Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 12/28/14
Personal Experiences from Kingston, Jamaica
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, lived in Europe, Asia, and did extensive travel in Sub-Saharan Africa with a previous job.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
New York. 3.5 - 4 hour direct non-stop flights to and from Kingston with JetBlue and Caribbean Airlines. American Airlines connects via Miami (2.5 hour flight) and then onto Kingston (90 minute flight). Delta now offers service to and from Kingston via Atlanta (2.5 hour flight from Kingston).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work for US government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing for U.S. government folks is generally split between apartments and townhouses. The apartments are located in a building that used to be a hotel and was converted into an apartment building. Apartments there are 2-3 bedroom, 2.5 - 3 bathroom units with balconies, washer/dryer, dishwasher, etc. in the unit (no garbage disposals). Each unit is about 1,600 square feet and views vary but most include mountains or the Caribbean Sea, some lucky people have both. Townhouses are spread out around Kingston, many are located in compounds with other expats and locals, all have 24 hour security, most have communal swimming pools as well. Commute times vary from 10 - 40 minutes to the Embassy. Traffic is also a huge factor in commute times and traffic volumes increase during the school year as there is no formal public school bus system.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
In general, locally produced items are going to be cheap, but of lesser quality (except fruits and veggies). Items in the grocery stores that cater to expats are at least 30% more than in the U.S., if not more. You can purchase very good fruits and vegetables from vendors around or outside of the city for pennies on the dollar. If you have domestic help, then ask him/her to purchase fruits/veggies for you because they can get the local prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing specific. You can get pretty much anything you need on the island, but for 30% more than you'd pay in the US. If you're patient then you can order pretty much whatever you need to the DPO. For those without access to the DPO, UPS and FedEx offer door-to-door service (they even clear the item(s) through customs for you).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
In general, Kingston is an expensive city. Pretty much everything not grown on the island is imported and so that impacts the costs of most everything, food included. Expect to pay 30% or more for the American fast food companies than you are used to. Local fast food chains are much cheaper and still have very good food. Make sure you try all of the major brands of patties (Tasty, Mother's Juicy, etc.).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are the most common pest. They can carry dengue, Chick-V. I was unaware of any Malaria on the island and no one I knew was taking prophylaxis meds for it. There are also cockroaches and small lizards that can get into your home. The lizards eat do eat mosquitoes and other insects so if you can tolerate their presence they do provide a natural pest control service.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
For U.S. government staff, there is a DPO. Amazon and Walmart were two of the more popular options for people looking to purchase non-perishable food items. Delivery usually took 1- 2 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is readily available and relatively inexpensive. Most people pay in the area of US$20 per day for their helpers.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Be careful. I did use my ATM card often, but only at Scotia Bank, fortunately, no problems. I only used my credit card at larger grocery stores, again, fortunately no issues. Many people did have their cards skimmed . I would not recommend using a card at any place where they cannot swipe it right in front of you.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the official language of Jamaica. Locals do speak Patois (local dialect) among each other but everyone speaks English. If you speak English then you'll have no problems in Jamaica.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Newer buildings (of course the major resorts and hotels) seem to have accounted for people with physical disabilities. However, in general, the infrastructure in Jamaica does not make it easy.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transportation in Jamaica is a mix of buses and taxis. They are affordable, but not recommended because they can be very unsafe due to the style of driving among Jamaican chauffeurs. There are no trains. Fortunately, Jamaica is a relatively small island and the drive from Kingston to Negril is 4 hours, to Montego Bay 3 - 3.5 hours, Ocho Rios 2.5 - 3 hours, Port Antonio, 2. - 2.5 hours, so things are not far.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
The Jamaican government restricts what vehicles can be imported. As of late 2014, SUVs had to be 5 years old or newer and other vehicles 6 years old or newer to be imported onto the island. Most people opted for mid to regular size SUVs that have a high ground clearance. The roads in Jamaica, especially outside of Kingston, are riddled with potholes and other obstacles that you want to avoid.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available and very reliable. The speeds are pretty much the same as in the U.S. and the cost for phone/tv/internet packages are roughly what you'd expect to pay in the States.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No pets are allowed to be brought onto the island.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Few and far between. Jamaicans are eager to leave the island in search of job opportunities. For expats with specialized skills (accounting, legal, tax services, possibly tourism management) there may be better opportunities. Many people try to work remotely with a US or other foreign companies from home since the communications infrastructure is very good.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Several. There are under served local orphanages, animal shelters, food banks, etc. that need help. Most are willing to accept volunteers.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Kingston is known as a high-crime area but this was largely confined to the downtown portions of the city. Typically, there is little crime (petty or otherwise) in the parts of town where expats live. That said, there were some incidents of home break-ins or theft/muggings at ATMs around town. Most people who used common sense were okay and they avoided the downtown areas and were discrete when using ATMs or going out for the night.
2. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality in Kingston is typically fine. There is a very large landfill/dump in Portmore that catches on fire from time to time and the smoke from those fires can be blown into Kingston, depending on the wind. People are routinely burn leaves and small piles of garbage, but those are usually very small and isolated fires, but they do spread smoke. The air quality outside of Kingston is typically better, especially up in the mountains.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is fairly constant. Temperatures range from 80 - 90 F or so during the day and in the winter months the evening/night temperature can fall to around 70. During the peak of the summer July/August, the temperature can get close to 100. There is a rainy/hurricane season from November - June, which varies in intensity from year to year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Children of U.S. government staff attend either AISK or Hillel. Both are very good schools, the top private schools in Jamaica. Many Jamaican students who attend these schools go on to attend colleges in the U.S.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community in Jamaica is large and morale is generally high.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Kingston can be a good city for families, singles, and couples. For families, there is a good size expat community, children have amazing options for after-school activities, sports, etc. There are often movie nights, birthday parties, and other kid-themed events to attend. For singles and couples, there are some good restaurants, bars and clubs in Kingston. Beach parties are also prevalent. Jamaicans are usually up for meeting foreigners and showing them a good time. Most people I know who enjoy going out have no shortage of opportunities for finding things to do.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Jamaica is very conservative on this issue. Openly gay or lesbian couples or individuals are not really welcomed.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
One love? This is a real concept in Jamaica. Jamaican men and women can sometimes be overly flirtatious and their attitudes toward gender roles tend to be more traditional. Most people are religious (Christian) and attend church every week. I am unaware of any real prejudice toward other religions or races. Jamaicans truly do share the One Love concept, which does feed into some social issues facing the island.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting to know Jamaicans. They have a fascinating culture and history that is rich and they are happy to share it with foreigners. There are also many 5K races in and around Kingston, some even incorporate beaches into the race. Of course, the beaches are amazing, the weather is wonderful and the coffee is divine. Also, if you're from the U.S., you'll probably never live closer to home while being in a foreign country. Travel to and from the U.S. is relatively easy and cheap - a great recipe for weekend getaways and family/friend visits to the island. Climbing Blue Mountain is also a must-do, no special gear needed. It take about 4 hours to hike up from Whitmore Hall and 3 hours to hike back down. The summit is at roughly 7,000 feet and on a clear day they say you can see Cuba.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Port Antonio. This part of the island is not frequented by tourists and has a more laid back and local feel to it. Frenchman's Cove and San San Beach are only a 2 - 2.5 hour drive from Kingston, perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway. Climbing the Blue Mountain is also an amazing experience.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Jamaicans are extremely friendly and know how to have a good time. There are nearly endless beaches, waterfalls, rivers, jerk centers, and outdoor activities to explore. The main tourist attractions are on the North coast (Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios) but there are lesser-visited gems in Port Antonio (Frenchman's Cove, San San Beach, Blue Lagoon, Boston Bay). The southwest part of the island also has amazing beaches and nice bed and breakfast options. The weather is usually hot (80 - 90 F) and sunny year round, save for the rainy season (November - June). Real Blue Mountain coffee is also prevalent on the island. Make sure to visit some of the coffee plantations (UCC, Coffee Roasters, Strawberry Hill, etc.)
8. Can you save money?
Some people did save money but the costs of food and entertainment are much higher than people expect.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! Jamaican is an amazing place to live and work. Great people, great weather, great beaches, tons of outdoor activities!