries and you get access to additional amenities such as a communal swimming pool or the peace of mind of private security. That said, you are likely to have a much richer cultural experience when you live in a middle class community where you can eat mangoes with your neighbor by the fence, or get jolted from sleep by the blaring sound of gospel music from a radio three houses down on a Sunday morning.
7. To drive or not to drive
Public transportation is cheap and widely available in the cities and gets more expensive and sporadic as you go into the rural areas. There are many options available from public buses and taxies that run specific routes, to taxies available for private hire, and air-conditioned highway buses that take you from one end of the island to the other. If you plan to stick around for a while, having your own vehicle will give you the freedom to explore the island’s interior at your own leisure. That said, driving in Jamaica is not for the faint-hearted. Be prepared to witness crazy overtaking and breakneck speeding even on local roads. But if you don’t have your own vehicle, you can still get around with ease if you plan properly and bring lots of patience.
8. Good medical care is available
In addition to major public hospitals, there are many private medical centers spread out across the island where you can access the most modern medical procedures available. However, the closer you live to the cities of Montego Bay or Kingston, the more likely it is that you are close to one of these facilities, ranging from eye care, to cardiologists, to cosmetic procedures, to dialysis and diagnostic centers. As usual, bring lots of patience as long waits are the norm even at private facilities. Just in case you need advanced medical treatment that is not yet available on the island, Miami is a mere 90 minute flight away.