The Barrel From "Farin" (Foreign)

The ritual of sending a barrel of foreign goods and difficult-to-get items from abroad back home to Jamaica is a ritual often linked to holidays like Christmas and Easter. Barrels are also frequently sent during the summer. The barrels may contain food items that are rare or scarce on the island, or clothing that is less expensive to obtain overseas than in Jamaica. Some of the item typically sent home in barrels are rice, coffee, sugar, canned goods, toiletries, fabric, sneakers, shoes, hair products, perfumes, and clothing.

And while it may see strange to import items like coffee, rice and sugar to Jamaica where these commodities are grown and can be purchased at reasonable prices, it is a fact that they are exported to other countries in order to bring revenue to Jamaica. This means that the average Jamaican cannot afford to buy them frequently without creating a hardship for their families. Barrels are also sent home because they offer a way for immigrants to send gifts and necessary supplies to their families.

Barrels are transported through importers like Laparkan, Caribbean Shipping Services, and Inter Island Shipping. Once the barrels are sent to Jamaica, the task of retrieving them is a tedious one, and the excitement and joy that accompanies receiving a barrel from abroad is compromised by heavy fees and tariffs imposed before the packages can be cleared. About J$5,000 is required to clear each barrel upon its arrival in Jamaica, and recipients must have shipping and airline documents from a foreign agent that shows where the items originated and their final destination.

Receiving Barrels: The Procedure

1) Freight Agent

This agent is responsible for handling goods that arrive in Jamaican ports. Shipping documents must be taken to the freight agent, who will provide an airway bill/bill of lading to clear the goods. If goods are personal or household items and do not exceed the cost of freight of insurance (US$3,000), recipients may proceed to the wharf, airport or warehouse to retrieve their barrel.

2) Documents Required to Receive the Barrel

Recipients must have the following documents to get their barrels: Taxpayer Registration Number, Drivers’ license, passport, voter identification, invoice, airway bill/bill of lading, custom forms identifying the value of the items.

3) Customs Officer

Once all papers have been examine and approved by the Customs Manifest Branch, the Customs Officer will process the stamp the Goods Declaration Form and return the documents to the barrel recipient.

4) Warehouse Keeper

Once the Goods Declaration Form has been stamped, barrel recipients must take the airway bill to the Warehouse Keeper. This agent locates the barrel or barrels and places them in an examination area where they are inspected by a Customs Officer.

5) Customs Inspection

Customs Officers go through the items and confiscate products they deem to be illegal or inappropriate for bringing into Jamaica. During the inspection, items listed as being sent are sometimes found to be missing as barrel contents are examined. The process can be frustrating for recipients, who sometimes face difficult interactions with Customs agents.

The required documents are shown to the Customs Officer at this point, and the items are inspected. If there are no fees or duties applied, the Officer will release the merchandise. If duties are payable, however, the recipient must make a payment at the Customs Cashier before retrieving their goods.

6) Receiving the Barrel(s)

Once all of these steps are completed and all documents have been presented, examined and approved, the recipient can take possession of the goods. Many breathe a sigh of relief after going through the extensive bureaucratic procedure and regain their joy and excitement at receiving desired items from overseas.

In spite of the difficulties, the legend of the barrel continues long after it has been emptied and the merchandise used and worn. In some Jamaican households, empty barrels are used for storage or they may be covered with decorative material and serve as side tables or night stands. Children often play games with the barrels as well.

Research data provided by

About the author

Stephanie Korney