Many people wish to call home from Jamaica. You have a number of major options. Which option is 'best' is mainly determined by your telephone usage pattern. The major usage factors to consider are:

1) How many calls will you place to home? Will you call home only once, once each day, several times a day, etc.?

2) How long you will talk? Will each call be only a short "hello" or "have arrive in Jamaica" type message or will each call last 15 min., 20 min., 30 min., or even longer?

3) Do you want people from home to call you or not? Do you need all calls from home to be forwarded to Jamaica or not?

Based on your answers to the questions listed above, one of the options listed below will be the 'best' option for you.

Resort room phone: If you are staying at a resort you can just pick up the phone in the room and dial directly back home. In some cases you will need only to dial an access number to access the Jamaican phone system. While this is very easy to do, in most cases this is the highest cost option of those listed below. Because of the high cost of each call, this option is normally usable only if a few short calls home are to be made.

A few Jamaican resorts offer free telephone calls from the room to phones to the US, Canada, and selected countries in Europe. These are mainly all inclusive resorts and the exact calling destinations vary between resorts. Ask about the availability of this feature and all of the details before calling from the room at any resort.

Note: Some resorts outsource long distance (calls to overseas destinations off the island) telephone service to a third party. There may be a sticker on the phone or a sign/card next to the phone giving an access number for use to place long distance calls using this type of service. The third party will ask for a credit card number to be entered when placing a call. These third party phone services often have ultra high charges and long minimum call lengths. Charges for use of these services can be outrageous. Ask your hotel for telephone rate information before using any such service.

Calling card: Many of the major United States and Canadian phone companies (for example AT&T) offer international calling cards for those with their regular phones  (see below for users of cell phones). You dial a phone number in Jamaica, in some cases a Jamaican 1-800 number,  to get a second dial tone. Then you dial a number off the calling card and the phone number you wish to call. The charge for the call will appear on the bill for your home phone. You are in essence placing an international collect call and cost is rather high  (call your home phone company for rates). This option is normally usable only if a few short calls are to be made. Also keep in mind that most resorts will charge you a fee to access the Jamaican phone system each time you use your calling card (ask at your hotel for their charge, if any).

Pre-paid phone card: Pre-paid phone cards can be purchased at many shops, including most resort gift shops, in Jamaica. Follow the instructions on how to activate and use the card. You should attempt to match the number of minutes on the card with your planned usage. Once the card is activated there is normally a limit on how long the minutes you purchased are valid. Unused minutes will 'expire' even if paid for. If you use most or all of the minutes on the card you purchase this can be a very low cost option. Also keep in mind that most resorts will charge you a fee to access the Jamaican phone system each time you use your pre-paid phone card (ask at your hotel for their charge, if any).

A pre-paid phone card purchased in the United States or Canada may not work in Jamaica, if it does, it will often have significant charges associated with the use of an international 1-800 or other local (Jamaican) access number.

Home cell phone: All of the major United States and Canadian cell phone companies (AT&T, Sprint, Telus, T-Moble, BCE, Rogers, Verizon, etc.) work with one or another of the Jamaican cell phone companies (Claro, LIME aka Cable and Wireless Jamaica aka Bmobile, or Digicel). Call your cell phone company to turn on the 'international roaming' feature. Also ask about the fee for this service for both phone calls and for text messages. You will be able to place and receive calls or send and receive text messages on your home cell phone as if you were at home. Sending and receiving pictures, video, and/or data between home and Jamaica may or may not be possible when using a telephone from home (this is while phone calls and text messages work fine) and may be very expensive. Rates for placing and receiving calls and/or text messages often are not the same. For example with one USA cell phone company the price of sending a text message is $US0.50 while the cost of receiving a text message is $US0.05). In most cases the cost of using a cell phone from home will be rather high but it allows one to continue to use a telephone number known to those back home. For example, one USA cell phone company charges $US1.99 per min. for calls from Jamaica to the USA. This option works fine for a few short calls or where use of a known 'home country' phone number is important.

Users of the Apple iPhone, any Blackberry, and other 'smart' phones should ask their cell phone provider how to turn off the feature which checks for messages on a regular basis (this is  called data 'roaming'). Checking for messages will incur a charge even when no messages are downloaded (this is also sometimes called 'auto update'). Ask how to have the 'smart' phone only check for messages when you ask the phone to do so (this will avoid a large phone bill). You may also want to consider using 'airplane mode' (aka 'flight mode') while in Jamaica to turn off message downloading, short message service (SMS), bluetooth, location determination, GPS functions, etc. and activate the full set of features when needed in Jamaica and when you return home. Contact your phone company for instructions on how to switch into/out of 'airplane mode' and/or how to turn off any other features that are not needed while you are in Jamaica.

Many 'smart' phones can use either a cell phone or wifi connection to make a call. As a general rule the price of the cell phone connection will cost more than the wifi connection for the same call. See the phones instruction manual or contact your phone company for instructions on how to control your phones connection method when making a call from Jamaica. In most cases it is advisable to turn any 'smart' phone to 'airplane mode' immediately on arrival in Jamaica and activate the wifi feature so as to avoid unexpected large phone bills.

