Quick Guide to Jamaica: Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-06-27 14:49
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jamaican flag on boat as it goes by beach in jamai

Just reading the word ‘Jamaica’ should start the reggae riddims going off in your head. 

Crystalline waters flow, splash and lap up against an island paradise filled with verdant canopies of green plant life and mountainous vistas. Waterfalls rush down filling the air with a cooling mist.

Jamaica is truly paradise in a country.

The country offers travellers a veritable treasure trove of adventure opportunities from diving off cliffs to diving beneath the surface where the coral and schools of fish welcome you with apprehension.

Put on your hiking gear and explore the surrounding mountains or if spelunking is more your thing, fret not as Jamaica has you covered.

Otherwise, jam out in the birthplace of the legendary Bob Marley, home of reggae. Trace the roots of this song to Kingston and find the influences that preceded the sound. Music is a way of daily life in Jamaica and you’ll soon find yourself swaying along to its sounds as the trees do in the wind.

After working up an appetite following an adventure filled-day, Jamaica once again comes through for you providing some of the tastiest cuisine. Yam, plantain, tropical fruit, jerk chicken and locally made rum - oh man, are you in for some fun.

So settle down, take it easy mon and enjoy.

Here's what you need to know if you go:

Visas: Holders of valid South African passports, by mutual agreement, are exempt from visa requirements for a period not exceeding cumulatively 90 days for holiday and business visits. Ensure your passport is valid for a minimum of 6 months from the date of entry.

National Carrier: The former carrier, Air Jamaica, was sold (for a 16% ownership stake) to Caribbean Airlines.

Airport Hub: Norman Manley International (Kingston)

Useful app to download: Jamaica Travel Guide, the app with offline functionality and location information to help you get around and decide what to do.

Flight Route Access:

The is understandably no direct flight for the South African market - in order to secure the best flight deal, you will have to contend with long flights and possible layovers via North America as you make connecting flights. Airlines that service this route include Delta, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates to name but a few.   

Flight time: Due to the lack of direct flights, the journey to Jamaica tends to be a long one,  averaging around 30 hours or more including layovers.   

Currency: Jamaican Dollar

Medical and health:

Jamaica, like many developing countries, should be approached with caution when it comes to medical care and disease prevention. Beyond the routine vaccinations, you may want to consider some specifically for travel.

You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while travelling to any destination. Some vaccines and medication may also be required for problem-free travel. It is recommended that you also get inoculated against some relatively common medical problems.

Common illnesses experienced by travellers in Jamaica include respiratory infections and diarrhoea which are, fortunately, preventable and easily treatable.

Ensure you are vaccinated for hepatitis A as food and water standards are questionable, particularly if you’ve got a taste for exotic street-foods. Another potential medical pitfall to avoid is typhoid, which you can get through the consumption of contaminated food or water so ensure your vaccinations are in order, particularly if you’re planning to go off the beaten track.

Don't skimp on travel and medical insurance either as it is always good to be prepared for any eventuality.

Religion: Christianity is the largest practiced religion in the country. The Rastafari Movement also has a substantial following in Jamaica.

Travel Adapter: Yes - 110V, 50Hz (Type A and B)

Country code: +1-876

Time Zone: UTC -5. South Africa is 7 hours ahead of Jamaica.

Emergencies: Police - 119. Ambulance and Fire - 110.

Public Transport:

The villages and towns of Jamaica are linked together by an extensive, albeit not fully developed, road network. Travellers to the country have the option of taking buses, minibuses, route taxis and private taxis to get around.

Buses are ideal for longer distances and travellers should get to designated loading areas very early as the set time for their departure is dependent on when the driver feels the bus is full. These buses, along with route taxis, have a set destination which is usually the town’s transportation station. Minibuses, or ‘coasters’, are how the average Jamaican gets to work.

Licensed coasters have red license plates that have the PPV (public passenger vehicle) signed on them. Don’t let this fool you though, coasters are anything but a comfortable ride but they’re a great insight into the lives of ordinary Jamaicans.

Route taxis are another option for you to consider as you venture out to explore the country. These taxis operate on set routes and pick up people along the way. They’re cheap and convenient. Just flag them down and tell them where you want to go but be sure to settle what is expected regarding fare before you venture on. Avoid the taxis that don't have the clearly marked red license plate if you can.

