Category Archives: Transportation in Jamaica

Information about the various forms of Transportation for moving around in Jamaica

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

If you are planning a trip to Jamaica then you may also be considering renting or borrowing a vehicle to ‘Do Road’ and get out and about. To say that I have had some ‘experiences’ when doing this is an understatement! Some of which have been part of the best fun I have had in Jamaica and others have had me at my wits end. I really love to ‘Do Road’ in Jamaica and drive out somewhere and I recommend you do too, to get the best out of your stay. I have put together 30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica! to make your driving experience memorable for all the right reasons…

Renting a Vehicle in Jamaica

I have rented many different vehicles during my time in Jamaica with varying degrees of success and enjoyment. The majority of which have been from informal private renters. This normally works on a ‘referral’ basis, as in one of your friends introduces you to the person that rents the vehicle and you are both therefore ‘recommended’ to each other.  There have been instances when this goes smoothly and I have had an amazing brand new vehicle to go ‘Do Road’ in. On the reverse I have had instances on agreeing a rental price only for new ‘terms’ to be set half way through the rental, I have rented vehicles that break down, I have rented vehicles that have not had the correct paperwork causing problems during a police check, I have discovered that I rented a vehicle that was barely legal as the rental fee has paid for a cover note…

Most informal car rentals are at a rate of JA$5,000 a day, you may be lucky and get it for JA$4,000 or JA$4,500 a day. Most rentals are for a minimum of 3 days and the majority of the informal renters do not budge on this stipulation! The Insurance document does NOT have to have your name on it for it to be legal for you to drive. A (photo)copy of the vehicle documents is acceptable for showing to the police if asked.

 

Jamaica Hiace Bus
Watch out for Buses and Trucks

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

When Driving in Jamaica – Do…

  1. Drive on the LEFT hand side of the road. This is easy for people from the UK as it is same side as we drive on.
  2. Carry your vehicle documents with you when driving anywhere. Driving Licence, Insurance Certificate, Fitness (MOT) Certificate and Log Book, should be carried with you if the Police stop you – Don’t forget to take the documents out of the vehicle overnight in case it is stolen.
  3. If you rent a vehicle CHECK the documents BEFORE you drive off. It is not uncommon for documents to be out of date and you then have a problem if the police stop you.
  4. Check your vehicle before driving off. Ensure there is oil and water in the radiator and screen wash. Check the tyre’s are firm and you have a spare and the tools to change the tyre. Check the level of gas / petrol / diesel and be aware of where the nearest gas / petrol station is if running low. Check the location of the battery and if you need any tools to get access to it. Check the window wipers, lights and horn work – you will need them!
  5. Ask the person you rent / borrow the vehicle from what type of fuel the vehicle takes, which side the fuel tank is on and where the lever is  to open it. Your fuel will be pumped for you in Jamaica and will not have to leave your vehicle.
  6. Wear your seatbelt. Okay I know it’s hot and uncomfortable, but it could be the difference between life and death in an accident. Plus, you WILL get stopped by the Police if they see you and you could get a mandatory JA$500 fine.
  7. Observe the speed limits. Some roads in Jamaica have deep corners and multiple blind corners, drive with caution! The Police set up ‘speed traps’ and will pull you over if you are exceeding the limit and you could get a fine.
  8. Look out for road signs and do as they say! You will get a ticket if you park in a restricted area and could even be towed away.
  9. Be aware as people overtake at high-speed and drive incredibly close to your vehicle.
  10. Be aware of animals in or near the road, especially in the country areas. If you see a young animal in, or near the road, it is often best to let it run to its mother before proceeding as they are flighty and could run into your path.
  11. BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking (on a minor road) or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them.
  12. Double check before over taking. The drivers coming in the opposite direction also have plans to use the middle of the road as a new lane.
  13. Visit a gas / petrol station if you are having problems with the vehicle as they not only pump the gas for you, they can also help with other basic problems and will wash the windscreen, they stock oils, fluids and so on.
  14. Lock your vehicle doors and boot (trunk) of the vehicle when leaving it unattended.
  15. Wave traffic past you when safe to do so on country roads. Route taxi’s (look for the distinctive red number plates), illegal taxi’s and local residents drive very fast on the country roads as they know EVERY twist, turn, corner, gully, pot-hole, cliff and tree they pass on the route. They have a tendency to drive right up behind your vehicle, so just let them pass. If you have the nerve and can drive reasonably close behind them they will guide your way through the maze of pot-holes as they know the road better than the back of their hand!
  16. Look out for pot holes… some can swallow your car, whilst others could give you flat tyre.
  17. Address Police Officer with respect and be compliant. I highly recommend flagrant use of Sir, Mam, or Officer when conversing with them. It shows them respect and that you do not consider them inferior to you, which often means they give you less hassle. Police ‘bribes’ or ‘extortion’ are much less frequent in Jamaica than when I first came here 10 years ago.  It does still happen though. Extend caution offering or accepting bribes. If you are a female driver do not be surprised if the officers hit on you and ask for your phone number!
  18. Drive defensively. Always expect the unexpected.

