There is so much beauty throughout the island nation of Jamaica, that one of the best ways to experience it is to rent a car. Sure, you could take a taxi here and there, but that will add up quickly and is not so feasible.
On my recent trip to Jamaica with one of my best friends, Joseph, we flew into Montego Bay‘s Sangster International Airport (MBJ). We didn’t plan anything for this trip, and everything about it was rather impromptu, but when we saw the line of car rental agencies at the airport, we decided to spring for one. The best decision we made while we were there, I would say, since we were able to drive to Negril to sleep (a $50 USD taxi ride each way) and stop wherever we felt to snap photos.
However, renting a car in Jamaica can be a bit different than doing the same in another country. Though many of the car rental chains have a presence in Jamaica, such as Hertz, Avis, Budget, etc., they follow different standards than they would, say, in the United States.
Level of Difficulty
Jamaican roads can be a pain to drive on for some, and a nightmare for others (if you didn’t grow up and learn how to drive in India). Driving is on the left side of the road, what Americans refer to as the “wrong” or “opposite” side of the road. If you are from the U.K. or India, this won’t be a problem for you.
Some people (from perhaps more rural areas) say that Jamaicans drive fast, but I didn’t experience that when I went there; I guess this is relative. Many do drive a bit over the posted speed limits. If you plan on traveling over the speed limit, be aware that Jamaican cops are notoriously strict.
Another thing to be aware of is the quality of the roads. Some of the major highways, such as the ones beginning with the letters “A” or “B,” are usually maintained quite well, but the smaller back roads and city streets can often resemble the surface of the moon.
The cost of renting a car is not much different than renting one in the States. However, there may be one aspect that most renters from other countries are not used to the way Jamaicans do it: insurance. Insurance doesn’t exist the way it does elsewhere; in Jamaica, you must put down a deposit up front, and that should be your maximum liability for damage to the car.
For example, when I went to rent a car, I booked a Toyota Yaris for $67 per day (USD). However, the company needed to authorize an additional $1000 hold on the credit card I was using, which was my maximum liability. It’s not an actual charge, though the money temporarily is not available for use; if you have an accident, they can keep some or all of that money, and if not, they should release it as soon as they inspect the car upon returning it. I asked for a GPS navigation system as well, and they had to authorize an additional $200 for that piece of equipment also. If you don’t have that money available on your card, you won’t be able to book the car.
Keep in mind that most credit cards will not cover insurance or damages while in Jamaica. A few, like the MasterCard World credit card, offer coverage for damages to a rental car in Jamaica if you used that card to pay for the rental.
The best way to go would be to book your car on a website of the rental company of your choice prior to traveling. You may be able to obtain your country’s procedures, perhaps avoiding that hold on your card; insurance may also be available if you book online or by phone. One last perk of not booking at the last minute (at the counter) is that you can see pricing and availability beforehand; the places in Jamaica rarely show you the rates, and you will probably feel a bit skeptical as to whether or not you are being quoted accurately.
Another difference is that most rental companies, though they may be international, will not acknowledge their own awards programs. I went to Hertz first, because I’m a Gold Plus business member with them, and they couldn’t even give me the standard upgrade that I’m due each time I book with Hertz. I can’t speak for all the programs from other rental companies, but you should keep in mind that you may not be able to utilize any membership you might have. Again, like the insurance, you may be able to accumulate rewards if you booked online or by phone.
Make Sure You Diligently Inspect Your Rental!
It was stated earlier, but I feel that in Jamaica it is super-relevant. You MUST inspect your car prior to driving off. When one of the agents goes out to the vehicle with you and starts checking off scratches, make sure that you are being more thorough than he is; remember that deposit – you could lose some or ALL of that if you return with damage that wasn’t there before you took possession of the car. And if a particular damage wasn’t noted, basically it wasn’t there until you took it.
Be Cautious of Your Surroundings
Driving in Jamaica can be a lot to take in, as I said before, and it can overwhelm the senses. One thing to be careful about are pedestrians. Jamaica is full of narrow, winding roads, and people are often strolling along such roads with no shoulder and with seemingly little regard for their personal safety. It is your responsibility to be mindful and aware, since you are the newcomer.
Also, when you’re driving into a city, it is common for guys to come up to you and offer “advice.” You shouldn’t need to be wary for your safety, but these people usually do it and expect a tip in return. Having your windows rolled up won’t help much, because they will still spot you out and bang on the window to get you to roll it down so they can speak. If you don’t want their unsolicited help, be adamant, saying thanks with a finality; if you don’t mind, a $100 JMD bill should be appropriate for their services.