Is Jamaica a safe place to visit?
Crime, including violent crime, is a serious problem in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and Montego Bay and other major tourist areas. While the vast majority of crimes occur in impoverished areas, random acts of violence, such as gunfire, may occur anywhere. The primary criminal concern for tourists is becoming a victim of theft. In several cases, armed robberies of U.S. citizens have turned violent when the victims resisted or were slow in handing over valuables. Crime is exacerbated by the fact that police are understaffed and often ineffective. Additionally, there have been frequent allegations of police corruption. Tourists should take all necessary precautions always pay extra attention to their surroundings when traveling, and keep windows up and doors locked while in a vehicle or in their hotel. Travelers should avoid walking alone, exercise special care after dark, and always avoid areas known for high crime rates. Under no circumstances should travelers accept rides from unknown individuals, as this is often a pretext for attempted robbery and/or sexual assault.
Each year the Embassy receives a number of reports of sexual assaults against U.S. citizens, including cases of alleged sexual assaults at tourist resorts, some of which involve resort staff. It is important to realize that sexual assault allegations generally do not receive the same type of law enforcement attention in Jamaica that they would in the United States. Local law also requires the presence of the victim at each stage of the judicial process in order for a case to move forward, and as a result most sexual assault cases languish in the Jamaican courts until they are eventually dismissed. In addition, victims in Jamaica cannot expect the totatility of victim’s assistance that is routinely offered in the United States. This includes hesitation to and/or lack of knowledge of how to perform rape kits, a prosecutorial/interrogation approach to victims on the part of the police and hotels, as well as a lack of counseling for victims. Victims will often have to ask for medication to avoid the transmission of STDs and to reduce the chances of pregnancy.
U.S. citizens traveling in Jamaica should maintain careful watchfulness, avoid secluded places or situations (even within resort properties), go out in groups, and watch out for each other. Don’t be afraid to ask or call out for help if you feel threatened or encounter individuals who make you feel uncomfortable. Report any suspicious activity to the U.S. Embassy, local police and, if appropriate, to the hotel’s management. As a general rule, do not leave valuables unattended or in plain view, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Take care when carrying high value items such as cameras and expensive cell phones 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.
In the last several years, a number of U.S. visitors have reported being robbed inside their resort hotel rooms while they slept. Particular care is called for when staying at isolated villas and smaller establishments that may have fewer security arrangements. You may wish to ask your villa or small establishment if they have met Jamaica Tourist Board certification standards for safety and security.
The U.S. Embassy advises its staff to avoid inner-city areas of Kingston and other urban centers, such as those listed in the section on Safety and Security, whenever possible. Particular caution is advised after dark and in downtown Kingston and New Kingston. The U.S. Embassy also cautions U.S. citizens 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. Some street vendors, beggars, and taxi drivers in tourist areas aggressively 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, identified by their white hats, white shirts, and black trousers. These officers are only located at or near tourist areas.
DRUGS:Illegal drug use is prevalent in some tourist areas, leading to numerous U.S. citizen arrests and incarcerations in Jamaica every year. Possession or use of marijuana or other illicit drugs is illegal in Jamaica. U.S. 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 Rohypnol, 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.
SCAMS: U.S. citizens are often the target of international financial scams originating in Jamaica. The most prevalent scam in Jamaica is the lottery scam, also known as Advanced Fee Fraud. U.S. citizens receiving calls from Jamaica with claims of winning a prize or lottery should be wary and never send money up front. It is illegal to play a foreign lottery, and if you did not enter a foreign lottery or drawing, then it is not possible to win one. Scammers may also seek to entice victims to travel to Jamaica to “collect their prize.” Such invites can lead to the victim being kidnapped for ransom once in Jamaica.
Additionally, 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 by wire transfer to either themselves or a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner, but when money is sent, it fails to reach the U.S. citizens in alleged need. U.S. citizens who receive calls such as these should never send money before consulting the embassy for additional information.
The U.S. Embassy has also received reports of extortion attempts originating in Jamaica where the caller threatens the victim if they do not send a sum of money. Another financial scam reported is the ‘ Damsel in Distress ’ where a partner met over the Internet falls into a series of alleged mishaps and requests money with the promise of rewards at a later date, such as an in-person meeting. Contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the Embassy's Consular Section at KingstonACS@state.gov and provide as much detail as possible regarding the nature of the communication. Additional guidance on such crimes is available at the Department of State’s web page on International Financial Scams.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.