Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 06/24/18

Personal Experiences from Kingston, Jamaica

Kingston, Jamaica 06/24/18

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, have lived in Asia, Africa, and other parts of North America.

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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?

Primarily the northeastern US. There is a 4-hour direct flight from NYC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Over 2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Many expats live in housing developments with townhouses, most of which have pools. If you are with the US Embassy, you may also live in an apartment complex they own; both complexes are nice.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries and especially household goods can be shockingly expensive. Best strategy is to go to local markets (or get helper to if you have one) and avoid buying too many processed foods and household goods.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More household goods. Chocolate. Wine. Cheese.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are a variety of international restaurants that are popular with the expat set: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, and Mexican. I also recommend jerk stands and/or local chains like Island Grill. There is Burger King, KFC (reportedly much better than the US version which Jamaicans think is terrible), Subway, Wendy’s, etc.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

It is the tropics. Lots of bugs, with the most dangerous being the mosquito as it carries Zika Virus, Chikungunya, etc. We did have a wood termite infestation in our house, as did another family in our compound. Otherwise, expect ants, etc.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use DPO and pouch, no experience with the local postal facilities.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Many expats, especially those with kids, employ a "helper" full time for around US$500 - US$600/month. Part-time helpers are also available.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Varies, but generally on par with U.S., a tad cheaper if you’re lucky. There are also yoga and Pilates studios.

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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?

Widely used in established businesses. ATMs are available, but I would be careful about where I use one due to card skimming.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, there are many, many Jamaican churches. The services are all in English.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A little patois comes in handy.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. There is very little accommodation for physical disability.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The US Embassy recommends using only a couple taxi companies. Jamaica's taxi drivers are generally pretty reckless drivers, so wear a seatbelt if they've got one.

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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?

Ask folks on the ground what kind of cars are popular. I see a lot of Honda CRVs and Toyotas; buying one of those will make resale and maintenance easier and cheaper. High clearance can be useful, although most Jamaican drivers get by without. 4WD can also come in handy, but it's not a must. Know that the road conditions are not fantastic.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, costs depends on your phone plan as they are typically bundled. Service is relatively quick and efficient in my experience with FLOW. Digicel is a competitor.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Digicel and Lime are the main carriers. Rates are not too bad, pretty good rates to the U.S. as many Jamaicans have family there. Calls are more expensive than internet, so many people use WhatsApp.

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Pets:

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?

Only pets from the UK allowed to enter. No other pets AT ALL. Strays abound if you want to adopt!

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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?

Many expat spouses/partners do not work. Jobs depend on who you know, so the longer people stay, the more likely they are to find a place in the local economy. I mostly know spouses that have continued to do work that they did previously, are telecommuting, or are engaged in an artistic/entrepreneurial profession.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many! A lot of folks come from the US to volunteer. Anything from orphanages to environmental issues.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Jamaicans are sharp and stylish dressers. They dress very well, almost formally for work and occasions.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes. Realistically, roads seem to me to be the biggest danger. Roads are in poor condition and it seems reckless driving makes the problem worse. Also, Jamaica also has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Much of the murder rate can be chalked up to drug and gang-related violence. It's my understanding that unless you are a victim of a home invasion, or go to the wrong neighborhood or are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you are not a big target as a foreigner. That said, it seems security firms are some of the largest employers in Jamaica, so clearly it is an issue. In the last few years, sexual assaults of women at resorts has also been an issue.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Zika, other mosquito borne illnesses. The quality of the medical care is not great overall. There are good physicians, but hospital facilities are not great. Fortunately, for non-emergency care, you are near the U.S. A number of Jamaican elites go to the U.S. for care, so that should give you an idea of their confidence in the local facilities. For those embassy folks, there is an in-house doctor who is good. Based on personal experience, I would not recommend getting major dental work or other serious procedures done in Jamaica.

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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?

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Have heard it’s quite bad for some allergy sufferers, but I have no personal experience.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Tropical: it is warm, hot, and very hot. In Kingston, 80 is cool weather. There are several rainy seasons and during that time, rains can be frequent and heavy, but usually the sun is out at some point in the day. If you need relief from the heat, though, the mountains are just an hour away and there, you might even need a sweater.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

People seem happy with the American school and Hillel, no direct experience.

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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?

They are ok, and more affordable than those in the US. Jamaicans tend to focus on “academics” from a young age. It’s not unusual to sit toddlers down for a classroom lecture or assign them homework.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Many sports activities are available.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Fairly large expat community. The US Embassy is medium-sized. Morale seems to be mixed. For some it’s a dream, for others the tropics is just not their thing. In the wider expat community, morale also seems to be mixed. Some expats moved here because they are nuts about Jamaica and they are very happy! Others are here for work/spouse. Wide spectrum of feelings, but most like it or at least don’t seem to loathe it.

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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?

Depends a lot on your taste. Jamaica has a lively theatre, art, and musical tradition, but it’s often not very well-publicized. Easiest way to find out about things is to read the local paper and/or get on social media (Facebook, there is such a thing as Jamaican twitter) and follow folks in the know. Some interest groups such as Natural History Society of Jamaica and the Georgian Society of Jamaica are good opportunities explore lesser known spots and meet locals with similar interests.

As far as parties, if you are into dancehall, you are in luck; there are parties all the time and literally at all hours of the day.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, it can be a good city for anyone. Rather than family status, it seems that whether you like it seems to depend on whether you find either the tropical lifestyle or Jamaican culture (or both) endearing or interesting. If you love warm weather, beaches and the laid back vibes of the tropics, you will probably find a lot to like in Jamaica. Same goes if have an interest in reggae, dancehall, Rastafari, or global black history.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not really. There is an LGBTQ movement and scene, but homophobia seems very mainstream. Prominent gay authors, such as Marlon James and Nicole Denis-Benn, among others, have written extensively on this topic.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There seems to be a lot of racial segregation in Jamaica, and, to me, a lot of parsing of shades of color. The small population of white Jamaicans seem to be wealthier. Sexism appears to be rampant.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

I had a lot of special experiences in Jamaica, most of them traveling outside of Kingston to beautiful beaches with friends or getting into a session of "reasoning" with Jamaicans. Port Antonio and Blue Fields are some favorite places, as are the Blue Mountains.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

You can go to resorts, if that is your thing. They tend to be pricey. There are also many small villas available for rent. Prices range from affordable to astronomical. There are cultural events in Kingston such as concerts, lectures at UWI, exhibits, etc. The local art and music scene is vibrant for a city this size. The best way to find out about goings on is probably social media (FB, Twitter). Not a hidden gem, but a too-often overlooked one is the Calabash literary festival at Treasure Beach every other year.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

I would not say this is a "shopping post," but local fine artists are accessible and have their works for sale. If you want tourist knick-knacks and Bob Marley memorabilia, there’s plenty of that too. I wouldn't say any of it is cheap.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

A lot of people choose this post for its proximity to the US, so that is one.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, this is a special island.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter coats.

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3. But don't forget your:

Beach gear and sunblock.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

A Brief History of 7 Killings and Here Comes the Sun are two recently published novels worth reading. The authors Marlon James and Nicole Denis-Benn have also written informative essays related to life in Jamaica in various US publications. Other authors of interest include Anthony Winkler, Kei Miller. Any history book on the transatlantic slave trade/sugar industry in the Caribbean.

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