The currency of Jamaica is the Jamaican dollar ($, J$, JA$), whose unique ISO 4217 currency code is JMD. There are notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 JMD. There are 20, 10 and 5 JMD coins in circulation (smaller coins are practically worthless).
The Jamaican economy has not been well managed and the Jamaican dollar has steadily depreciated from the rate of USD 1 = JMD 0.77 reached when the peg to the pound sterling was abandoned at decimalisation in 1968.
In September 2013, the exchange rate was in the range of 1 USD = 100 JMD (which is quite convenient for mental arithmetic).
The US dollar is widely accepted in the places most tourists visit. In fact, all hotels, most restaurants, most shops and almost all attractions in major cities accept US dollars. Be aware, however, that some places accept US dollars at a reduced rate (although this is still a better rate than changing money in advance). While it is possible for someone visiting only tourist sites or for a few hours to see no Jamaican currency at all, be aware that US dollars are not accepted in many ‘local’ shops on the outskirts of towns and in rural areas.
Always check the exchange rate and carry a calculator. Some places will try to charge you ten times more if you pay in US dollars. The cost of living in Jamaica is comparable to that in the United States.
US dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds and euros are easily converted into Jamaican dollars at cambios forex and commercial banks on the island.
Buy products made on the island because they are cheap and you support the local economy.
In tourist areas like Negril and Ocho Rios, prices are generally higher. Shops in the “tourist traps” usually have higher prices than the local shops, and you will find the same items there.
Credit cards such as VISA, MasterCard and to a lesser extent American Express and Discover are accepted in many commercial establishments such as supermarkets, pharmacies and restaurants in Kingston, Montego Bay, Portmore, Ocho Rios and Negril and most other major towns. A curious exception is petrol stations, which usually require cash. A few petrol stations in central Kingston accept credit cards, but most do not.
Cash advances on your MasterCard, VISA, Discover or American Express credit card are available at commercial banks, credit unions or building societies during normal business hours. To obtain a cash advance on a MasterCard or VISA card issued by a non-Jamaican bank, or on an American Express or Discover card, you must be prepared to present your passport or foreign driver’s licence.
One piece of advice: If you are paying for an all-inclusive package on arrival or for other expensive items such as excursions, take USD travellers’ cheques with you. There is a surcharge of about 4% for a Visa or MasterCard transaction. Hotels and resorts usually charge the highest exchange rates.
ATMs are called ATMs in Jamaica and are widely available in all parishes. Almost all ATMs in Jamaica are connected to at least one foreign network such as Cirrus or Plus and sometimes both. In fact, the safest way for a visitor to do business in Jamaica is to use an ATM to withdraw their daily cash needs directly from their foreign account in local currency, as brandishing foreign currency, foreign credit cards or large amounts of cash could attract unwanted attention and will almost certainly be detrimental when it comes to negotiating the best price.
Don’t worry if you go to an ATM and find an armed guard, because they are there to protect you.