Jamaica Magazine

FAQ on Living in Jamaica – An American Retiree in Jamaica

Over the past several months I have had several people ask very specific questions about life in Jamaica. I will share some of these questions and answers from my view point and understanding taken from my life in Montego Bay.


1) Can anyone move to Jamaica?

Yes, but it is a complicated process. If you come to retire you need to prove income and face a background check. This is done as part of applying for permanent residency through immigrations. This 3 year process starts within a few weeks of arriving on the island. Another possibility is to come on a work permit. It is difficult finding a job as most work goes to the Jamaicans first because of the double digit unemployment rate. Specialized positions and professional people stand a better chance of being successful in their endeavor. The work permit process takes time and must be approved before you can start working.

2) Is it possible for non-residents to purchase property?

Yes, both Coldwell Bankers and Century 21 have offices that cover the island. There are also numerous independent agents eager to assist you. Mortgage rates are in the mid to upper teens. At this time it appears to be a buyer’s market as many homes have been on the market for an extended period of time. The internet is a good source of mid to high end properties throughout the island.

3) Is it feasible to purchase a home to rent until I retire?

Certainly this is a possibility but you run the risk of the problems associated with absentee landlords. A trustworthy person to protect your interests is a must.

4) Should I bring a car or purchase one locally?

Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road. Most of the roads are narrow and winding making a left hand drive car have visibility problems. New and used automobiles are widely available. Many of the used cars are imported from Japan, both from used car lots and the internet.

5) What about the cost of car insurance and gasoline?

There are many insurance companies with competitive rates. They offer the same coverage as those in the US. A few companies offer at no charge road side assistance in case of an accident. Surcharges apply here for accidents as in the US. The current price of 89 octane gas is US $3.50 a gallon. While that is high there is less driving because of the close proximity and size of Montego Bay.

6) Are the cost of utilities reasonable?

Yes, the water is billed at JA $32.12 per thousand liters, plus a service charge and a PAM (Price Adjustment Mechanism). The landline telephone has a basic fee of around JA $600.00, depending upon features. Broadband unlimited internet access is JA $1976.20. The first hour of local calls are free before billing starts. The electric bill is more complicated with the fees and adjustments more than the actual cost of the electricity. Everyone\’s uses are different but my monthly water bill runs about JA $700.00, the phone is around JA $3,000 and the electric averages JA $6,000 or a total of about US $150.00 per month.

7) What type of medical facilities and health insurance are available?

There is one large hospital in town with several smaller clinics. Doctors are plentiful and are knowledgeable. Kingston has more specialized practices but most treatments can be acquired locally. There are several health insurance companies including Blue Cross of Jamaica. They use the 80/20 plan as HMOs are not available. It costs me under US $1,000 for my wife and I for one year.

8) Is there homeowner’s insurance including flood and hurricane coverage?

Yes, but expensive. A recent newspaper article said only about 35% of homeowners have insurance. Surprisingly a large number of businesses go without insurance.

9) What is the year round weather?

The day time temperatures at my house average in the mid 90’s F in the summer and the mid 80’s F in the winter. Night time temperatures run between ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the day. The coldest morning temperature since I\’ve been here was 66 degrees. When you\’re used to the above temperatures 66 is cold!

10) How often do you get hurricanes and how quick is the recovery?

As I write this, hurricane Dean is due to cross the island in less than 24 hours. Ivan (2004) was the last major hurricane since Gilbert in 1988. Each year we experience tropical waves or depressions which usually cause flooding and minor wind damage.

11) What type of stores are available for clothing, groceries and hardware?

There are two major grocery store chains and numerous independent stores. The independent stores are more like large \”mom & pop\” stores. Clothing stores are in abundance throughout the city, however the selection is more restrictive than in the US. There are several full service hardware stores which include building supplies.

12) Are groceries expensive?

That depends on your personal eating habits. Imported items are more expensive than domestic because of the added shipping and customs duty. Some of the same brands that you are familiar with in the states are available in Jamaica but come through Central American countries. Jamaica has several large food service companies which produce excellent quality products.

13) Are there any large shopping malls?

Yes, but not as you know them. Most of the shopping plazas located outside the city proper have a variety of specialty shops. A major Kingston department store is constructing a modern branch unlike anything in Montego Bay.

14) Do you pay taxes in the US? Can I get my pension sent to Jamaica?

I can only answer this question from my personal experience. My pensions do not meet the minimum level for paying federal taxes. I just recently learned that I should submit a tax return every year regardless because should I move back to the US and have to pay tax the IRS will question the years I did not file. Social Security will direct deposit checks to local banks. My work pension could also be direct deposited to Jamaica. However I have chosen to have both pensions deposited into a US bank. This enables me to pay US credit cards directly from my bank account. If you have any questions that I’ve failed to answer here, please feel free to contact me.

About the author

John Casey