Photos of Jamaica

Introduction

Background

The island - discovered by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually increased its independence from Britain. In 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica withdrew from the Federation in 1961 and gained full independence in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba

Geographic coordinates

18 15 N, 77 30 W

Map references

Central America and the Caribbean

Area

total: 10,991 sq km

land: 10,831 sq km

water: 160 sq km

country comparison to the world: 166

Area - comparative

about half the size of New Jersey; slightly smaller than Connecticut

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

1,022 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin

measured from claimed archipelagic straight baselines

Climate

tropical; hot, humid; temperate interior

Terrain

mostly mountains, with narrow, discontinuous coastal plain

Elevation

mean elevation: 18 m

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

highest point: Blue Mountain Peak 2,256 m

Natural resources

bauxite, alumina, gypsum, limestone

Land use

agricultural land: 41.4% (2018 est.)

arable land: 11.1% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 9.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 21.1% (2018 est.)

forest: 31.1% (2018 est.)

other: 27.5% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

250 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

population density is high throughout, but increases in and around Kingston, Montego Bay, and Port Esquivel

Natural hazards

hurricanes (especially July to November)

Geography - note

third largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola); strategic location between Cayman Trench and Jamaica Channel, the main sea lanes for the Panama Canal

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Jamaican(s)

adjective: Jamaican

Ethnic groups

Black 92.1%, mixed 6.1%, East Indian 0.8%, other 0.4%, unspecified 0.7% (2011 est.)

Languages

English, English patois

Religions

Protestant 64.8% (includes Seventh Day Adventist 12.0%, Pentecostal 11.0%, Other Church of God 9.2%, New Testament Church of God 7.2%, Baptist 6.7%, Church of God in Jamaica 4.8%, Church of God of Prophecy 4.5%, Anglican 2.8%, United Church 2.1%, Methodist 1.6%, Revived 1.4%, Brethren 0.9%, and Moravian 0.7%), Roman Catholic 2.2%, Jehovah's Witness 1.9%, Rastafarian 1.1%, other 6.5%, none 21.3%, unspecified 2.3% (2011 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 25.2% (male 360,199/female 347,436)

15-24 years: 17.95% (male 255,102/female 248,927)

25-54 years: 38.06% (male 518,583/female 550,410)

55-64 years: 9.63% (male 133,890/female 136,442)

65 years and over: 9.17% (male 121,969/female 135,612) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 48

youth dependency ratio: 34.6

elderly dependency ratio: 13.4

potential support ratio: 7.4 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 29.4 years

male: 28.6 years

female: 30.1 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 131

Birth rate

16.03 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 107

Death rate

7.42 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 102

Net migration rate

-7.98 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 219

Population distribution

population density is high throughout, but increases in and around Kingston, Montego Bay, and Port Esquivel

Urbanization

urban population: 56.3% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 0.82% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

592,000 KINGSTON (capital) (2021)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.02 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.94 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.9 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

21.2 years (2008 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29

Maternal mortality rate

80 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 79

Infant mortality rate

total: 11.42 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 12.72 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 10.06 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 128

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 75.49 years

male: 73.71 years

female: 77.35 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 119

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 98.5% of population

rural: 93% of population

total: 96% of population

unimproved: urban: 1.5% of population

rural: 7% of population

total: 4% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

1.31 physicians/1,000 population (2017)

Hospital bed density

1.7 beds/1,000 population (2017)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 98.5% of population

rural: 99.5% of population

total: 99% of population

unimproved: urban: 1.5% of population

rural: 0.5% of population

total: 1% of population (2017 est.)

