According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Jamaica has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Kingston does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
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.
Please review OSAC’s Jamaica-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
Although the country has made recent progress in controlling debt and improving the business environment, Jamaica’s historically low rate of economic growth, high unemployment rate (12.2%), and high debt burden exacerbate challenges with allocating resources to combat criminality and identifying productive alternatives for the un(der)employed.
Crime is a result of many factors: poverty, retribution, drugs, gangs, and politics. Jamaican Locally Employed Staff (LES) at the Embassy are victims of crime far more frequently than their American employee colleagues, a fact attributable to the differing demographics between upscale expatriate neighborhoods and the rest of Kingston in general.
Most criminal activity is gang-related. Organized crime elements are prevalent and extremely active.
Although most criminal activity is Jamaican-on-Jamaican violence, often involving rganized criminal elements and gangs, criminal activity can impact American visitors:
In 2017, the Embassy’s consular section received reports from Jamaican police or the victims themselves of six U.S. citizens murdered; 20 U.S. citizens robbed; 12 U.S. citizens raped/sexually assaulted; six U.S. victims of aggravated assaults; four incidents of domestic violence involving Americans; four instances of child abuse involving American children; and one actual missing persons case. These numbers are not all-inclusive, as many crimes (rape, sexual assaults) are often not brought to the attention of the Embassy or to the police.
Sexual assaults against American guests by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast have again risen. Six incidents were reported in 2017.
Police are unable to patrol and protect most neighborhoods adequately, so burglaries are quite common. Home break-ins occur in Kingston, even in gated and affluent neighborhoods. Past incidents have shown that when occupants neglected to use security features provided, criminals were afforded opportunities to gain entry into residences. Most wealthy residents hire private, armed guard forces to deter criminals. Burglars can commit rape, robbery, and assault if they are surprised in a home.
In 2017, Jamaica saw an increase in murders and shootings but a reported decrease in other serious, violent crimes. The rise in murders can be mostly attributed to violence perpetrated by gangs involved in lottery scamming and drug/gun trafficking. Most violent crimes, including 82% of all murders, involve firearms. There were 1,616 murders (the highest figure in six years, and an increase of 20% from 2016), 469 shootings, 411 aggravated assaults, 442 rapes, 242 robberies, and 167 break-ins recorded in 2017. With a population of approximately 2.9 million people, Jamaica continues to have a high homicide rate (60 per 100,000), which places it among the top-five highest (per capita) national homicide rates in the world.
Skimming is a hi-tech method by which thieves use an electronic device to capture personal or account information from credit cards, ATM cards, driver’s licenses, or even passports. A card is swiped through the skimmer, and the information in the magnetic strip is stored on the device to be downloaded later. Skimming is predominantly a tactic used to perpetuate credit card fraud, but it is also gaining in popularity amongst identity thieves. As the use of smart card technology grows, as evident with its integration with driver’s licenses and passports, it is likely that skimming will continue to grow as a popular tactic of identity thieves. As skimming devices are easy to hide, it is not difficult for victims to be unaware of the crime. Many skimming rings have been known to employ restaurant serving staff, or store clerks skimming a credit card for a purchase. In both scenarios, a card is scanned twice, once for the transaction and another with the skimming device. There have been reports of clerks skimming driver’s licenses when they are offered as identity verification. Personal information can be used to order products and services online, sometimes several weeks before the unsuspecting victim becomes aware. Once personal information is captured, it can be used to make duplicates, which are very valuable to perpetuate credit card fraud or identity theft. Several U.S. Embassy Kingston American employees have been the victim of unauthorized charges on their credit cards and were unable to determine where the skimming occurred. It is also not uncommon for a thief to tamper with an ATM. A card trapping device is inserted into the card slot. It scans the card and stores its information or just traps the card. There is no cash dispensed, and crooks retrieve cards and information later. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
The Embassy also received several reports of Americans being victimized in extortion attempts originating in Jamaica.
While there is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities are specifically targeting U.S. citizens for violent crime, Americans are the prime targets for financial “lottery scams.” Criminal elements, posing as legitimate lottery companies, have convinced unsuspecting Americans to send large amounts of money to obtain claimed lottery winnings. This lottery fraud/scam operates predominantly from the north coast at/near tourist resort areas. Persons organizing these scams may be obtaining personal information on tourists and using it to conduct their operations.
In addition to a number of lottery and investment scams, relatives of U.S. citizens visiting Jamaica and U.S. citizens who are prisoners in Jamaica have received telephone calls from people claiming to be Jamaican police officers, other public officials, or medical professionals. The caller usually states that the visitor/prisoner has had trouble and needs financial help. In almost every case, these claims are untrue. The caller insists that money should be sent by wire transfer to themselves or to a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner, but when the money is sent, it fails to reach the alleged in-need visitor/prisoner. Do not send money if you receive such a call.
Other Areas of Concern
Embassy personnel and private American citizens are advised to avoid traveling into notoriously high-crime areas of Kingston including, but not limited to: Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Standpipe, Cassava Piece, Grants Pen, and Arnett Gardens.
