14 Things Everyone Should Know
Before Going Shopping in Jamaica
Whether you are coming to Jamaica on a cruise or you are staying in a villa or hotel, there are certain things to know about shopping in Jamaica. Here are the secret hacks for how to shop in Jamaica.
- Fair warning … The shopping areas are not like the mega-shopping malls back in the US. This is true even in the tourist areas. Many of the “malls” in Jamaica are on a much smaller scale. Most of the malls are one or at most two stories high. They aren’t high-rise buildings with multiple stores of all varieties. In the tourist areas, the malls usually are anchored by duty-free jewelry stores and surrounded by your standard souvenir shops.
Jamaican shopping malls are not like this!
- Don’t assume that because Jamaica is a foreign country everything is cheap. That would be a mistake. Remember that very little is produced in Jamaica so most items are imported. Also, energy costs (electricity and petrol) are very expensive. Expect, therefore, that anything that is imported will cost more in Jamaica than it would in the US. This is the same in other tourist island destinations, including Hawaii. So, no, I wouldn’t buy the $10 wine because it definitely will not be like a $10 bottle of wine in the US! By the same token, Jamaica is not like St. Bart’s where everything costs an arm and two legs.
- Do not come to Jamaica expecting to buy the latest fashions at the malls. Jamaicans love to dress up but the truth is those who can afford it get their threads during their off-island trips to Miami, New York or such places. For those who are not frequent flyers, many have relatives or friends abroad who bring these items down as gifts or for sale. There are designer dress shops in Kingston and Montego Bay and if you don’t mind going out of your way a little, you could check them out.
- We do not have Walmart. We have Megamart and Pricemart, which are like Sam’s club or Costco. I repeat there is no Walmart. Really, I mean it, there is no Walmart.
- Sales people in the resort areas have a reputation of being pushy, which can be a big turn-off for some people. See for yourself before you pass judgment.
- Craft markets and some stores, like jewelry stores, do allow bargaining. If you don’t like to haggle, you might want to skip those stores.
- Duty-free stores sell a lot of jewelry, perfume, and brand name handbags. Make sure you have done your own homework so you know what the price range for these things are back home. Like every island in the Caribbean, it is not uncommon to get a “$3000 necklace at 50% off just for you” deal. It may sound like a bargain, and could be a bargain, but how do you know if you don’t have a frame of reference?
- If you want T-shirts and trinkets you can pick almost any shopping place. They all have similar items.
- Avoid going shopping in Ocho Rios, Falmouth or Montego Bay on cruise ship days as it will be crowded, for sure!
- Outside of duty-free stores, the general consumption tax rate (GCT), is 16.5%. Established stores will charge this on taxable items. The craft vendors and open markets do not. This tax is not a service charge or a tip. It is Jamaica’s equivalent of a sales tax.
- The US dollar, in particular, is widely accepted. There is no need to change much money into Jamaican dollars.
- Carry small bills so that you can have as close to exact change as possible. Why? Three big reasons. Firstly, many places give change in Jamaican dollars. You don’t want to accumulate too much local money then have to worry about converting it upon departure. Secondly, foreign coins are not accepted. Thirdly, you can’t exactly be bargaining over a $5 mug and whip out a $50 to pay!
- If you are quoted a price in Jamaican dollars but you only have US dollars or British pounds, make sure you find out the exchange rate that is being offered before you pay. About a year ago, we were on the toll road going into Kingston and the exchange rate they offered at the toll booth was JA$85 to US$1 when everywhere else was offering around JA$100-105 to US$1. We thought that was highway robbery, no pun intended 🙂
- Credit cards are widely accepted. The local merchants generally don’t charge a fee; but, you should check with your credit card company to see if there is a convenience fee of any kind. Also, find out what exchange rates will be used for your transactions. It is also not a bad idea to let your credit card company know that you will be out of the country and to expect charges from Jamaica. This will reduce the likelihood of your card being frozen when you try to use it. It is not fun if this happens.
So, knowing the ground rules and some secret hacks will make it so much easier to shop in Jamaica in peace. You will know what to expect and so you can plan accordingly.
‘Til next time.
Think and dream Jamaica!
Sherry, Darrell and Darrian
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