Annoyances in Jamaica: Travel Scams, Drugs and Touts

From aggressive street vendors, to friendly locals offering you the "ganja", here are a few tourist scams and local hassles to be on the lookout for in Jamaica.

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A Jamaican beach trader takes his goods afloat and sells souvenirs to tourists on the beach from a surf board Photo © iStock/BrettCharlton

The island of Jamaica offers visitors some of the most incredible experiences, from exciting outdoor adventures amid Caribbean landscapes to relaxing on white sandy beaches that stretch on for miles. Despite a few hassles and annoyances, Jamaica is an amazing place to discover.

Watch out for these frustrating things while you're traveling to avoid annoyances such as vendors spruiking their latest rip-offs, and your trip will go off without a hitch.

Drugs in Jamaica

It's no secret that Jamaica is known for the widespread use of drugs, whether you call it cannabis, the ganja or marijuana.

Medical use of cannabis was legalized in 2015, as the government had its sights set on wellness tourism, and more importantly the money it could bring to the economy. Travelers who are prescribed medical use of marijuana overseas can pay for a permit authorizing them to purchase small amounts of the drug in Jamaica. Possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana is a petty offence, and will not result in a criminal record.

Chances are at some point (or several) during your stay you will be approached by a local and offered some "ganja". If you're caught with possession of an illegal amount of drugs, you may be arrested, charged and imprisoned. The conditions in Jamaican jails are less than ideal, and the justice system is questionable.

Other drugs often found in the region include cocaine and heroin, both of which are considered to be extremely potent in Jamaica. Not only are they against the law, but partaking in either is extraordinarily risky. 

Always keep your wits about you in foreign countries. Jamaica doesn't have the best record when it comes to safety, so use your common sense and don't deliberately do anything that could put you in harms way.

Merchandise and services

Aggressive Street Vendors

Many Jamaican residents make their money from selling tourist merchandise (usually handmade) and offering services, such as massage or hair braiding.

While it may seem like a great way to take a little piece of your trip back with you, unfortunately many of these street vendors can get aggressive in their sales pitches.

Some will simply call out to you as you walk past, others will follow you around, and some may even attempt to physically pull you in to their shops. Your best bet is to avoid eye contact and be polite, but firm. If you're having problems, ask for help from a nearby police officer.

Begging

You might see people begging on the streets, particularly in touristy areas, since these are the areas they are most likely to receive handouts.

It may seem like an annoyance, but take a moment to consider the widespread poverty in Jamaica. Feel free to contribute if you're so inclined, but don't feel obligated. Again, just a firm but pleasant "no, thank you" should suffice.

Scams and other hassles in Jamaica

1. The one way fee trick

Jamaica has its fair share of scams against tourists, particularly involving local transport. If you're approached by a young citizen offering you a ride on their moped or canoe to a popular point of interest, beware. Once you arrive at your destination, he'll likely insist that you only paid for a one-way trip and demand more money to bring you back.

2. Prostitution

Prostitution is a problem on the island and many of these girls can be just as persistent as the local street vendors. Male travelers should be cautious.

3. Renta-rasta or renta-dreds

Female travelers should be aware that a lot of women come to Jamaica for what's known as a "renta-rasta" or "renta-dreds". These are slang terms referring to a casual relationship where the woman gets companionship, attention or intimate relations, and the man receives money or gifts in return.

Because of this common arrangement, females traveling alone may be propositioned by local Jamaican men. It's a good idea to always travel in groups for this reason, especially at night.

4. Drink spiking and nightlife

Use of various date-rape drugs is an ongoing issue at nightclubs and bars, as well as private parties. Victims are drugged, rendered unconscious and then robbed and often assaulted.

If you plan on partaking in the local night life, be sure to do so with caution. Never accept drinks from strangers, always watch your drinks being poured and keep them in your hand (or at least in your sight) at all times.

