This is an annual report produced in
conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston.
OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Jamaica.
For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Jamaica country page for original OSAC reporting, consular
messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to
private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S.
Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication
assesses Jamaica at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise
increased caution due to crime. Do not travel to
Spanish Town, or to parts of Kingston and Montego Bay, due to crime. Review
OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kingston as being a CRITICAL-threat
location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Violent crime, including sexual assault, is a
serious problem throughout Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and Montego Bay.
Jamaica’s police force is understaffed and has limited resources. Gated resorts
are not immune to violent crime.
In 2018, the homicide rate was 47/100,000
residents, and 2019 saw an increase of 3.4%. This is three times higher than
the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. Forbes Magazine listed Jamaica
as the third-most dangerous place for women travelers in 2017. In 2018,
Business Insider ranked Jamaica tenth among 20 of the most dangerous places in
the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently cited crime as the
number one impediment to Jamaica’s economic growth. The Jamaican government
concluded that corruption and the transnational crime it facilitates presents a
grave threat to national security.
In January 2018, due to rampant
violence and murders, the Government of Jamaica declared States of Emergency
(SOEs) and Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) for several parishes (like U.S.
counties) including the Kingston Metropolitan Area and St. James (Montego Bay).
The U.S. Embassy warned visitors to avoid some areas of Kingston, Montego Bay,
and Spanish Town due to violent crime. Under the SOE, security forces deployed
to address organized crime, including gang violence related to drug and gun
trafficking and lottery scams. The Emergency Powers Act allows the security
forces to detain and deport suspicious persons, to enter premises and seize
property without a warrant, and declare curfews. Throughout 2019, the
government enacted various SOEs and ZOSOs for the same parishes. They remain in
effect as of January 2020, with little long-term effect on the murder rate. Review
OSAC’s report, Jamaica
State of Emergency.
from the Jamaican Constabulary Force Statistics and Information
The U.S. Embassy in Kingston maintains
several areas as off-limits to its personnel. The Embassy refers to its largest
off-limits area in Kingston as the “Red-Zone,” which represents two-thirds of
the city. The Embassy prohibits personnel from travel within this zone, between
Mountain View Avenue and Hagley Park Road, and south of Half Way Tree and Old
Hope Roads; this area includes Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens.
The Regional Security Office must approve all official travel within the Red-Zone.
Travelers must pass through the Red-Zone
to access Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN). The approved
primary route is South Camp Road to Normal Manley Boulevard. The approved
secondary route is Mountain View to Deanery Road to South Camp Road to Norman
Manley Boulevard. The Embassy does not require employees to submit a travel
request to travel to KIN using either of these approved routes.
Also off limits in Kingston are Cassava
Piece, Grants Pen, Stand‐Pipe, Duhaney Park, and Mountain View.
Avenue between Deanery Road and
Windward Road, and all neighborhoods encompassed in a lower-level “M-Zone”
include Olympic Gardens, Cockburn Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Trench Town, Tivoli
Gardens, and Denham Town.
In St. Catherine Parish, off-limits
areas include Spanish Town, Central Village, and certain areas within Portmore
to include Old Braeton, Naggo Head, Newland, and Waterford.
All of Clarendon Parish is off‐limits.
However, personnel may pass through Clarendon parish using the T1 and A2
highways. The Embassy does not require employees to submit a travel request to pass
through Clarendon using these approved routes.
In St. James Parish, neighborhoods encompassed in the off-limits
zone of Montego Bay include Flankers, Norwood, Glendevon, Paradise Heights, and
parts of Mount Salem. The downtown “Hip Strip” of bars, clubs, and vendors in
Montego Bay is an area where tourists should remain aware of pickpockets and
theft. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
In Kingston, Embassy personnel reside
in several housing compounds employing 24/7 armed guards. Residences must
adhere to rigid security standards for a critical-threat crime environment; each
must have locked window grilles, alarm systems, and a safe room.