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over has ever attended school

total population: 88.7%

male: 84%

female: 93.1% (2015)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 11 years

female: 13 years (2015)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24

total: 24.2%

male: 20%

female: 29.3% (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 51

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Jamaica

etymology: from the native Taino word "haymaca" meaning "Land of Wood and Water" or possibly "Land of Springs"

Government type

parliamentary democracy (Parliament) under a constitutional monarchy; a Commonwealth realm

Capital

name: Kingston

geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 76 48 W

time difference: UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the name is a blending of the words "king's" and "town"; the English king at the time of the city's founding in 1692 was William III (r. 1689-1702)

Administrative divisions

14 parishes; Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston, Manchester, Portland, Saint Andrew, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Saint Mary, Saint Thomas, Trelawny, Westmoreland

note: for local government purposes, Kingston and Saint Andrew were amalgamated in 1923 into the present single corporate body known as the Kingston and Saint Andrew Corporation

Independence

6 August 1962 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 6 August (1962)

Constitution

history: several previous (preindependence); latest drafted 1961-62, submitted to British Parliament 24 July 1962, entered into force 6 August 1962 (at independence)

amendments: proposed by Parliament; passage of amendments to "non-entrenched" constitutional sections, such as lowering the voting age, requires majority vote by the Parliament membership; passage of amendments to "entrenched" sections, such as fundamental rights and freedoms, requires two-thirds majority vote of Parliament; passage of amendments to "specially entrenched" sections such as the dissolution of Parliament or the executive authority of the monarch requires two-thirds approval by Parliament and approval in a referendum; amended many times, last in 2017

Legal system

common law system based on the English model

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: yes

citizenship by descent only: yes

dual citizenship recognized: yes

residency requirement for naturalization: 4 out of the previous 5 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Sir Patrick L. ALLEN (since 26 February 2009)

head of government:  Prime Minister Andrew HOLNESS (since 3 March 2016) 

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in the House of Representatives is appointed prime minister by the governor general

Legislative branch

description: bicameral Parliament consists of:
Senate (21 seats; members appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister and the opposition leader - 13 seats allocated to the ruling party and 8 to the opposition party; members serve 5-year terms or until Parliament is dissolved)
House of Representatives (63 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 5-year terms or until Parliament is dissolved)

elections: Senate - last full slate of appointments on 10 March 2016 (next full slate early on 3 September 2020, following dissolution in mid-August)
House of Representatives - last held on 3 September 2020 (next to be held in 2025)

election results: Senate - percent by party - NA; seats by party - NA; composition - men 16, women 5, percent of women 23.8%
House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - JLP 57%, PNP 42.8%, independent 0.2%; seats by party - JLP 48, PNP 15; composition - men 45, women 18; percent of women 28.6%; note - total Parliament percent of women 27.4%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal (consists of president of the court and a minimum of 4 judges); Supreme Court (40 judges organized in specialized divisions); note - appeals beyond Jamaica's highest courts are referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (in London) rather than to the Caribbean Court of Justice (the appellate court for member states of the Caribbean Community)

judge selection and term of office: chief justice of the Supreme Court and president of the Court of Appeal appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister; other judges of both courts appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission; judges of both courts serve till age 70

subordinate courts: resident magistrate courts, district courts, and petty sessions courts

Political parties and leaders

Jamaica Labor Party or JLP [Andrew Michael HOLNESS]
People's National Party or PNP [Dr. Peter David PHILLIPS]
National Democratic Movement or NDM [Peter TOWNSEND]

International organization participation

ACP, AOSIS, C, Caricom, CDB, CELAC, FAO, G-15, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (NGOs), ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITSO, ITU, LAES, MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, Petrocaribe, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Audrey Patrice MARKS (since 18 January 2017)

chancery: 1520 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036

telephone: [1] (202) 452-0660

FAX: [1] (202) 452-0036

consulate(s) general: Miami, New York

consulate(s): Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Concord (MA), Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Richmond (VA), San Francisco, Seattle

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Donald R. TAPIA (since 11 September 2019)

telephone: [1] (876) 702-6000 (2018)

embassy: 142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6

mailing address: P.O. Box 541, Kingston 5

FAX: [1] (876) 702-6001 (2018)

Flag description

diagonal yellow cross divides the flag into four triangles - green (top and bottom) and black (hoist side and fly side); green represents hope, vegetation, and agriculture, black reflects hardships overcome and to be faced, and yellow recalls golden sunshine and the island's natural resources

National symbol(s)

green-and-black streamertail (bird), Guaiacum officinale (Guaiacwood); national colors: green, yellow, black

National anthem

name: Jamaica, Land We Love

lyrics/music: Hugh Braham SHERLOCK/Robert Charles LIGHTBOURNE

note: adopted 1962

Economy

Economic overview

The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which accounts for more than 70% of GDP. The country derives most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Earnings from remittances and tourism each account for 14% and 20% of GDP, while bauxite/alumina exports have declined to less than 5% of GDP.

