Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 11/06/09
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. 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?
3. How long have you lived here?
Our family has been here 1 1/2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I joined my husband, who had been working here.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A large variety of housing exists. There are beautiful single-family homes with fruit trees and lots of yard space, as well as many small townhouse developments with community amenities such as pool and tennis courts.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Buying typical American food will lead you to the poor house. Not only is the marked price of an item expensive, but also most imported items and non-essentials also attract a 16.75% tax. A gallon of ice cream cost 9$/gallon. However, most items are available, but brands may be unfamiliar to you, and you might only have a choice of 1 or 2 types of a particular item versus 5 or 6 in the States. There are two warehouse stores PriceSmart (like a Costco) and MegaMart that carry typical American items. PriceSmart has the best prices by far on the whole island. You can also purchase big screen tv's, diapers, and fresh baked bread under 1 roof. We have learned to purchase in season fruit/vegetables, to eat far less processed food and to eat locally available food. It has really been a better lifestyle as far as our health is concerned. And it is much cheaper as well.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything that you really want. It will not be available here in either the quality you want or at a price you expect. Shoes, clothing, household furnishings are limited.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
American Fast food - KFC, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dominos Pizza. There are also a large number of local fast food places (patty shops and jerk chicken especially).There are also a number of very nice and reasonable restaurants, including Sunday brunch at the Terra Nova hotel. I would have to agree that the Chinese food here in better and less expensive than in the States.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of insects, very buggy. Use appropriate repellent and you will be fine.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use regular postal service to send/receive letters, but it takes anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks for delivery to the States. Packages being sent down take about 3 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very inexpensive and readily available. It is VERY important to get a personal reference, as trustworthiness in worth its weight in gold.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a few, although I have not used them.
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?
You can use them with ease at almost all establishments. HOWEVER, NEVER LET THE CARD OUT OF YOUR SIGHT, EVER!. We have twice (with two different cards) had our cards used illegally after purchasing gas at an unfamiliar gas station. The banks refunded our money (more than $1000), but it was a real problem to have to address this.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, there are lots of churches here. Some say there are more churches per capita here than anywhere else in the world. Anglican, Catholic, Assembly of God to name a few.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. Cable is easily available and reasonably priced. (about $50/month) with FLOW.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Middle and upper class Jamaicans speak standard English and in many cases are more polite than American. Almost all of the poorer locals can understand Standard English. Many can also speak Standard English. It can be helpful to you to make an effort to understand patois, as it will benefit you in understanding what someone is really saying.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Lots of difficulty. There are no special accommodations, other than a school for the blind that teaches residents how to weave chairs. And a program that teaches deaf students how to do batik art design.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No trains. Local buses are not pleasant or safe, but they are affordable. Local taxis are not something I would want to ride in unless absolutely necessary.
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?
Any vehicle that can withstand enormous and frequent potholes will be fine. Seriously. Also, small SUVs work well because of the extra height necessary during rainy season. Do not bring a large SUV, as you will never find a parking spot big enough to fit your vehicle, and the roads also tend to be very narrow. Toyota and BMW are very popular here. Import duty fees are extremely expensive, approximately 100% (yes, 100%) of the value of the vehicle. Most mechanics here are good.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, our DSL internet connection is very reliable. Cost is about $40/month. We have a combined phone/internet/cable package that runs about $100/month, including free calls to the US/UK/Canada (FLOW).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones are everywhere. One can purchase a basic phone for about $35 US and buy credit (minutes) at any supermarket, gas station, or store front.
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?
No pets from US are allowed. There is no rabies on the island, and the country wants to keep it that way.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are a few vets, and the local SPCA (JSPCA) has extremely low-cost and competent pet care. Not sure about 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?
No. There are not enough jobs for the locals, and it is very difficult to get a visa which allows you to work. However, there are abundant volunteer opportunities.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Usual dress attire: suits for men, dresses/skirts and blouse or pantsuits for women. Normal casual wear, summer-type clothing when not at work. All children wear school uniforms.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
I believe the air pollution is moderate. Similar to other congested cities. Trash burning is a very common occurrence in many areas. Generally speaking, though, we have not had any problems.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are extremely high security concerns here. One must have bars/grills on ALL windows and doors. One must drive with windows up and doors locked. One must avoid certain neighborhoods at all times. All that said, our townhouse community is very comfortable, and children play freely at the community playground, women jog alone in the evening and families walk into and out of neighbors' houses with ease.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Private physicians are extremely capable and competent. However, the public hospitals are horrific. The cost of health care is very low. A doctor's office visit about $20, a private hospital emergency room visit $30. Most charges are similar to what one would pay in the States.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is absolutely beautiful. During the summer months it can become hot and humid, much like Miami, however the breezes from the sea tend to offset the high temps. Sept/Oct through May is spectacular: warm days, sun shining and blue skies. Hurricane season lasts Jun-Nov, but daily afternoon rain showers tend to occur during Sept/Oct/Nov.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American International School of Kingston is a very good as well as small (about 200 students total) school using an American style of instruction/curriculum. Tuition at AISK however is prohibitively expensive for those families who are not sponsored by the embassy or other employer (@15,000$US).Hillel is also a very good private school whose population includes most of the upper class children of the community, similar to what one could find at a "good" school in the States. Hillel has been very extremely accommodating as it opens up some of its extra-curricular activities to the community. The Porter School is also a good local private school with class sizes limited to 15 students/classroom.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are speech therapists at many of the schools and in the community. There are a few special-ed local schools, but the availability of services is extremely limited compared to what is available in the States.
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?
No personal experience, but all of my neighbors sent their children to Rainbow Land and all have said wonderful things about this school. Very academic focus I hear though. There is also a Montessori school, but I do not know anyone who attends. Stella Maris Catholic Church has a good daycare, prep school as well. Daycare is extremely cheap if you hire a helper/nanny. There are many options in this area.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Gynmastics (Mr. Ishimoto), soccer, swimming (tons).There are many, many more programs available through the schools and churches, i.e. track and field, cricket, tennis, table tennis, and others. Horseback riding is also available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is okay for families. The community is very close-knit and whole family socialize together, which is wonderful. However, because of the crime/trash, most people cannot just meet at the local park or activity center.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are mostly class differences here, rather than racial problems. The country has a very diverse ethnic population (African, Middle East, Indian and Chinese) that all see themselves as Jamaican. Very strong sense of nationalism here. However the vast majority of people are extremely poor, and the income disparity is horrific.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The beaches are the most beautiful I have ever seen. Hiking is fun, as is visiting friends. Gardening is very popular. Symphony, dance and occasional music concerts are available. Some children's activities available include excellent gymnastic instruction, violin/Suzuki instructors, youth symphony, large Halloween/Christmas parties, foreign language classes, swimming instruction, storytime/bookclub for children, soccer programs, art programs. It absolutely takes lots of time to find all of these activities, but they are available. Yoga classes adults/children. Lots of restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local arts and crafts, like baskets and woodwork.
9. Can you save money?
No. Most things are far more expensive than you expect them to be.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not sure. My husband is here, and in order to keep our family together we joined him. This is definitely the 3rd world. However, we have learned many life lessons and have met some wonderful, kind, generous, warm people during our stay here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
cold weather clothing.
3. But don't forget your:
bug spray, bathing suits, and good shoes.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Rough Guide to Jamaica, most of the tourist-type books are fairly accurate.