Is it Safe to Travel to Jamaica? (UPDATED 2020)

Last Updated On 7/21/2020

Jamaica is the Caribbean wonderland of tourist’s dreams; year-round warm weather accompanies their incredible variety of resorts, pristine beaches, and vibrant culture. The birthplace of reggae boasted a record number of 4.3 million visitors in 2017 with tourists flocking to the beaches of one of the top 3 island destinations. Relaxation, partying, and aquatic adventures have steadily attracted tourists to Jamaica in the past. The country’s Tourism Minister attributes this influx of tourism to a new pursuit of “authentic experiences” visitors are venturing out of private resorts and are instead seeking to immerse themselves in the local culture.

But this island paradise is not without its risks and tourists must be cautious. Before you embark to this tropical destination, make sure you are aware of the potential dangers and find out if it’s actually safe to travel to Jamaica.

Can you travel to Jamaica right now?

Yes! As of June 15th, Jamaica reopened for tourism. Here’s what you’ll need to know in regards to the country’s travel health and safety guidelines if you decide to book a vacation anytime soon.

Thermal Checks: Upon arrival in Jamaica, all travelers must take a temperature check to ensure you’re healthy.

Face masks & social distancing: As with many parts of the world during the coronavirus pandemic, wearing a face covering and keeping a six foot distance from others is a norm in Jamaica.

Travel Health Application: Prior to departure (three days to be exact), travelers must complete a Travel Authorization Application to assess any potential health risks. Make sure you have a copy of this before you leave, otherwise, Jamaican officials could prohibit your entry onto the island. 

Specific Traveler Testing: All travelers from New York, Florida, Arizona, and Texas are required to upload negative COVID-19 test results with their Travel Authorization Application. This test cannot be more than 10 prior to arrival in Jamaica. COVID-19 Testing Upon Arrival: Travelers from the specific states above should expect to be tested for COVID-19 upon arriving at the airport. It will be required to be in quarantine for up to 48 hours until test results are processed.

Restricted to the Resilient Corridor: Travel for tourists will be limited to an area in Jamaica called the Resilient Corridor. This region includes areas of Negril down to Port Antonio and is intended to “have easy access. But the most important thing is to be able to trace the visitors and to contain their movement”, according to the Tourism Minister of Jamaica.

Is it safe to travel to Jamaica?

Jamaica declared a state of emergency in 2018, highlighting the very real dangers afflicting the country. High murder rates, accounts of gang violence, and theft have been regular occurrences plaguing the island. The government has been working to make the country safer by having military forces to assist local police in maintaining order.

Currently, the U.S. State Department holds a Level 2 Travel Advisory meaning to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to Jamaica. High murder rates, accounts of gang destructiveness, and robbery have been regular occurrences plaguing the island. The majority of violent crime in Jamaica occurs between locals (Jamaican-on-Jamaican brutality, usually attributed to gangs), but there is the occasional incident involving tourists. There are four main categories of criminal activity, a select few of which would actually affect any travelers. 

Harassment

This is widely reported to be the most common nuisance from travelers. Local vendors are notorious for pestering tourists, but can often be dismissed with a firm “no thank you.” While a few locals may prove to be more persistent, they rarely intend any harm to travelers. Jamaica values their tourists greatly, and in efforts to ensure their security, the government established a specialty security force of “tourist police”. These police officers are dedicated to protecting tourists, are highly visible (you can recognize them by their white hats and shirts), and patrol tourist hot spots in large numbers. It’s important to know how to be prepared if you end up being pulled into a common scam while traveling. 

Petty Theft

This is the most imminent threat a tourist in Jamaica would face. Most robberies are non-violent crimes. Pickpocketing is a frequent occurrence, with thieves preying on tourists for cash, jewelry, and electronics like phones and cameras. If you find yourself facing a thief: do not resist. Most thieves simply want your valuables and will let you go about your way if they get what they want. Play it safe and leave all unnecessary valuables – jewelry, music players, expensive clothing –  at home. If you do bring them with you, make sure your hotel offers the security of a safe. If you do experience theft while traveling, having a travel insurance policy could help reimburse you or replace the items that were stolen if you choose to file a claim. 

Scamming (card stealing and skimming) is another issue that is widespread in tourist areas. To minimize this issue, pay with cash as often as possible and use ATMs in reputable, tourist-friendly areas. 

Gang & Drug Violence

Gang activity used to be primarily restricted to the main cities, but as of late, has spread to the rural areas as well. Tourists are typically unaffected by these crimes and are encouraged to exercise caution when leaving the confines of a resort and venturing into towns. Drug smugglers have been known to occasionally stow away drugs in luggage, so keep your belongings close to you at all times.

