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Jamaica Driving Guide 2020

Jamaica is an island full of jaw-dropping scenery and a lively culture. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

Lisa Brown

Janauary 22, 2020

INTRODUCTION

Driving in Jamaica can be one of the best ways to experience the island because you are able to see every part of it on your own schedule. This Caribbean island has a long and colorful history, and it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. When you’re looking for the right place for vacation, Jamaica has it all. But if you’re worried about driving in Jamaica, don’t be, because the information you need to know about driving there as a foreign visitor is all right here.

If you’re looking for information on how to get your license after you’ve lived in Jamaica for a while, read on, as there are a lot of relevant tips to help you get started.

Jamaica comes in third place for island size in the Caribbean after Cuba and Hispaniola. The island is around 146 miles long and can be anywhere between 22 and 51 miles wide. When you look on a map, it’s about 100 miles west of Haiti, 390 miles northeast of South America, and 90 miles south of Cuba. The country’s capital is Kingston, and about 2.7 million people live there.

Jamaica’s name comes from the indigenous name of Xaymaca, despite Columbus calling it Santiago when he saw it for the first time in 1494. He thought it was one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and that reputation has persisted up to this day. The island has been under the colonial control of the Spanish, French, and English, and you can see this history reflected in the cities and other place names of the country. Most of the people in Jamaica are descendants of slaves Europeans brought over the years, and the country became independent of the United Kingdom in 1962. However, it is still a part of the Commonwealth.

Even though the island is known for its magnificent beaches, driving in Jamaica lets you experience the interior mountains and plateaus of the country first-hand. You’ll find the Blue Mountains in the east, beautiful limestone landscapes and the John Crow Mountains’ sinkholes, and hills and plateaus in the western part of the island. Cockpit Country and the Dry Harbour mountains are also located in the western areas of Jamaica. Be sure to check out Don Figuerero, Sana Cruz, and May Day mountains in the Southwest, and enjoy the coastal plains around the island, and the alluvial plains in southern areas.

As you explore the island, you’ll notice that it has a wide range of ecosystems, from stunted forests in the mountains to rainforests, savannas, and dry areas of sand with just cacti and other similar plants. You’ll never be bored when you look at the sceneries anywhere in Jamaica. When the island was first settled, it was covered by forests, but Europeans cut down many trees for building and agriculture. They also brought in new plants, like bananas, citrus trees, and sugarcane.

The island doesn’t have many mammals that are indigenous. Before Columbus showed up, pikas, or conys, were all over the island and were hunted as food, but their numbers have dwindled significantly. The native crocodile is nearly extinct. Jamaica boasts many bat species, and the number of mongooses has grown significantly in numbers since they were brought to the island in 1872. The island has some 200 bird species, so you’ll be sure to enjoy plenty of bird-watching while you’re there.

Check out the island’s protected areas like Litchfield forest reserves, Hellshire Hills, and the Cockpit Country. Other protected areas and parks include Portland Bight and Negril, as well as Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in between, whether you are driving in Northern Jamaica or down in the south.

Driving in Jamaica if You Live There

Maybe you were once a tourist who has decided to call Jamaica home but have never had a license. If that is the case, the first thing that need to know is that the legal driving age in Jamaica is 17. At this age, you can apply to get your learner’s driving permit and then your driver’s license. You need a learner’s license to drive legally on the roads, and you must be supervised by a licensed driver. You can get a license at 18.

Pick up an application form for your provisional (or learner) driving license at all examination depots, tax offices, or from the Ministry of Transport and Mining, and Tax Administration Jamaica.

You’ll need three valid passport-sized pictures of you that have been signed by a Justice of the Peace, a Minister of Religion, or a Superintendent of Police. Also, you need your TRN, or Tax Registration Number. Take these to the closest tax office to your home, and pay a $1,800 fee (Jamaican dollars). When you finish your driving lessons in Jamaica, you’ll take a driving test. The examination fee is $2,700, and it has to be paid at the tax office or the closest examination depot. Keep your receipt for proof of payment.

Jamaica offers three types of licenses: a motorcycle, private, and a general license. The motorcycle only allows you to operate a motorcycle, and private licenses are for either automatic transmission only or standard/automatic vehicles. With this license, you can only drive a car. If you have a general license, you are eligible to drive trucks, public passenger vehicles, and commercial vehicles. However, obtaining the general license requires you to be at least 21 years old.

