Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 10/09/14
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. Before Kingston, we were in San Jose, Costa Rica.
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?
We frequently fly to NY which there are direct flights to on Jetblue, Caribbean Air, Delta and Fly Jamaica. A lot of other destinations connect through Atlanta and Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here for three years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse works for the U.S. government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Embassy folks live in the Powell Plaza compound or townhomes in gated communities. We live in a townhome and love it. All places have a communal pool. Our house is very spacious. And our neighbors are a mix of U.S. and other diplomats, expats and Jamaicans. All the kids run around and play outside after school together.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive. There is Loshusan, a more upscale supermarket. Megamart, where you will find better deals. And finally, Pricesmart which is like Costco. Pay to join and buy in bulk.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's Wendy's, KFC, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dominoes and TGI Friday's. Everything in Jamaica is more than in the U.S.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are mosquitos here. We're able to keep them out of our house and use spray when going outside at night. Little ants come in on the ground floor if any little crumb is around. And we've seen the occasional cockroach but nothing treatment didn't stop.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. Works fine.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable. Our full-time helper works 50 hours per week for roughly US$120.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Powell Plaza has a gym for all U.S. Embassy folks to use. The nurses station at the U.S. Embassy also has some cardio machines for use. Haven't tried any but there seem to be plenty of gyms to join and exercise classes to take in Kingston.
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?
I use a credit card for groceries and scan my bill monthly to make sure it's legit as others have had their numbers skimmed. Only ATM I would use is at the Embassy. Typically, I would just cash checks at the Embassy.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There aren't too many accommodations for those with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There aren't any trains. There are buses but expats tend to have cars so don't use them. RSO has a list of approved taxis to use.
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?
Most people have medium sized SUVs. Driving is on the left side of the road. You can use LHD or RHD. Beware of taxi drivers and motorcycles.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, through FLOW. GSO sets it up in your house so it's working when you arrive. HUGE PLUS!! Never had any connectivity issues.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I pay as I go each month with a cheap, basic cell phone from Digicel. Others use their iphones.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a high crime area but if you're careful you'll be fine. Most houses have grills and U.S. Embassy houses have a 24-hour security guard outside. Can't walk anywhere really and I don't drive after dark all too often.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You need to be careful with mosquitos. Friends have gotten dengue and Chik-v most recently. Facilities and staff for routine doctor's and dentist appointments are fine. For something more than that, fly to Miami.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's about 85F degrees and sunny almost every day. Rainy season is from June to November but hasn't been so bad for the three years we've been here. Sometimes it rains hard for a couple of hours and the power goes out. But soon enough the sun is back out.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Mainly, kids go to Hillel or AISK. Most U.S. Embassy kids attend AISK. Our child is young and we've been mostly satisfied with the education he's getting.
2. 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?
There are a handful of preschools in the area-CLC (near Powell Plaza), Step by Step and El Centro. My kids went to SBS and enjoyed it. It's in session from 8am-1pm so if both parents work you'll need a flexible schedule or hire a driver to pick up your child.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Both the schools offer after school activities-tennis, swimming, soccer, dance, glee etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Good size. Big enough so you can branch out but small enough that you run into people when outside of Kingston. Morale is fine. Most expats are happy here but ready to go after 2-3 years.
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?
There are a couple of movie theaters that get decent and recent movies. Plenty of restaurants to try-especially Marketplace where you can sit in a courtyard and order from any of the five or six restaurants. Lots of 5K races take place here in Kingston.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Definitely a good city for families. Kids, especially young, are kept happy with playdates, birthday parties, swimming, after-school activities, visits to the beach and other nearby tourist attractions. A bunch of singles live in Powell Plaza and seem to have a good group to hang out with.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Having so many mini vacations sampling the different hotels/resorts. Some are all inclusive which is convenient with little kids. Other areas are less touristy with villas to rent and come with chefs to cook for you.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Boardwalk beach at Ft. Clarence...only 30 minutes from Kingston and has umbrellas and chairs to use. Seafood for sale. Take a day trip to Lime Cay by boat and hang out on the island, bring all of your food and drink.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Beautiful beaches and resorts, year round sunny weather with occasional storms, affordable household help.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, we've had a great experience. Our young kids had fun, made good friends and so did we.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your: