How to Start a Small Business in Jamaica

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Starting a business in Jamaica has an obvious appeal. Why launch a business venture in Milwaukee or Kansas City when you can live and work in a tropical paradise? Business is business, no matter where you operate. To succeed in Jamaica, you need to put in the same effort planning your business you would anywhere else and comply with government regulations.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Before starting a business in Jamaica, you or your company's representative must apply to the Jamaican Ministry of Labor for a permit allowing you to work there. Next, apply to the Companies Office of Jamaica to register your business, whether as a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a company, as corporations are called in Jamaica. You should also register your business name, though there are exceptions to that requirement.

Working in Jamaica

Whatever type of business you plan to start in Jamaica, you can't launch it until you have the right to work there. That requires having your legal representative submit the necessary paperwork and information to the Work Permit Department of the Ministry of Labor, including:

  • A permit application form, which is available from the ministry's website
  • The nature of the work and how long you'll be doing it
  • Certified copies of your credentials
  • Two passport photographs
  • Your resume
  • Your police record

If you're applying for a work permit for an employee, such as a branch manager, you have less paperwork, but you need to supply an explanation for why you can't fill the job with a Jamaican citizen.

The cost ranges from $27,000 in Jamaican dollars for under three months to $108,000 Jamaican for a year. Don't be too alarmed, though: $1 American equals $135 Jamaican.

Registering a Company in Jamaica

The Registration of Business Names Act in Jamaica requires your new business file paperwork with the government's Companies Office of Jamaica. You can register your new venture as either a business or a company.

  • A business in Jamaica is a sole proprietorship — a sole trader in Jamaican terms — or a partnership.

  • A company is a for-profit or nonprofit organization that incorporates or registers in Jamaica. A U.S. corporation, for example, registers with the government as a company if it wants to do business on the island.

In the U.S., a partnership or sole proprietorship may be able to open without filing any paperwork with the government. In Jamaica, most such businesses must register with the Companies Office.

Overseas Company Registration

A corporation based in the U.K., the U.S., or anywhere else must register with the Companies Office to open a branch in Jamaica. The fee is currently $25,0000 Jamaican. Registering a company in Jamaica that's based overseas requires several steps:

  • File a balance sheet and a profit-and-loss statement with the Companies Office.

  • Submit a copy of Jamaican Form 31 along with a copy of the articles of incorporation. If, for example, you incorporated by filing with Florida's secretary of state, you need someone from that department to certify the copy is accurate.

  • If there have been any changes since you filed the articles, such as new directors, supply that information.

Choosing a Name

The Registration of Business Names Act in Jamaica is literal. Part of the paperwork for starting a business in Jamaica is selecting your business name. The Companies Office of Jamaica can turn down your application if you break its rules:

  • The name is similar to a previously registered name, and the Companies Office thinks it would cause confusion.

  • You can't register names containing obscene language or indicating an illegal activity.

  • If the name implies connections with a specific political party or with royalty, you need to justify the name choice.

  • You have to justify names that include words such as "medical," "engineering" or "pharmacy." The Companies Office may require you to provide professional justification to show you're an actual doctor or pharmacist, for example.

  • Names that imply a geographic scope, such as "international," "Caribbean," "worldwide" or "global" require evidence that you have that kind of reach. If you use a national reference such as "American" or "French," you must show you're dealing in goods from the relevant country.

  • If the name references a Jamaican parish, you must either live there, base your business there, or have been born there.

  • If you use a personal name, it must be yours, one of your parents' names, or a family name. If it's none of those, you must supply written permission from the person to whom the name belongs.

You don't need to register a business name if your business is services rather than goods and you use your personal name — Jack Smith, as opposed to Jack Smith Attorney, for example. Livestock dealers, people who sell from market stalls, and nonprofits devoted to "social or welfare purposes" are also exempt from registering a name.

Filing the Paperwork

If you're starting a business in Jamaica as a company, you have a fair amount of documentation to submit. If your venture is a sole trader or a partnership business in Jamaica, using the Registration of Business Names Act in Jamaica becomes much simpler. Although all companies use the same form, corporations have to fill out many more of the blanks.

Jamaican companies' submissions include, for example, the core purpose of the company, the minimum and maximum number of directors, and the number of shares you intend to issue. With a public company, you must have at least three directors, two of whom are otherwise unaffiliated with the company.

Going Jamaican

If you like the idea of going Jamaican but you're still unclear on your business idea, consider what you really want. Some service businesses may be a little different in Jamaica than if you were operating out of a U.S. city. However, you might consider something tied to the location where you hope to be working, such as:

  • Exporting Jamaican goods
  • Importing goods that aren't available locally into the country
  • Opening a restaurant or bar
  • Providing tourist services, such as photography, tours and travel agent services

Each of these poses its own specific challenges and costs. If you're going into importing or exporting, for example:

  • You need a place to store your inventory.

  • If you're exporting goods, how easy is it to secure a supply? Jamaica isn't known for business efficiency, and it may take a while to close a deal.

  • What are the costs of shipping?

  • Is your target foreigners, tourists, or expats and Jamaican locals?

  • Will you need additional paperwork? Jamaica requires import licenses for certain products, including milk, plant parts used in perfumes or pharmaceuticals, sugar, cement, cranes, forklifts, most tractors and many types of guns.

Business vs. Pleasure

Another factor to think about before you take the plunge is your lifestyle. Is starting a business in Jamaica just about an untapped opportunity, or are you gung-ho to embrace the Caribbean island lifestyle?

If it's the latter, think carefully about how your business will affect your chance to enjoy your new life. If launching your business requires working 60 hours a week for the next year, you won't have much energy left for exploring Jamaica. You might be happier with partners to shoulder some of the load or choosing a business concept that's less labor-intensive.