Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 05/14/22
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?
No. I've lived in a variety of countries on several continents.
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?
Flights from Kingston to U.S. normally go through Miami, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, or NYC. There are several flights a day; travel to and from Kingston is convenient.
3. How long have you lived here?
More than a year.
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
U.S. embassy housing is either an apartment building with multiple amenities, or a house in a housing compound; most compounds have a swimming pool. Housing is fairly decent.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Many things are terribly exorbitant. A small frozen turkey will cost at least $50USD, and it will likely show signs of having been thawed and refrozen. Fresh produce not grown in Jamaica will be exorbitant: a small bundle of asparagus can cost more than $20USD. I've heard the Cost of Living Allowance is reportedly based on prices from grocery stores in the zones that are off-limits. Prices at grocery stores where expats shop are exorbitant.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You can normally get what you need, but you will often pay 2-3 times what it costs in the D.C. area.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurant dining options in Kingston are very limited and pricey. There is good Indian food and good jerk pork and chicken. Fried chicken is very good. There are several U.S. fast food options, including Pizza Hut, Dominos, Wendy's, BK, Subway, TGI Fridays, but no McDonalds.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are rampant. You will want to use bug spray, as dengue is in Jamaica. You will see rats in the area, but they are not rampant. You will often find lizards and cockroaches in your home.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is good.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
You will likely pay 5000-6000 JAMD per day for a helper. Some helpers will prepare meals for you. Helpers will do laundry, iron shirts, etc. You are expected to pay your helper a Christmas bonus.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The fitness center at Powell Plaza (USG owned apartment building) is reportedly one of the best in Jamaica.
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 credit cards widely. We only use the ATM at the Embassy. We have not had problems with fraud or cloning.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Most denominations. Seventh Day Adventist is prevalent here, but many Protestant denominations are here.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Jamaicans speak English, but sometimes patois is difficult to understand.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
More so than in the U.S., but no worse than in many Latin America/Caribbean countries.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Most buses and taxis are off-limits to USG employees. Taxi drivers are aggressive.
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?
High wheelbase due to MANY, repeat MANY potholes. Roads are in poor condition. Jamaicans drive on the left, so RHD vehicles might be easier. Many are available within the diplomatic community. If you bring a Japanese-built car, you will not likely have problems obtaining parts or service.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Most of the time, your home internet will be setup by the Embassy (for Embassy families) before you arrive; you just pay the bill. Internet service is good, but you WILL experience outages.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You will likely want to bring an unlocked phone and buy service from Flow or Digicel.
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?
Importing pets to Jamaica is a challenge. You will want to do LOTS of research on this before embarking.
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?
EFM job opportunities are limited. While AISK is the main school for Embassy children, and the Embassy provides additional funding to the school, I have heard that AISK is not keen to hire EFMs for teaching positions. It's my understanding there was one EFM who was hired and given a job, but that the job was later taken away to be given to a non-EFM.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Very limited. Many of the places which would need volunteer opportunities are in the off-limits zone.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Jamaicans do not often wear shorts, unless they are actually at the beach. Embassy dress code is normally shirt and tie. Formal attire for the Marine Ball.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Do some research, as it seems Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. You WILL see - repeatedly, on a daily basis, every day - drivers going through red lights. Taxi drivers are some of the more aggressive drivers I've seen anywhere in the world - dangerous, vocal, aggressive, in my opinion. Many drivers of large vehicles - buses and trucks - drive as though they are driving their personal cars - right up behind you, and weaving in and out of traffic. Much of Kingston is off-limits to USG employees, yet USG is lowering the differential. An area right across from the Embassy is off-limits. You will drive by or through off-limits areas to and from the airport. When you stop at a red light, you will often be approached by beggars or windscreen washers. Some are VERY aggressive and threatening. We have driven through a red light to escape from an aggressive beggar who was hitting our vehicle.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Jamaicans currently have a low vaccination rate for COVID. On the other hand, you will see people riding motorcycles without helmets, but wearing a mask. For any serious medical care, you are likely going to want to go to the U.S.
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?
Many people have allergies here. You will smell burning trash. You will smell burning ganja.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There is not much to do in Kingston, so you need to get away; go to one of the resorts on the other side of the island. As COVID recedes, however, resorts will likely increase their prices, making them less attractive. You will have to work hard to keep active. Have I said that there is not much to do in Kingston?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid. Then in the summer, hotter. It will rarely get into triple digits, but it will rarely go below the 70s. Daytime highs in the winter seem to be low 80s; in the summer, high 80s. Did I say that it was humid?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most Embassy families use AISK or Hillel. I've not heard many complaints about either.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
It will likely depend on the extent of the need. AISK seeks to help and has been more responsive than other schools.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a number of expats in Kingston: Americans, Brits, Canadians, and others. Many do socialize. U.S. Embassy families seem divided by location between an apartment building, and in compounds spread out over Kingston. This makes it VERY challenging for Embassy teens to socialize. Embassy families with teens want to think long and hard before seeking to come to Kingston.
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 on the CLO within the Embassy, as, in my opinion, it can be the key to success or failure. Groups and clubs: there is a Hash House Harriers kennel. Did I mention it is hot and humid? And Jamaica is mountainous. So you would be running in heat and humidity and hills (HHH on hhh).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There is not much to do in Kingston.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I would say this is limited. As in the schools, the locals might not be likely to want to welcome newcomers to their groups, because they know we are only here for a short time.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Gay marriage is illegal in Jamaica.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Going to the all-inclusive resorts.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go to the Appleton Estate rum tour. If you like rum in any way, shape, or form, you will love Jamaican rum - it is the best I've ever had. Appleton Estate is GOOD rum.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No. "Handicrafts" are made in China. Knick-knacks and souvenirs - made in China.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is relatively easy to fly to the U.S. Have I said that there is not much to do in Kingston?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
If you are State Department, look at the bid counts for Kingston when bidding.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Bug spray, sandals, hats, swimsuits
5. Do you have any other comments?
If you are State Department, look at the bid counts for Kingston when bidding. There is a reason for that, and it goes beyond what is reported on this form.