Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 05/12/22
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?
Lisbon, Stuttgart, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico.
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?
Easy from the US.
3. What years did you live here?
2019 to 2022
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The job and the school for teenagers.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is awesome, spacious, with access to a pool is usual, small yard, or apartment with great amenities within the compound. Lots of bathrooms. Good security. Commute after 7am the traffic gets bad expect to sit in traffic for 30 mins or more.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Sometimes we run out of staples like potatoes, or tomatoes but usually most things are available somewhere. The cost of living is high even with the opportunity to claim back the Tax on Groceries (if you can navigate the system), and in my opinion, the COLA is not commensurate with the costs. Most people do not have the time or energy to venture to areas where are are advised not to go (for safety reasons), though I understand some send their helpers to do their shopping for them and I've heard the savings pay for the helpers wages. However, most people shop at the high-end grocery stores because they are safe and secure and the produce is usually mostly in date.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
No need to ship anything, it is all here but...it is expensive. So ship luxury items but be careful with liquids or powder in bulk or weak packaging. Our mail is treated like a football in the delivery chain and often arrives beat up, open, or worse does not arrive at all.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a range of food options but all restaurants are stand alone or in small shopping malls, don't get too excited. Restaurant bills are exceptionally high for a moderate value meal. The Indian cuisine is good here, the Chinese cuisine so-so, the fancy restaurants are nice but the service, in my opinion, is atrocious. If you go to a cafe and do not like the service there is no other cafe in that strip to go to. So accept this is an island with an island attitude to service and you will save on the blood pressure meds. Food delivery is hit and miss but a growing industry since the pandemic.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes, ants, cockroaches, lizards, and termites. The most frustrating was termites: I watched their procession into the house and could do nothing to stop them. It took a week to get the landlord to even inspect the problem. There is not enough regular treatment for prevention of termites in this country. There is some spraying for mosquitoes which helps but bring insect repellent and insect zappers. For ants, I order Raid in the mail or similar bait to keep the invasions under control.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The mailroom is great, but it takes days to send letters and packages. Order early for special occasions. Even though we are close to Miami, and it is just a flight away, the mail is unreliable in my opinion. Its turnaround sometimes two weeks, and other times months.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's inexpensive, and we pay a top rate to our helper. We supported our helper all through COVID. This is important when there is a problem...be it a pandemic or hurricane, I feel it is important to support your employees even if they cannot attend work. In my opinion, many people live on a knife-edge of economic instability. Our helper is trustworthy and works hard. It's also possible to find nannies, swim coaches who come to your pool, fitness coaches, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
We have access to a great gym and pool facility at one of the Embassy housing compounds, which is so important for our mental health. Otherwise, gyms are expensive. There are various martial arts gyms. I recommend the Chinese Benevolent society sports club as a great martial arts Ju Jitsu, Tae Kwon Do, Kung fu, Yoga. The instructors are great with kids and adults alike. Tennis coaching is available and access to a free tennis court (though I think the surface is not great) is bookable. Also tennis clubs and swimming clubs. Kingston has a great Arts and Theatre scene too for those interested in that.
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?
We use our credit card for almost everything and haven't had a problem yet... we use the same gas station and only at the high-end shops.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a church about every 10 yards, so you will be fine for religion. Services are very local in style but it's great to experience something new and meet people. If you re not into church you can join various expat groups.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English, forget about learning Patois as it's difficult.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes and no, basically we go nowhere so the housing and so on is fine. The shops that you go to are fine, and there are some medical services but yeah think carefully how much you want to go out. Sidewalks are terrible we don't walk anywhere for security, and driving is dangerous, the roads and the drivers are bad in my opinion.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You can take taxis, the high-end executive ones, and local bus transport private hire is good. Do not take public transport, as I feel bad things could happen, but you can if you want a thrill. We drive or do not go out.
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?
