See the pic below? That’s Negril’s infamous 7-Mile Beach in the distance. (Click image for even larger view). Note: Access links to every post in this series at the bottom of this page.
Heads Up: Looking for a Mobile Career?
There are no jobs in Jamaica for foreigners for the most part, and even if you are lucky enough to land one (highly, highly unlikey as discussed in detail below), it won’t pay what you’re accustomed to if you live in the U.S., England, Canada, etc. Online writing is an ideal career that allows you to “take your job with you.” This way, wherever you decide to explore, how to make a living won’t be one of your concerns.
How I Came to Live in Jamaica
This is a long post (over 5,000 words) jam packed with a lot of information. So settle in for a good read, or bookmark it to come back to later.
I’ve been coming to this country since 2009. I visited for the first time at the behest of one of my sisters, who came on vacation a few years before I started coming, and fell in love with it.
To be honest, when I first started coming, it wasn’t love for the country that swayed me. I met someone and came back a few times over the next year or so to see him. I think my first trip to the Blue Mountains is when I first fell in love with Jamaica.
Questions about Living/Working in Jamaica as a Foreigner
I’ve lived here full-time since 2013 (unofficially). In 2014, I registered my business in Jamaica and have been living here officially full-time ever since. I receive a lot of questions via email and on my Facebook page about how to make the transition, eg:
Hi…are you still living in Negril? I am thinking about making that change….can you advise me where to start looking. I am there once a month but now thinking about finding a place. I need safety…good school and just nice surroundings….
Hi Yuwanda – I read an interesting article about your move to Jamaica. I am in the same position that you were in when you decided to move: hardly any retirement saved, tired of the fast paced life in the U.S….I am wondering if we could communicate on some level to make the transition easier for me. I would appreciate any help that you could give. Thank you
I’ve answered various questions about it over the years in various places, eg, here. It’s been over a year and a half since I updated the “Living in Jamaica” series (it dumbfounded me when I saw that it had been that long), so I thought this was a great post to add after such a long silence.
With all of that being said, following are five frequently asked questions about living and working here that will shed even more light into if it’s something you want to do.
1. As a Foreigner, Will I be able to Find a Job in Jamaica?
Most likely, not. Unless you are sponsored by a company, it’s practically impossible to get a job here in Jamaica as a foreigner. The reason is, jobs are reserved for Jamaicans. Remember, Jamaica is considered a third-world country; although I prefer to think of it as under-developed instead of “third world.” For example, modern advances like WiFi are great here, but the roads and sewage systems still need a lot of work.
The unemployment rate is high, especially among the youth. Although it’s listed at around 15% now, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge – based on what I see day in and day out here in Negril – it’s much higher than that. So no, finding a job would not be an option for a foreigner. And even if you did luck up and by some miracle find one, it wouldn’t be for wages you’d probably be willing work for.
The minimum wage in Jamaica is around $1.25 cents an hour, according to a March 2016 report in the Jamaica Observer, one of the largest papers on the island, and the article I’m quoting was reporting a recent increase in wages. It stated:
A news release from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said that the National Minimum Wage will be increased from $5,600 [JMD] to $6,200 [JMD] per 40-hour workweek. Arising from this, the new hourly rate for the National Minimum Wage is $155; the time-and-a-half rate is $232.50, and the double-time rate will be increased to $310.
US vs. Jamaican Dollar Exchange Rate
FYI, one Jamaican dollar equals about $1.20 in American dollars. I use xe.com for conversion. As you can see, at $6,200 per week, that’s only about $50 a week for a full 40 hours. So you’ll definitely want to bring your own job. I highly recommend a portable career like online writing, which is what I do. This brings me to the next question.
2. What Paperwork Do I Need? Do I Need a Work Permit? A Visa?
To work in Jamaica as a foreigner, you need a work permit; not a visa, a Work Permit. And boy let me tell you, it’s a process to get one!
It’s so darned convoluted it ain’t even funny. I live in Negril, which is about 5.5 hours away from Kingston. It takes me at least three trips to Kingston; one to Sav-la-Mar (a little town about 20 minutes away from Negril); and two trips to Montego Bay (1.25 hours away) to get my work permit renewed.
Note: I don’t have a car here and don’t want one because it’s not necessary for the life I lead. In fact, one of the things I like about living in Negril is that you don’t need a car.
As an aside, most Jamaicans don’t have cars. Negril is basically a small little country beach town. One road winds through it – literally! So anywhere you want to go, you can get there on foot or bike or by taxi easily. Taxi rides are cheap, like $1.10 cents per ride for the most part.
