Jamaica, a beautiful Caribbean island nation, is often viewed warily by travelers who read about the country's high crime and murder rates and wonder if it's a safe place to go. Many people even hole up at all-inclusive resorts for the duration of their trip due to safety concerns. However, millions of people enjoy the coastal sunshine, tropical fruits, and world-renowned reggae in Jamaica each year without incident. Most Jamaicans are friendly and helpful to visitors. Tourists can have a great experience getting out and seeing the "real" Jamaica as long as they take precautions and are mindful of the legitimate threat of crime where it exists.
- Anyone traveling to Jamaica must get a Travel Authorization prior to checking in for a flight and adhere to safety protocols while in the country.
- All residents of the U.S., Mexico, Panama, Brazil, or the Dominican Republic who are ages 12 and up must present a negative COVID-19 test upon checking in for a flight. The test sample must be less than 10 days from the Jamaica travel date.
- Canada urges travelers to exercise plenty of caution in Jamaica "due to the high level of violent crime" and suggests checking local media and following the local authorities' instructions.
- The U.S. Department of State warns tourists to reconsider Jamaica travel due to frequent violent crimes and health concerns including COVID-19.
- Use caution if you are traveling between June 1 and November 30, the hurricane season. Most major hurricanes occur between August and October.
Is Jamaica Dangerous?
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) stated in a 2020 report that travelers should exercise increased caution and avoid visits to Spanish Town and parts of Kingston and Montego Bay, which are all known for violent crime. Other parts of the country have violent crime as well, but it typically involves attacks by Jamaicans on others from the country and revolves around drugs, gangs, politics, poverty, or revenge. The downtown "Hip Strip" of Montego Bay is known for pickpockets and theft. Harassment of tourists can include harmless pitches to buy souvenirs or marijuana, bogus offers of tourist-guide services, and racial slurs aimed at white visitors.
Credit-card skimming is an ongoing problem in Jamaica. Some scammers will make a copy of your credit card information when you pay a restaurant server or shopkeeper. ATMs also may be rigged to steal your card information, or individuals may observe you at the ATM and try to steal your password. Avoid using credit cards or ATMs whenever possible; carry just enough cash for what you need that day. If you do need to use a credit card, keep an eye on the person handling your card. It is safest to get cash from the ATM at your hotel. Another thing U.S. citizens should especially watch out for is the lottery scams, including the Lotto Scam calls luring the victim into thinking a Jamaican lottery prize is available to them after the payment of “fees.”
Is Jamaica Safe for Solo Travelers?
Solo travelers can enjoy a trip to Jamaica by staying away from dangerous areas and taking some important precautions Be aware of your surroundings and stay in the more populated areas. Keep your travel itinerary and departure date private, as crimes often take place the night before tourists leave the island. Those who dress like a local usually have fewer issues, so leave any tourist T-shirts, fanny packs, and jewelry at your hotel.
Public transportation is not recommended since buses are often overcrowded and can become venues for crime. Take a registered cab from your hotel, hire drivers from reputable tour companies, or use transportation from vendors that are part of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA).
Is Jamaica Safe for Female Travelers?
Jamaica is relatively safe for women travelers, but it pays off to be careful and use your instincts. Avoid deserted areas and beaches even in the daytime, and try not to walk at night or hitchhike. Watch out for motorbike riders who may snatch your purse or engage in other petty theft. Street harassment such as whistles, catcalls, and honking is commonplace.
Before booking an accommodation, make sure the doors and windows lock properly and keep them secured even while you sleep. Women who are alone in resorts are especially prone to receiving plenty of attention. Rape and sexual assaults by hotel employees in resort areas on Jamaica's north coast have occurred with some frequency. Drink in moderation and keep an eye on your beverage to avoid someone using date rape drugs. Male prostitutes serving white female tourists ("rent-a-dreads") is a problem relatively unique to Jamaica, and the demand for such services can spill over in negative ways on other visiting women, who may be viewed as "easy" by some local men.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Homophobia is unfortunately widespread in Jamaica, and LGBTQ+ visitors may be subjected to harassment at a minimum and violence at worst. Displays of affection between same-sex couples in public are rare and can lead to catcalls and aggression. Gay sex is illegal and can result in prison terms of up to 10 years. Mob attacks, stabbings, rapes, and other forms of abuse and discrimination have occurred against women accused of being lesbians. There is an underground gay community, but until this aspect of Jamaican culture changes, LGBTQ+ travelers should seriously consider the risks before planning a trip to Jamaica.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
With a national motto "Out of Many, One People" paying homage to the island's multiracial roots, Jamaica is overall a welcoming place for BIPOC travelers. World-famous reggae musician Bob Marley who was from Jamaica also shared positive messages about unity and inclusion in his "One Love" song. However, there is said to be some discrimination against those with a darker skin tone. The great majority of Jamaican locals are Black, and a much smaller part of the population comes from Chinese, mixed, East Indian, White, or other backgrounds.
Safety Tips for Travelers
Some additional tips travelers should consider following when visiting Jamaica:
- For emergency police response, dial 119. There is typically an increased police presence in the areas of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios frequented by tourists, but victims of crime may find the response of the local police to be lacking—or nonexistent. Cops in Jamaica are generally short on staff and training. While visitors are unlikely to be mistreated by police, the Jamaican Constabulary Force is widely viewed as corrupt and ineffectual.
- Those with medical emergencies may dial 110. Kingston and Montego Bay have the only comprehensive medical facilities in Jamaica. The recommended hospital for U.S. citizens in Kingston is the University of the West Indies (UWI). In Montego Bay, the Cornwall Regional Hospital is suggested.
- Guests to the country can improve the atmosphere by not seeking out paid sex or drugs during their visit. To the extent possible, be respectful but firm when confronted by someone offering something you don't want—it can go a long way toward avoiding further problems.
- Many roads are not well maintained and have poor signage, so avoid driving at night. Smaller roads may not be paved, and often are narrow, winding, and crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, and livestock. Driving is on the left, and Jamaica's roundabouts (traffic circles) can be confusing for drivers used to sitting on the right. Seat-belt use is required and recommended given the hazardous driving conditions.
- If you rent a car, look for a spot inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or within your view. When shopping, park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Lock all doors, close the windows, and hide valuables in the trunk.
- Especially after hours of rain, use insect repellent to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and chikungunya virus.
- If possible, avoid nightclubs, which can be overcrowded and often are not in compliance with fire-safety standards.
- Jet ski accidents in resort areas are uncomfortably common, so use caution whether operating a personal watercraft or enjoying recreational activities in waters where jet skis are present.