Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/20
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?
This is our fifth FS post. We previously have served in Central America, Asia, and Europe.
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 are from Virginia. One of the things we like about this post is that flights to the US start at $200 round trip. Traveling home is cheap and easy. NO JET LAG.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Staff are placed in either apartments or houses in gated communities. They are decent size and almost all housing has access to a pool. People are generally happy with housing. It is not fancy, but it works.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most groceries are available; however, some are very expensive. You will pay close to $20 for things like strawberries for example. It is very difficult to find nice looking fruit and vegetables, especially lettuce, jalapeños, and melons. It is difficult to find decent beef (with the exception of ground beef). Chicken is good.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Every time we travel to the US, we pick up things mainly because they are so much cheaper in the US. We use Amazon Prime Pantry for a lot of food items. I'm glad I put Tide Pods in my HHE because they are crazy expensive here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
People complain a lot about the lack of good restaurants. There are restaurants here but they tend to be fairly expensive and mediocre at best. I eat at home more here than any of my previous posts. Expats have 5 or 6 restaurants that they like to eat at. There is a decent Indian restaurant and a handful of good Jamaican Jerk restaurants. Fried Chicken is available and good. No McDonalds.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are terrible during the rainy season. We have not had issues with any other insects or rodents in the house. The only thing people complain about are the mosquitoes. Off and other insect repellents are expensive here so I'm glad we brought some with us.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the DPO and Pouch at Embassy. It is slow but reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people will hire a housekeeper for 1 or 2 days per week. People pay around US$30 - $40 for a day's work. If you are in a house, you will likely need to pay someone to help garden. We pay someone US$15 every two weeks to mow our grass.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Powell Plaza has a great gym that is open to all US diplomats. People like to work out there. There are local gyms but most people just go to Powell.
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 only use the ATM at the Embassy. We will use our credit card at a few stores/restaurants. I have not heard of problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Everything is in English. I know people that go to several different services. Swallowfield Chapel is popular among expats.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes and No. Jamaica is definitely not a handicapped accessible city, but expats don't tend to go anywhere so . . . . it is not like anyone walks the city streets.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are four to five taxi companies that we are allowed to use. We are not allowed to flag a taxi on the street.
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?
Many people order cars from Japan when they get here. It is a right-hand drive post. You definitely have to have a car here. Streets have a lot of potholes. Most people drive Japanese made cars because that is what the locals drive. It think it might be difficult to have US cars serviced here. I'm not sure though.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
This is not a problem. The Embassy actually has it installed before you get here. It is semi-reliable. It is common to have it go out once or twice a month for an hour or so.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We kept our T-Mobile phone from the US and bought a phone with a Jamaican plan. We pay about $40 per month for our Jamaican phone.
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?
Bringing a pet into Jamaica is possible; however, it is very expensive and involved. If you plan to do it, start the process about six months before coming to post.
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?
This is a source of sorrow . . . EFM jobs are in short supply. There is nothing on the local market. Even certified teachers struggle to get hired by the American school.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
We are very disappointed that there are not more volunteer opportunities. So many areas of Kingston are "off limits" to us. This really prohibits what we can do. People are working on finding opportunities, but nothing is currently organized.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Nothing out of the normal . . . formal dress is needed for the marine ball.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Kingston can handle minor medical issues. Anything major people will go to Miami.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
People seem to be fairly healthy here. I would definitely choose to go to Miami if I had any serious concerns.
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?
Air quality actually seems to be good. Much better than Asia.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing out of the ordinary . . .
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
People seem to really struggle when they arrive at this post. Kingston is a rough place. It is NOT A POST for people who need to be constantly out and about. There are no parks, playgrounds, or places to walk. Shopping is terrible. There is basically nothing to do in Kingston. People love traveling to the North Coast (1 hour) to go to beaches, resorts, etc. but day-to-day in Kingston is hard. If you can't handle spending time at your house, don't come here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Embassy kids go to either AISK or Hillel. They are solidly okay but nothing to gush over. Both have IB programs. Both are fairly small. The kids tend to be happy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
AISK is fairly responsive to things like ADHD, etc., but you will need to advocate and remind them.
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?
I don't know anyone who sends their child to a preschool or daycare but I'm guessing they exist. AISK has a preschool.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. AISK has a bunch of extracurricular activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is mixed. I've never been at a post where the highs and lows were so apparent. One day you are at the beach in Ocho Rios and you truly can't believe your luck, and the next day you are at the grocery store contemplating whether or not to spend $20 on a pint of blueberries. People travel back to the US frequently. Morale is average . . . but many people have told me that this has been their most difficult posting. There is just nothing to do in 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?
People here tend to plan their own entertainment . . . BBQs, Trivia Nights, Halloween Parties, etc. I would say someone has an event at least once a month. People will also plan pool playdates, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It all depends on who else is at post . . . friendships are definitely important here.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
We have struggled to make friends locally here - more so than any other post. Jamaicans are friendly and nice when we meet them, but there are just so few places to interact.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Every time we go to the North Coast, we are in paradise. I'd go every weekend if I could. The all-inclusive resorts are amazing but expensive. There are many private beaches that are amazing. If you love beaches, waterfalls, turtle hatching, etc., you will enjoy this post.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Turtle hatching, the beach, Dunn River Falls, Coffee plantations.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No. No. No. People complain all the time about the lack of handicrafts, artwork, etc. At Christmas, the only items you will find are cheap things made in China.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Proximity to the US. The Weather. We are making good money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
When everyone hears that you are headed to Jamaica, they will be envious, but Kingston is not a great city. I feel like I should have been more prepared for how hard day-to-day life would be. That being said, you are an hour from Paradise.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Probably. I like being so close to the US and I've loved the opportunity to go to the beach so frequently. It is an easy post to save money if you can resist the expensive resorts.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sun screen, swimsuit, and sense of humor.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Kingston can be a great post; however, it definitely has its issues. Be prepared to plan at least monthly trips to the North Coast just to keep sane.