When you pass the driving exam in Kingston and St. Andrew, you should tell the Examination Depot which tax office they should send your Certificate of Competence to. If you live in other parishes, the certificate will be sent to the parish capital tax office. You just need to pay the driver’s license fee once the certificate has made it to the tax office. Then, get photographed, and you’ll get your license.

The fee for a general license is $6,000; a private license costs $4,500, and the motorcycle license fee is $3,450.

When you’re learning, you’ll get a big red letter “L” sticker to place on your vehicle to indicate that you’re a learner, and you’ll probably see that many people are very patient with you when they see that sticker. When you get this sticker, make sure to place it prominently on your vehicle to let people know that you’re learning to drive so that they will take more care around your vehicle on the road.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in Jamaica, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

Truck Driving Jobs in Jamaica

If you’re looking for a truck driving job in Jamaica or driving work in Jamaica, you’ll need a general license. A general license allows you to drive trucks, public passenger vehicles, and commercial vehicles. You must be at least 21 years old to get this type of license. Your general license application has to be signed by a medical doctor, but this is not necessary for a private license.

When you look on websites for truck driving jobs in Jamaica, you may find that there is a license requirement for the minimum weight of the vehicle that you’re allowed to drive. For example, one job on CaribbeanJobs.com noted that a delivery driver position for pharmaceutical materials should have a valid license for 4,500 tons or more. The position also required excellent customer service skills and experience as a delivery driver. Another position on the site for a route sales driver required an open general license, great interpersonal skills, and experience doing route sales. Therefore, driving jobs in Jamaica require you to be flexible and skilled.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

How to Pass Your Driving Written Test in Jamaica

If you’re wondering how to pass you’re driving written test in Jamaica, you’ll need to prepare yourself by becoming acquainted with the rules of the road in the country. One of the first steps you can take is to study some of the laws in Jamaica for driving on the National Road Safety Council website. The rules are broken down into several categories that are simple to navigate and learn on just one page. Another useful source of information is the Jamaica Drivers’ Manual online.

It’s also a good idea to study at a reputable driving school so that you can get the laws down pat and take some practice exam questions. You’ll also get the practical driving experience that will help you to pass the actual driving exam (not just the written exam).

As of January 2020, the Ministry of Transport requires that you to take a multiple-choice Road Code Test as part of the application process to get a provisional or learner driver’s license. The tests are held at Island Traffic Authority Examination Depots.

Take your completed application form and 3 certified photographs to your chosen Island Traffic Authority depot, and you can then take the test without a charge. If you pass the test, it will be noted on your form and the information put into a computer database. You’ll get your application back in a sealed envelope to turn into the tax office, where the provisional license is processed. Then you’ll pay $1,800 for the provisional license, and the receipt will be attached.

If you fail the test, you’ll have to come back to the depot to retake it at a future date. You won’t have to pay to retake the exam.

Driving Laws in Jamaica

Learn the driving laws in Jamaica before you get behind the wheel, according to RhinoCarHire.com:

  • Urban speed limit: 50 kph
  • Rural speed limit: 80 kph
  • Motorway speed limit: 110 kph
  • Drink Drive Limit: 35 mg per 100 ml of blood. Note that this is less than one half of what is legal in the UK. Even one drink can put you over the limit.
  • Drive on the LEFT.
  • Use hands-free only devices as you can’t use a phone while you are driving.
  • Wear seat belts in both the front and rear of a vehicle.
  • Children under three years of age must be in car seats, and they must face backwards with the airbag off if the seats are in the front. Children should not sit in front of the vehicle until they are 12, and they should have an appropriate restraint system for their age and height.
  • There are no certain rules for towing a vehicle or trailer in Jamaica. Just make sure that it is secure and you drive safely.
  • There are no many traffic lights in Jamaica, but the ones that operate the same as in the U.S. and Europe.
  • There are toll roads throughout Jamaica, and the amount you pay can vary between 70 and 700 Jamaican dollars, depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving. You can find more information on the toll authority website.

Updated Traffic Laws in Jamaica

In 2019, the Jamaican Travel Act was updated, the first time since 1938. It is not significantly different than previous traffic laws in the country, but it does impose much heavier penalties in the past for breaking the law. Vehicle owners also have more burden placed on them than they did with the past. Some of the new laws include broadening old laws. For instance, the driver is held responsible if a passenger does not wear a seat belt, and it doesn’t matter whether the passenger is in the front or back of the vehicle.

