10 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About the Jamaican Dollar

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The Jamaican dollar, or JMD at the currency exchange, has been the country’s official currency since 1969. It’s written either as J$ or JA$ to distinguish it from other types of dollars. 

The Bank of Jamaica, built in Kingston on May 1, 1961, is responsible for maintaining the country’s financial policies on the order of the Minister of Finance. That original bank now houses a small museum dedicated to the history of Jamaica’s various currencies.

Statistically, Jamaican dollars are usually exchanged for United States dollars. This happens because most travelers to Jamaica come from the United States and need to exchange their own currency for that of the islands.

Jamaica has a rich history that includes multiple types of currency, but it might surprise you to learn that the island’s first money was imported.

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jamaica_10_dollar.png
Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jamaica_10_dollar.png

10 fun facts about the Jamaican dollar

1. The Dollar is the first non-European currency in Jamaica’s history.

The first Jamaican inhabitants were members of the Taino tribe—the same people encountered by Christopher Columbus. Although they had some gold on the island, they did not use it as money. Instead, they bartered with one another to trade goods. 

When Spain colonized the island at the end of the 15th century, Spaniards used thin copper coins called “maravedis.” Soon afterward came silver Spanish reales, or pieces of eight. 

Starting in 1655 under British control, the islanders used British pounds split into pennies, halfpennies, farthings, and shillings.

2. Originally, JA$1 was based on the one-half British pound sterling.

Jamaica’s was the first dollar to be based on British currency instead of the American dollar. 

Today, Jamaican money continues to connect the Commonwealth country to its fellow Commonwealth nations as well as the modern U.K.

3. Queen Elizabeth II knighted the man on the JA$100 note when he was in a coma.

The JA$100 banknote features the country’s second Prime Minister, Sir Donald Sangster. Sangster took office on February 23, 1967, but became seriously ill soon afterward. 

In mid-March, he flew to the Montreal Neurological Institute for specialist treatment for a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Sangster went into a coma a few weeks later, at which time Queen Elizabeth II knighted him while he remained unconscious. 

Sangster died in office on April 11 that same year.

4. People call the JA$500 note a ‘Nanny’.

The nickname comes from the portrait of Nanny of the Maroons featured on the front of the bill. 

Nanny was a leader of the Jamaican Maroons, a group of people descended from Africans who escaped slavery and established free communities in Jamaica. 

In the early years of the 18th century, Nanny led the Windward Maroons against British authorities on the island.

5. The J$1,000 note is called a ‘Grand’.

The word “grand” as used to refer to the JA$1,000 bill comes from turn-of-the-century American slang. The word not only caught on in Jamaica, but in many other countries.

6. The Bank of Jamaica stopped minting 1¢ and 5¢ coins in 2018.

The dollar is still formally divided into 100 cents, but cent coins are no longer accepted as payment. 

Prices continue to be listed in dollars and cents, but the final bill is rounded to the nearest dollar.

7. No Jamaican banknote is worth less than JA$50.

The following denominations are available: $50, $100, $500, $1,000, and $5,000. 

The Jamaican dollar is severely inflated, so although the cost of living is generally more affordable than in the United States, a single $5,000 note can probably only buy a day’s worth of meals for two people.

8. De La Rue Currency Ltd. has printed Jamaica’s money for 100 years.

The first circulation of Jamaican dollars was on September 8, 1969. They were all made from a copper-nickel alloy, except for the pure copper penny. 

The Bank of Jamaica has the sole right to mint coins for distribution in Jamaica, while banknotes have been printed by De La Rue Currency Ltd. in England since 1920.

9. Jamaica has a $20 coin.

Made of brass and cupronickel, these coins were minted from 2000 to 2002 and are still in circulation today. 

A single JA$20 weighs 7.8 grams and measures 23 millimeters in diameter. The coin features Jamaican black nationalist hero Marcus Garvey. On the opposite side, the JA$20 displays the Jamaican coat of arms with two members of the Taino tribe and a crocodile. 

Other coins currently in circulation include the JA$10 and JA$5.

10. Jamaican banknotes no longer feature Queen Elizabeth II of England.

On January 30, 1968, the Jamaican House of Representatives voted unanimously to replace the Jamaican pound with the dollar. 

They also decided that the new coins should look and feel much like the old coins, but the banknotes would feature beloved national figures instead of the queen. 

The reverse side of the new bills features famous landmarks and locations within Jamaica, such as Doctor’s Cave Beach and Montego Bay.

Understanding Jamaican Currency Exchange Rates

As with any currency, the Jamaican dollar’s exchange rate depends on supply and demand. When demand is larger than the supply, the value of the JMD can rise.

The same goes for the currency you are trading, so if you are exchanging Jamaican dollars for U.S. dollars, the value depends on how much demand there is for American dollars. The more demand for USD, the higher the cost may be.

Many places in Jamaica accept USD because it is a common and valuable currency, but there’s no regulation around the exchange rate for individual businesses. That means you might end up paying more in the exchange rate markup than if you convert your money at the airport, a bank, or an ATM.

It’s also important to keep in mind that businesses and services outside of Jamaica’s tourist hot spots don’t necessarily trade in U.S. dollars. It is always best practice to keep local currency with you while traveling, especially because it helps to preserve the value of that currency.

Sending Money to Jamaica

You can quickly and easily send money to Jamaica by exchanging USD, British pounds, euros, and other world currencies for Jamaican dollars with Remitly. Exchange rates are always competitive, and the transfer fees are low.