Jamaica's economy has grown on average less than 1% a year for the last three decades and many impediments remain to growth: a bloated public sector which crowds out spending on important projects; high crime and corruption; red-tape; and a high debt-to-GDP ratio. Jamaica, however, has made steady progress in reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio from a high of almost 150% in 2012 to less than 110% in 2017, in close collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The current IMF Stand-By Agreement requires Jamaica to produce an annual primary surplus of 7%, in an attempt to reduce its debt burden below 60% by 2025.

Economic growth reached 1.6% in 2016, but declined to 0.9% in 2017 after intense rainfall, demonstrating the vulnerability of the economy to weather-related events. The HOLNESS administration therefore faces the difficult prospect of maintaining fiscal discipline to reduce the debt load while simultaneously implementing growth inducing policies and attacking a serious crime problem. High unemployment exacerbates the crime problem, including gang violence fueled by advanced fee fraud (lottery scamming) and the drug trade.

Real GDP growth rate

0.7% (2017 est.)

1.5% (2016 est.)

0.9% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 181

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

3.9% (2019 est.)

3.7% (2018 est.)

4.3% (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 164

Credit ratings

Fitch rating: B+ (2019)

Moody's rating: B2 (2019)

Standard & Poors rating: B+ (2019)

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$28.779 billion (2019 est.)

$28.579 billion (2018 est.)

$28.035 billion (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 140

GDP (official exchange rate)

$15.847 billion (2019 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$9,762 (2019 est.)

$9,738 (2018 est.)

$9,598 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 145

Gross national saving

22% of GDP (2018 est.)

21.6% of GDP (2017 est.)

18% of GDP (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 94

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 7% (2017 est.)

industry: 21.1% (2017 est.)

services: 71.9% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 81.9% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 13.7% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 21.3% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 0.1% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 30.1% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -47.1% (2017 est.)

Ease of Doing Business Index scores

Overall score: 69.7 (2020)

Starting a Business score: 97.4 (2020)

Trading score: 61.5 (2020)

Enforcement score: 53.7 (2020)

Agricultural products

sugar cane, goat milk, yams, poultry, coconuts, oranges, bananas, gourds, plantains, grapefruit

Industries

agriculture, mining, manufacture, construction, financial and insurance services, tourism, telecommunications

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 16.1%

industry: 16%

services: 67.9% (2017)

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.6%

highest 10%: 29.3% (2015)

Budget

revenues: 4.382 billion (2017 est.)

expenditures: 4.314 billion (2017 est.)

Public debt

101% of GDP (2017 est.)

113.6% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 16

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Current account balance

-$298 million (2019 est.)

-$288 million (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 107

Exports

$5.114 billion (2018 est.)

$4.747 billion (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 115

Exports - partners

United States 32%, Netherlands 11%, Germany 9%, Canada 7%, Iceland 7% (2019)

Exports - commodities

bauxite, refined petroleum, aluminum, rum, fruits, nuts (2019)

Imports

$7.314 billion (2018 est.)

$6.924 billion (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 122

Imports - partners

United States 43%, China 11% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, cars, crude petroleum, natural gas, packaged medicines (2019)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$3.781 billion (31 December 2017 est.)

$2.719 billion (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 100

Debt - external

$13.876 billion (2019 est.)

$13.912 billion (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 104

Exchange rates

Jamaican dollars (JMD) per US dollar -

128.36 (2017 est.)

125.14 (2016 est.)

125.126 (2015 est.)

116.898 (2014 est.)

