Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/18
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?
It takes about eight to ten hours to get to the West Coast. There are no direct flights there from Kingston.
3. How long have you lived here?
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 consists of a government-owned apartment complex (Powell Plaza) and townhouses/single family homes. Apartments in Powell Plaza have two -three bedrooms, and are very spacious and nice. The property has a decent-sized gym, game room, barbecue area, tennis court, racketball court, and a pool. Powell is good for singles and young families, especially for spouses who don't work, since they have easy access to the aforementioned facilities and can meet up with other spouses. Since Powell Plaza is a government owned complex, maintenance issues are generally resolved within a day or two. The only thing that some people complain about this place is security entrance procedures for non-residents.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything here is 1.5 to 2 times more expensive. Local products are cheaper, however, quality is a mixed bag. A small jar of good peanut butter (not peanut sugar spread) or a bottle of olive oil can cost $8-9.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Ship enough olive oil, wine, peanut butter, nuts, maple syrup, engine oil, laundry/dishwasher detergent, mouth wash, and shampoo/conditioner. However, DPO makes it easy for us to ship almost anything we need.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are some great Indian and Japanese restaurants in Kingston. However, the prices sometimes seem to be a little higher than in Washington D.C. Almost every place will add 5-10% service fee, and 16.5% government tax. Customer service is slow and poor here, unless you are in an expensive restaurant. Waitresses or cashiers are usually pretty checked out.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through pouch and DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is readily available and most people are happy with their helpers. It has taken a few families, though, a bit of trial and error to find the right person. The embassy rate is a bit higher than the local rate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Powell Plaza has a nice and decent-sized gym. It might be the best gym on the island.
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?
Cards are accepted almost everywhere, but make sure that they run your credit card in front of you (especially at gas stations), and check your credit cards statements regularly.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
This is English speaking post, but sometimes it is hard to understand Jamaicans because of the local dialect.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes! It could be a very tough post for people with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Due to security concerns, we are not allowed to use public transportation. I believe the same goes for most colleagues: UK, EU, Canada, etc. There are couple of approved taxis we can take, but during the rush hour, it is very hard to get one.
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?
Bring something with clearance. Roads are terrible in Kingston, as well as in the south and east parts of the island. The roads get better on the North Coast, near high tourist areas. Taxi drivers (forever distracted and stopping) and coaster - bus drivers (the Mad Maxes of public transportation) drive recklessly and seem proud to do so. Needless to say, driving on the island can be very stressful. It's a left - hand drive country and Embassy colleagues are split between right - hand and left - hand personal vehicles.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet can be installed prior arrival. It is reliable most of the time. However, if there is an outage, the customer service representative is never able to tell how long it will take to restore the services. The prices are comparable to the U.S.
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. Coverage on the island is fine. It was mostly 3G when we arrived, but we get LTE now.
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?
It is very hard, nearly impossible to bring a pet to Post, although this is easing. A lot of people adopt pets on the island. Veterinary care is not cheap, and is not comparable to U.S. standards.
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 positions that are available to EFMs. Things are looking up with the hiring freeze lifted.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business or business casual. Depends on the section.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Kingston is a high crime post. Some parts of the island are off limits. We are not allowed to walk in most of the places, which makes life at post much more difficult. It can be tough for young women walking outside alone, even for a couple of minutes in broad daylight. Local men can be unwaveringly aggressive.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Zika is still a concern and pregnant women medevac off island. We have a fantastic health unit in the embassy, with amazing nurses and doctors. Hospitals can get very pricey, almost like in the US, but the quality is not up to the US standards. People are evacuated to Miami for major issues.
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?
Air quality is fine. However, the locals burn trash a lot.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Jamaica has a nice climate. The temperature varies from 75 to 90 degrees. Kingston can get a bit muggy and windless, especially in the summer. Winter is blissful, island wide.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is good here.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is good for couples and families, if you are willing to get out of Kingston on the weekends.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Beautiful beaches, the Blue Mountains, and great coffee.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Getting out of Kingston is key. Those that appear happiest at Post tend to be those take to island's variety of offerings, most outside of the capital. Negril, Ocho Rios, Treasure Beach, Portland, and some parts of Montego Bay.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No, a lot of handcrafts are actually made overseas, despite the seller telling you he/she carved it, or made it just that morning. You'll see the same carving or painting two minutes down the road. Buy clothes and shoes before you come to the post. There is, however, good rum and coffee (expensive).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it would be and how slowly things are done. A favorite local phrase is "soon come" which means anywhere from five minutes to never.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Our family is split on this question.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, bicycles, and low-clearance car.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, sunscreen, and beach gear.