The Cost for a Work Permit
It’s about $2,500 USD per year between the actual Work Permit fees and the trips back and forth to Kingston, MoBay (as the locals call Montego Bay), and Sav (aka Savanna-La-Mar aka Sav-la-Mar). I’ve completed the process twice, and I still get confused when I first start the process each year because there are so many steps and you deal with so many offices.
Getting a Work Permit in Jamaica
I registered my business in Jamaica, and am considered an employee of my business. So you have to register your business first (which doesn’t cost that much and is very easy to do). It’s about $25.
When you read stuff about how easy it is to start a business in Jamaica, the business registration process is what they’re referring to. But, what often gets left unsaid is that you have to obtain a Work Permit for yourself in order to run your business.
The Work Permit is what allows you to work as an employee of your business. And this process is the big pain in the patootie. So don’t just read about registering a business here and think that’s all there is to it. It’s not — not by a long shot.
FYI, this is the best, most thorough, most accurate explanation I’ve read of how to go about getting a work permit in Jamaica (start at #5).
Documents Needed to Apply for a Work Permit
- Completed Application form;
- Work Permit processing fee and fee for actual work permit (renewals are the same price): Roughly $250 as of this writing. This is the initial fee you’ll have to pay when you file the application. The other big payment comes when your permit is approved.
- 4 passport photos (they don’t need to be signed by a JP; in Jamaica, a JP is like a notary. Even though you may read that the photos need to be signed by a JP, they don’t);
- Cover letter stating the reason you are re-applying for a work permit (try to up-sell yourself in this letter);
- Valid passport; and
- Police Report/Finger Prints from Your Home Country (must be dated within one year).
Jamaican Work Permit Fees
Here’s a link that describes the fees. Remember, all fees are in Jamaican dollars. Use xe.com to convert into the currency of your country.
Jamaica has a flat-tax system. It works out to about 35% by the time all the taxes are added in, eg, education, income, employer, etc. You have to pay taxes quarterly, which I kinda like actually because it keeps you on track (and the money you owe the tax man out of your hot little hands!).
Jamaican Work Permit Process: Some Useful Things to Know
Leave the Country: You can’t be in the country while your Work Permit is being processed. So when you go to file, you may be asked for an airplane ticket to prove that you will be leaving the country soon – as in, a few days.
Using a Lawyer: Most people use a lawyer to file their papers. This is unnecessary and can get expensive – upwards of $3,000 to $5,000 American dollars. You can do it yourself. Yeah, it’s a hair-pulling process. But you save a lot – and learn a lot. Again, be prepared to leave the country almost immediately upon filing. If not, you risk having your permit denied, and never being able to get one. Speaking of being denied …
Denials: Your permit can be denied for any reason, and they don’t even have to give you one. If you have all of your paperwork in order, I don’t see this happening. But just know, it is a possibility. Being able to live and work in Jamaica is a privilege extended by their government, just like with any other country.
Nonsensical: As I’ve said, the process is a mess; it’s not organized at all. And really, that’s because it’s set up for people who do use attorneys to apply for them.
You have to go to all these different offices (in your country and in Jamaica), eg, the Jamaican Embassy in your city; the Minister of Labour here in Jamaica; PICA (Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency) in Jamaica; the police department/FBI office in your city (to get your fingerprints/police record); and to the bank here to make payments (most offices won’t allow you to pay there), to name a few.
You have to have a payment voucher, take it to the bank to pay a fee, then take that back to the applicable office. All of this running around can take hours. Why can’t you pay at the office, you ask? Because that’s just not the way things are done here. And the main offices you need to go to, eg, Minister of Labour and PICA, are not even housed in the same building. They’re across town from each other in busy downtown Kingston!
So you’ll spend those days where you are in town to file hailing taxis and running from one office to the next. The most frustrating thing for me is, you can’t complete stuff on the same day. When you go to pick up your approval letter from one office, you still have to go to another one to get a special stamp. But, get this – they only process them at certain hours on certain days.
So even though I may travel all the way from Negril to Kingston – a 10-11 hour round trip bus trip, I can’t complete the process in one or two trips because the offices operate independently of each other.
Some days, I go just to pick up a letter. Then, I hop another bus the next week to go and drop it off at the second office. Then, I go back a third time to pick up my Work Permit card. This year, I didn’t make that third trip to pick up my card (which signals that the process is complete).
I’ve never been asked for that card here in Jamaica, so I just never went back to get it this year. I have my Work Permit approval letter from the Minister of Labour and a little “yellow resident alien book,” which has my passport picture in it.
This last document is the one you really need for coming back into the country if you leave, so that’s why I never went back to get my card. I could have had them mail it to me too, but the mail is sketchy here, and again, as I’ve never had to show it – ever – I just never went back to get it. When I’m in Kingston again, I will pop in and pick it up.
Call, Call, Call: Once you submit your paperwork, call weekly after the first two weeks. Why? Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease here. You submit and think, “Ok, now someone is going to do their job and get back to me.”
Nope! Doesn’t work that way here. Your paperwork can linger for months if you’re not following up. And even when you are, it can still be pain to get someone to give you a straight answer about when it’s going to be processed and when/if it’s been approved.
I’ve had them need more documents from me, but did anyone call to tell me that? Nope. So again, after you submit, give it two weeks and then start following up regularly. I’d say weekly for three weeks or so, then start calling every day or every other day if it lags on for longer than five or six weeks.
As you have to be out of the country when all of this is going on, make sure you have a place to stay that you can afford. I was in the Virgin Islands and New York one year while I was waiting on my renewal, and boy, let me tell ya, I cut it close.
New York City is an expensive-ass city to be stuck in. So just because the process should take 4-6 weeks does not mean it won’t take longer. Count on and budget for twice as long – and don’t forget to call, call, call to help expedite the process.
Triplicate Copies: Everything you submit, get at least triplicate copies. That’s because, almost without fail, you will be asked to re-submit something you’ve already submitted. It helps to have a scanner close by too so you can scan and send/fax, instead of mailing something (which I don’t advise).
Complete Abroad: I advise completing as much of the application as you can abroad. That’s because even simple things like getting something notarized or getting copies can be a process. Now if you plan to move to a big metropolis like Kingston or MoBay, then this won’t be such a big deal.
But here in tiny little country Negril – first of all, finding a notary – I’ve never been able to find one. Second, getting copies – expensive and time-consuming. You have to copy/print a lot of pages and when you’re being charged by the page here, it can get expensive and takes forever. I once spent almost $30 and over an hour in a steaming hot store with no AC getting copies of everything. I finally bought a combo printer/copier/scanner – made my life so much easier.
And getting passport photos – I had to go to Sav, the next town over, to get them because I have yet to find a place here in Negril that does them. So it’s not as easy as popping out like we do in the states to get stuff done. The tiniest thing can turn into an all day ordeal.
Deposit Slip: If you don’t remember anything else, remember this – ask for a DEPOSIT slip when you initially file your application. You will need this to pay the Work Permit acceptance/renewal fee when your application is approved. You’d think they’d have one at the bank where you have to pay the fee, right? Nope, they don’t!
It took me and my sister a WHOLE DAY once to track down a deposit slip so that we could go to the bank and pay our fees, then take that slip back to the correct office. If you have a friend in Jamaica who will pay it for you, they will need this slip, so please, please, please, don’t forget to ask for this deposit slip – and hoard it like gold because without it, it can mean having to go all the way back to Kingston to get it before you can pay.
Renew Early: You can get a permit for as little as three months. I always apply for a year; I think you can apply for up to three years at one time. Of course, the longer you apply for, the more expensive it is. You’ll want to start your renewal process at least three months beforehand if you do so (because of everything I’ve said here).
If your Work Permit is not renewed by the time your existing one expires, you will have to pay an additional $14,000 JMD (at the time of this writing) to get an extension to be here legally until your renewal comes through. Usually, that extension is only granted for 30 days at a time (and it could be for less). So start early in order to ensure that your renewal comes through in time for you to not have to leave and/or pay to get an Extension of Stay.
You DO NOT have to leave the island to renew your work permit; you only have to leave when you initially apply.
NOTE: Don’t Apply/Renew During August
The committee that reviews your Work Permit application usually has review/approval meetings on Wednesdays. August 1st starts the Jamaican Independence / Emancipation holiday week (August 6th is Jamaica’s Independence Day), so typically nothing gets done that week as everybody takes vacation. The following week after that is usually not too productive either.
Hey, it’s the Caribbean – holiday moods tend to last longer here. So if you’re applying/renewing around this time, just know, it can take even longer.
I know this is a lot of info to digest, and probably 90 percent of it won’t make sense until you start the process. So you may want to bookmark this page to come back to if you decide to take the leap and move to Jamaica. You won’t find most of these tips any place else. They are hard-earned, first-hand knowledge that I hope will spare you some of the angst I’ve gone through.
