Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 05/23/08
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
Two and a half years.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
It's my husband's home country.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About an hour and a half from Miami.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expats who live in Kingston, live in gated communities of townhouses or apartments. Having a guard at the gate helps with who comes and goes. Commute times can vary from 20-90 minutes depending on the time of day you leave. Jamaica does not have a school bus system so many parents are on the road dropping of kids in the mornings, major traffic, and it gets worse when it rains.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries, I have found most things to be available but extremely expensive. I was amazed when I first arrived as we were spending more than we did for food in DC. I have now however learned to buy local products for the items that I can, and buy fruit that is in season. I learned that its not like the U.S. when you get everything all year round, and things are seasonal. You also have to drive to two or three different places to shop. I arrive home exhausted after those trips. You may see something in the shops and when you return the following week, it's nowhere to be found.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Living room furniture, rugs, lamps & planters for my plants. Household items are very expensive here and I find the quality to be shabby.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I do not eat fast food but they exist. Subway, Wendy's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Diminos Pizza and many local Jamacian places. Jerk shops, Drum pan chicken, all you can eat crab shops. Market Place in Kingston has some great restaurants. The food is the best. The Chinese food is way better than the U.S. I think. There's also Indian food, Greek, and Japanese.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post office or Mailpac a personal shipping service, which is extremely expensive.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap, US$20-$ 25 a day depending on the size of the home she has to clean.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
No problem, they are all around town. Just make certain you tell them take out in JA dollars when using Debit cards, as they will punch in $2,000. and its 2,000 JA and they pull outUS $2,000. This has happened to us a few times, thank goodness the banks call in a few hours later - it took forever to sort out.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
While English is spoken, Patios is the language on the street. So to get the best prices on the road, one must be able to barter and Patio is better, as they find you amusing. I hate this but many vendors charge you double or triple the price that a local person gets.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Huge difficulties would exist, as special services are minimal to non- exsistent. Rarely can one find a clean public bathroom with toilet paper, so be warned. Using the bush on trips is now common for me, sad but true, and I always have a knapsack with wet wipes/ tissue handy.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No train system exists here and I have heard of a shabby bus system. Mainly Peace Corp people use the buses but they appear fine. Taxis are best, or hiring a lone driver. Utilize a taxi service like Express taxi, do not just flag cars down on the roads, as this is not safe at all.
3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
SUVs are best for the Jamaican roads. We learned that after it rained for 15 days straight our first 6 months here. Do not bring an automobile, just get an SUV here, it will be easier for parts and repairs. Getting a new car could take 4-6weeks or longer, be warned.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
About US$ 50.00 a month, not much.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Yes. Digicel and Cable & Wireless. Many of the locals have two phones. Purchase a phone as soon as you arrive and always keep an extra phone card credit in your bag.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Nope. Work for yourself, but jobs are scare and even volunteering is like pulling teeth.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Jamaicans are conservative in many work place environments. Stockings can be seen on women with Jacketslong pants etc. short sleeves shirt for men appear okay, but open toes sandals may be a no no.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Extremely high at all times. I always recommend that people make certain the houses/ apartments that they choose have bars/ grills on all windows and doors. Most friends who move here and tried not installing grills got burglarized within the first month. Jamaica, while a beautiful country, has the 3rd highest murder rate. Poverty and high levels of unemployment may be driving the criminal element.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Good dental and medical care. We have been very pleased. Health is cheaper than in the U.S. but many specialist do not take the insurance plans we have. For major concerns, you may want to fly off the island.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy and dry seasons.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School has a good reputation here and some local Jamaican children also attend. Hillel is another good private school. They provide both U.K./U.S. type curricula, so when your children go home, they can matriculate. We do not have children, so no personal experience to share.
Research is key and many say its best to have your child sit infor a few days before enrolling them. Do not send your child to some school in Ochi or out in the country as they call anything outside Kingston. Any place where you child may be the only minority kid or outsider will be more painful. I have heard horrible stories of children crying for weeks.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Rainbow land, is supposed to be a good one.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not large - maybe 500 folks in Kingston. I am not sure about Montegobay.
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?
Yes, we have several social events to attend yearly.
3. Morale among expats:
Mostly good, but I avoid the bored folks who complain daily.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good city for couples or single men. Not so kiddy friendly or wheelchair friendly. Many complain about lack of creative things for children to participate in. Single women have to be extremely cautious about who they date or go out with, which makes it difficult, plus the sincerity level of dating. Be careful is what I say to all, as many can be seen as a ticket off the island.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
NOPE. Extreme caution here, as many of my DC gay pals vowing to never come visit this country. An underground scene may exist, I guess.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really, but some racial class distinction exist among the locals. It is a rather complex situation, with many expats often missing the hidden essence. A topic not spoken to outsiders about, as its a country based on tourism and survival. Food and shelter first.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Yes lots -- hiking, running, cycling, touring the Island, great beaches & water sports. Cricket, plays food fairs and even gardening. I am never bored, as I belong to a great book club and wine club. It's a very social place.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Art, wine and pottery. Good meat dinner at nice restaurant.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes and heavy blankets. Dark suits.
3. But don't forget your:
Several pairs of kakhi shorts for the weekends, strong sturdy sandals, that can handle heavy rain water. Tevas, crocks and a few dressier sandals as well. Weekend walking stuff, sun hats, mosquito unscented stuff. Light washable clothing. No dry cleaning stuff as that can be expensive and your stuff may get ruined.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Jamacains.com & Youtube vidoes on Jamaica. Both are helpful.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Jamacains.com & Youtube vidoes on Jamaica. Both are helpful.
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
Jamaica is not for the soft and closed-minded. Several things sometimes do not work -- power outs, Internet outs, road blocks. Daily life is harder than where you may be coming from, but not a bad experience. I often say I have a great love / hate relationship with this soil, as some days I love it, and yet other I scream to myself.