Arriving at Montego Bay Airport
Montego Bay is the main gateway to Jamaica. Most visitors will land here purely based on it being the largest of the two international airports. The approach to the runway is quite beautiful as the runway is at the very edge of the sea and is surrounded by beaches. From your window seat you will see the city of Montego Bay, resorts and the famous Doctors Cave Beach as you make the final approach to the runway.
Once you land you will enter the terminal through a jet bridge. The passages to the main passport control hall can be long. The roof is low and corridor fairly narrow. When flights land simultaneously you might see other disembarking passengers filing through also giving a slightly cramped feel. The Jamaican authorities require that an immigration form is signed and that you have it ready to present to the immigration desk (passport control). Sometimes these reps can be a little authoritarian in their tone as they try to get you to ensure that your documents are filled out correctly. It is the beginning of a bureaucratic process. You will be required to provide the address of where you are staying and evidence of a return ticket so please ensure that you have proof of these.
The immigration hall is large and they also have a desk for the health authorities where they will perform screening for people who are travelling from countries with a history of certain diseases. The line for non-Jamaicans can be quite long however depending on flights arriving. The process can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. You will then pass through a small duty free and foreign exchange desk area after which you will enter the baggage claim area. The carousels are small and old fashioned. Handling agents will remove bags that have been around the carousel at least once and lay them to the side for you to pick up.
Once you have collected your bags you will enter the customs hall which is also very bureaucratic. You will have to join a line based based on whether you have goods to declare or not. The authorities are very strict about this and they use the x-ray machine on bags regularly to ensure that customs rules are observed. You will likely have nothing to declare as a visitor and this should not take too long, however compared to many modern airports who do this process based on exception, Jamaican authorities search a very high proportion of baggage, creating a lot of congestion in the process.
Once you are out of this area you are now literally steps away from the exit. There is a large hall just in front of the exit door where there are welcome services from many all-inclusive hotels and tour operators. There are also car rental desks located here. So if you reserved a car you should check here first. You will also have a last opportunity to buy Jamaican dollars here at another currency exchange desk. The rates at the airport are usually not as good as what you could get at an independent cambio but if you have a small amount to purchase the convenience might suit you. There are numerous ATMs in Jamaica and you could also consider withdrawing cash at any of these spots during your travels. The airport taxi service has a dispatch desk just at the exit of arrivals and if you want a private taxi you should speak to the dispatcher, they usually have standard rates and you can get a quote and a receipt there. You will pay the driver directly when you arrive at your destination and they only accept cash.
Once you exit the arrivals area you will find a crowd gathered around the perimeter of the exit where drivers, waiting friends, relatives and authorized taxi drivers will gather. It is prohibited for independent taxi drivers to solicit at this location only members of JUTA and JCAL taxi associations are permitted to offer services there. The average cost of a taxi fare into the city center or distances up to 5km from the airport is about US$20 for 1 to 4 persons. If you chose to travel to your destination in the cheapest way you can walk to the round about and flag down a shared taxi. The cost to the city center is about the equivalent of US$1. Make sure you get a taxi with a red license plate which means it is an officially licensed taxi. You will of course be sharing the taxi with locals and the driver will be randomly picking up and dropping off people along the way. If you have a lot of luggage you might charged you for the cost of another seat.
There are also transfer services, shuttles and a coach service called the Knutsford Express. There is a depot for Knutsford Express at the airport and if you're destination is outside Montego Bay and your arrival is compatible with their schedule this might be a good option. You can check their website.
You can also opt to pre-book a shuttle see options below, the first is for destinations around Jamaica and the second within Montego Bay.
The airport is really close to the city of Montego Bay and it should take only minutes to get to your destination if you are staying within Montego Bay (provided that the traffic is not bad). During peak hours traffic in Montego Bay is terrible.
Arriving at the airport in Montego Bay is a relatively good experience as long as you know what to expect. We hope that this post gives you some idea so that you can start your visit to Jamaica on the right foot. Please feel free to reach out to us or comment if there is anything you would like to add or seek clarification on.