Car with higher-ground clearance, as roads quickly get bad with potholes, general repair. There are steep hills if you are adventurous. Probably a four-wheel drive. We have two-wheel drive and it's okay but four wheel gives piece of mind when heading to the hills.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's been quite good. So far so good. I need good internet, and it is better here than in Mexico (one mile from the border with the US), so you can work online.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Pay as you go is a hassle but freedom to end your contract. The pre-pay/post-pay contracts are impossible to quit in my opinion. I understand you need to write a letter and prove that your are who you say you are. It takes hours to get set-up with a phone and hours to finish. It's an island, so things work differently here.
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?
Yes, nowhere to walk your dogs in reality, it's not safe to walk on the streets outside your compound so dog-walking options are limited. People manage, but I do not know how. Please poop and scoop if you walk your dog, as there are limited dog walking options and there are also limited toddler walking options.
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 jobs, but in my opinion, the hiring process is not good and the pay is low. I think one should be very careful when applying for Embassy jobs. Fill out the application with the exact wording, and make clear how your qualifications match the job requirements. I have heard of many over-qualified people being hired as temporary or not hired because they "did not meet the requirements". If you can get an EPAP job here, yay, you survived the application process.
I would not expect to get a teaching job at the American School. I have heard of many qualified teachers who were overlooked. The island microcosm seems well in order here and jobs for the boys/girls/friends/nephews/nieces, etc. If you are very lucky, you may get a substitute teaching position for little monetary reward. If you can get work at the school it is great, they really are very nice once you are in, especially if you volunteer.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
They are there but not well-connected or established. Make your own, attend ones the school community offers like beach cleanups, donate stuff, collect stuff to donate, sadly, that's about it. I love volunteering and had so much energy to give of time and skills, but I am also a white person and I felt that I may be pushing my white privilege on the local population at times; I am aware that I do not want to be a white savior. I found ways to help that were not of that kinds. Beach clean-ups are great, organizing events to raise funds for causes, etc., is the way to go.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Yes, formal, especially on Sundays. People take pride in their appearance and you should, too.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Sexual harassment of anyone in a skirt seems common. This can be friendly banter bordering on aggressive and just way too much if you are on the streets. I tend to avoid the safe walking places if there are large groups of workmen hanging around; the local gardeners are usually friendly. It seems men will hang out of cars like you are their best friend and want your phone number and definite acknowledgement that they are just awesome. Sometimes peaceful walks are ruined by this. In my opinion, do not let your teenage daughters out alone they will be harassed if they are not escorted.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of medical care is adequate if you are in good health. If you need anything, you may need to medevac or are encouraged to go to Miami on your own to sort your med stuff out. More timely vaccinations and blood tests could be offered. Medical supplies are slow to arrive; I am still waiting for a simple test and the supplies were order months ago and have not come.
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?
Great air, its fresh the sunlight is great, its also hot so your skin looks great as you sweat all toxins out regularly.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Be careful if you have nut allergies. Pollen and dust allergies can be bad. Our house, if not cleaned weekly, gets a fine black dust on every surface. the windows are not sealed so everything blows in.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Isolation and depression due to the restrictive nature of this post. I think one should be careful about coming here with teenagers; they can have a blast with friends and lots of parties if they are into sports or they can live a very isolated existence. You have to kind of make your own fun here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot humid sweaty all year, occasionally its cool. Not often enough. Use the swimming pool visit the resorts.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Yes, several schools. Good experience on the whole not exceptional, but adequate. If you are bringing teenagers think carefully. Your child cannot go anywhere alone, in my opinion. There are some sports. Jamaica is very into sports the competition is tough. Not much from a social point of view, expect crazy rich parties, or church events. Teenagers cannot go out on their own or get away. This can lead to insular activity at home and its hard to offer much diversion to get them out. I came with three teenagers: one graduated, and one chose not to graduate and left home earlier than planned. Both left during COVID and did not come back for two years because of travel restrictions. I am sending the third away to school for Grade 9 because the isolation is tough for a social kid. The child copes well, but we feel will thrive in a new freer more normal environment whereas this year of schooling has been a holding pattern socially. We are trying to avoid an mental breakdowns: the middle child was definitely on the edge so we acted quickly and that child is on the path to successful career and was cared for by trusted family members.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They can accommodate special needs and many students in the mainstream classes are either diagnosed or undiagnosed but have special needs. The school provides some support but if you have severe needs maybe try a different post. We have ADHD and Dyslexia, the special education teacher supported and accommodations were given. Not all teachers especially the Jamaican-educated teachers really make or use the accommodations of the students, attitudes of the specialist language or other subject teachers varies. Some good in touch international teachers, some good local teachers, but some bad ones. Overall the teaching experience is high quality but expect at least one or two subjects to experience misunderstandings and a definite need to advocate orr sped.