 

Tips for Driving in Jamaica
Tips for Driving in Jamaica

 

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

When Driving in Jamaica – Do Not…

  1. (19) Play ‘chicken’ with the oncoming traffic. Their nerve will invariably be better than yours!
  2.  (20) FORGET TO BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them. (I have written this in do’s and don’ts because it is very important!)
  3. (21) Drive wide around corners. There are huge trucks on the road and they do not always blow their horn to let you know they are approaching you do not want to meet them on the wrong side of the road. People riding on bicycles and motorbikes are also put at high risk through this practise and many are killed in this way.
  4. (22) Stop in a secluded place late at night. If you are lost try to find a well-lit place, such as a gas / petrol station before stopping.
  5. (23)Drive alone late at night (although I have done this without incident). Always try to travel with a passenger.
  6. (24) Set out late in the day if you have problems driving at night. The roads do not always have street lights or ‘cats eyes’ and the oncoming headlights can be blinding as everyone puts on their high beam.
  7. (25) Set out on a new journey without a map (again, I have done this many times without incident) if you are not confident. Have an idea of where you are going unless you are pretty easy-going and don’t have a destination per se. Most Jamaicans are very helpful if you are lost or having difficulties, but remember to address the person formally and calmly when you pull the vehicle to the side of the road. They will probably know how to reach at least the next town on the route, where you may have to repeat the process until you reach your destination. You will love the way some Jamaicans give directions!
  8. (26) Leave your vehicle engine running or the keys in the vehicle when unattended.
  9. (27) Leave valuables on show in the vehicle when unattended, discreetly lock them in the boot / trunk or glove box.
  10. (28) Pick up strangers or hitch-hikers.
  11. (29) Panic if an oncoming vehicle flashes you twice in quick succession. It is generally to warn you that there is a Police Check Point or Speed Trap up ahead and not necessarily because you have done something wrong.
  12. (30) Park too near to the sea, beach or river, changing tides can come and go before you return to your vehicle.

I hope you enjoy driving in Jamaica. Be safe and get out there and ‘do road’!

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What you should know before you go…. Airports

(Please Note: This post has been revised and updated in February 2017)

 

What you should know before you go…. Airports

If you are travelling to Jamaica you will probably be arriving by air on a charter, or long haul flight. Jamaica has two International Airports, Norman Manley Airport in Kingston and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The majority of holiday makers will arrive at Montego Bay airport, whilst Kingston airport is more popular for business travellers. This post will give you the lowdown on travelling to Jamaica and will guide you as to what you should know before you go! 

 

Choice of Airline flying to Jamaica from the UK

Long gone are the days when you had a choice of long haul airlines to choose from and were allowed 2 bags in the hold, as was standard when travelling from London to Jamaica. Nowadays Virgin Atlantic is the ONLY provider operating the route to Montego Bay Airport (as of summer 2012) from the UK, with a one bag policy.

British Airways on the other-hand now presently ONLY fly into Kingston. The wonderful airline Air Jamaica unfortunately gave up the route from the UK to Jamaica, in 2007; but I managed to enjoy one round trip with them!

