Prices throughout this guide reflect a conversion to U.S. dollars as the best indication of cost. Most establishments not overwhelmingly trafficked by tourists perform most, if not all, transactions in Jamaican dollars, so U.S. dollar equivalents have been listed. In tourist hubs like Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios, as well as in establishments catering exclusively to tourists, menus will show prices in U.S. dollars. The U.S. dollar tends to be more stable and is worthwhile as a currency of reference, but most establishments will not respect the official Bank of Jamaica rate and set their exchange rate considerably lower as a means of skimming a bit more off the top. It usually pays to buy Jamaican dollars at a cambio, or currency trading house, for everyday transactions. While walking with large amounts of cash is never advisable, carrying enough for a night out does not present a considerable risk. Credit cards, accepted in most well-established businesses, typically incur foreign-exchange fees that will show up on your statement as a percentage of every transaction, typically 3%, and can quickly add up. For those traveling frequently abroad, some more expensive credit cards eliminate foreign transaction fees and offer competitive exchange rates.
The best way to access funds in Jamaica is by using an ATM with your normal NYCE, Maestro, or Cirrus bankcard. "Express kidnappings" (where victims are taken to a cash machine to withdraw the maximum on their accounts) are not especially common in Jamaica, and the little effort involved in canceling a checking account card makes the ease of 24-hour access well worth the risk of getting it lost or stolen. Travelers checks are a good back-up option and can be cashed at most hotels for a small fee. Taking large amounts of cash to Jamaica is not advisable, as it is likely to somehow disappear. Scotiabank offers Jamaican or U.S. currency from many of its ATMs, although foreign bank fees can run as high as 6 percent of the amount withdrawn. U.S. dollars are accepted pretty much anywhere in Jamaica, though restaurants and other small businesses will generally not honor current exchange rates, usually taxing about J$5 per US$1. Currency trading houses, or cambios as they are often called, typically offer a few more Jamaican dollars for each U.S. dollar exchanged, which can make a significant difference when exchanging large amounts of cash.
Jamaica operates on 110V, the same current as in the United States. Power outages are frequent in some areas, but seldom where resorts are based. Most tourism establishments have backup generators.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA
Fixed-line telephony in Jamaica was until recently a monopoly controlled by Cable & Wireless (C&W), now rebranded as LIME. As the Internet has become more widely available, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony has become increasingly important as a means of communicating with the outside world. Many households now enjoy this inexpensive way to keep in touch with family members in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Cellular phones are more important than fixed lines in Jamaica due to the fact that C&W never installed lines in the more remote areas of the country before cellular obviated the need to. C&W was the first cellular provider but was met in popularity by Digicel, which currently offers competitive service island-wide in terms of reception. Both C&W and Digicel operate on GSM networks and cell prepaid SIM cards, as well as post-pay contractual service (which is more affordable in the long run, but few people use). The two cellular providers have roaming arrangements with select carriers in the United States, but the fees charged for roaming make buying a SIM card locally (US$5) the best option no matter your length of stay. Prepaid phone credit is sold in different increments, starting at about US$1.
The cellular providers penalize their customers when calling outside their own network, and many Jamaicans will carry both C&W and Digicel phones to avoid out-of-network calling. Similarly, calling landlines from cell phones is more expensive, as is calling cell phones from landlines.
The 876 country code is never used for calls within the country, and calling land lines from cell phones, or cell phones from landlines, does not require adding the 1 before the seven-digit number.le
Cable TV and Internet
Columbus Communications, operating as Flow, is the island's largest and amost reliable cable, broadband and VoIP operator. Digicel recently entered the cable television market by buying a small Kingston operator, Telstar Cable. Digicel and LIME offer wireless broadband, and in remote areas, Port Antonio-based Dekal offers wireless broadband. All operators offer contract and prepaid service with dongles, suitable for outdoor use, and wireless modems for indoors.
Kingston has some of the best radio stations anywhere, and it's not just reggae you'll find on the airwaves. Reggae in fact developed with the help of a strong tradition in radio, as young musicians were inspired by American music of the 1950s and 1960s, adapting the songs with a distinct Jamaican flavor. Radio stations of note include RJR, Power 106, Irie FM (which has been referred to as the daily soundtrack of the island), Fame FM, and Zip FM. Radio West broadcasts from Montego Bay, while KLAS FM is based in Mandeville and Irie FM in Ocho Rios. Radio Mona (93 FM) broadcasts from the communications department at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Hits 92 FM is a good station in Kingston for a wide range of contemporary music, from dancehall to hip-hop and R&B.
Radio broadcasting in Jamaica dates from World War II, when an American resident, John Grinan, gave his shortwave station to the government to comply with wartime regulations. From wartime programming of one hour weekly, the station quickly expanded to four hours daily, including cultural programming. Radio would have a key impact on the development of Jamaican popular music in the 1940s and 1950s as the only means of dissemination for the new musical styles coming mainly out of the United States.
Jamaica's main television stations are Television Jamaica (TVJ, www.televisionjamaica.com), formerly the Jamaica Broadcast Corporation (JBC); CVM (www.cvmtv.com); Reggae Entertainment Television (RETV); and Jamaica News Network (www.jnnntv.com). In 2006, TVJ acquired both JNN and RETV, consolidating its leadership in both news and entertainment programming on the island. Hype TV is the leading entertainment channel.
MAPS AND TOURIST INFORMATION
The map of Jamaica published by Shell (US$4.25) is the best and most easily accessible island-wide road map, with detailed inserts for major towns and cities. The city maps sold by the National Land Agency are less detailed and lack many of the road names included on the Shell map. The Land Agency does have good topographical maps on the other hand, which are sold for a hefty US$7 per sheet. Twenty sheets cover the whole island and the maps can be obtained on CD.
Handy tourism-oriented business brochures are available free of charge at the chamber of commerce offices in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Negril.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
One of the most frustrating things in Jamaica is the lack of a consistent convention when it comes to measurements. On the road, where the majority of cars are imported from Japan and odometers read in kilometers, many of the signs are in miles, while the newer ones are in kilometers. The mixed use of metrics in weights and measurements is also a problem complicating life in Jamaica, with chains used commonly when referring to distances, liters used at the gas pump, and pounds used for weight.
Jamaica is on Greenwich Mean Time minus five hours, which coincides with Eastern Standard Time for half the year (in the northern winter) since no allowance is made for daylight saving time given the nominal difference between day length throughout the year.