If a child is not secured in a child restraint system, the fine is an automatic 2-5,000 Jamaican dollars. Additionally, in the past, you had three days to show your license at a police station if you were caught without it while you were driving, but, now, you will face prosecution and a fine if you don’t have it with you while you’re driving. The fine can be 10,000 Jamaican dollars.

Furthermore, remember that you must have a hands-free electronic communication device, so you won’t hold a cell phone while you’re driving. Another new law is that the owner of a vehicle can be held responsible if the car was driven by someone else, and the offense is captured by a camera or other electronic device. The person who drives the vehicle cannot be as easily found as the driver. This part of the law has caused a significant amount of controversy, particularly among taxi companies.

Be aware that these fines are serious. You can serve jail time in the case of many offenses. In the past, when only a fine was applicable, people could just pay the fine and go about their business. Now, people can spend 15 to 30 days in jail, with the amount of time to be served depending on the severity of the offense.

Here is a list of the fines associated with some infractions, as reported by Jamaica Global in December 2019, and the amounts are reported in Jamaican dollars (At the time of writing of the article in 2018, the exchange rate was about USD 1.00 = 127 Jamaican dollars.):

  • Driving without a license-$40,000
  • Careless driving causing collision-$25,000
  • Exceeding the speed limit 33-49 km/h-$30,000
  • Exceeding the speed limit 50 km/h -$45,000
  • Exceeding limit in construction zone-$10,000
  • Exceeding limit in school safety zone$10-30,000
  • Driving without M/V insurance-$20,000
  • Failing to obey red light/stop sign-$24,000
  • Failing to obey other signs/lights-$16,000
  • Driving a M/V without in being licensed-$10,000
  • Driving a M/V without it being registered-$10,000
  • Failing to comply with the breath alcohol concentration limit-$30,000
  • Employing or permitting a person drive a M/V without appropriate driver’s license-$40,000
  • Providing false or misleading information on an application-$50,000
  • Careless driving with no collision-$11,000

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Driving in Jamaica Tips

First, you should be aware that people drive on the left in Jamaica. This may not be such a big deal if you’re from a country like the U.K. where this is the norm. If you’re not, though, and you drive on the right side in your country, you’ll have to get used to traffic coming at you from the right. You may find it hard to figure out how close your vehicle is to the left and right sides of your lane when you’re driving on the right side of the vehicle. Be careful when you turn left because you’ll try naturally to enter the right lane, but this is where the oncoming traffic is coming from, so be aware!

Next, the roads are not just for cars in Jamaica, meaning you’re likely to encounter a variety of obstacles. You could see animals, like goats, cows, and dogs strolling or meandering down the road at their own pace, and you’ll also likely encounter people and carts. You need to drive carefully to avoid obstacles and drive with conviction, but don’t speed. There are many potholes on roads in Jamaica, so be aware of any ones coming up on the road and of people slowing down in front of you to around them.

Additionally, you’ll find that the roads in Jamaica are not very well marked in many cases. Getting driving directions in Jamaica may involve using a navigation system or app as well as asking for directions. Get an app that will allow you to use your smartphone GPS without the help of a cellular network or WiFi. One to consider is Mapfactor Navigator. Just download the maps to your phone before you leave for Jamaica, and you’ll have the maps ready to go. Also, consider buying an updated printed map of the island. Driving in Jamaica with a whole map can serve as a good backup to your navigation app or system.

Driving with someone is always a good idea, especially in secluded places at night. Should you get lost, find a fuel station or similar location with good lighting before you stop.

Ask a local if you need help finding your destination because your navigation app may not always get you where you want to go, and the route on your navigation may be harder to drive, such as might be the case if the GPS route is full of potholes.

Drive with someone else if you can because that person can serve as the notifier of obstacles in the road and the GPS coordinator. Driving times in Jamaica may not always actually be what your GPS tells you they should be. This type of system doesn’t know the real state of the roads, and talking to a local can actually save you time and aggravation if part of the entire road is in very bad condition.

You will likely find that taxi drivers may pass you when it is not legal or when it is dangerous (like on a blind curve), and they often drive too fast. They may also drive too far onto the main road as they enter a side street or tailgate you.

You’ll likely hear horns blowing as soon as a traffic light turns green. When in heavy traffic, don’t expect courteous drivers as you may see cars squeeze in where they should not be.

When you come to a corner, drive wide around it. Trucks don’t always blow their horns to signal that they are coming, and you want to avoid encountering them on the wrong side of the road.

