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Using a credit card in Jamaica
Plan ahead to avoid problems with purchases and withdrawals while travelling in Jamaica.
If you’re planning to visit Jamaica, you can rest assured that most businesses in tourist areas accept credit cards, especially Visa and Mastercard branded cards. In addition, consider carrying some cash on you at all times, especially if you’re rambling into more remote areas.
Mastercard and Visa branded credit cards are widely accepted across Jamaica. Some large hotels, restaurants and shops accept American Express cards, but it’s best to travel with a Visa or Mastercard just in case.
If you’re looking for some souvenirs or local goods, cash is your best bet. Several small businesses and shops don’t accept credit cards at all.
When using your credit card overseas, watch out for the following fees:
- Foreign transaction fees. Typically costing around 2.5% to 3% of the total transaction, this fee is charged when you use your credit card overseas. If you’re looking to avoid this fee, it is possible to find a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. If a merchant offers to charge your card in Canadian dollars, politely decline – always choose the local currency. If you end up paying for a purchase in Canadian dollars, the transaction will be subject to what is known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). You will likely face a currency conversion fee and a less competitive exchange rate.
Avoid using your credit card to get cash – unless it’s an absolute emergency. Withdrawing cash using your credit card will leave you on the hook for a cash advance transaction fee as well as the cash advance interest rate. This rate will likely be charged from the day you withdraw the cash and will be charged daily until you pay back the withdrawn amount in full.
So, how do I get cash?
Always try to use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM. Although you’ll likely incur an ATM fee, you can avoid the excruciatingly high interest rates that come with credit cards.
If you’re looking to avoid ATM fees altogether, look for a bank that has a global ATM alliance such as Scotiabank. You can use your debit card at specific brands of ATMs and avoid paying ATM fees.
ATMs are easy to find in big cities like Kingston, Montego Bay and Mandeville, as well as around popular tourist locations and resorts spread across the island. However, some ATMs in Jamaica can be unreliable, so it’s best that you have a backup plan. Muggings in Jamaica are common, so look for well-lit ATMs and those located within locked vestibules. If your hotel has an ATM, use it instead of public ATMs.
Some businesses in Jamaica accept payment in US dollars and Jamaican dollars – and sometimes even Canadian dollars. However, any business that doesn’t cater towards tourists may limit currency to the Jamaican dollar only. Local businesses decide their own exchange rates – often favourable to them and more expensive for you. Save money by exchanging your Canadian dollars at a forex service or a tourist bureau.
Using a credit card in Jamaica comes with its share of risks. Here are some tips to help keep your money safe.
- Safeguard your PIN.
When entering your PIN, always use the other hand to hide the numbers from cameras and prying eyes.
- Safety first.
Avoid using ATMs in isolated or dimly lit areas. Even when you’re using a well-used ATM, try to limit withdrawals to the daytime only.
- Watch out for skimmers.
Credit and debit card skimming is a concern in Jamaica. If something appears amiss or suspicious, go with your gut. Cancel your transaction, and look for another ATM instead.
- Be aware of fraud. Jamaica’s crime rates are high, especially around specific areas of Kingston and Montego Bay. With credit card fraud especially common, remain vigilant even when using your card at stores and supermarkets.
- Avoid dangerous areas. Don’t display overt signs of wealth or venture into isolated areas or desolate beaches. You could become a victim of robbery. General areas in Kingston that tourists report avoiding include Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece, Arnett Gardens, Mountain View and Trench Town. In Montego Bay, you’re better off avoiding Hart Street, Clavers Street, Norwood, Mount Salem, Flankers, Canterbury and Rose Heights.
Before you take off for your trip to Jamaica, prepare to avoid any potential problems with your credit card.
- Look for a card with no foreign transaction fees.
Before you go, consider applying for a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees. This will save you a great deal of money, especially if you use your credit card often.
- Go with Visa or Mastercard.
If businesses in Jamaica accept credit cards, there’s a good chance you’re limited to Visa or Mastercard. While a few merchants may accept American Express, you’ll likely have a harder time using it.
- Inform your bank.
Banks and credit card providers will temporarily block cards if they detect unusual activity – an unexpected transaction from Jamaica could alert a block. Getting your card unblocked can be a hassle, so contact your bank or credit card company before you go to inform them of your travels.
- Keep important phone numbers close.
You never know when you might need to report a lost or stolen card. Write down a list of important phone numbers to call in case you need to reach out to your card company while overseas.
- Know where you’ll get cash.
You can use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM or convert Canadian dollars at any number of banks or a currency exchange kiosks. Research a few ATMs near your hotel for easy and safe access to cash.
Using a credit card in …
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