British Virgin Islands

Last updated

Coordinates: 18°26′42″N64°32′24″W / 18.44500°N 64.54000°W / 18.44500; -64.54000


Virgin Islands
"Vigilate" (Latin)
(English: "Be Vigilant")
Anthem: "God Save the King"
Territorial song: "Oh, Beautiful Virgin Islands"
British Virgin Islands on the globe (Americas centered).svg
Location of British Virgin Islands (circled in red)
British Virgin Islands - Location Map (2013) - VGB - UNOCHA.svg
Sovereign state Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Before annexation Dutch West Indies
British capture1672
Cooper Island sold to UK1905[ citation needed ]
Separate colony1960
and largest city
Road Town
18°25′53″N64°37′23″W / 18.43139°N 64.62306°W / 18.43139; -64.62306
Official languages English
Ethnic groups
(2010 [1] )
76.9% Black
5.6% Hispanic
5.4% White
5.4% Mixed
2.1% Indian
4.6% other
Government Parliamentary dependency under a constitutional monarchy
Charles III
John Rankin
David Archer
Natalio Wheatley
Legislature House of Assembly
Government of the United Kingdom
Rishi Sunak MP
Zac Goldsmith
153 km2 (59 sq mi)
 Water (%)
Highest elevation
521 m (1,709 ft)
 2019 estimate
 2010 census
28,054 [1]
260/km2 (673.4/sq mi)(68th)
GDP  (PPP)2017 estimate
$500 million [2]
 Per capita
Currency United States dollar (US$) (USD)
Time zone UTC-4:00 (AST)
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy
Driving side left
Calling code +1-284
UK postcode
ISO 3166 code VG
Internet TLD .vg

The British Virgin Islands (BVI), [3] officially the Virgin Islands, [4] are a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, to the east of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and north-west of Anguilla. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles and part of the West Indies.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with more than 50 other smaller islands and cays. [5] About 16 of the islands are inhabited. [3] The capital, Road Town, is on Tortola, the largest island, which is about 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands had a population of 28,054 at the 2010 Census, of whom 23,491 lived on Tortola; [1] current estimates put the population at 35,802 (July 2018). [3]

British Virgin Islanders are British Overseas Territories citizens and since 2002, are also British citizens.


The islands were named "Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes" by Christopher Columbus in 1493 after the legend of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. [3] [5] The name was later shortened to "the Virgin Islands". [3]

The official name of the territory is still simply the "Virgin Islands", but the prefix "British" is often used. This is commonly believed to distinguish it from the neighbouring American territory which changed its name from the "Danish West Indies" to "Virgin Islands of the United States" in 1917. However, local historians have disputed this, pointing to a variety of publications and public records dating from between 21 February 1857 and 12 September 1919 where the territory is referred to as the British Virgin Islands. [6] British Virgin Islands government publications continue to begin with the name "The territory of the Virgin Islands", and the territory's passports simply refer to the "Virgin Islands", and all laws begin with the words "Virgin Islands". Moreover, the territory's Constitutional Commission has expressed the view that "every effort should be made" to encourage the use of the name "Virgin Islands". [7] But various public and quasi-public bodies continue to use the name "British Virgin Islands" or "BVI", including BVI Finance, BVI Electricity Corporation, BVI Tourist Board, BVI Athletic Association, BVI Bar Association and others.

In 1968 the British Government issued a memorandum requiring that the postage stamps in the territory should say "British Virgin Islands" (whereas previously they had simply stated "Virgin Islands"), a practice which is still followed today. [6] This was likely to prevent confusion following on from the adoption of US currency in the territory in 1959, and the references to US currency on the stamps of the territory.


It is generally thought that the Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC to AD 200, though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC. [8] [5] [9] The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the 15th century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands.

The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by the Spanish expedition of Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas, who gave the islands their modern name. [5]

The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early 16th century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates. [5] There is no record of any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands during this period; it is thought that they either fled to safer islands or were killed. [5]

The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648, [5] frequently clashing with the Spanish who were based on nearby Puerto Rico. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the English annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. [10] Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix (i.e. the modern US Virgin Islands).

The ruins of St. Phillip's Church, Tortola, one of the most important historical ruins in the territory St Phillips Church, Tortola.jpg
The ruins of St. Phillip's Church, Tortola, one of the most important historical ruins in the territory

The British islands were considered principally a strategic possession. The British introduced sugar cane which was to become the main crop and source of foreign trade, and large numbers of slaves were forcibly brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. [5] The islands prospered economically until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States [11] significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline. [5]

In 1917, the United States purchased the Danish Virgin Islands for US$25 million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands. Economic linkages with the US islands prompted the British Virgin Islands to adopt the US dollar as its currency in 1959. [3]

The British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the British Leeward Islands or with St. Kitts and Nevis, with an administrator representing the British Government on the islands. [5] The islands gained separate colony status in 1960 and became autonomous in 1967 under the new post of Chief Minister. [5] Since the 1960s, the islands have diversified away from their traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and financial services, becoming one of the wealthiest areas in the Caribbean. [5] The constitution of the islands was amended in 1977, 2004 and 2007, giving them greater local autonomy. [5]

In 2017 Hurricane Irma struck the islands, causing four deaths and immense damage. [12]


Map of the British Virgin Islands (Note: Anegada is farther away from the other islands than shown) GB Virgin Islands.png
Map of the British Virgin Islands (Note: Anegada is farther away from the other islands than shown)

