Make the most out of your Caribbean vacation with these tips

Your dream of a stress-free afternoon on the beach – ice cold Red Stripe at hand – fades away when you realize the question nagging the back of your brain might be important. Do I need a passport to go to Jamaica? If you don’t have a passport, or yours has expired, budget time to apply for a new one.

I’m a U.S. citizen. Do I need a passport to go to Jamaica?

The short answer is yes. You’ll need a passport book that’s valid for the entire length of your stay, and you’ll need it to return to the U.S. A passport card by itself won’t work. Jamaica doesn’t require a tourist visa if you’re staying up to 90 days. If you’re staying longer, you’ll need a visa and, possibly, a work permit. Head to your nearest post office or passport processing facility, fill out a form DS-11, or a DS-82 if you’re renewing, with proof of identity, proof of citizenship and a current photo to start the process of getting your passport.

I’m cruising to Jamaica. Do I still need a passport?

Technically, no. You can travel to Jamaica with one of the documents that satisfies Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requirements. If your cruise begins and ends in the U.S., you’ll need only your birth certificate and government-issued ID. You can also use a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card issued by the Trusted Traveler Program; a military ID if you’re traveling on orders; or an enhanced driver’s license. Enhanced driver’s licenses show proof of citizenship and identity and are processed at a higher level of security. Note that the State Department encourages cruise passengers to have a passport in case they need to travel in an emergency.

Safety in Jamaica

Common sense covers most of the information you’ll need to stay safe in Jamaica. You’d follow the same rules at home. Know the phone number for the U.S. Embassy in Kingston in case you’re arrested or have another major unpleasantness happen on your trip. Don’t call, though, if you’ve been overcharged at a hotel or if a cab driver runs up the fare. The embassy doesn’t handle minor affairs. The State Department reports an increased risk of rape for women traveling alone, and Jamaicans are not tolerant of public displays of affection by gay people.

Other travel considerations

You’ll need a Jamaican driver's permit if you plan to drive around the island, and you’ll need to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, rather than on the right, as you do in the U.S. Roadways can be chaotic and crowded. If you decide to take a taxi, look for a car with a red license plate. Charter taxis are more expensive than route taxis, but you’ll know what you’re paying up front and won't have to accept whatever a driver charges. Make photocopies of your passport and other forms of ID and keep them separate from the originals. Check with your doctor to see if your immunizations are up-to-date, and wear mosquito repellent to decrease the risk of malaria or dengue fever.