When you’re running low on fuel, pull into the nearest fuel station. The attendant will pump the fuel for you in most cases, so be aware of this if this is not common in your country.

Safe Driving in Jamaica

Are you concerned about safe driving in Jamaica? If you are, you just need to be prepared and follow the laws. Take as much time as you can before you travel to Jamaica or get your driver’s license there to learn the customs and laws. In addition to the tips provided above, follow these guidelines to be safe. Driving laws in Jamaica are similar to other countries, but it is important to learn them before you drive there.

First, make sure you take your vehicle documents with you wherever you drive. That includes your driving license, insurance certificate, fitness certificate, and logbook. Take these documents with you overnight in case the vehicle is stolen. You will need these documents if the police stop you.
Make sure that you always wear your seat belt. It is illegal to not wear a seat belt in Jamaica, and you’ll get a fine if you’re observed driving without one. Remember you will be fined if any of your passengers are not wearing theirs, whether they are in the front or back of the vehicle.

Pay attention to all of the posted speed limits. You’ll find that some roads have sharp curves and many blind corners. The police often set up speed traps in these types of places, and you’ll get a fine if you’re caught speeding in one.

Be aware of road signs wherever you are and obey them. You’ll get a ticket and might be towed if you’re found to have parked in a restricted area. If you’re pulled over by an officer, be respectful, and do what they say. Use “Sir,” “Miss,” and “Officer” to show respect for their position. You won’t find that bribery is as common as it used to be in the country, but it does still happen. Be careful about giving or accepting bribes. Male officers may flirt with female drivers, so be aware of that as well.

Before you pass a vehicle on a minor road or you’re coming around a blind corner, blow your horn, and expect Jamaicans to do the same because this helps increase safety. Also, be careful of oncoming traffic if you are about to pass someone in front of you because the other drivers may use the center of the road to drive while they pass someone or maybe just to drive on.

If a driver coming from the opposite direction flashes their lights at you twice in a row, it’s usually to warn you that there is a police checkpoint or speed trap ahead. It’s not always the case that you’ve done something incorrectly or that something is wrong.

Local people know rural roads well, and they tend to drive very quick on them. Wave them to pass you if you find that they are driving right up behind you. They know all of the potholes and curves as well, so if you follow them, they can help you get through all of the bad spots in the road well.

Should your vehicle experience any problems, pull into the nearest fuel station because they will help you with basic problems. Additionally, they wash the windshield, stock you up on fluids, and oils, and more.

Always be on the lookout for the unexpected in Jamaica, and put any defensive driving tactics you’ve learned to use. Pay close attention to the road and surroundings at all times to remain as safe as possible.

Avoid using any handheld device in Jamaica because you want to be very aware of what is happening on the road. It doesn’t take more than a split second for the situation around you to change.

Avoid picking up hitchhikers.

The rainy seasons are from May to June, and then again from September to October, so take extra precautions during these times.

If you have problems driving at night, avoid driving because the roads don’t always have street lamps, and reflectors. Also, people put on their high beams even in the face of oncoming traffic to avoid potholes, which can make it hard for you to see.

Cars also stop suddenly and without warning many times in Jamaica, so drive at a safe distance behind them.

Finally, if you go to the beach or to a river, don’t park too close to the water as tides can come in and go out before you can make it back to your vehicle.

If you experience an emergency or accident while driving, call 119. This is the emergency number.

On-the-spot fines are illegal, so don’t pay if you are asked to pay one by a police officer. You can pay any ticket at any police station in the country.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Driving a Rental Car in Jamaica

Driving a rental car in Jamaica requires a bit of planning ahead and double-checking on your part. Check all of the documents given to you when you rent the car as they are often expired, and then you can get in trouble with the police if you’re stopped. Also, make sure the car has enough oil, water in the radiator, and windshield cleaner. Check the air in the tires, and note the level of fuel (gas or diesel).

Look under the hood to see where the battery is, and see whether you need any tools to access it. Make sure that the windshield wipers, headlights, turn signals and horn all work. Ask the rental agency what type of fuel (gas/diesel) the vehicle uses, and find out which side of the vehicle the fuel tank is and where the lever is in case you need to pump the fuel yourself.

Tourists driving in Jamaica should always involve keeping safe at the forefront of your mind. Always lock your vehicle, and, as mentioned previously, take all your car and driving documents with you when you leave the car at night. Don’t ever leave your engine running and the vehicle unattended, and take the keys with you when you leave the vehicle. Also, take valuables with you when you leave the car, and put any valuables in the trunk or in the glove box if you cannot take them with you.