Rape and sexual assault are serious problems throughout Jamaica,
including at resorts and hotels. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and
Outs and Considerations for
The use of date rape drugs is possible
even at private parties and resorts. For more information on date rape drugs,
review OSAC’s report, Scopolamine
Incidents on the Rise in Colombia.
Gangs are a major security issue
across the country, and are the source of most violent crime nationwide. While
there is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities specifically
target U.S. citizens for violent crime, U.S. citizens are the prime targets for
financial “lottery scams.” In 2018, the USPIS assisted Jamaican law enforcement
with 109 cases involving lottery scamming and have extradited six lotto
scammers. Criminal elements pose as legitimate lottery companies and convince
unsuspecting U.S. citizens to send large amounts of money to obtain claimed
lottery winnings. The lottery fraud/scam operates predominantly from the north
coast near the tourist areas. Those organizing scams may obtain personal
information on tourists and use it to conduct their operations.
The most notorious Jamaican scam is
the Lotto Scam, a kind of advance-fee fraud. The scammer leads the victim to
believe that a Jamaican lottery prize is available to them after the payment of
“fees.” If you receive a call, know that you did NOT win a lottery. The person
on the telephone is lying, and you should hang up. Never send money to someone
who calls to say you have won the lottery in Jamaica. Do not travel to Jamaica
to collect a “prize.” Criminals have killed, kidnapped, extorted, or robbed
victims. Be very cautious about sending money to help a traveler claiming to be
in trouble. When in doubt, contact your local police department for advice and
assistance. Be wary of promises to protect a loved one from harm or to help the
loved one out of trouble, in exchange for money. That is extortion – contact
your local police department. Scam artists often fake romantic interest to get
money from a would-be lover, especially on the internet. When in doubt, contact
your local police department. If you are the target of a financial scam, you
will need to file a report with your local police department. Review OSAC’s
report, Criminal Gangs, Arms
Trafficking, and Lottery Scams in Jamaica.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road
Driving is on the left side of the
road in Jamaica. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance.
In 2019, road fatalities increased to 435, from 389 the year before. Most roads
are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large potholes,
limited lighting, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to
poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and livestock.
Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others, to
inexperience and overly cautious behaviors, creating uncertainty and hazards to
Drivers should maintain special care
when entering poorly marked traffic circles; entering motorists must yield to
those already inside. Exit points are exceptionally confusing, often making it
difficult to determine which exit to take.
With the completion of the North-South
Highway toll road in 2016, there is now a modern, expedient route between Kingston
and the north coast area near Ocho Rios. The A1, A2, and A3 highways provide
links between the country’s most important cities and tourist destinations.
These roads are comparable to but do not quite meet the standard of U.S.
highways; road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage,
and poor traffic control markings. Highways and rural roads are often very
narrow and carry large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open-range
livestock. Most highways invite vehicles to travel at high speeds, but do not
limit access. (Only North-South Highway and Highway 2000 prohibit bicyclists,
pedestrians, and livestock). Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas,
and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Avoid nighttime driving; lighting is
either poor or non-existent outside of larger cities, and nighttime driving is
especially dangerous. Drivers and passengers in the front seat must wear seat
belts, and motorcycle riders must wear helmets. Use extreme caution operating
motor-driven cycles, as this is the leading category of deaths.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
Embassy employees may not use public
transportation, except for the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association (JUTA)
taxis and minibuses, the Knutsford Express, or pre-approved taxis. Public buses
are often overcrowded and a venue for crime. Several serious and fatal
accidents take place each year involving passengers riding in taxis without
seatbelts. There are reports of private buses, acting as public transport,
driving erratically leading to injury and death for both riders and
Official public transportation
vehicles have red license plates. Private vehicles, not licensed for public
transportation, have white license plates with blue letters/numbers. Only use
licensed taxicabs with red-and-white PP license plates or recommended transportation
Do not accept rides from strangers.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Jamaica’s
Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of air carrier
operations in Jamaica. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism
directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. While
there do not appear to be any extremist groups active in Jamaica, lax
immigration controls, porous borders, availability of illegal weapons, and the
ease of obtaining fraudulent travel documents, along with the prevalence of U.S.