Charter Flights are offered by a few operators such as First Choice and Thomson’s, but I have always flown direct and long haul for a few reasons…. The luggage allowance on a charter flight is generally around 20 kg, which means 15 kg in the hold and 5 kg hand luggage, this is not enough for me. They tend to only fly in the high season and in school holidays, which does not suit my needs. I find that the price is in the same region as long-haul flights, but with none of the perks….

If you plan to travel to Jamaica as often as I do, it is a good idea to join a frequent fliers club as you will be giving the same airline a lot of custom unless they change their tactics again!

 

Virgin Atlantic Luggage Allowance

The current luggage allowance for Virgin Atlantic Economy to Jamaica is one bag weighing up to 23 kg (50 lbs) in the hold, plus on-board you can carry one piece of hand luggage (must fit in size guide rack at airport), or a Laptop Bag, plus a reasonably sized handbag. Premium Economy two bags, Upper Class three bags (I wish!), both are plus the on-board allowance mentioned.

Checking in a Wedding Dress on a Flight

If you have a wedding dress, smile sweetly and ask politely at the check-in dress if you can carry it on-board, rather than it going in the hold. I have heard of some women recommending looking for hostesses with engagement or wedding rings on as they may be more sympathetic to your dilemma!  Either way it will depend on the room in the lockers made available on-board for the coats of the crew and premium seat holders.  You have more chance of getting the wedding dress into a locker in the summer months, as naturally fewer people wear bulky coats on the flight to Jamaica.

 

When looking for your flight, check the price with the airline (website) but DO NOT automatically book your flight, as there are deals elsewhere for little hassle. Once I have found the ‘base’ price from the airline, I telephone up to four local agents and compare the prices before choosing the best deal. Make sure you tell the agent your preference for Montego Bay or Kingston, as it is easy to book the wrong airport. Living in South London I generally call: Sackville Travel, Norwood Travel, Newmont Travel and Southall Travel for good flight only deals.

 

 

Before you land – Immigration Cards

Immigration Cards

Non-residents will be handed an Immigration Card on the flight, which needs to be completely filled in and kept with your passport, ready to be handed to Immigration before landing. Make sure you fill in both ‘halves’ of the form, which includes the return / leaving part as you will asked to step aside and fill it in before they let you join the line for Passport Control. The boxes on the form and very small so do not forget your reading glasses!

TOP TIP! Bring a Black or Blue Ballpoint Pen (biro type)

 

Once you have landed

Sangster International Airport – Montego Bay

On leaving the flight you will have to walk a considerable way through the air-conditioned airport with your hand luggage and duty-free before you reach immigration and the baggage collection area. To keep you occupied and to enlighten you on the long journey, there are various works of art giving an insight into the history and culture of the country, featuring some outstanding work from Jamaican school children.

If your hand luggage bag is heavy you may something with wheels is easier to manage after a long flight. I whole heartedly recommend wearing flat comfortable shoes…. I can tell you from experience – DO NOT use this as a time to break in and show off new shoes as it is a very long walk and blisters are not a good look on the first day of your trip! Parents may find that ‘trunkie’ type wheeled hand luggage is useful as the children can ‘scoot’ themselves along keeping them occupied and out of your tired arms.

At the end of the long walk from the plane you will turn right and walk down a ramp where immigration officers will visually check that your Immigration Card is fully filled in. As mentioned before, they will ask you to step aside and fill it in before they allow you to join the Passport Control queue, so say yourself some time and do it on the flight. I have never had to wait longer than 30 minutes – 1 hour, to get through Passport Control as there are usually a high number of Officers checking your documents.

 

Visitors to Jamaica are required to present the following documents to the Immigration Officers:

  • Immigration Form
  • Customs Declaration Form
  • Valid Passport
  • Return Tickets (non-residents only).

 

Hand Luggage Recommendation

After many journeys and a multitude of different hand-luggage bags, I have gone full circle and reinvested in a wheeled cabin-sized suitcase. I tried a few different soft bags as they are lighter and generally give you a larger interior compartment to stow away things. But, I have found a massive bruise formed on my hip and shoulder each time I travelled with a soft bag.

I have to say my new wheelie case is a revelation, I could literally weep with joy when I use it. It is light and reasonably roomy and so easy to traverse through the airport with it. Plus I found a way of putting my handbag on top and using the longer shoulder strap to keep it steady, so I don’t have to carry that either! Genius.

