Expats Moving to Jamaica

If you’re an expat and you’re planning a move to Jamaica, you have probably spent hours scouring the internet for information use to help make the transition. (If you’re a Jamaican who has been away for more than ten years, this may apply to you also.)

You have probably discovered that there is a great deal of information for tourists, with pictures of beaches, waterfalls and breath-taking vistas from hills and mountains.

At the same time, you may also be suffering from a shortness of breath after what you have heard about the crime rate. And the poverty. And the hurricanes. Not to mention outbreaks of dengue fever, potholes, corruption and the like.

Yet, in spite of the negative stories you decide that you are still coming, either because you know better, or because you are coming for a job. You have probably realized that practical information for those who want to move to Jamaica to live is very hard to find.

Here are 3 tips to keep in mind before making your final trip with your suitcases (or container) packed. it’s some of what my wife and I have learned from our many conversations with expats here in Kingston.

1. The Transition Will Be Harder Than You Think
I think our island is intoxicating. It helps us forget some of the stark facts that I won’t repeat here, that scare most people away from either living here or returning. The beauty, culture, music, people, community, food… it lulls everyone who returns to live in Jamaica into a romantic feeling that “Every Likkle Thing Will Be Alright!”

Well, Bob was right, but prepare to have long periods of doubts when you realize how difficult the transition will be! But not to worry – you are in good company. Everyone I have talked to discovered the same thing, which is that things here are very different from what they were used to, which makes it exciting and new in some parts, but challenging and formidable in others.

This makes for the shocks that everyone reports, and their observation that it was harder than they thought it would be. You should assume the same.

The key is to be prepared, so that you can be surprised by big things like “How difficult it is so set up a company,” rather than the small things like “Exactly which side of the road people drive on!”

2. Learn Jamaican Patois
It comes as a shock to many to learn that we in Jamaica speak a different language most of the time, and that some of us are not bi-lingual enough to make ourselves understood to a foreigner.

Expats who learn to understand and then speak patois are able to navigate Jamaica, tour the island, stay out of trouble, bargain for discounts and find out “the runnings” (i.e. what’s happening) early on. The language can’t be learned in a classroom, however. The only school that exists is the one that teaches daily lessons learned from driving around and doing business in Jamaica on a frequent basis.

Those who retreat back into what’s called the “expat bubble” and limit their contact with Jamaicans end up having a difficult time. International research shows that they are the most likely to end up returning before the assignment is complete. Their fears get the better of them.

3. Make Room for the Trailing Spouse
All the international research indicates that the experience of the trailing spouse is critically important. In most cases, the spouse is a wife, and she is the one whose happiness must be assured for the move to be a success. We know of many cases here in Kingston where this lesson was only learned when the wife issued an ultimatum, and in some cases moved back home with the kids to help make the point.

It’s important that families realize this fact, and plan accordingly. There are a variety of opportunities here in Kingston for the wives of expats, including service organizations, book clubs and charities to help connect with existing communities.

Generally, it is difficult for trailing spouses to find work due to the need for a work permit. Recently, the government clamped down on the process, and increased the fee to US$1500, only making it more challenging. The family should be prepared to get by with only a single member working.

* All this is not the say that a move to Jamaica is impossible to make. It’s not. Thousands have made the transition, and thousands more will also make it in the future. They key is to do as much preparation as possible so that it can actually be enjoyed, rather than merely endured.


Francis Wade is the co-author of the free e-book “The Top 10 1/2 Mistakes that People Make When Moving to Jamaica” and also the “Moving Back to Jamaica” blog – http://francismove.blogspot.com