and other Western tourists could make the country an attractive target for
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a LOW-threat location for political
violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Jamaica’s
political system is stable, and the country has a history of peaceful transfers
of power between the two political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and
the People’s National Party (PNP). The country’s historic economic challenges
and consistently high murder rate exacerbate social tensions and are the subject
of intense political debate.
and demonstrations can be unpredictable. Although protests and demonstrations
are infrequent in Kingston, they do occur. Even those intended to be peaceful
can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Activities in protest
include, but are not limited to roadblocks, throwing rocks, burning tires and
vehicles, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and
protesters. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not
immune to the effects of these protests but are not direct targets. Review
OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Jamaicans are amenable to U.S.
travelers, with little to no apparent anti-U.S. sentiment.
Jamaica shares a major geographic
fault line with Haiti. Tremors are very common throughout the country. Jamaica
also lies within the Atlantic hurricane belt; the hurricane season runs from
June 1 through November 30, although hurricanes can occur outside that period.
Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency
Management has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural
is a major concern in Jamaica. There is substantial money-laundering activity.
Colombian narcotics traffickers favor Jamaica for illicit financial
Personal Identity Concerns
the diverse ethnic and religious background of its population, Jamaica has the
reputation for being one of the least-accepting countries for the LGBTI+
community. Public displays of affection between same sex couples are uncommon,
and the law still criminalizes consensual sex between males with penalties of up
to 10 years in prison, though authorities rarely enforce this law. Several
highly popular Jamaican music entertainers have featured song lyrics that
contain homophobic messages and condone violence against the LGBTI+ population.
There are continued reports of serious discrimination and abuse against LGBTI
individuals, including assault, “corrective rape” of women accused of being
lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment by hospital
and prison staff, and blackmail. Pride events began in Jamaica in 2015, and have
slowly increased in size and participation. The 2019 Montego Bay Pride event
was canceled after the Mayor of Montego Bay blocked permission for a LGBTI+
group to use public venues. Review the State Department’s webpage on security
of the country’s resorts meet U.S. standards, most transportation,
entertainment, and medical facilities cannot accommodate travelers with
disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
assault is a major problem, including at hotels and resorts. See the Police
Response section below, and review the State Department’s webpage on security
report that while prejudice against their religion is still a problem, there is
increasing societal acceptance of and respect for their practices. Seventh-day
Adventists report a limited ability to gain employment because of their
observance of a Saturday Sabbath. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the
State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
Jamaica is a transit point for South
American cocaine destined to the United States, Canada, and Europe. It is also
the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana), adding to a
vibrant drugs-for-guns trade with Haiti. The Government of Jamaica has a
National Drug Control Strategy in place that covers supply and demand
reduction. The Government has intensified and focused its law enforcement
efforts on more effectively disrupting the trans-shipment of large amounts of
cocaine. It also has fully cooperated in several major international narcotics
law enforcement initiatives. It is ready and willing to extradite to the United
States those responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution
of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the central Caribbean region.
Foreign visitors to Jamaica may use
marijuana for medicinal purposes with a prescription from a physician in the
United States or from a local doctor. Any attempt to take marijuana into or out
of the country may lead to a serious charge of drug trafficking. Possession of
two ounces or less of marijuana may result in a fine. Possession of larger
amounts of marijuana, or possession of other illegal drugs, may lead to arrest
Although rare, kidnappings can happen
in any part of Jamaica. A wide range of criminals with varying levels of
professionalism and differing motives can execute kidnappings.
At one end of the spectrum are
high-end kidnapping gangs that target high-profile/high-net-worth individuals.