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9 Comments

  • Marcel said

    Since 2015 the drug law is reformed. The act makes possession of up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of marijuana, or “ganja” as it’s known locally, a petty offense that could result in a roughly $5 ticket but not in an arrest or a criminal record. The changes can also affect tourists. Foreigners who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad will be able to pay for Health Ministry permits authorizing them to legally buy up to 2 ounces of local weed for medical or therapeutic purposes during their stay. For more information visit https://allinvillas.com

  • Edward A Apraku said

    Wao..good to hear about the beautiful life in Jamaica. I wish to be there one day to experienced the goodies of Jamaica.

  • Stephia. Davis said

    There is nice to go in Jamaica not everywhere is bad crime rate is high in the USA too it's just that America is a big country so you don't hear about all the crime but I live hear not even the school is safe but we can't stop crime because the Bible must full fill it said there Will be war and rumor or work Miami have more crime Than anything and all my friends kid are gun down young boys and girls everyday they shoot all up in house here and arm robbery everyday u turn on the new somebody died over here so every where is bad.

  • WILLARD HOMIAK said

    Have been to Jamaica 4 times (Montiego Bay).At welcome meeting first morning you are advised to stay on resort and do not travel unescorted .Listen to this advise.It is very true.If you must go off resort do not accept rides from unmarked vehicles.Do not talk to or make eye contact with strangers.The guys in the paddle boats at the beach with the rag/tag goods are selling Manja (dope).I have talked to the Security people at my resort and they tell me they can't touch these guys as long as they stay in the water.When they come ashore they tell them to go away and sometimes have them arrested.There is no end to this.Stay away from them.Travel in groups,never alone.Repeat,stay on the resort and you will enjoy some of the greatest weather in the world.

    Cheers.

  • WILLARD HOMIAK said

    Have been to Jamaica 4 times (Montiego Bay).At welcome meeting first morning you are advised to stay on resort and do not travel unescorted .Listen to this advise.It is very true.If you must go off resort do not accept rides from unmarked vehicles.Do not talk to or make eye contact with strangers.The guys in the paddle boats at the beach with the rag/tag goods are selling Manja (dope).I have talked to the Security people at my resort and they tell me they can't touch these guys as long as they stay in the water.When they come ashore they tell them to go away and sometimes have them arrested.There is no end to this.Stay away from them.Travel in groups,never alone.Repeat,stay on the resort and you will enjoy some of the greatest weather in the world.

    Cheers.

  • Hillary Di said

    Willard,
    I have been to Jamaica many times, also and my husband and I bought a small hotel with restaurant here. Resorts are playing it safe telling you to stay on the property...they don't want their guests getting into trouble, but there are many safe ways to enjoy the Island outside of the resorts. Just don't do stupid things, like go out in unfamiliar areas at night, or travel desolate areas alone. You can't really see the Island and get to know the wonderful people and all they have to offer while staying at a resort. Also, get out of Mobay and explore the rest of Jamaica. Hire a red plate taxi driver for the day. If you just want the sun and sand and endless buffet, then fine, but that is not Jamaica.

  • JT said

    I agree with Hillary. We've been to Negril and the Westend many times and wander around freely and safely. Get to know the locals and when you return the next year, they remember you. We've come to know many wonderful folks over the years. Walking the dark streets in any N. American city at night is stupid - same goes for Jamaica. Don't be stupid.

  • Mia said

    Thank you Hillary, for a moment I almost believe Willard. (Reminded me of aamerican collegue that came to visit Europe and told me that he was exicted for visiting Barcelona and Paris but also scared.. scared of what? who know.. He was a grown up man, not a kid.
    I love when you say: ". If you just want the sun and sand and endless buffet, then fine, but that is not Jamaica."
    Cant wait to be there :)
    Do you think is safe enough to rent an appartment or is it better to go for resort/hotels?

    thanks!!

  • Andre Brown said

    I have been to Jamaica many times and I have never experienced any hostility. The people are warm and friendly. My wife and I had this amazing driver , he goes by the name Nickoy. He took us everywhere and showed us the mysteries and history of the island. I am returning December and Nickoy will be our driver. 8763784577 is the number you can reach him at.

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