An idyllic island nation in the Caribbean, Jamaica is blessed not only with paradisiacal beaches but also lush rainforests, soaring mountains and warm, friendly people with their famous accent.
That said, this tropical paradise often holds a few surprises for expats who are unprepared for what awaits them, and proper research should be done before considering a move to this island country. Large cities such as Kingston have high levels of crime, particularly in impoverished inner-city areas. Although most crime is gang-related and doesn’t affect tourists, new expats to Jamaica should be aware that the move will require some adjustments to personal habits and vigilance, especially if they're from countries where safety is less of a concern.
Living in Jamaica as an expat
Jamaica’s official language is English, although in day-to-day life expats will more often encounter a very different creole, referred to as Patois. Expats who make an effort to pick up the Jamaican Patois will find it much easier to integrate into Jamaican life.
Jamaica’s economy relies heavily on tourism. With a small diversity in local industries, the country is susceptible to external shocks and economic fluctuation. Some other big industries in the country include agro processing, light manufacturing and mining. Expats considering taking a job in Jamaica should note that it can be quite difficult to secure a work permit for a trailing spouse.
Public transportation in Jamaica is affordable and relatively extensive. Taxis and buses are the most common form of public transport; buses can be crowded and unreliable, but taxis are available in most urban centres and offer a quicker way to get around. A metro system is available in the capital of Kingston and a small ferry service connects Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril. The ride-hailing service Uber is also an option. Driving in Jamaica can be tricky, with swerving roads and potholes.
Accommodation in Jamaica tends to be relatively cheap, although luxury houses often cost a small fortune. Tourist areas and regions closer to cities tend to be the most expensive. Many charming new properties are being built to accommodate the needs of the tourism market.
Healthcare in Jamaica is generally acceptable, but the quality of hospitals varies, with the best ones located near tourist areas. The country offers state-sponsored healthcare for all legal residents, but many expats prefer having international health insurance and visiting private institutions. For more information on individual hospitals, visit the Ministry of Health’s official website.
Cost of living in Jamaica
Expats might find that the cost of living in Jamaica is higher than they were expecting. Prices in Kingston are comparable to medium-sized cities in the UK and US. In 2023, Mercer's Cost of Living Survey ranked the capital as the 127th most expensive out of 227 cities worldwide. Similarly ranked were Belfast, UK (125th) and Lisbon, Portugal (117th).
In Jamaica, high inflation and expensive property in city centres can take up a good chunk of an expat’s paycheck, but general living is not too pricey.
Expat families and children
Primary school is completely free and compulsory in Jamaica. Secondary school is from Year 5 to Year 11 and post-secondary is optional for two years. Independent education is available and many expats choose this course or go with one of the international schools in the country.
Kingston was the island’s only city for some time, and visitors are often surprised by its size. It boasts great nightlife, restaurants and wonderful shopping opportunities. Families who enjoy spending time outside can explore to their heart’s content on safaris and hikes. The large tourist community means there are many interesting places to see and fun things to do for the whole family.
Climate in Jamaica
The island has a tropical climate which makes for hot, beach weather all year round, but it's also prone to hurricanes and tropical storms from June to November.
Although small, the island’s culture is comparatively well known thanks to the widespread influence of reggae, dub, ska and related genres, and a large diaspora of Jamaicans and descendants worldwide. Expats who make the move to Jamaica often fall in love with the food, the weather and the rich Creole culture.
Population: About 3 million
Capital city: Kingston
Geography: Jamaica is the third biggest island in the Caribbean. Much of inland Jamaica is covered in rough and mountainous terrain, with a significant number of small and underground rivers traversing the country. The coastline is made up of a combination of white sandy beaches and rugged, rocky areas.
Political system: Parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Major religions: Christianity
Main languages: English and Jamaican Patois
Money: The country's official currency is the Jamaican Dollar (JMD), which is divided into 100 cents. ATMs and card facilities are available in most major urban centres and tourist areas.
Tipping: A tip of 10 to 15 percent is generally expected for most services
Electricity: 110 volts, 50 Hz. Plugs with two flat blades are used throughout the country.
Internet domain: .jm
International dialling code: +1 (876)
Emergency contacts: 119 (police), 110 (fire and ambulance)