Jamaica’s got it all — pristine beaches, lush green forests and picturesque mountains — making it a must-see for many Americans.
If you’re planning to play or work in this Caribbean nation, you can rest assured that most businesses in tourist areas accept credit cards. Mastercard and Visa are most commonly accepted, although you can find establishments that take American Express as well. However, it never hurts to carry some cash, especially if you’re rambling into more remote areas.
Depending on your card, you may incur:
- Foreign transaction fees. Some credit cards may charge a foreign transaction fee of up to 3%. While this may not seem like a lot, it can add up. For example, if you spend $3,000 abroad, that’s up to $90 in fees.
- Currency conversion fees. Sometimes, a merchant or ATM could offer you the option to pay in US dollars instead of Jamaican dollars. This is known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC), which is likely to have a poor exchange rate and higher fees.
Can I incur both fees on a single transaction?
Yes, you can. To avoid this and save some money, get a travel card. Travel cards typically don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Also, decline DCC if offered and always try to pay in the local currency.
When planning your trip to Jamaica, take a look at travel credit cards. A key feature of a strong travel card is that it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
ATMs are easy to find in such big cities as Kingston, Montego Bay and Mandeville, as well as around popular resorts spread across the island. 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 ATMs and those located within locked vestibules when taking out cash.
Magstripe and chip credit cards
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.
Can I use my chip-and-signature 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.
What if I don’t have a chip card at all?
Chip cards offer more secure than magstripe cards. 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.
No-fee travel cards
When using most credit cards outside of the US, there’s a good chance you’ll pay foreign transaction fees of 2% to 3% of each transaction.
If you travel often — whether to Jamaica or elsewhere — consider applying for a travel card that comes with no foreign transaction fees.
Using a card in Jamaica comes with its share of risks.
To be most careful when taking out money, follow these three easy tips:
- Safeguard your PIN. When entering your PIN at a hotel, grocery 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.
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 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 forgo foreign transaction fees. A few options include the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card, the Hilton Honors American Express Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
- 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 a 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 US dollars at any number of banks or a currency exchange centers. 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.
Many businesses in Jamaica accept payment in US dollars and Jamaican dollars. However, any business that doesn’t target tourists may limit currency to the Jamaican dollar.
Local businesses decide their own exchange rates, often favorable to them and more expensive for you. Save money by exchanging your US dollars at forex service or tourist bureaus.
And bear in mind that even though you can easily use US dollars, hardly anyone accepts American coins.
See more guides on using a credit card in other countries.
You can use your credit card to get cash. But watch out for costly cash advance fees that’ll leave you on the hook for both a fee per transaction and immediate interest on your spending.
To avoid cash advance fees at an ATM, choose to use a debit card over a credit card when withdrawing money. Even though you’ll typically pay a withdrawal fee, most cards charge fees that are less expensive than cash advance fees and interest.
To avoid ATM fees altogether, look for cards that waive transaction fees internationally, like the debit card that comes with a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account.
Jamaican hotels, supermarkets and restaurants usually accept credit cards. Visa and Mastercard are most common, while American Express and Discover cards have limited acceptance. To avoid foreign transaction fees, consider a travel credit card.
For cash withdrawals, consider using a debit card as they often come with no cash advance fee or cash advance APR.