3. How Much Does It Cost to Rent an Apartment in Negril?
This all depends on what you are looking for. Can you be comfortable in a room with a shared bath and kitchen and/or no kitchen facilities? If so, this can be found for as little as $100 to $150 per month.
I rent a studio apartment with a balcony and 270-degree views of the ocean. I pay $30,000 JMD (approximately $245/month USD). It’s about 350 square feet and is in a gated building. I like to think of my apartment as the best deal in Negril. I found it through a friend of my sister.
I have a girlfriend here who as a studio apartment too. It’s more of a room with a bathroom and kitchen area, but she has no cooking facilities. It has a huge terrace. She pays $180/month.
Some Things You Should Know about Renting an Apartment in Jamaica
Hot Water: The vast majority don’t come with hot water. Water yes; hot water, no. You can buy a little contraption to put in your shower that heats the water so you can have hot showers. This costs between $150 and $200, and you have to have a plumber install it. A plumber will charge you about $30 to do so.
Appliances: You have to buy your own kitchen appliances in many cases (stove/refrigerator). I bought the cheapest stove possible (about $360 with taxes and delivery) and a refrigerator (about $200-$250). You can forego a stove and use a burner cooktop just fine, which is what a friend of mine does. She has a two-burner cooktop; those run anywhere from $50-$100.
Water/Electric: Most apartments don’t charge for water, and if they do the cost is nominal – like less than $10 per month. My electric bill runs me between $25 and $35 per month.
Cable: To get any kind of service to your apartment, you will need a signed/notarized letter from your landlord stating that it’s ok. This is because the island has a lot of tourists, and landlords don’t want people just willy nilly hooking stuff up without knowing who’s doing it.
Your bill will come in your name, but it has to be approved by the landlord. Funnily enough though, some bills, eg, electric, come in the landlord’s name. That’s because the landlord has a landlord’s account with JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company), and all bills for his/her building come to him/her and they pass them out to each apartment occupant.
4. Is Jamaica Dangerous?
Note: The following info only pertains to Negril, where I live. I’ve travelled all over Jamaica, but I haven’t spent enough time in any place other than Negril to speak knowledgeably about it, so keep that in mind as you read this section.
This is some of the most accurate advice I’ve read about the danger of Jamaica:
It is true, Jamaica suffers from criminality and has one of the highest murder rates in the world – an unfortunate consequence of poverty, gangs, drugs and politics. Visitors are occasionally the victims of crime, mostly pick pocketing, theft and robbery, but cases of eg. kidnapping and rape has also occurred. Still, the majority of crimes take place between Jamaicans.
The comments in this post also give some sage advice.
Here’s my take …yes, Jamaica is dangerous. But on a personal, day-to-day level, I don’t feel any danger. Most crime in Jamaica is between Jamaicans, although petty crime like purse snatchings and hotel robberies do happen to tourists. Remember, Negril is home to the infamous 7-Mile Beach, so it’s a tourist haven.
I was robbed once – walking with a male friend coming home from a bar at about 1:30 in the morning. My purse was snatched off my arm by a man in a passing car.
IMO, it’s hard to get a grip on just how pervasive crime is/isn’t because a lot of it is hush hush – as in, it’s not reported in the papers or any place where you can know about it. Locals know about it, of course, but you can be living here long-term as a foreigner and stuff will happen that you won’t know about.
I know this because I know of quite a few people who’ve been robbed (locals and frequent tourists), and even a couple of murders that have happened right in the vicinity of where I live, but there was nary a word about it in the papers or on the news — but you could catch the chatter in bars (if you understand Patois, which I understand a lot better than I speak).
In the states, when something major happens, we’re used to reading about it or seeing it on the news. Of course, crime is reported here, but much of it is not. Negril runs on the tourist dollar, so my feeling is a lot of stuff is covered up/not reported to protect the image of it as a safe place.
I’ve walked the roads of Negril all times of the day and night, and for the most part, I don’t feel unsafe at all. But, I am cautious. I’m all over the place during the day, but for the most part, I’m home at night. And, when I do go out, I don’t stay out late.
I’m rarely out after 10 p.m. – and then that’s usually just at a local bar not far from my house watching a game or something. If it’s later than this, I’m usually with a friend/friends. When I travel outside of Negril, I usually do so with a male friend, who is Jamaican.
