How To Start A Business In Jamaica (The Reality)

September 12, 2021
how to start a business in jamaica

Starting a business in Jamaica is exciting but it’s not as easy as you might think.

I know this statement sounds a bit pessimistic, but I’ll explain why.

I’m writing this from the perspective of a Jamaican entrepreneur who started several businesses and knows the struggles that come with it.

First, I’ll highlight the process you need to go through to start your business here in Jamaica and then I’ll talk about the challenges you might face based on my experience and many other local entrepreneurs’.

Things to consider before moving forward.

Coming up with a unique business name that’s available in Jamaica

The first thing you want to do is brainstorm 3-4 possible business names with different variations.

The name should reflect or at least give an idea about what your business is all about.

So for example, let’s say you’re planning to start a hair salon for women, possible name variations could be:

Europa Hair Salon

Goddess Hair Salon

Empress Hair Salon

Next, visit the search portal of Companies Office of Jamaica to search for those variations to see if those business names already exist.

Here’s the link to the search portal.

If you search and find other names matching what you brainstormed then think of some business names that’s different until you find something unique.

If you find unique name variations, run them by your friends and family and ask them which names grab their attentions the most.

Ask them to be honest about their feedback, ask them why they may or may not like a particular name.

Let them know you want some honest feedback.

Your business name should be brandable and easy to remember.

Finding a good business name shouldn’t take more than 1-2 days max, don’t spend too much time on this.

Don’t get caught up trying to find the perfect name. After you’ve gotten feedback on the business names, choose the one people like the most and move on.

Also, remember to register your domain and get your website up and live. Having a digital presence is not an option anymore, it’s a requirement.

Remember this isn’t 2010, we’re in the digital age now.

Next you can move on to the type of business you plan to start.

The Type of Business 

The type of business you plan to start in Jamaica will dictate the process you need to get it up and running. 

For example, if you plan to start a food manufacturing business you will be subjected to regulations set by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) Processed Food Act.

If you plan to start a loan or financial company you’ll need a license from the Financial Services Commission.

Going back to our hair saloon example above, the barrier to entry for that type of business is lower as the most you’ll probably need is a certificate that you’ve successfully completed a Cosmetology course, a cosmetology license and a health certificate.

The point is, the type of business you plan to start might need a specific license or be subjected to a regulatory body.

Make sure you do some research to see if your business needs to satisfy some particular requirement.

How? 

Visit the Jamaica Business Development Corporation(JBDC) or even better, call them to ask them about your particular industry. 

The last thing you want to do is start a business and then get shut down because you don’t have a special license. 

The Business Registration Process

Before you register a business in Jamaica you need to know whether it will be a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership or Corporation.

Sole Proprietorship

To be honest this is the simplest and fastest way to get your business registered, especially, if you’re a solo entrepreneur.

The registration process is pretty straightforward and just requires a few documents.

Things needed:

  • You’ll have to fill out the Business Registration Form (BRF 1) A.K.A the “Super Form”.
  • You’ll need documents to confirm/verify your address. This could be your driver’s license, passport, national ID or a recent utility bill.
  • You’ll need your TRN as well.
  • And if your particular industry requires a certification then you’ll need that too. 

Partnership/LLC

This is where things get unnecessarily complex.

Partnerships are one of the most common business entities on the island.

You would think by now the business registration process in Jamaica would be straightforward and easy to understand.

But no, the form is filled with repetitive questions asked on multiple pages. Vague and jargon-filled questions that you have no idea what is being asked unless you have a MBA in business.

Which leads to the next problem.

You need someone to explain it to you, which means you have to visit one of the Companies Office of Jamaica locations in your parish.

Then wait in a line for hours with other confused entrepreneurs struggling to understand what the registration form is asking. 

Navigating the sea of endless pages is VERY exhausting.

My business partners and I have been through this process several times.

And I dreaded the process every single time.

Look, the required documents are similar to Sole Proprietorship above, that’s easy. 

You just have to make sure each partner has their necessary documents and know equity split for each partner.

The problem is navigating the sea of pages and wondering if you’re completing the form correctly.

Corporation

Now this I understand would require more to get up and running as the business structure can become complicated.

I would suggest only going this route if you don’t have a choice, especially, if it requires more legal work.

Every business is different so you’ll probably need to think this through to see which structure fits your business.

Here’s What You Should Do To Make It A Bit Easier

Do not try to fill out any of the above forms on your own.

You will make a mistake and it will cost you more time to fix. You’ll be back and forth with the office making corrections which could cost you days.

Instead, schedule a day you know you won’t be busy to visit the nearest Companies Office of Jamaica.

The office opens at 9:00am, so make sure you’re the first one in line by reaching there at least 20 minutes before.

When it’s your time for assistance, ask the office clerk to help guide you throughout the registration process.

After you’ve submitted the form and paid the fee, it will take up to 7 business days for it to be successfully processed. 

Here are some more resources to help:

In the video below Shea Organic, explains more in depth how to register your business in Jamaica.

Getting A Bank Account For Your Jamaican Business

Okay, so you have got your business certificate which means the business is successfully registered and recognized by the Jamaican government.

It’s time to celebrate, right?

Well not yet, you’re not out of the woods yet. Sorry.

You have another hurdle to get over which is getting a business bank account.

This has been and STILL is the most frustrating part of being an entrepreneur in Jamaica.

You might think..

“I will do just cash only transactions.”

“I will just use my personal account.”

Both are short-sighted and will come back to bite you in the future. If you do cash only, you will lose out on customers who use their cards for payments.

If you use a personal account, you’re setting the business up for failure.

Business money should be separated from personal money, if the two mix you will have problems tracking your cash flow properly.

Plus, when tax filing comes around you have a hard time separating your personal expenses from the business ones.

If you have plans to grow your business to its maximum potential then you need a business account.

Problems you will encounter when opening a business account:

  • You need to get a CPA accountant to do a business projection for the next 12 months (Cost 25K-30K).
  • A business bank account can take a minimum of 4-6 weeks to open (not exaggerating, this happens).
  • When the account is created, you will have to wait weeks and months to get a card machine for transactions (again not exaggerating).
  • Oh and let’s not forget the amount of paperwork it requires. 

The reality is, Jamaican banks don’t take local entrepreneurs seriously.

You have to mentally prepare yourself for the uphill battle ahead to just get a business account.

I have yet to see a bank in Jamaica that makes the process for new entrepreneurs easy to get up and running quickly.

They all have a high barrier to entry which discourages even the most driven entrepreneur. 

One of the reasons the US does so well is because they create an ecosystem for new entrepreneurs to thrive from business registration to getting a business account in less than a week.

Conclusion

Entrepreneurs are the backbone of every economy. 

If the processes are made easier for them to get up and running quickly then more people will chase after their entrepreneurial dreams.

This leads to more jobs created, more employment and a thriving economy.

But don’t be discouraged, if you have a business idea, go for it!

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