Starting a Business in Jamaica – Things to Consider

After going through the motions of conjuring up a business idea in Jamaica and actually executing it, here are some notes I took about the entire process.  Please be advised that the information in this post is only written as a result of my experiences.  These pieces of advice should be taken in the very beginning, baby stages of considering starting a business in Jamaica.  It is a very in depth process and you should be pretty well versed with the island before attempting business there.

This is a long post and is divided up into sections that best made sense to me.

 

First, the idea:

When trying to figure out what type of business you’d like to start in Jamaica there are SO many factors to consider.  I sifted through many, many completely viable business ideas before settling on one.  The ONE I settled on was decided between me and an angel investor who was basically going to be my financial backer.

I could have picked an idea that I was more passionate about but they didn’t seem like concrete money-makers, which is the only thing an investor cares about.

 

Following are lists of things to consider regarding possible types of business in Jamaica.

If you’re considering a product based business in Jamaica:

A product based business is perhaps one of the most complex business types there is for an expat to consider starting.  Although Jamaica is pretty up to the times in certain aspects, it’s definitely not in others.  The business I chose to start in Jamaica is a product based business so I can speak from experience about the ups and downs of making this choice.

  • If you choose to start a product based business you absolutely need a base of operations because you will have inventory to store.  Depending what your product is, your base of operations could be the same place you live if you have enough space.
  • If you don’t have the space to store inventory where you decide to live you’ll need to consider finding a commercial space which adds to your up front costs of doing business because you will have two rents to pay – your home and your place of business.
  • You will need to find out if your product can be sourced locally in Jamaica.  This isn’t as easy as it may sound because doing business in Jamaica can be a slow and painful process.  Customer service on the island isn’t on par to what we would be used to abroad.  Emails go unanswered, phone calls are expensive if you’re starting your research from back home, pricing is often in JMD or USD so if you’re Canadian it can leave you at a disadvantage.
  • If your product isn’t available in Jamaica you need to consider how you’ll get it into Jamaica.  Does it need to be shipped or can you bring it?  Can you handle the timelines and expense of shipping it in?  Will your business idea be worth the time and expense of shipping it in?
  • With a product based business you also need to consider packaging.  Can you find what you need in Jamaica?
  • Consider how your product will get to where it needs to go once you’ve sold it.  You may need courier services to help you which is an additional cost to do business.
  • Is your product aimed towards Jamaican buyers or foreign buyers?  It is more difficult to get Jamaican businesses to see value in a product than it would be selling to foreigners directly.  Especially if the product is a newer concept because the train of thought is, if it’s never been done before there must be a reason.

 

Overall, I think a product based business has the highest cost of doing business with the most risk involved because you need to invest in the product before you even get started.  There are lots of things to think about when going this route.  The business I created in Jamaica is a product based business and I sometimes question whether the hassle is worth the work and the risk. If I were to do it all over again I may reconsider a different type of business.

 

If you’re considering a service based business in Jamaica:

A service based business can be one of the easiest or one of the most difficult to start.  It completely depends on what service you intend to provide.  If you’re a photographer, travel agent, or digital marketing expert your overhead and startup costs are very minimal.  The only thing you really need is a place to live and a work permit to be able to stay in Jamaica as long as you want.

However, if your service is tourism based such as a tour service or an accommodation you have much more to consider.  Especially the expense of start up, having proper credentials, hiring and paying staff, etc.  Unless, of course, you intend to go into partnership with someone who is already equipped to be in business.  Examples of this might be a driver who already has a vehicle suitable for touring, or an accommodation owner who already has a place suitable for guests, and you’re just partnering on the marketing and execution of the business.  In either case those need to be people you can fully trust, financially and ethically.

Another popular idea but complex business to start is a restaurant / bar because this involves:

  • Having a commercial space,
  • Making sure it is within your budget,
  • Making sure the lease terms are agreeable,
  • Food suppliers,
  • Liquor suppliers,
  • Hiring and paying staff

 

If you’re considering a location based business in Jamaica:

Any or all of the business ideas above (and more!) could be considered location based.  When I say that I mean they may be businesses where your physical presence is required at all times, which limits your mobility.  Before thinking of ANY business idea in Jamaica you need to do an honest assessment of your lifestyle and be sure that you’re cut out to be in Jamaica full time.  Many people think they are but when they try it they realize that’s not what they actually want.  If this is the case you need to either be prepared to hire and pay someone you trust to run your business at times, or you need to be willing to take the risk of shutting it down when you want to be mobile.  This can hurt you in the long run.

You also need to decide if you’re willing to be a workaholic while living in Jamaica because it’s not a vacation anymore when you own and run a business there.  For example, I know a couple who ran a laundromat on the island and between her and her husband they literally worked around the clock in separate shifts in order to run a successful business.  They did well but never saw each other and never had leisure time.  Is that what you want for your life in Jamaica?  Something to think about.

In my personal experience I knew that I did not want to be in Jamaica full full time, year round so I chose a business idea that could settle down during low tourism season.  I have a family back home that is important to me so I want to be home whenever I choose to be.  And even that is a conundrum because then I need to maintain two homes; one in Jamaica and one in Canada.  Having one foot in each country is not for the faint-hearted, it’s very complicated.

Last but not least, other things to consider when starting a business in Jamaica:

  • If you’re not married to a Jamaican you’ll need a work permit to be able to stay in the country and work.
  • You’ll need your tax registration number.  More info on that here.
  • You’ll need a bank account in a Jamaican banking institution.
  • You’ll need to register your business.
  • For a work permit and business registration you’ll need a local address.  Tips on how to find a home to rent are right here.
  • If you’re planning to start a tourism business you might want to consider getting certified through TPDCO.  For some tourism occupations, certification is necessary.

 

Of course I don’t know everything so if you have anything to add, shout it out in the comments below!  If you’ve gone through the steps of starting a business in Jamaica feel free to share your experiences below as well.

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