Of course, observe all the common-sense rules like not wearing flashy jewelry (I don’t even own any of that); keep a close eye on iPads, cameras, laptops, phones, etc.; and watch your bag. In fact, if at all possible, leave your bag home and just carry what you need in your pockets.
Since I got robbed, I rarely carry a bag, especially if I go out alone. My ID and credit cards were stolen, and if you’ve ever lost those, you know what a pain it can be to get them replaced (especially a Driver’s License). Now when I leave home, I usually just carry my keys and maybe my phone (if I’m going someplace other than to my local bar). I don’t even carry cash when I go to my local bar because I can drink there on credit (I know the bar owner well). I pay her once a week or so for the tab I run up.
So leave as much as you can at home – definitely ID, which you probably won’t need; credit cards (I don’t even use mine here – ever); debit card; and electronics. Travel with as little cash as you can so as not to attract attention when you pull it out. And unless you know you’ll need your phone, leave that at home too.
Many of the posts I see about the safety of Jamaica (Negril) come from people who may visit once or twice – or come every year for a few weeks or so. I did that for years, but let me tell ya, living here is different from visiting – even if you’re a frequent visitor.
Every person’s safety comfort level is different. I’ve traveled a lot by myself and lived in NYC for almost 20 years, so I think I’m pretty safety-savvy, and still, I got robbed. I have to point out though that this was in December, the beginning of high season (when a lot of people from other parishes (towns) flood into Negril). And I was with a white male friend. Why does this matter?
Well, the perp probably thought we were tourists. You see a lot of mixed couples here – white men (foreigners) with black women (Jamaican). And black men (Jamaican) with white women (foreigners). If my friend had been black, I doubt if we would have been targeted. But again, it was late, so we might have been. Who knows. It’s knowing the intricacies of situations though like this though that can keep you safe.
If you’re serious about wanting to move here, the best advice I can give about judging the safety of Jamaica is to come and visit – for an extended time. You can stay in this country for up to six months; three months, then you have to go to Montego Bay to apply for an Extension to Stay for another three months.
FYI, if you do decide to move here, register for the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates for any country, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in case of an emergency. For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Internet website at travel.state.gov.
5. Where Is That Place You Get the Massage? I Want One!
I get this question — a lot! 🙂
It’s up in the Blue Mountains (Bath Fountain) – about an hour and a half outside of Kingston; five and a half hours or so by car from Negril. I’ve been lucky enough to go a few times. It’s divine. If you ever come to Jamaica, I definitely advise going.
Advice for Women
Before wrapping this up, I just want to add one more thing for the ladies as, strangely enough, this is the group I get the most questions from.
Jamaican men can be quite, shall we say, persistent and clear, in their come-ons. They will explain in vivid detail what they want to do to you, your body parts, etc. It can take some getting used to and it’s one of the things I hate the most about living here.
I frequently walk with my headphones on — even when I’m not listening to music — to tune this commentary out. If I don’t have my headphones on, I still just tend to ignore it and move on. If someone is being really persistent, I’ll say something like, “Dude, you’re getting nowhere with me. Move along please.”
Once you are firm in your disinterest, most move along. A few may have some choice words for you (which can feel like a verbal assault), but most just keep it moving.
If you’re a woman — especially a new face in town — just know, you will be hit on incessantly. It’s just the way it is. Gain more insight here, in a hub I wrote years ago.
Should You Make the Move to Jamaica?
I didn’t address the school question because I don’t have children, so wouldn’t know about that. I do know that parents have to pay for uniforms and books for kids to go to school here. All school children in Jamaica wear uniforms.
Again, the best advice I can give is to come and visit for an extended period of time. Many people come to Jamaica on vacation and fall in love with its beauty, and base their decision on that. Living here is not like being on vacation. So no matter how struck you are by this island’s beauty – and it is some kind of gorgeous! – – don’t base your decision on that.
Come. Stay for a while. Take off your vacation goggles and pay attention to what it would be like daily. Then make your decision. I’ve been here full-time for almost three years, and I’m glad I got the experience of living in another country under my belt. It was a bucket list item that’s been scratched off, and I’m richer for the experience.
Found This Post Helpful?
If so, please share it on your social networks. I get asked a lot of questions all the time about living/working in Jamaica. I don’t have time to answer them in a timely manner, so would like to get this out to as many people as possible. Thanks in advance.
P.S.: Learn How to Live and Work in Jamaica: Everything You Need to Know.
P.P.S.: Have you lived in another country as a freelance writer?
I’d love to share it with this site’s readers. Submit a guest post about your experience.