Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/17
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?
Yes, first experience as an expatriate.
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?
Direct flights to NYC, Atlanta, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale from Kingston. Southwest flies from the airport in Montego Bay which opens a few more options.
3. How long have you lived here?
Nearly two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is good. There is one US gov't owned apartment building, Powell Plaza. Apartments are 2-3 bedrooms, bright, open and spacious. Powell provides great amenities including a pool, gym, play room for kids, tennis courts, etc. People in Powell are generally happy with their housing.
The biggest con to Powell Plaza is the distance from the Embassy and traffic. It can take almost an hour in traffic to go about 4 miles. Other leased housing is in gated neighborhoods throughout the city. All are open and quite spacious. Very limited yard space at most of the houses and town homes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Things are really, really expensive here. You can buy local products and brands to save money but most of the time the quality is not on par with US quality products. Most things are available but if you're looking for something very specific you might have to search several stores before you find it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Household items including paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, cleaning supplies, sunscreen, shampoos, make up products for fair skin. Food items like canned salsa, brown sugar, chocolate chips, powered milk. We do have a DPO which makes it fairly easy to get the things you need.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
American restaurants like Subway, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC. Jamaicans claim to have the best KFC in the world! There are lots of restaurants to choose from but customer service is not a priority. You can expect long waits and sub par service. Restaurants do deliver and there are a handful of online delivery services that have started up.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. Mail room and mail staff are great!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Helpers are affordable. $20-$35 USD per day for somebody to come clean. Child care is a bit more but still very affordable for full time help, $500-$700 USD per month depending on number of children and the helpers experience.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Powell Plaza has a great gym area that is available to all embassy staff.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit cards are used widely. Try to stick to the bank or ATM inside the embassy. Outside ATMs are fine--just be aware of your surroundings.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots and lots of churches in Kingston.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Jamaica's official language is English but most of what you'll hear from Jamaicans outside of work is the locally spoken patois. Sometimes this can be difficult to understand but it's a lot of fun to listen to and try to learn.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. No sidewalks, ramps are not typical.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not permitted by RSO with the exception of a handful of specific taxis that are approved.
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?
Most people have some type of small SUV due to the poor road conditions. Lots of potholes!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. There are outages sometimes and the company is basically unresponsive when that happens. Again, customer service is not a priority. It can usually be set up prior to your arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and use a local provider.
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 imported. However, lots of families have adopted pets during their time here. Vet care is good and affordable.
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?
There are number of EFMs working at the embassy. Most EFM positions are secretarial or administrative in nature. There are a few EFMs currently to telework. Work in the local economy does not provide a good salary.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages, schools, salvations army, local churches.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Men in slacks and button-up shirts, women in business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a critical crime post so security issues are part of life. Lock your doors when driving. Be vigilant in locking your gates and turning on alarms. Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid the restricted areas of the city as directed by RSO. All that being said, I have never personally felt threatened or unsafe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The embassy health unit just recently got a full time doctor (local hire) which has been great. Medical care is an issue. Facilities and equipment are not at US standards and wait times for services and appointments can be very, very long. The labs and hospitals look scary. Ambulance and emergency care is severely lacking. However, I have always been satisfied in the providers. Florida is a short flight for any issue that require a medical evacuation.
3. 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?
Apart from some seasonal allergies, generally good.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It's really easy to feel trapped and isolated because of all the restrictions. There are places to get outside and walk and play - just not right outside your door.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
You can't really get a better climate than Jamaica. It's basically between 70-85 all the time, all year round. There is rain but typically doesn't last very long and then the sun is shining again.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two schools that people send their children to: AISK and Hillel. People seem happy with the schools especially in the elementary grades.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Several different preschool options which people seem to be very pleased with.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Lots of options through the school (AISK): tennis, swimming, chess, robotics, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium-size population. I think morale is good! With expectations in the right place people are happy here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of play dates, pool parties, birthday parties, for the kids. Organized beach trips, hikes, runs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everybody!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Jamaica is very homophobic.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Violence against women has been in the forefront of the media in the past several months. Women have little value but more awareness is being brought to that issue.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting to know Jamaicans and the local embassy staff has been a treat. They are fun-loving people who are quick to take you in. The best part about being posted in Kingston is getting the opportunity to explore the rest of the island. Jamaica is beautiful and when you get outside of the city there is a lot of amazing things to do and see on the weekends. The newly constructed highway has made trips to the north coast easier and quicker.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hiking in Holywell, Reach Falls, Portland Parish, Frenchman's Cove, Irie Blue Hole, resorts in Ocho Rios, Bamboo Beach, Fort Charles, Golfing in Montego Bay, tons of options. There are lots of resorts to get away for the weekends but can be very expensive. Go during low season and ask for the local rate and sometimes you can get reasonable prices.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The mangos are delicious.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I knew food and groceries would be expensive but it's EXPENSIVE!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, this has been a great post for us.
3. But don't forget your:
Beach toys, water shoes, sun screen.