Be prepared to find alternate means of transportation if you were planning to drive a rental car in Jamaica and you have to be at least 21 to rent a car there. You can’t just pay an extra fee to the rental car company for being under 21. Expect to pay a surcharge if you are under 25 years old but are over 21. You need to have had your license in your country for at least two years.

Be prepared to purchase car insurance once you are in Jamaica. You need a minimum of third party fire and theft cover. Talk to your rental agency as all car companies have comprehensive coverage. Your credit card’s coverage of car insurance probably won’t work in Jamaica because Jamaica, along with Mexico and Ireland, doesn’t accept car insurance from outside the country.

Although Jamaica has about 8,000 miles of paved roads, it can be very dangerous to drive in some locations. Also, driving in the mountains in the rain can be particularly dangerous. Consider renting a jeep if you want to really explore Jamaica in all its glory.

do you need an International Driving license or permit in jamaica?

Driving concerns in Jamaica if you have a US license shouldn’t worry you too much because you have some time to get a Jamaican driver’s license if you’re planning to stay in the country for an extended period. Driving in Jamaica with a US license is perfectly acceptable for up to 12 months after your date of arrival.

If your driver’s license is printed in English, you can use it for up to 12 months after you come to Jamaica, no matter where you’re from. If you plan to stay in Jamaica for over a year, you’ll want to get a Jamaican license, which you can use for five years. When you apply for your Jamaican license, your overseas license should be valid and current.

Another option is to get an International Driving Permit. Try to get your IDP in your country before you leave. If your driver’s license is not in English, then you need to apply for an IDP in your own country. Keep your IDP with you and a copy of your passport to give to the police if you’re pulled over.

Driving without a license in Jamaica is a bad idea on a number of levels. First of all, it’s illegal, and it’s very dangerous to you and others on the road. Without the proper driving lessons, experience, and having passed a legitimate driving exam, you are not ready to be on the road, especially in Jamaica, where the roads can have many obstacles, from potholes to animals.

 

How to Get an International Driving License in Jamaica

If you already live in Jamaica, you can apply for an international driving license in there. You can find the application on the Tax Administration Jamaica website, and you can also find information on how to do it on the International Drivers Association website.

If you plan to travel abroad and you live in Jamaica, you’ll want an IDP, depending on the country(es) you plan to visit. An IDP can serve as a form of identification, and it is accepted as identification in over 150 countries. It has your name, photo, and driver information printed in 12 languages. You must have a valid driver’s license and passport with you when you travel overseas, and it is important to note that having an IDP doesn’t mean that gives you permission to drive if you’re not carrying your original license and passport. Always carry your license and your passport with you wherever you go. To apply, you’ll need passport-sized photos and your original driver’s license.

Check with the rental car company you plan to use, or check with the transportation ministry of the country you plan to drive to learn if you need an IDP. In some cases, you may not need one, such as is the case for people whose home country licenses are printed in English when they visit Jamaica.

enjoy driving in jamaica

Driving in Jamaica whether you’re a tourist or a newly-minted local means that you need to pay close attention to the laws and the road. The roads in Jamaica are not always safe as they are not always in the best condition, with many potholes making driving difficult. Additionally, people and animals share the road with cars, and blind curves can cause accidents.

If your home country driver’s license is not in English, make sure you apply for an international driving permit before you leave on vacation. If you have a license printed in English, then you can drive without an IDP for up to 12 months in Jamaica.

With the new traffic laws in the country, the fines are hefty, and you should pay close attention to every law to prevent having to pay the money you probably don’t want to spend or to avoid spending time in jail. When you drive, always carry all of your documents with you: passport, IDP, insurance documents, registration, car rental paperwork, and any other paperwork related to your car, whether you rent or borrow it. Make sure that all of the documentation is complete and up to date. You don’t want any expired paperwork in case you’re stopped by the police.

Drive defensively, and pay close attention to your surroundings at all times. If you need directions, you can easily speak with the locals as they speak English, although you will find that local usages of words may differ significantly from what you’re used to.

However, it is comforting that signs, documents, and the official language of the country is English. When you hear Jamaicans speak among themselves, they speak a mixture of old English words and phrases, a bit of Spanish, and some words from surviving African languages. This is a dialect of the local people, but if you’re a foreign visitor, they can help you with directions or anything else you need by speaking a form of English you can understand.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Jamaican drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.