Mail from the United States usually takes one to three weeks to arrive. Packages can take from two weeks to six weeks to arrive. During pre-service training (PST), trainees are not allowed to receive mail or packages. Once you become a Volunteer and are at your site, you will have your letters and packages sent directly to your new local/community address.
Peace Corps/Jamaica’s mobile telephone service provider is Digicel Jamaica. You will be assigned a mobile prepaid phone upon arrival. Check with PCVs already on the island for the best deals on local calling cards/plans for international calls. Many Volunteers have brought smartphones to Jamaica. They use wireless Internet when possible. If the phone is unlocked, it can be used as a PCV’s regular phone.
If you bring a laptop, make certain it is insured, and bring a power surge protector. Broadband Internet service is available in Jamaica and you will have the option of choosing from several Internet service providers based on your site location. You may also connect your laptop to the Volunteers’ Wi-Fi Internet service at the Peace Corps office. Please also be mindful that based on your site location you may not have Internet at home.
Housing and Site Location
Being placed at a site involves a lengthy, systematic process. Most Volunteers have indoor plumbing. However, the water is usually not heated, so be prepared for the adjustment to cold showers as you gradually become immersed in the Jamaican way of life and work. Laundry is often washed by hand in a sink, washtub, or even in a river. Electricity exists island wide, except in very remote areas. The electrical system in Jamaica is 50 hertz. Very few Volunteers go without a refrigerator or other electrical appliances, and many Volunteers may even have amenities such as cable television. Volunteers must live in a host family setting for the duration of their service, as this provides added security. Living conditions will vary, however, depending on whether your site is rural or urban. For the last few years, Peace Corps/Jamaica has been placing most of its Volunteers at rural sites because this is highest need for Volunteers exists, as well as to increase Volunteers’ safety. Because of this trend toward rural placement, please note that the most common housing arrangement is a room in a home with a Jamaican family with access to a shared bathroom and kitchen. Please come prepared to live in this kind of housing arrangement.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, 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.
Food and Diet
Your diet may not need to change drastically while you are in Jamaica. The main source of meat is chicken; however, beef, goat, and fish are also readily available. Vegetarians need not be concerned. Although there may be a slightly smaller variety of foods than you are used to, Jamaicans are now more health conscious, therefore a wide selection of vegetarian fare is readily available, especially in the larger supermarkets. Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as dried beans and rice, are plentiful. Jamaicans are known for their love of hot and spicy foods. For those who crave a taste of home, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Wendy’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut can be found in many urban and peri-urban areas. Also, a wide assortment of imported food items are available in the larger supermarkets found mostly in the urban and peri-urban areas. These food items tend to be expensive; however, once you move to your site, you will learn to utilize what is available locally. A little creativity goes a long way.
Buses are crowded and often do not operate on regular schedules. The government is making progress in improving the urban transportation system, introducing more buses, especially during peak hours, and getting them to operate in a timely manner. Rural travel options range from large buses, minibuses, and route taxis to pickup trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. It may be necessary for you to walk or bike some distances in hot, mildly humid, or rainy weather. Improved stamina, weight reduction, and overall improvement in general well-being are beneficial side effects reported by Volunteers in Jamaica. The Peace Corps provides Volunteers with a bicycle on a case-by-case basis for work-related purposes. Volunteers are required to wear a helmet at all times while riding bicycles. These helmets are issued by Peace Corps/Jamaica.
Activities available for entertainment will depend on where you are assigned and how creative you are. Among the possibilities are reading, walking, writing letters, riding a bicycle, swimming, socializing with friends, taking classes, doing arts and crafts, going to movies or plays, watching videos or television, watching or participating in sports (such as dominoes, netball, swimming, football, and cricket), listening to music or a shortwave radio, snorkeling, playing indoor games (e.g., cards or dominoes—the national pastime), and playing musical instruments. The majority of Volunteers state that they have change their socializing habits once they arrive in Jamaica. This is especially true when it comes to going to bars; it is culturally unacceptable to spend time in bars in Volunteers’ communities, which can be a big change for some individuals.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are expected to dress and behave professionally. Most professional Jamaicans dress well and follow a conservative dress code. While tourists may wear short-shorts and see-through clothing, such attire is not appropriate for Volunteers. Volunteers should dress appropriately, both on and off the job. The safest rule is to carefully observe what co-workers and other Jamaican professionals wear and dress accordingly. WOMEN: Wearing shorts much shorter than knee-length, tank tops, or skimpy attire in public is inappropriate and can lead to harassment. Short-sleeved shirts or blouses, slacks or skirts (knee-length or longer), and dresses (knee-length or longer) are appropriate attire for work. MEN: Please keep beards neat and trimmed. Earrings on men are not generally accepted in professional settings. Collared shirts and slacks such as khakis or jeans that are clean and ironed (no rips or tears) are acceptable for work. Flip-flops should not be worn during pre-service training or for work. Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) and tattoos for both men and women are not generally accepted in professional settings. Please be prepared to cover tattoos whenever possible. Wearing facial piercings may make it more difficult to integrate into your community.