Jamaican officials are pushing back against the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory for the island, which was re-issued in January due to “crime and medical services.” The country remains at Level 3 (which encourages people to “reconsider travel”— just one level away from the most severe warning.)
“In recent years, the Government has more than doubled its investments to strengthen our capacity to tackle crime and health-related challenges across the island for the benefit of our citizens and indeed everyone who wishes to visit Jamaica,” said Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Johnson Smith in a press release. Jamaica is listed as one of the top honeymoon destinations for U.S. residents, according to Tripadvisor.
The State Department claimed that Jamaican local authorities do a poor job of responding to serious crimes, robberies, assaults, and more. “Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts,” the statement says, adding that Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere.
The country’s level 3 designation has been in place since 2022. Jamaican officials have warned that while there are areas in Jamaica that certainly do report a high risk for crime, tourists do not often experience that firsthand. “Overall, the crime rate against visitors to Jamaica remains extremely low at 0.01%,” the Jamaican Tourist Board told NPR.
Jamaica travel advisory and response
The advisory mentions that families of U.S. citizens that have been killed on the island have had to wait for a year, if not more, to receive the death certificate of their family member. U.S. government personnel are also personally prohibited from taking public buses and driving out of certain areas of Kingston, the Jamaican capital, during the evenings.
The advisory also says that hospital care is not timely and can be of low quality, when compared to U.S. standards.
Following the State Department’s decision, Smith said that Jamaica was disappointed that the U.S. had not taken into account the country’s progress towards creating a safer community for all. “We are making serious improvements, although we still have much more to do to achieve all that we wish to deliver. It is not insignificant that Jamaica has recorded a more than 20 per cent decline in serious crimes, along with strong improvements in arrests and prosecution,” Smith said in a statement.
Jamaica experienced 83 murders during the first month of 2024, per the Jamaica Constabulary Force. That number is less than the 109 reported in 2023, during the same time period.
The country heavily relies on tourism, which accounted for more than 30% of the country’s economic output prior to the pandemic. “If there was ever an industry that has the potential to transform our nation, our communities and the lives and livelihoods of the Jamaican people for the better, it is tourism,” the Jamaican Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, said in April 2023 when speaking about the return of tourists. Jamaica had a level 4 travel advisory during the pandemic due to high levels of Covid-19.
Jamaica has encouraged travelers to continue to come to the island, which last year hosted 4.1 million people, according to a statement the Jamaica Tourist Board provided NPR. “Visitors can continue to come with confidence to enjoy all that Jamaica has to offer,” they added.
How to stay safe if you are traveling to Jamaica
Those who are still planning to visit the Carribean destination were advised to avoid walking or driving at night, taking public buses, and any secluded areas. They were also told to not resist any robbery attempts.
The State Department said that U.S. government workers were prohibited from traveling to several parishes due to crime, including much of downtown Kingston and St. Andrew Parish, Westmoreland Parish, and more. You can read the extensive list of neighborhoods here.