Useful App to download: Jamaica Map Offline for getting around without getting lost.


The weather in Jamaica is great all year if you’re looking for a beach island retreat averaging at a balmy 26 degrees celsius year round with its tropical climate.

Best time to go: Anytime is a good time to go to Jamaica if you can stand the heat but December to April is probably the most ideal time. The weather is still nice and warm and there is just enough rain to be refreshing without being a nuisance. This is also the period when most of the festivals are happening. You should expect sunny, warm days with some chilly nights during this time.

Language: Jamaican Patois, also known as Jamaican Creole, is the language that most Jamaicans speak although English is the official language.

That stereotypical Jamaican accent you’ve got in your head right now? Yeah, turns out that’s a language not just an accented English. It is an English-based creole language exhibiting West African influence. As Patois is, in the main, a spoken language - standard English is used for writing in most of the country.

Useful phrases to know:

The official language of Jamaica is English but if you’ve watched or heard anything about Jamaica ever then you’d realise it tends to be near indecipherable to the layman. Though you aren’t likely to have much trouble transmitting messages vocally, you may struggle with the receiving part. Fret not, we’ve got some phrases you can use that will ingratiate you with the islanders faster than you can say everyting ah alrigh.  

Useful app to download: Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun.

  • Gud mawnin (Good morning)

  • Gud evening (Good evening)

  • Wah gwan (Hello)

  • Inna de morrows (Goodbye)

  • Fi mi name ah… (My name is…)

  • Yes (Yes)

  • Nuh (No)

  • Ou much ah dis? (How much is this?)

  • Thenk yuh (Thank you)

  • Irie (Good, nice)

  • Mi don’t understand (I don’t understand)

  • Excuse mi weh ah….? (Excuse me, where is ...?)

  • Wah yuh ah duh? (What are you doing?)

Practical Tips:

  • If you bring your manners with you, Jamaica is likely to be one of the most laid-back travel experiences you'll ever have.
  • Make sure you always greet people whenever you see them. Unlike the impersonal relations we have with strangers in highly urbanised countries and cities, Jamaicans still value the basic respect that is accorded to a stranger by merely greeting.
  • This shouldn’t even be a tip, this should go without saying, but it is important to treat elders with an extra level of respect and reverence. Greet elders and accord them all the respect you would to your own elders.
  • Another place manners are important is when in a market or shopping environment. These are people too. Greet them and exchange pleasantries before speeding off into a transaction and you’re likely to find a much better deal too.
  • Don't let the laid-back vibes get the better of you. Yes the beach is everywhere, yes it's really hot but no you cannot walk around in your swimwear everywhere. Swimwear is reserved for the beach or resort. Dress appropriately when headed into the towns. 
  • Open displays of homosexuality are not advised. Many Jamaicans see the acceptance of homosexuality as being akin to being receptive to cultural imperialism. The locals will react in ways you may not be used to so save your displays of affection for when you have greater privacy.
  • Be modest when visiting religious sites - shoulders, torsos and thighs should be covered out of respect.
  • You can expect to do a lot of walking so comfortable, slip-proof shoes are a good idea.
  • Mosquitoes can be a real problem. Prepare ahead. Bring along a pair of long trousers, shirts or sweats with long sleeves and insect repellant.
  • As with other developing countries, there are areas that are marked by poverty. Don’t make use of your time in Jamaica to go on impromptu poverty safaris. If you are going to take photos of people’s homes or children, make sure to get permission first.
  • Jamaican police are chronically understaffed so don't expect much help if something gets stolen. They’ve got major problems like violent crime taking up their time. If you are a victim of crime, be sure to contact your embassy or consulate for further assistance.   
  • Expect the banter to be direct and personal. It's all just fun and teasing though. So if you've got big ears or a crooked nose don't be too offended when someone you’ve met 2 minutes ago starts commenting on it. Return the favour!
  • Finally, we all know that marijuana usage and Jamaica go hand-in-hand in the greater public imagination. Rastafarians use it a spiritual drug but as a tourist usage is restricted. Officially decriminalised in 2015, you are restricted to two ounces, any amount larger than that will see you end up in cuffs.  

Top Attractions in Jamaica: