FAQs about Peace Corps in Jamaica

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FAQs about Peace Corps
  • How much luggage am I allowed to bring?
  • What is the electric current?
  • How much money should I bring?
  • When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
  • Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
  • Do I need an international driver’s license?
  • What should I bring as gifts for my host family?
  • Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
  • How can my family contact me in an emergency?
  • Can I call home?
  • Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
  • Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
...and more...

For information see Welcomebooks

How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Jamaica?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits.

The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined linear dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carryon bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets,weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.

What is the electric current in Jamaica?

It is 110 volts, 50 cycles, the same as in the United States.

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your Country Director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.

Though in cases of emergency, rules can be bent. I had a friend visiting when a Cat-5 hurricane came at us, and smuggled her in to our consolidation point. A good rule, at least while I was there (the CD is different now), was don't ask, just do. Asking will get a "No," while doing often got commended. Hopefully the new CD is a bit more predictable? 06:06, 13 July 2007 (PDT)

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.

Clements Insurance offers a package specifically for Peace Corps volunteers. Many volunteers loose items such as cameras or laptops to damage or theft, so this could be a good investment. A good rule of thumb however is to put yourself in the mentality that everything you bring to Jamaica will stay in Jamaica. This means do not bring any irreplaceable jewelry or other items, and be open to the possibility that your items may be stolen, or that you may choose to leave them with your community when you depart.

Do I need an international driver’s license?

Volunteers in Jamaica do not need an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi.

Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a host agency’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the Country Director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.

You can drive a rental vehicle with a US Driver's License. There's a law regarding how long you can live in Jamaica before you must use an IDL or Jamaican DL when driving, and this is when creative descriptions come in handy. Volunteers are of course forbidden from driving without the CD's permission, though when on vacation on-island this is a bit hazy. It's often safer for the volunteer, versed in the Jamaican road system, driving on the left, and honk-communication, than it is for a visitor.

What should I bring as gifts for Jamaican friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

You will be advised of your assignment during pre-service training and have the opportunity to visit your prospective site. However, final placements will not be made until the end of pre-service training so the Peace Corps staff can do a formal assessment of each trainee prior to finalizing site assignments. If feasible, you will have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a three-to-four-hour drive from Kingston. There is at least one Volunteer based in each of the regional capitals. For safety and security reasons, Peace Corps/Jamaica does not allow placement of Volunteers in the Kingston metropolitan area nor in Spanish Town.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2500.

Can I call home from Jamaica?

Overseas collect calls can be made through Sprint, MCI, and AT&T. In addition, the local telephone company, Cable and Wireless Jamaica, sells prepaid calling cards called “World Talk,” through distribution centers islandwide. Once you become a Volunteer and acquire a telephone at your site, there may be cable and wireless options.

In addition, all PCVs are now provided with cell phones from Digicel, a local wireless provider. You can call internationally for about $20 J a minute, or about $0.25 U.S. There are also plans where you pay $1000 J for 1000 minutes to be used internationally in 30 days. With this plan it is actually cheaper to call home than it is to call your Jamaican neighbour.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

Cell phones are now provided by the Peace Corps, and all PCVs and staff are on the same Closed User Group (CUG), and can thus make and receive calls and texts to each other for free. Digicel, the wireless provider used by the Peace Corps, has excellent coverage over almost the entire island. Credit is added with phone cards sold in almost every shop you can find, and all incoming calls (local and international) are free. If you choose to bring or buy your own phone, or loose your phone and need to purchase a new one, cheap and rugged Nokia phones are available for about $20 U.S. You can bring your own phone if you choose, but the plan would probably be prohibitively expensive. With the digicel international plan, you can have almost 17 hours of international minutes a month for about $12 U.S. You could bring your own unlocked blackberry or other Sim-card based phone, however keep in mind this may target you for theft.

Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?

You can and should bring a laptop with you for personal and work use, but you should get it insured. Nothing fancy is necessary, many volunteers use netbooks, small lightweight laptops with no cd/dvd drive, good battery life, and a low cost (around $300.) These can be bought in country, however are expensive and the selection is lower. There is little support for Macs here, even in Kingston, so be aware that service will be hard to come by if any issues arise with your mac.

Internet access varies by site. Some volunteer's host families have cable TV and internet, while other PCVs must travel over an hour to the nearest internet cafe. In that type of situation, it is best to bring a usb flash drive and download all emails and information you will need (to save internet time,) and draft emails at home.

Be sure to have good, thorough antivirus software on your computer. Avast, AVG, and windows security are all excellent free virus applications. Just make sure you use them with vigilance. Every computer in Jamaica has a virus. I used a brand new, just opened flash drive on a work pc (with virus software), put it on my laptop and detected several viruses.