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SafetyTravel Safety: Americas: Jamaica

Jamaica: Jamaica
Capital: Kingston
Population: 2,680,029
Currency: Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Languages: English, patois English
Religions: Protestant 61.3% (Church of God 21.2%, Baptist 8.8%, Anglican 5.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 9%, Pentecostal 7.6%, Methodist 2.7%, United Church 2.7%, Brethren 1.1%, Jehovah's Witness 1.6%, Moravian 1.1%), Roman Catholic 4%, other, including some spiritual cults 34.7%
Borders: 0 km

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Jamaica is a developing nation of over 2.6 million people. Facilities for tourists are widely available. International airports are located in Kingston and Montego Bay.

SAFETY AND SECURITY ^
Gang violence and shootings occur regularly in inner-city areas of Kingston. Some inner-city neighborhoods are occasionally subject to curfews and police searches. Impromptu demonstrations sometimes occur, during which demonstrators often construct roadblocks or otherwise block the streets. These events usually do not affect tourist areas, but travelers to Kingston should check with local authorities or the U.S. Embassy for current information prior to their trip.

CRIME ^
Crime, including violent crime, is a serious problem in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston. While the vast majority of crimes occur in impoverished areas, the violence is not confined. The primary criminal concern of tourist is being a victim of theft. In several cases, armed robberies of Americans have turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables. Crime is exacerbated by the fact that police are understaffed and ineffective. Therefore, tourists should take their own precautions and always pay extra attention to their surroundings when traveling, exercise care when walking outside after dark, and should always avoid areas known for high crime rates. As a general rule, applicable everywhere, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street. Women's handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

The U.S. Embassy advises its staff to avoid inner-city areas of Kingston and other urban centers whenever possible. Particular caution is advised after dark in downtown Kingston. The U.S. Embassy also cautions its staff not to use public buses, which are often overcrowded and are a frequent venue for crime.

To enhance security in the principal resort areas, the Government of Jamaica has taken a number of steps, including assignment of special police foot and bicycle patrols. Particular care is still called for, however, when staying at isolated villas and smaller establishments that may have fewer security arrangements. Some street vendors and taxi drivers in tourist areas are known to confront and harass tourists to buy their wares or employ their services. If a firm No, thank you does not solve the problem, visitors may wish to seek the assistance of a tourist police officer.

Drug use is prevalent in some tourist areas. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances. There is anecdotal evidence that the use of so-called date rape drugs, such as Ruhypnol, has become more common at clubs and private parties. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other illegal narcotics are especially potent in Jamaica, and their use may lead to severe or even disastrous health consequences.

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 callers usually state that the visitor or prisoner has had trouble and needs financial help. In almost every case these claims are untrue. The caller insists that money should be sent to either themselves or a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner, but when money is sent, it fails to reach U.S. citizens in alleged need. U.S. citizens who receive calls such as these should never send money. They should contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the Embassy�s Consular Section at telephone (876) 935-6044 for assistance in confirming the validity of the call.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Jamaican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Jamaica are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Airport searches are thorough and people attempting to smuggle narcotics are often apprehended.

Prison conditions in Jamaica differ greatly from prison conditions in the United States. Prisoners are provided only the most basic meals and must rely upon family and friends to supplement their diets, provide clothing, and supply personal care items such as toothpaste and shampoo. Packages shipped from the United States to prisoners are subject to Jamaican import taxes and are undeliverable when the recipient lacks the funds to pay the duties.

MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical care is more limited than in the U.S. Comprehensive emergency medical services are located only in Kingston and Montego Bay, and smaller public hospitals are located in each parish. Emergency medical and ambulance services are limited in outlying parishes. Ambulance service is limited both in the quality of emergency care and in the availability of vehicles in remote parts of the country.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often require cash payment prior to providing services.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
Jamaica, like all Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or disaster. General information is available on the subject via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/. The Embassy encourages long-term residents of Jamaica to prepare a sufficient supply of food, water and other necessary supplies in the event of a natural disaster. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions and traffic regulations that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Jamaica is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of public transportation: poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: fair
Rural road conditions/maintenance: fair
Availability of roadside assistance: poor

Drivers and pedestrians should remember that driving in Jamaica is on the left-hand side of the road. Breakdown assistance is quite limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible. As noted above in the section on Crime, public buses are often overcrowded and they are frequently a venue of crime. Travelers who use taxicabs should take only licensed taxicabs having red-and-white PP license plates.

Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. A number of U.S. citizens who have rented motorcycles and scooters have been seriously injured, often because the riders were not wearing a helmet and other motorcycle safety gear. Extreme caution should be used in driving motor driven cycles.

Drivers should make every effort to avoid areas of high crime and civil strife. Roadblocks are sometimes employed by residents as protests intended to draw attention to particular issues and require extreme caution by drivers. The U.S. Embassy advises its staff to exercise caution when traveling in areas described in the section on Crime. The embassy also advises its staff to always keep their window up and doors locked when driving and to leave enough distance between themselves and the preceding car at intersections to allow a roll forward in case of harassment by pedestrian panhandlers. As a rule, drivers should always avoid contact with large groups of pedestrians.

Most roads are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage and poor traffic control markings. City roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. Street corners are frequented by peddlers, window washers and beggars walking among stopped cars. Smaller roads are often narrow and they are frequently traveled at high speeds.

Drivers should be aware of 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. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head on collision.

The A1, A2 and A3 highways are the primary links between the most important cities and tourist destinations on the island. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions may be hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage and poor traffic control markings. The B highways and other 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 they are not limited-access and are subject to the hazards outlined above.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning Jamaican drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Embassy of Jamaica�s website: http://www.congenjamaica-ny.org or the Jamaica Tourist Board at: 1-800-JAMAICA or on line at http://www.jamaicatravel.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Jamaica�s Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Jamaica�s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at (800) 322-7873, or visit the FAA website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at 618-229-4801.

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Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Colombia and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

January 15, 2004

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