Note: Some 'smart' phone applications (aka 'apps') are also known to request data downloads on a regular basis. This data downloading by applications can also cause large phone bills. Call your cell phone company for instructions on how to turn this downloading feature on and off for your phone. In addition, some 'smart' phone applications (aka 'apps') that require the use downloaded material which is copyrighted, for example applications using music, video, etc., will not work in Jamaica because of licensing issues related to the copyrighted data. You may want to contact the application developer for details.

In general it is best to leave cell phones in 'airplane mode' while in Jamaica to reduce telephone charges. Turn off all applications (aka 'apps'), data roaming, automatic data fetching, and automatic synching functions. This can be done via your phone's settings. See the user manual for the phone or call your phone company for assistance if needed. Look for anything that looks like automatic updating. Make sure that Facebook isn't automatically updating. Check to see that you don't have apps checking for such things as stock quotes or sports scores constantly. Automatic updates of data can incur substantial phone charges when done from Jamaica.

Note: Most cell phone operators such as AT&T, Sprint, Telus, T-Moble, BCE, Rogers, Verizon, etc. offer service in Jamaica by way of a Jamaican cell phone operator. However, some smaller cell phone operators do not have an agreement with a Jamaican cell phone operator and therefore placing or receiving calls in Jamaica will not be possible even if the phone itself is working properly. Users of smaller cell phone operators should call their operator to confirm availability of service while in Jamaica. 

Note: Most but not all makes and models of cell phones will work in Jamaica. In general, tri band and quad band cell phones will almost always work while others have less of a chance of working. You may wish to call your cell phone provider to check to see if your make and model of phone will work in Jamaica

Note: The Apple iPad is not known to work in Jamaica when attempting to use the phone system (it will work via a wifi connection if one is available).

Note: At many resorts in Jamaica wifi, while available, is NOT free. At some resorts free wifi is only available in selected locations (the lobby being the most common location). Contact your resort to see if wifi is available and what the cost, if any, is. If there is a high cost for wifi and low telephone usage then one of the other options listed above may be a better choice.

Note: At some resorts wifi speeds as low as .25 Mbps have been found. Slow wifi speeds may make voice and data transfers hard or impossible. In such cases, consider texting as an option.

Note: Visitors to some resorts report that wifi is not reliable in some or all of the resort if it is available at their resort. In many cases the best, or only, wifi service is in the lobby of the hotel.

New SIM card: If you have an unlocked cell phone (tri or quad band cell phones almost always work, if it's a dual band phone you will need to check the frequency the phone works at) you can replace the SIM card. Call your current cell phone provider to see if your cell phone is unlocked or can be unlocked (some cannot be unlocked). In some cases your cell phone company will charge you to unlock your phone. There are many shops in Jamaica which sell replacement pre-paid SIM cards. The major Jamaican cell phone companies include Digicel, LIME aka Cable and Wireless Jamaica aka Bmobile, and Claro. Then purchase pre-paid cell phone minutes good for international calls. If required, you can purchase additional minutes later from many shops around the country. This option gives your phone a new Jamaican phone number so remember to replace the SIM card when you depart Jamaica. Also keep in mind that most of the replacement SIM cards and pre-paid cell phone minutes will 'expire' after a period of no use. This option can be very cost effective for those placing many calls to home.

Note: There is no place to purchase a new SIM card at the Montego Bay airport.

Rented cell phone: Cell phones are available for rent at the airport but you need to book it on-line. The website is Island Phone Rentals. You are met at the airport on your day of arrival and you return the phones in the departure hall as you depart Jamaica. Again the telephone number for the rented cell phone will be a Jamaican number.

There are also shops in all of the major tourist towns (Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, etc.) that also rent cell phones. In some cases you will need to go to the shop but in other cases they will deliver a rental phone to your hotel.

A few of the small boutique hotels also offer cell phone rentals or include them with the price of the room. Ask your hotel on the availability of a rental phone.

Some transportation companies will not only take you to and from your resort and the airport but will also rent you a cell phone. The phone will normally be provided during the trip from the airport to the hotel and collected by the driver on the trip back to the airport. Ask when you book your hotel transfers to see if this service is available or not from a specific transfer company.

Note: Some Jamaican phone rental companies will deliver a phone to a hotel or meet you on arrival at the airport. Ask if this service is available when renting a phone.

Purchased cell phone: Basic cell phones are very low cost in Jamaica. These basic phones only allow for phone calls and text messaging but  other types of more up-to-date phones are also available i.e. blackberry or the iphone, but at higher prices. Many shops in the major tourist towns (Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, etc.) will sell all types of cell phones. Cell phones cannot be purchased at the airport when you arrive in Jamaica. A SIM card is normally included with each cell phone you purchase (the lowest price for a new simple phone is around $30USD). You can purchase separately an International plan which is often very cost effective - around 1100JMD for one month and 700 minutes of international calling. You can also buy plans by the week from LIME. You can then purchase a phone card for local calls in 200JMD, 500JMD, and 1000JMD increments. For a typical two week stay in Jamaica, using local minutes to call restaurants or drivers, 200JMD should be fine in most cases.

