Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Jamaica Travel Advisory: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Government warnings sound dire but shouldn’t deter you from traveling

spinner image an aerial view of a beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica
The State Department suggests travelers reconsider travel to Jamaica. Consider these seven tips to stay safe when travel advisories are issued.
Getty Images

Four days before I flew from Washington, D.C., to Mali, I received a list of 20 pre-trip suggestions from the U.S. Department of State. Among the recommendations: Draft a will, discuss your funeral wishes with your family, designate a hostage negotiator and leave DNA samples with your medical provider.

My stomach knotted when I read the advice. Mali is on the State Department’s highest-level don’t-go-there list, along with such volatile nations as Haiti and Iraq. But until then I hadn’t been worried. I’d be working in Mali with a nonprofit, One Global Village, that has served there for years. I knew the organization’s leaders and their emphasis on safety. And while the Islamic State group was terrorizing Mali’s north, we would be in the relatively safer south, working in a remote rural village.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

Join AARP for $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine

Join Now

I survived the 2020 journey without being kidnapped, robbed or shot, a feat I’ve managed on trips to numerous locations — from Guatemala to the West Bank — that provoke stern warnings from the State Department. 

In the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the State Department didn’t initially issue an updated travel advisory for Israel. It now says not to travel to Gaza because of terrorism and armed conflict and to reconsider travel to Israel and the West Bank because of terrorism and civil unrest. The State Department says that if you decide to travel to the region, you should check alerts on the website of the U.S. embassy in Israel for the latest information.

Popular destinations, including Mexico and Jamaica, have travel advisories. In Mexico, the department breaks down the advisories by state, with 13 states receiving “do not travel” and “reconsider travel” warnings. Kidnappings in Mexico in early 2023 raised questions about the safety of traveling to the country.

At the end of January, the State Department issued a level 3 travel advisory to “reconsider travel” to Jamaica, citing crime and medical services. The agency said “violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides, are common.” The advisory added that sexual assaults also happen at all-inclusive resorts. As for medical services, the advisory said response times and quality of care are not as they are in the U.S. “We strongly encourage you to obtain traveler’s insurance, including medical evacuation insurance, before traveling to Jamaica,” the advisory said. The advisory also listed some neighborhoods and parishes as “do not travel.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issues advisories. On Dec. 8, the CDC issued a health advisory about an outbreak of tick-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever among people who have recently traveled to or live in the city of Tecate, in Baja California, Mexico. Five people have been diagnosed since July, and three people have died, the health agency said.

According to the CDC, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a “severe, rapidly progressive, and often deadly disease” that is contracted from the bite of infected ticks. In this outbreak, the five patients developed the disease within two weeks of travel to Tecate. The patients were hospitalized in Southern California. The agency says the antibiotic doxycycline is the best course of treatment.

Here are some insights on understanding advisories and staying safe.

spinner image a graphic showing the U.S. Department of State's advisory levels
​The State Department issues travel advisories for all countries with four grades.​
State Department

Deciphering the alerts

The State Department issues travel advisories for every country and assigns one of four grades:

  • Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.
  • Level 2: Exercise increased caution
  • Level 3: Reconsider travel.
  • Level 4: Do not travel.

Most countries are Level 1 or 2. With Level 3, the State Department suggests that you avoid travel due to serious safety risks. With Level 4, you face “a greater likelihood of life-threatening risks,” and the government may be unable to provide assistance.

Travel

Holland America Line

Up to $200 onboard credit on select cruises

See more Travel offers >

The State Department also issues warnings for events ranging from political protests to hurricanes. In late June, for example, the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Paris issued a security alert when riots erupted after a police shooting in a nearby suburb. The U.S. Embassy in Dublin released a similar alert in July after a 57-year-old American was assaulted by teenagers.

Warnings and advisories may sound dire, but they shouldn’t necessarily deter you from traveling. If you based trip decisions solely on the government’s cautious advisories, you’d never leave home. In its advisory for famously safe, Level 1 Japan, the State Department warns of sexual assaults and criminals who spike victims’ drinks. For Australia, another Level 1 country, the department mentions bar brawls, violent demonstrations, pickpockets and purse snatchers.

Travel warnings are often broad, but reality is more nuanced. Take Dublin. The July alert was issued after an attack against a single American (though the embassy also mentioned “a number of recent incidents reported in Irish media”). But Dublin is considered safe by most European travel experts.

Want to put security concerns in perspective? Consider foreign governments’ advisories about the United States. The United Kingdom warns of terrorist attacks, gang assaults on tourists’ vehicles and violent protests. Multiple countries, including Canada and Germany, caution citizens about gun violence and mass shootings.