Assault and Murder

Jamaica holds one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. Although these types of violent crimes typically occur between locals, there have been reports of tourists being victims. Female travelers, in particular, must be wary as sexual assault is regularly reported (even within resorts).

Visit the U.S. Embassy in Kingston if you ever feel extremely unsafe.

Travel Safety Tips When Visiting Jamaica

Many travelers opt to stay at all-inclusive resorts due to safety concerns, but more and more tourists are venturing out into “the real Jamaica.” Several travelers who have shared their stories report that their adventures occurred without incident, and were instead defined by amazing experiences of local hospitality, entertainment, and cuisine.

If you find yourself itching to leave designated tourist areas, Portland, St. Elizabeth, and Manchester are reported to be some of the safest cities in Jamaica. Despite the potential risks, most visitors find that Jamaican locals are friendly and helpful, being quite used to interacting with tourists. Hiring a private tour guide is a great option for those who want to get the full cultural experience while ensuring their travel safety in Jamaica.

When arranging transportation, book taxi and bus rides from the hotel which will usually have reputable companies to refer. Hotel staff and local guides are great resources for a fun and safe excursion – your safety is their number one priority.

Here is some safety advice to keep in mind when you visit Jamaica to avoid any unwanted or unsafe circumstances.

Register for STEP: Also called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, this free service allows you to register your trips and get access to travel safety updates through the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica. Not only will you get safety alerts for your destination, but on the rare occasion that an emergency comes up, the embassy can help locate you during that emergency. 

Get Insured: Since Medicare and major medical health insurance doesn’t provide coverage for international travel, it’s important to make sure you have coverage if something goes awry on your future trip. Travel insurance isn’t just for medical emergencies though. If you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason or your baggage gets lost, travel insurance could help cover the bill. We’ve written a helpful blog discussing what travel insurance is and what it isn’t so you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to protect your trip investment.

Be Aware: As in any location, it’s important to actively assess your surroundings. The State Department advises avoiding public buses, secluded areas, and walking or driving at night as effective travel safety measures.

Places to Avoid in Jamaica

Crime tends to focus on major tourist destinations – cities with large populations. The popular tourist destinations of Kingston, Montego Bay, and Negril being the primary targets of criminals looking to take advantage of unwary travelers. The Jamaica Travel Advisory is currently at Level 2; travel is still possible but tourists are advised to be extra cautious. The following areas within these major cities are noted to be particularly dangerous and should be avoided:

Montego Bay

Many large cities have areas that should be avoided due to potential risk of crime and brutality and Montego Bay is not excluded from this. The State Department warns travelers to avoid the following areas in Montego Bay due to rampage and shootings:

  • Canterbury
  • Clavers Street
  • Flankers
  • Hart Street
  • Norwood
  • Rose Heights

Kingston

In similarity with Montego Bay, Kingston also experiences some areas of violence and shootings. It’s advised not to travel to these areas below:

  • Cassava Piece
  • Downtown Kingston, defined as between Mountain View Avenue and Hagley Park Road, and south of Half Way Tree and Old Hope Roads. Downtown Kingston includes Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens.
  • Grants Pen
  • Standpipe

Spanish Town

This area of Jamaica should not be traveled to according to the State Department because of regular violence and shootings.

What are some safe and family-friendly activities or excursions in Jamaica?

As many places are now open and the COVID-19 curve is being flattened, Jamaica still is a great place for a family vacation. There are plenty of safe areas in Jamaica and below we’ve provided some inspiration to planning your future trip.

Adventure Lovers: Offering activities for kids of all ages, Yaaman Adventure Park is a great option for all-day entertainment near Ocho Rios. Check out some of their different tours and even get the opportunity to ride a camel or a segway! They plan on reopening sometime in July.

Experience Local Cuisine: Although Ocho Rios has many kid-friendly restaurants, Scotchies offers authentic Jamaican cuisine and isn’t too far out of the way.

History Buff: If your family has older kids and you’re looking to learn more about Jamaica’s history, try visiting Seville Great House. Not only will they learn about the colonial roots of the country, but will also get to view some of the archeological artifacts from findings in the area.

Be One With Nature: If your family likes animals and more specifically, birds, Barney’s Hummingbird Garden in Negril are sure to please. Plus, you can walk around the beautiful flower gardens while you enjoy a homemade smoothie!

Knowing the dangers of traveling to a new place is only half the battle. Don’t forget to prepare for things that you can’t anticipate like emergency medical expenses – invest in ensuring your trip to Jamaica. If you are traveling to Jamaica near the hurricane or rainy season, there’s the potential that your trip could be interrupted, delayed, or even canceled – travel insurance has your back 100%. Whether you are traveling to Jamaica by boat or by plane, Yonder wants to make sure that you are safe, happy, and can fully enjoy on your amazing Jamaican adventure.

What are some of your favorite destinations in Jamaica?

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