In Montego Bay specifically, avoid Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street. The downtown Hip Strip of bars, clubs, and vendors in Montego Bay is an area that tourists should remain aware of pickpockets and petty theft.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
In 2017, Jamaica saw a decrease in fatal vehicular crashes. There were 320 fatalities, down from 361 in 2016. Driving is on the left side of the road. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance. Most roads are paved but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large pot holes, 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 over-polite behaviors, creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians.
Drivers should maintain special care when entering traffic circles (roundabouts), which are often poorly marked and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. 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 a more modern, expedient route between Kingston and the north coast area near Ocho Rios. Speeds much still be observed, however, due to the steep declines and the presence of the traffic police. The A1, A2, and A3 highways provide links between the most important cities and tourist destinations. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings. The highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds but are not limited-access. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Road and street lighting is either poor or non-existent outside of larger cities, and nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided.
Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. Extreme caution should be used in operating motor-driven cycles. Passengers should use vehicles equipped with seat belts. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
RSO advises against using public transport, with the exception of the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association (JUTA) or local hotel taxis. Public buses are often overcrowded and a venue for crime. Several serious and fatal accidents take place each year involving American tourists riding in taxis without seat belts.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
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 with which fraudulent travel documents can be obtained make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a MEDIUM-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, including in March 2016. The two major political parties are the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP). The country's serious economic problems and consistently high murder rate have exacerbated social tensions and have become remain the subject of political and civil debate.
Protests 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 protests include, but are not limited to, using tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not immune to the effects of these protests.
Jamaica lies on a major geographic fault line and experienced a 3.7 magnitude tremor in December 2016.
Jamaica is located in the middle of Hurricane Alley and has experienced several direct hits from hurricanes/tropical storms. Looting is a common problem immediately after storms. Hurricane season is June 1-November 30.
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
Personal Identity Concerns
Despite the diverse ethnic and religious background of its population, Jamaica has the reputation of being one of the least accepting countries toward homosexuality. Public displays of affection between same sex couples are uncommon, and there have been incidents of violence against homosexuals.
Jamaica is a transit point for South American cocaine en route to the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana). The government 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. The government also has fully cooperated in several major international narcotics law enforcement initiatives, which resulted in the arrest and extradition of one Bahamian narcotics trafficker to the U.S. in 2017. The Jamaican Government is ready and willing to extradite to the U.S. those responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the central Caribbean region.
A vibrant drugs-for-guns trade exists with Haiti.
In 2017, Jamaica continued to see a reduction in kidnappings; however, kidnapping is one of the most underreported crimes. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and can only produce best-guess estimates.
Kidnapping can happen in any part of Jamaica and can be executed by a wide range of players with varying levels of professionalism and differing motives. 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 carry out specialized tasks (collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family, establishing/guarding safe houses). On the 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, in what is often called an express kidnapping. In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his/her checking account or to receive a small ransom. Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for a couple of days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit.
The police are only able to make arrests in 44% of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in 29% of homicide cases. This leads the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, leading to vigilantism, which exacerbates the cycle of violence.
Although the police receive some training from U.S and U.K. law enforcement entities, they endure a lack of funding, resources, and management. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is considered to be underpaid, poorly trained, and understaffed.
Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is not uncommon. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. Most civilians fear that the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements and may be colluding with criminals, leading citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimony. Citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness. Reporting crime can seem archaic, and the confusing, lengthy process is widely believed to be a waste of time, except for the most serious of crimes where a police report is required for insurance purposes.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with police if stopped or questioned. If you feel you have been unjustly stopped, detained, or harassed, request that the U.S. Embassy be contacted on your behalf.
Crime Victim Assistance
Local police assistance is available throughout the island. Police support for foreign victims of crimes varies between semi-responsive and responsive due to a shortage of manpower, training, vehicles, and resources. Police do not usually mistreat Americans who are 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.
If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating police officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.
Medical care is more limited than in the U.S. Comprehensive emergency medical services are only in Kingston and Montego Bay. Medical facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay are not recommended by the Embassy medical staff. Visitors in need of medical attention should make every effort to reach Kingston or Montego Bay.
An ambulance service is available in Kingston at tel (876) 978-2327, (876) 978-6021, or (876) 923-7415.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
AEA International: 800-752-4195.
Doctors and hospitals often require cash payment prior to providing services. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars. For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, 206-340-6000.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Jamaica.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Kingston Country Council currently meets once a month and has approximately 26 members. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
142 Old Hope Road
Jamaica, West Indies
Business hours: Mon-Fri, 0715-1600
Embassy Contact Numbers
U.S. Embassy switchboard: (876) 702-6000
U.S. Embassy operator can assist U.S. citizens in contacting the American Citizen Services (ACS) officers in the consular section.
U.S. Marine Security Guard: (876) 702-6055
After business hours and on weekend and holidays, the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance with their emergency. The Marine Security Guard is there to assist in emergency situations only.
Regional Security Office: (876) 702-6153 or through the Marine Security Guard
Jamaica Country Information Sheet