“It always surprises me when my clients bring up advisories … because we’re in New Orleans, where the crime is so bad here,” says Lauren Cardinale, a travel adviser and owner of Travel Design Co., citing carjackings and shootings. She mentions a Spanish colleague who visited New Orleans. The woman’s mother was terrified about her daughter’s safety.

“You have to take these advisories with a grain of salt,” says Cardinale. “No matter where you are, you have to be safe and be aware of your surroundings. ... You run risks anywhere you go.”

What about Mexico?

The State Department’s Level 3 advisories include popular tourist destinations like Egypt, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, but for many travelers, Mexico evokes the most concern. The department issues travel advisories for individual states in Mexico, and six are on its “do not travel” list because of kidnappings and other crimes.

The concerns are real. In February 2023, coastal Colima was named the most violent city in the world by Mexico’s Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. But discouraging travel to entire states is like avoiding California because of open-air drug markets in San Francisco.  

“As soon as the press reports that something happened in Mexico, people fear the entire country,” says Laura Holcomb, a travel adviser and owner of Memories and Moments Travel in Chardon, Ohio. In early 2023, Holcomb traveled to Puerto Morelos, Cancún and Playa del Carmen, areas where the State Department advises travelers to “exercise increased caution.” Holcomb felt safe, partly because she stays in resorts that emphasize security.

Her advice to clients: Don’t leave the resort. And if you do leave, book transportation from a reputable company, a concierge or a travel adviser.

How to protect yourself

Every country and city has its safe spots and its dangerous neighborhoods. If you’re worried about security, follow this safety list:

Register for STEP. Before leaving home, enroll in the federal government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The U.S. embassy or consulate will know your itinerary, lodging and contact information. You’ll also receive updates about safety conditions.

Buy travel insurance. Most comprehensive travel insurance policies cover a variety of calamities, though you may have to add emergency evacuation as part of your coverage. Trip cancellation coverage should protect you from unforeseen events that prevent you from traveling, such as the wildfires that hit Maui in August. For further peace of mind, Holcomb recommends buying a cancel-for-any-reason policy when you book your trip. With this type of policy, you can cancel a trip for any reason at any time, unlike some policies that don’t allow cancellations 24 hours before departure. Also ask your health insurer if it covers international medical bills. Many don’t, so you may need coverage as part of your travel insurance.

Consult the CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers its own four-level advisory system, issues notices for countries experiencing disease outbreaks and other issues, and offers advice on getting health care while traveling.

Hire a travel adviser. The Maui wildfires showed why travel advisers can be valuable. Once the disaster struck, travel advisers helped with evacuations and rescheduled trips for Maui-bound clients. In an emergency, travel advisers have direct access to travel providers and tourism boards — and receive information before it filters to consumers and the media.

Check your travel provider’s website. Most airlines, including Alaska, American, JetBlue and Southwest, post travel advisory information online, which provides instructions and covers information such as change fees. The same is true with cruise lines, from Celebrity to Royal Caribbean, and resorts.

Listen to locals. Before One Global Village president Abigail Hayo travels to Mali, she consults with Malians about safety issues. Don’t have connections in a city? Contact hotel concierges, tour companies, tourist bureaus or embassies to learn about local conditions.

Use common sense. Simple steps can help you stay safe, including:

  • Try to blend in. Dress like a local instead of a tourist and don’t carry wads of cash. Hayo never wears “fancy jewelry” while traveling.
  • Travel in groups. Don’t wander an unfamiliar city alone at night.
  • Book lodging in busy, well-lit parts of a city, Cardinale suggests.
  • Carry your passport in a travel wallet or money belt, not in your backpack’s outer pocket.
  • Keep a photo of your passport on your phone and leave a copy at home with an emergency contact, Holcomb recommends. Do the same with your credit card.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Staring at your phone, wearing earbuds, drinking too much — they can make you less alert.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 25, 2023. It has been updated to reflect new information.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

AARP Travel Center

Or Call: 1-800-675-4318

Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Flight 2

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 3

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 4

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 5

Enter a valid departing date

+ Add Another Flight

Enter a valid checking in date

Enter a valid checking out date


Occupants of Room 1:



Occupants of Room 2:



Occupants of Room 3:



Occupants of Room 4:



Occupants of Room 5:



Occupants of Room 6:



Occupants of Room 7:



Occupants of Room 8:


Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Occupants of Room 1:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 2:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 3:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 4:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 5:

Age of children:

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid start date

Enter a valid drop off date

Select a valid to location

Select a month

Enter a valid from date

Enter a valid to date