Using a credit card in Jamaica
Plan ahead to avoid problems with purchases while travelling this Caribbean island.
Jamaica’s got it all – pristine beaches, lush green forests, waterfalls and picturesque mountains – making it a must-see for many travellers.
If you’re planning to play or work in this Caribbean nation, you can rest assured that most big businesses in tourist areas, like hotels and excursions, accept credit cards. However, if you’re rambling into more remote areas or checking out smaller, local shops, it’s best to carry some cash.
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Which credit cards are accepted in Jamaica?
Mastercard and Visa branded cards are commonly accepted across this island nation. Some large hotels and shops accept American Express cards, but don’t count on your Diners Club or Discover cards.
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, even in the capital Kingston.
Cash in Jamaica
Cash is still widely used in Jamaica, with small shops and businesses more likely to accept it over credit cards. The local currency is the Jamaican dollar (JMD), but many places also accept US dollars.
Due to a high crime rate, you’re advised not to carry too much cash so make sure you carefully budget every time you leave your hotel so you’re not carrying more than you need.
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Cash machines in Jamaica
Cash machines are easy to find in big cities such as Kingston, Montego Bay and Mandeville, as well as around popular resorts spread across the island. In more remote areas, look for cash machines in petrol stations. However, 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 cash machines and those located within locked vestibules when taking out cash.
Can I use a chip and PIN card in Jamaica?
Using a chip-and-sign card in Jamaica shouldn’t be a problem. If a clerk is unsure about what to do with your card, suggest pressing the Enter button if it requests a PIN.
As with most countries the world over, Jamaica is transitioning from magstripe cards to chip cards. If you have a magstripe card, you can use it with card readers designed to work with chip cards – you’ll just need to sign a receipt. Because most chip cards come with magstripes at the back, you can often use your chip card with older card readers. Credit card skimming and cloning is common in Jamaica, so you might want to request a chip card from your bank or provider before your flight.
If you travel often – whether to Jamaica or elsewhere – consider applying for a travel credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees.
Potential credit card fees in Jamaica
When you find a merchant that accepts credit cards in Jamaica, you may face a handful of fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you will actually end up getting a less-than-favourable exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you are presented with an option, choose to pay in Jamaican dollars.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll often get no grace period on interest – instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Jamaica.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is assessed when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
Is it safe to use my card in Jamaica?
Using a card in Jamaica comes with its share of risks. The island has a high crime rate so you are urged to be vigilant when carrying money or valuables.
To be most careful when taking out money, follow these three easy tips:
- Safeguard your PIN. When entering your PIN at a hotel, grocery store or restaurant, use one hand to hide the numbers from cameras and prying eyes. And never share your PIN with anyone.
- 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. And if you’re withdrawing a large amount, consider taking someone along with you.
- 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.
Tips on keeping safe in general
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.
Don’t display overt signs of wealth or venture into isolated areas or desolate beaches. You could become a target of thieves. You’re advised to keep large sums of cash and valuables in your hotel safe if you have one.
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.
How should I prepare for my trip to Jamaica?
Before you take off for your trip to Jamaica, prepare to avoid any potential problems with purchases or your credit card.
- Look for a card with no foreign transaction fees. If you have the time, you’ll find many cards that forego foreign transaction fees.
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. If businesses in Jamaica accept cards, there’s a good chance you’re limited to Visa or Mastercard. While a few accept American Express, you’ll have a hard time finding those who take Diners Club or Discover.
- Call your card provider. Banks will temporarily block cards if they detect unusual activity, and an unexpected transaction from Jamaica could alert a block. Getting your card unblocked can be a hassle, so be sure to contact your credit card company before you travel overseas.
- Keep important phone numbers close. You never know when you might need to report a lost or stolen card. Pack a list of emergency numbers to call in a pinch.
- Know where you’ll get cash. You can use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM or convert UK sterling at any number of banks or currency exchange centres. Research a few near your hotel for easy cash when you need it.
Planning in advance is the best way to have safe access to your money when you need it.
Before you travel to Jamaica, ask yourself these questions to make your stay stress free.
- Which cards should I take? Go with either Visa or Mastercard, and consider taking two or more cards with you. Ideally, use cards with no foreign transaction fees.
- Have I informed my bank? If you fail to inform your bank, you may have to deal with a blocked card during your travel.
- What kind of fees am I looking at? A little information ahead of time can save you considerable strife later on.
- What’s my source of cash? When in Jamaica, you cannot do without using cash unless you’re limiting your movement to the best places in town. So plan to keep your cash flow in place.
Once you’ve established where you can use your credit card and where you’ll need cash, you can relax and focus on enjoying your stay in Jamaica!
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