3. 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?
Yes, yes, and yes available, expensive, adequate not stunning. In my opinion the American School provides the best pre-K, K, and grade 1 experience on the island.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, expensive, a paying to get to them or they can come to you for swimming, tennis. There is soccer, too. The other school Hillel does sports better and swimming is big. Soccer is aggressive, your kids will learn to play hard and fast if they play. Martial arts instruction is available, too, but not many options and not a lot. Schools offer after school activities they are okay but not stunning.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is small, there is not a lot to do, there is an active group, you can get out and have a nice time, just accept you will sweat and sweat and sweat some more. You can go out to eat, you can go out to bars, you can go to the beach.
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?
In-house events, pay high price to go to a resort or private beach. I go to no bars, few restaurants, no shopping to speak of. I live like a hermit and it's okay but life is isolating here you have to make the effort to get out a bit and probably need regular access to a car for that reason.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This place strains the family, you are going to see too much of each other. With no places easily to go for a walk, eat or shop, everything is an effort. Housing is nice and large and needs to be for that reason. Sure if you re single you can have a blast, be careful as a woman that you don't give mixed messages or get into untenable or scary situations. And guys too, be careful out there.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Hmmm, in my opinion, the local rich community is tight and small, they have seen us come and seen us go. You can make friends with other expats, and locals. Remember your are viewed as wealthy whether you view yourself as wealthy or not. Also you are viewed as having a life without stress or hardship automatically.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Hmmm the attitudes in Jamaica are still quite 1950s so you can be here, but be aware open displays of affection to same sex partner are probably not welcomed by the local populace. There are LGBT organisations campaigning and raising awareness, if you can cope with not being in peoples faces you will be fine, it is nobody's business what you do or don't do, same for couples, and singles. Just be aware of the culture and mainstream viewpoints before venturing out.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Er yes, it's Jamaica, it's an island, they are getting there slowly, it is a process.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The resorts during COVID were at prices we could afford and our only saving grace. This is a small island, life is restrictive, expensive and tough. Come with the right attitude and enjoy what you can, embrace the heat its hot humid and sweaty at all times. As a tough country the morale is never great here, but there are flashes of fun when the right combination of people are here but many are insular or lack the energy to contribute much.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Nope, there's not much. You will do most things easily within a month and the rest is long and boring or repetitive, accept it it's an island, not a metropolitan area.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nope. There are handicrafts for expensive prices or tourist, people can be quite aggressive or passive, depending. This is a island with great performing arts and sports and energy you just got to find a way into it.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
None. The airport. The Highway 2000 to the the other side to the expensive resorts. Start saving what you can because you need to leave the island regularly or visit resorts regularly for peace of mine.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I didn't think carefully enough about the effects on my teenagers. This has been the worst post we have been at for them.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Well, it was a choice of no choice for job satisfaction reasons, schooling reasons, and post bidding equity. I hoped for Australia or Africa, but we got this, our top choice.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas, be open, bring a lot of patience, look for positives in life because you need to here.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, and deep pockets to enjoy the island.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Not really you know Bob Marley. The Bobsleigh team. The people here can be warm welcoming and friendly or not, so much depending where you go same as everywhere else in the world.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Reasons to come here are, proximity to US, job satisfaction, probably not promotion opportunities, or a great posting after this, schooling maybe, nice weather, access to resorts. You like your own company and stay home a lot.