Commentary General

Moving Back to Jamaica from a First World Country

After visiting South Africa last December (and especially after touring the Alexandria and Soweto Townships), I am facing the fact that my Move back to Jamaica has a lot to do with moving from First World to Third.

In Johannesburg, it is possible to move from First to Third and back again at will, simply by driving a few miles down a road, or by crossing a highway. The transformation is complete, entire and total — almost like entering an airplane in one country and exiting via the stairs into another.

Everything was instantly different — the buildings, the signage, the colour of the people, the poverty, the way the cars drove, the smells, the dust. I liken it to flying from Washington DC to Accra on a direct flight.

Moving Back to Jamaica is not very different.

Essentially a Move Back to Jamaica is not only an economic move from First World to Third, but a cultural move from the U.S./Canada/England (mostly Anglo-European countries) to an African-Anglo country.

As an economic move, Moving Back to Jamaica is like moving to live in any developing country in the world. I have visited a few, and there are just ways in which life is conducted in the developing world (which happens to comprise the vast majority) that are quite common, and widespread.

From my unscientific and limited experience, I can expect the following when I visit a Third World country:

  • some people living in shacks, barely subsisting
  • high crime
  • income disparity
  • bad roads and crazy driving
  • corruption in the police force
  • a lot of cheap goods being sold on the streets (most from the Far East)
  • power cuts
  • government bureaucracy and obstacles to doing business
  • illiteracy
  • rampant incompetence
  • heat, humidity and weak air conditioning

Basically, anyone Moving Back to Jamaica from a First World Country must deal with all of the above elements. Although they might have existed in Miami, Toronto or London, here they will undoubtedly find them heightened here.

But this is no different from Moving Back to Lagos, Mumbai, Caracas or St. George.

Each country has its nuances, but the move from First World to Third is bound to be accompanied by a culture shock that comes with a radical adjustment.

Here, we like to say “only in Jamaica,” when encountering some aspect of life that doesn’t work as it should. However, the truth is that most of what we think is hard about life in Jamaica, is harder someplace else…
For example:

  • Crime > compared to > South Africa’s murders, Colombia’s internal strife. (And we still don’t have the kidnappings that Trinidad has experienced)
  • Poverty > compared to > Haiti (we should be thanking our blessings)
  • Corruption > compared to > Nigeria (we are ranked at #61 out of #163 in our corruption index)
  • Income Disparity > compared to > Brazil (we are ranked with a score of 37 on a scale of countries with Gini coefficients ranging from 29 to 100)
  • Literacy -> compared to> Pakistan (our literacy rate puts us at #99 of 173)

The point is that we are quite an average Third World Country as these combined measures go (except for our exceptional murder rate.)

And we are definitely not a First World country.

Moving Back to Jamaica means accepting wholeheartedly that a move from First to Third World is difficult for anyone who expects the new country to be like the first. I have met people who have moved here to Jamaica and struggled to fit in, not because Jamaica is particularly difficult, but just because they are unwilling to accept the difference.

They dearly miss the shopping (Target! Marks and Spencer! Canadian Tire!), the roads (I-95! 417! A1! ) and the security of living in a developed country, among other things.

The part that many seem to miss is the fact that when they leave the First World, to live in the Third, they are actually leaving the elite of humanity to join in the majority, and that the life lived in New York, Mississauga and Manchester is not typical of the way most people in the world live.

In fact, according to the website Causes of Poverty:

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.
  • A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.

The hard thing to face, for those of us who left Jamaica to live in the First World, is that we often become accustomed to the privilege of living in an elite country, completely forgetting that we are enjoying a rare and unique privilege. Instead, we follow the crowd and take the wealth that is around us for granted, and come to expect it as some kind of norm.

The indignant cries that “you just can’t buy good quality clothes anywhere on the island” from those who move to live in Jamaica, therefore sound to me like a complaint based in an ignorance of how most people in the world live, rather than in an inconvenience.

A move to live in Jamaica is bound to be a hardship unless the reality of world poverty is embraced, and the fact of First World privilege is acknowledged.

I’d recommend that, long before the Move Back to Jamaica occurs, a returnee should:

  • become acquainted with the statistics on world poverty
  • travel to other Third World countries
  • start to acquaint themselves with the depths of poverty in Jamaica

When I hear of people who have failed in their Move Back to Jamaica, and I hear the reasons, I often wonder… what did they expect?

A successful move relies on having the right kind of expectation, and being able to deal with the reality of life in this particular, not but so peculiar, poor country.

Francis Wade is the author of the blog “Moving Back to Jamaica” which can be read at When he began the blog in 2005 the move seemed to be a matter of containers, shipping companies and customs brokers. Now, it is about much more.


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Francis Wade