(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
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.
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)….
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
- Los Angeles
- New York
Jet Air Fly
- New York
- Fort Lauderdale
- Saulte Ste Marie
Sun Country Airlines
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Bless up, Jules
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