This option gives you a new phone with a new Jamaican phone number. Because of the low cost, in Jamaica, of phones, SIM cards, and international minutes, this can be the most cost effective option for those placing many calls to home. Keep in mind that the SIM card and the pre-paid cell phone minutes will 'expire' after three months. If you return to Jamaica after that, the old phone can be used again, however, a new SIM card and new cell phone minutes will need to be purchased.

Note: Some people purchase an unlocked phone which is used, for example on E-Bay, at a low cost. In many cases the purchased phone will cost about the same price or higher priced than a new phone purchased in Jamaica. In addition, the used phone may or may not work in Jamaica once a new, Jamaican, SIM card has been installed.

Note: There is no place to purchase a cell phone at the Montego Bay airport.

Note: There is no place to purchase a SIM card at the Montego Bay airport,

Note: There is no place to purchase cell phone minutes, domestic (within Jamaica only) or international, at the Montego Bay airport.

Note: Some Jamaican phone sellers will deliver a phone to a hotel or meet you on arrival at the airport. Ask if this service is available when purchasing a phone.

Note: It is also possible to purchase plans from some Jamaican cell phone companies to allow for the transfer of data to/from a cell phone. These plans are charged separately and are in addition to the charges for voice and text message service.

Skype/'smart' phone/wifi: Users of Skype can download a Skype application to many, but not all, makes and models of 'smart' phones (Blackberry, Nokia, iPhone, etc.). Contact your phone maker for availability of this application for your make and model of 'smart' phone. In Jamaica wifi service is available in many areas. This will allow the use of Skype to contact to phones anywhere in the world at low cost via the 'smart' phone, the application, and a wifi connection.

People from home should be able to reach you in Jamaica using Skype. To do this requires that you have a wifi connection when they call and that your 'smart' phone is active and ready to receive calls when they phone.

At many resorts in Jamaica wifi, while available, is NOT free. At some resorts free wifi is only available in selected locations (the lobby being the most common location). Contact your resort to see if wifi is available and what the cost, if any, is. If there is a high cost for wifi and low telephone usage then one of the other options listed above may be a better choice.

Note: At some resorts wifi speeds as low as .25 Mbps have been found. Slow wifi speeds may make voice and data transfers hard or impossible. In such cases, consider texting as an option.

Note: Visitors to some resorts report that wifi is not reliable in some or all of the resort if it is available at their resort.

Gmail/wifi (also other 'smart' phone apps with wifi): Users of Google Gmail can download a Gmail application named 'voice and video chat' onto a personal computer. Check to see if the personal computer has a microphone and add one if required. In Jamaica wifi service is available in many areas. This will allow the use of Gmail to contact to phones anywhere in the world at low cost via the application and a wifi connection.

At many resorts in Jamaica wifi, while available, is NOT free. At some resorts free wifi is only available in selected locations (the lobby being the most common location). Contact your resort to see if wifi is available and what the cost, if any, is. If there is a high cost for wifi and low telephone usage then one of the other options listed above may be a better choice.

There are also a number of apps available for various 'smart' phones that offer the same type of functionality as Gmail. These apps are available for download from both the iPhone app store and the Android app store. Some of the apps are free while there is a small charge for some of them. Most of these apps require the use of wifi to operate. The phone call is normally free if the call is between two devices running the same app (for example you and someone back home both have iPhones and both have copies of the same app). However, for phone calls to those not using the app, such as a landline (regular wired telephone), there will normally be a fee for the call. Contact app store and/or the developer of the app for full details on any app you are considering and its associated fees for voice, text message, and/or data transmission.

Note: At some resorts wifi speeds as low as .25 Mbps have been found. Slow wifi speeds may make voice and data transfers hard or impossible. In such cases, consider texting as an option.

Note: Visitors to some resorts report that wifi is not reliable in some or all of the resort if it is available at their resort.

Hotel 'smart' phone apps: Several resorts in Jamaica, mainly large all inclusive resorts, offer their guests custom designed apps for their 'smart' phone. These apps allow for free telephone calls to be made the United States and Canada while at the resort in Jamaica. Ask at your resort if this option is available or not. The apps available at each of the resorts differ so if available also ask about its features and how to operate it.

Other notes:

* Calling from Jamaica back to the United States or Canada is like calling within the United States or Canada (1-area code-###-####).

* The prevalence of public phones in Jamaica has declined precipitously over the last few years. Don't count on finding many public phones. If you do find a public phone, you'll need a Jamaican phone card to use it.

* Dial 119 for police emergencies while in Jamaica (recent improvements have allowed 911, too); 114 for telephone directory, not 411.

Such calls go to Kingston, so not much help for other Jamaican cities.