110.935 (2013 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 99% (2019)

electrification - urban areas: 100% (2019)

electrification - rural areas: 97% (2019)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 379,420

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 13.5 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 103

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 2,882,469

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 102.56 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 143

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: good domestic and international service; mobile sector dominates, accounting for 82% of the Internet connections; extensive LTE networks providing coverage to 90% of the island population (2020)

domestic: while the number of fixed-lines, 14 per 100, subscriptions has declined, cellular-mobile has grown 103 per 100 subscriptions (2019)

international: country code - 1-876 and 1-658; landing points for the ALBA-1, CFX-1, Fibralink, East-West, and Cayman-Jamaican Fiber System submarine cables providing connections to South America, parts of the Caribbean, Central America and the US; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

3 free-to-air TV stations, subscription cable services, and roughly 30 radio stations (2019)

Internet users

total: 1,548,618

percent of population: 55.07% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 130

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 284,756

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 10 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 103

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 0 (2020)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 11 (2017)

2,438 to 3,047 m: 2 (2017)

914 to 1,523 m: 4 (2017)

under 914 m: 5 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 17 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2013)

under 914 m: 16 (2013)

Roadways

total: 22,121 km (includes 44 km of expressways) (2011)

paved: 16,148 km (2011)

unpaved: 5,973 km (2011)

country comparison to the world: 110

Merchant marine

total: 46

by type: bulk carrier 1, container ship 7, general cargo 8, oil tanker 1, other 29 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 120

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Discovery Bay (Port Rhoades), Kingston, Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Port Esquivel, Port Kaiser, Rocky Point

container port(s) (TEUs): Kingston (1,681,706) (2017)

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Jamaica Defense Force (JDF): Jamaica Regiment (Ground Forces), Maritime-Air-Cyber Command (includes Coast Guard, Air Wing, Military Intelligence Unit, Special Activities Regiment, and Military Cyber Corps), Support Brigade (logistics, engineers, health service, and military police); Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) (2021)

note - both the JDF and JCF are under the Ministry of National Security

Military expenditures

1.6% of GDP (2019)

1.3% of GDP (2018)

1% of GDP (2017)

0.9% of GDP (2016)

0.9% of GDP (2015)

country comparison to the world: 80

Military and security service personnel strengths

the JDF has approximately 4,000 total active personnel (2020)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the Jamaica Defense Force is lightly armed with a limited inventory featuring mostly older equipment imported from a variety of foreign suppliers, including the UK and US; since 2010, Jamaica has received limited quantities of military equipment from Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, and the US (2020)

Military service age and obligation

no conscription; 18-23 for voluntary military service (17 with parental consent; 18-28 for the reserves); since 2017, the JDF's standard mode of recruitment is to enroll recruits ages 18-23 through the Jamaica National Service Corps (JNSC); in the JNSC, soldiers receive basic military, vocational, and life skills training; upon completion of 1-year of service, soldiers can continue on with JDF or seek other opportunities with law enforcement (2020)

Transnational Issues

Trafficking in persons

current situation: Jamaica is a source and destination country for children and adults subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor; sex trafficking of children and adults occurs on the street, in night clubs, bars, massage parlors, and private homes; child sex tourism is a problem in resort areas; Jamaicans have been subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor in the Caribbean, Canada, the US, and the UK, while foreigners have endured conditions of forced labor in Jamaica or aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels operating in Jamaican waters; a high number of Jamaican children are reported missing

tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List – Jamaica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so; in 2014, the government made significant efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking, and named a national trafficking-in-persons rapporteur – the first in the region; authorities initiated more new trafficking investigations than in 2013 and concluded a trafficking case in the Supreme Court, but chronic delays impeded prosecutions and no offenders were convicted for the sixth consecutive year; more adult trafficking victims were identified than in previous years, but only one child victim was identified, which was exceptionally low relative to the number of vulnerable children (2015)

Illicit drugs

transshipment point for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe; illicit cultivation and consumption of cannabis; government has an active manual cannabis eradication program; corruption is a major concern; substantial money-laundering activity; Colombian narcotics traffickers favor Jamaica for illicit financial transactions