 

Baggage Collection

Once you leave Immigration you will come through to the Baggage Collection Area, where you will find trolleys and the usual conveyor belt system. If you do not see your luggage, check the far end of the room before panicking as the Baggage Handlers usually take the cases off of the conveyor belt as they go round and stack them up. This is helpful in some ways, but you may find that if your case is at the back it is time-consuming when trying to retrieve it. If you use a smile and are polite you can persuade the handlers to get it for you!
 

Last Check (before you can leave the airport)….

 

Customs Checkpoint

Now this is the worst part of the journey for me. Wondering if I can successfully wheel my trolley through the last check point, without being called over to one side for the dreaded bag search. This is NOT because I am carrying anything illegal or immoral, but because it is a pain after a long journey to see your belongings pulled out when they have been packed so neatly and potentially having to pay tax on items you have already paid for.

I have found that I am more likely to get pulled to one side as I am travelling alone and I give a residential address as my ‘place of residence’ in Jamaica, plus I  generally have two bags, plus hand luggage.  Therefore, the customs staff (correctly) assume I will be carrying gifts or items for other people.

The Customs Declaration Form is easy to fill in and they will check what you claim to have in your luggage, before opening your bag and looking through it. The search usually only consists of a quick ‘dig and lift’ of the contents to see if you are stashing things you shouldn’t or have things that you haven’t mentioned on the form.

 

Bringing Gifts into Jamaica

If you bring gifts for relatives and friends, or carry large amounts of the same types of items customs may decide to charge you TAX on the items you are bringing into Jamaica.

This also applies if they feel you are over your allowance, and / or, are carrying items which you are intending to sell, or have items that are of any value; such as name brand clothing and shoes, electrical items and so on.

If you obviously try to mis-quote or lie about the amount, value or type of goods on your Customs Declaration Form customs may decide to charge you TAX on the items you are bringing into Jamaica.

Please Note: If you do not accept the tax payable, you will be expected to leave your goods at the airport where they may be destroyed. Alternatively if they are of value, you can arrange for them to kept by customs and you can collect them on your way home (by arrangement ONLY) to avoid paying the tax on them.

 

More Information: Thinking of Shipping Belongings to Jamaica – Check out our Guides to Shipping to Jamaica

 

Jamaican Baggage Handlers

You cannot take the trolleys outside of the airport doors at Montego Bay Airport. Once you go through the last Passport Control and through the doors you will be asked to leave the trolley in the lobby area and will have to carry your own cases the last few feet outside to your transport, or have some change ready to tip a Baggage Handler who will carry them for you.

They will expect a tip of about $400 (Jamaican currency) despite the short journey to the parking lot and (hopefully) your smiling friends and loved ones will be there to greet you on time!

 

Some of the Airlines and Destinations with Direct Flights to Montego Bay

Air Canada

  • Montreal
  • Toronto
  • Winnipeg

Air Transat

  • Montreal
  • Toronto

American Airlines

  • Los Angeles
  • Charlotte
  • Miami
  • Philadelphia
  • Chicago
  • Boston
  • Dallas

Caribbean Airlines

  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Kingston

Condor

  • Frankfurt

Copa Airlines

  • Panama City

Delta

  • Atlanta
  • Detroit
  • New York
  • Boston
  • Minneapolis

DK

  • Stockholm

DY

  • Milwaukee

Inter Caribbean

  • Kingston

Jet Air Fly

  • Brussels

Jet Blue

  • New York
  • Orlando
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Boston

Neos

  • Milan
  • La Romana

Southwest Airlines

  • Baltimore
  • Orlando
  • Houston

Spirit

  • Fort Lauderdale

Sunwing

  • Montreal
  • Saulte Ste Marie
  • Toronto

Sun Country Airlines

  • Minneapolis

Thomson

  • Manchester

United

  • Houston
  • Newark
  • Washington

Virgin Atlantic

  • London Gatwick

West Jet

  • Montreal
  • Ottawa
  • Winnipeg
  • Toronto

XP

  • St. Louis

 

Thinking of moving to Jamaica

 

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