A Freelance Writer’s Life Abroad: Inside Peek at My Life as an American Living in Jamaica for a Year, Part XV

Last weekend, I arrived back in the land of paradise that is Negril, Jamaica. And, not a minute too soon. But oh boy, getting here was not easy. If you’re packing up to actually make the move to this gorgeous little beachfront enclave, learn a lesson from my travails. FYI, get links to all posts in this series.

Note: Learn how you too can live and work from an island paradise!

How to Work and Live Abroad from the Caribbean: It’s Easier Than You Think to Make the Move to an Island Paradise

Just Missed an “Almost Hurricane” in Jamaica

Before I delve into that though, let me just share this: apparently, I just missed “close to” a Category I hurricane – by a mere two days. My sister was here and she said the power was out for two-and-a-half days.

As I walk around, I can see the damage. The cleanup goes on: chunks of rock of the seaside walls are missing; trees are split in half, uprooted from the ground and/or bent over; and the belly of the sea is evident everywhere (seaweed, dead fish, shells and the like).

The Sun Shines, the Ocean Glimmers, the Breeze Sways and It’s Absolutely Gorgeous in Negril

BUT, my sister says I brought the sunshine. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous since I arrived. Beautiful, sunny days with a breeze that make a fan or other cooling element unnecessary; not hot and sticky like I talked about here. The only downfall is the brown sea water.


Apparently, some of the river water has washed into the ocean, making it a brownish color close to shore. While it’s still ok to swim in, it doesn’t look too inviting. The locals say give it a couple of weeks and it’ll be fine (if there’s no other storm, of course).

I Can See the Ocean from My Terrace Here in Jamaica

From my little terrace, I can see slivers of the blue, turquoise waters over the tops of the trees. The ocean retains her beauty farther out – and she shimmers for all to see. What a magical display of color she puts on.

But, back to my trying time getting here.

I moved to a brand new studio apartment — I’m the first one to live here. So of course, I brought some soft household goods with me, ie, curtains, bed linens, bathroom stuff (shower curtain, rugs, etc.).

MY understanding was that – as a foreigner I could bring $500 worth of durable goods in as long as they were for my personal use and not for resale. Cool, right? Or so I thought.

My Jamaican Customs Nightmare

Once I landed in customs in Jamaica, not so. This applies only to residents of the country. I was supposed to pay a duty tax. I almost started crying right there on the spot because it was the last straw in what had been a very long day.

Leaving Home to Get to Negril

The day started ominously; a taxicab company I’d use on my last two airport trips didn’t show up. Just. Didn’t. Show. Up. No phone call (I called incessantly), no text, nothing. So I had to ask my neighbor (who works nights and had just gotten off and crawled into bed when I called) to take me to the airport.

M I love you forever for that favor!

So cool, right. I save my arse and get to the airport on time – actually almost three hours before departure. And good thing to because the skycap says to me, “Ma’am, we can’t check that box.” I was like, “What? You HAVE to; otherwise what am I gonna do.

After some back and forth and – again some “almost tears,” this older skycap called over a younger one and told him to go buy me a box. It was on the other side of the airport. If you’ve ever been in Atlanta’s airport, you know it’s friggin’ huge!

So I gave the young man $20; the box cost $8 and I gave him a $3 tip for making the trek for me. After I got the box, I had to unpack everything and repack it in the new box (see why I was glad I got to the airport so early?). The older skycap helped me to do this.

Luckily, something had told me to bring scissors and packing tape. I thought I’d need it in Jamaica just in case they went through my stuff in customs (which they did, of course). BUT, turns out I needed it right there in Atlanta too.

Why couldn’t I use my original box? Because it was one that a lawn mower had been delivered in. Apparently any box that a non-allowed substance has been shipped in – in this case oil – the airlines won’t ship.

I tell ya, it helps being a “damsel in distress” (in tight jeans and form-fitting tee) sometimes. From the skycaps in Atlanta to the customs guy in Jamaica, I managed to repack everything, get it checked under weight and avoid duty taxes.

Whew! This Girl a Go Go was one happy camper. [What is a “Girl a Go Go?”]

Midflight to Jamaica – A Return to Atlanta

jamaica-customs-problemsAfter this drama, I finally got checked, boarded and in the air … Jamaica here I come, right? Not so fast girlie, you’re returning to Atlanta.

Say what?!

About 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot announces that we’re returning to Atlanta because there’s a problem with one of the “pressure gauges” and we need to switch planes.

Excuse me!

We’re over water and we’re losing pressure. I was like, “Why couldn’t he just turn around and tell us this when we were 5 minutes from Atlanta. Why did we HAVE to know 45 minutes in advance – and the liquor cart has stopped serving.

I mean, it’s not like most passengers are gonna KNOW we turned around. I get lost on the ground on familiar freeways. In the air, you could fly me to Antarctica and I wouldn’t know the difference!

My thought process as this point was, “Not only am I gonna die, I’m gonna die sober! Not for nothing, but I’m from a family of alcoholics (the funny, hilarious kind) and if there’s one thing I needed at that very moment, it was a drink. And, they’ve “suspended beverage service.”

Lord, help a sista; I was fit to be tied!

We got back to Atlanta, they got us another plane – pretty quickly I might add — and we started the journey all over again.

By the time I got to Negril though, it was four hours later than it should have been. It was a long-a** day. BUT my sis, some friends and I immediately hit our favorite bar for some rum punches – which I needed like a junkie needed a hit at that moment.

So I Guess the Takeaway Lessons on Moving to Negril, Jamaica Here Are:

Only use packing boxes from places like UPS or a packing store (if you use a box);

If you’re not a Jamaican resident, don’t bring in new, packaged items;

Avoid shipping boxes at all if you can. This immediately alerts customs that “non-clothes” items are probably within; and

Stick a miniature bottle (or two) of spirits in your carry on – just in case – to calm your nerves for whatever your trip might bring.

As for packing and shipping stuff, a Jamaican friend of mine said that I should have removed all packaging and packed my stuff in suitcases.

Now that I have everything I need here, there’s no need for me to bring items in beyond the occasional wine opener or something like that.

And, that was how I landed in paradise this go round. May the next trip to Jamaica be smoother.

From my lips to Jah’s ears!


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    1. Hey John from the land of Shetland ponies! Glad I made you laugh. I did too — after the fact!

      Hope Spain is sunny and nice; can’t wait to get back there for a visit to bone up on my Spanish speaking.

      I loved, loved, loved Barcelona and all of its museums and great restaurants. That is one country I can definitely eat and drink my way through.

      Good to hear from you,

    2. You made me laugh, and that’s a good thing, first thing in the morning 🙂

      As someone who moved from Scotland to Spain recently, and who does freelance writing for a living, I know most of the problems involved in living and working abroad. But it’s definitely worth it!


    3. zerodtkjoe says:

      Thanks for the info

    4. Louboutin Sale says:

      Great post. Thanks. I just added your site to my myspace page.

    5. Glad you enjoyed the post Ruth. I was kinda cracking myself up writing it, b/c it WAS funny — after the fact.

      There was nothing funny about it while it was happening.


    6. “not only am I gonna die, I’m gonna die sober”

      Hilarious! I’d have thought the same thing.

      And yep, 45 minutes is WAY too long to learn about a disaster that may be about to happen.

      I really enjoyed this post. Sounds like you had a pretty crappy time. But I guess all’s well that ends well.


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