Such groups employ teams of operatives who conduct specialized tasks (e.g. collecting
intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with
the victim’s family, and establishing/guarding safe houses).
other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap
targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally less professional, and often
will hold a victim for a short period, just long enough to use the victim’s ATM
card to drain their accounts or to receive a small ransom. Sometimes they hold victims
for extended periods if they have a large amount in a checking account and a
small daily ATM withdrawal limit. While most of the world views this as
“express kidnapping,” Jamaican law interprets this as robbery. Review OSAC’s
report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and
Don’ts for Photography.
strictly forbids importing or possessing firearms in Jamaica without prior
authorization of the Firearms Licensing Authority of Jamaica. A U.S. concealed
carry permit does not allow you to bring a firearm or ammunition into Jamaica. If
you bring a firearm, firearm components, firearm parts, or ammunition (even a
single bullet) to Jamaica, you will face arrest and prosecution. This will
result in a large fine and/or incarceration for an unspecified amount of time.
Bringing mace, pepper spray, or knives into Jamaica without authorization will
also lead to arrest. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs
and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into
or out of other countries.
emergency line in Jamaica is 119. Insufficient funding and resources
hinder Jamaica’s Constabulary Force (JCF). Government officials have very low
salaries. Despite the creation of the Independent Commission of Investigations
in 2010, an entity that investigates police misconduct, police corruption and
involvement in criminal activity still occur.
Local police assistance is available
throughout the country. Police support for foreign victims of crimes varies
between semi-responsive and responsive due to a shortage of labor, training,
vehicles, and resources. Police do not usually mistreat victims of crime, but
response times, investigation techniques, and the arrest/conviction rates of
suspects are below the standards found in U.S. police departments.
fear that the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements
because they suspect authorities are colluding with criminals, leading them to
avoid giving evidence or witness testimony. Those in some marginalized
communities are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived
sense of lawlessness. Reporting crime can seem archaic and confusing and can be
a lengthy process that some see as frustratingly bureaucratic. Download the
State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
Despite these setbacks, Jamaican
police officers have received extensive training from the United States and
other international trainers, including the United Kingdom, Russia, China,
Canada, and South Korea.
Victims of sexual assault should
contact the police and the U.S. Embassy in Kingston as soon as possible. In a
hotel, management should assist the victim with these communications. Victims
of sexual assault in Jamaica should not expect the same assistance routinely
offered in the United States. Rape kits are not always available, and victims
must often ask for medication to avoid STD transmission and reduce the chances
of pregnancy. An offer of counseling is unlikely. Law enforcement shortcomings
exist in collection of evidence. Prosecution of rape cases moves very slowly. Victims
may need to return to Jamaica during the legal process.
Those involved in a traffic accident
or victimized by crime may have to accompany the investigating police officer
to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should
you require a police report for an insurance claim, police will charge a
emergency line in Jamaica is 110. Medical care is limited compared to the
United States. Comprehensive emergency medical services are only available in
Kingston and Montego Bay. The Embassy medical staff does not recommend using medical
facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay. Ambulance availability and care
provision is limited, especially in rural areas. Traffic congestion and road conditions
may slow response times. Find contact information for available medical
services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical
providers often require cash payment prior to providing services. Serious
medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation (medevac) can
cost thousands of dollars. The U.S. Department of State
strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling
internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.
The availability of prescription drugs is very
limited in outlying parishes. EpiPens are not sold anywhere on the island.
borne viruses (e.g. Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika) are prevalent in Jamaica, as is
HIV/AIDS. Use insect repellant with DEET. Although Jamaica does not have any
specific vaccination requirements, authorities require the Yellow Fever Vaccine
for entry if the traveler has been in an area where Yellow Fever is active.
CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Jamaica.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council
The Kingston Country Council meets
private-sector security managers should contact
OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Old Hope Road, Kingston 6
Before you travel, consider the following