The British Virgin Islands comprise around 60 tropical Caribbean islands, ranging in size from the largest, Tortola, being 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide, to tiny uninhabited islets, altogether about 150 square kilometres (58 square miles) in extent. They are located in the Virgin Islands archipelago, a few miles east of the US Virgin Islands, and about 95 km (59 mi) from the Puerto Rican mainland. About 150 km (93 mi) east south-east lies Anguilla. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the east of the islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the west. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. [5] The highest point is Mount Sage on Tortola at 521m. [3] [5] Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group, being a flat island composed of limestone and coral. [5] [3] The British Virgin Islands contain the Leeward Islands moist forests and Leeward Islands xeric scrub terrestrial ecoregions. [13]


British Virgin Islands WV banner.jpg

The British Virgin Islands have a tropical rainforest climate, moderated by trade winds. [5] Temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily maxima are around 32 °C (89.6 °F) in the summer and 29 °C (84.2 °F) in the winter. Typical daily minima are around 26 °C (78.8 °F) in the summer and 23 °C (73.4 °F) in the winter. Rainfall averages about 1,150 mm (45.3 in) per year, higher in the hills and lower on the coast. Rainfall can be quite variable, but the wettest months on average are September to November and the driest months on average are February and March. It is amazing climate to be in, all year around

Climate data for Cyril E. King Airport (1991–2020 normals)
Average high °C (°F)28.9
Daily mean °C (°F)26.0
Average low °C (°F)23.1
Average precipitation mm (inches)67
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)15.013.510.710.611.910.914.815.815.217.318.517.4171.6
Source: NOAA [14] [15]


Hurricanes occasionally hit the islands, with the Atlantic hurricane season running from June to November.

Hurricane Irma

Damage in Road Town following Hurricane Irma Main Street Road Town after Hurricane Irma.jpg
Damage in Road Town following Hurricane Irma

On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma struck the islands, causing extensive damage, especially on Tortola, and killing four people. [16] [17] [18] The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency. [19] [20] Visiting Tortola on 13 September 2017, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that he was reminded of photos of Hiroshima after it had been hit by the atom bomb. [21]

Hurricane Maria struck a week after Hurricane Irma Post Hurricane Maria work starts on BVI MOD 45162994.jpg
Hurricane Maria struck a week after Hurricane Irma

By 8 September, the UK government sent troops with medical supplies and other aid. [22] More troops were expected to arrive a day or two later, but HMS Ocean, carrying more extensive assistance, was not expected to reach the islands for another two weeks. [23]

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, a resident of Necker Island, called on the UK government to develop a massive disaster recovery plan to include "both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending". [24] Premier Orlando Smith also called for a comprehensive aid package to rebuild the territory. On 10 September UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £32 million to the Caribbean for a hurricane relief fund and promised that the UK government would match donations from the public to the British Red Cross appeal. [25] Specifics were not provided to the news media as to the amount that would be allocated to the Virgin Islands. [19] [26] Boris Johnson's visit to Tortola on 13 September 2017 during his Caribbean tour was intended to confirm the UK's commitment to helping restore British islands but he provided no additional comments on the aid package. [27] [28] He did confirm that HMS Ocean had departed for the BVI carrying items like timber, buckets, bottled water, food, baby milk, bedding and clothing, as well as ten pickup trucks, building materials and hardware. [29]

The UK offered to underwrite rebuilding loans up to US$400m as long as there was accountability as to how the monies were spent. Successive NDP and VIP governments declined, despite there having been created a Recovery & Development Authority led by highly skilled infrastructure personnel, many of whom were ex-military with decades of infrastructure rebuilding expertise from war zones and natural disaster sites. Many wealthy residents also proposed a large rebuilding plan, starting with key infrastructure, such as the high school. Nearly five years later, there was no sign of any such rebuilding of the high school or certain other key infrastructure.


Legislative Council building in Road Town. The High Court sits upstairs. Old LegCo Building, Road Town.jpg
Legislative Council building in Road Town. The High Court sits upstairs.

The territory operates as a parliamentary democracy. [3] Ultimate executive authority in the British Virgin Islands is vested in the King, and is exercised on his behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. [3] The governor is appointed by the King on the advice of the British Government. Defence and most foreign affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom. [3]

The most recent constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007) [30] [31] and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The head of government under the constitution is the Premier (before the new constitution the office was referred to as Chief Minister), who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. Elections are held roughly every four years. A cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed and chaired by the Governor. The Legislature consists of the King (represented by the Governor) and a unicameral House of Assembly made up of 13 elected members plus the Speaker and the Attorney General. [3] [5]

The current Governor is John Rankin (since 29 January 2020). [3] The current Premier is Natalio Wheatley (since 5 May 2022), who is leader of the Virgin Islands Party [3]

On 8 June 2022, the British Government decided against direct rule for the islands. [32]


The British Virgin Islands is a unitary territory. The territory is divided into nine electoral districts, and each voter is registered in one of those districts. [33] Eight of the nine districts are partly or wholly on Tortola, and encompass nearby neighbouring islands. Only the ninth district (Virgin Gorda and Anegada) does not include any part of Tortola. At elections, in addition to voting their local representative, voters also cast votes for four "at-large" candidates who are elected upon a territory-wide basis.

The territory is also technically divided into five administrative districts (one for each of the four largest islands, with the fifth covering all other islands), and into six civil registry districts (three for Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda and Anegada) although these have little practical relevance.[ citation needed ]

Law and criminal justice

Crime in the British Virgin Islands is comparatively low by Caribbean standards. Whilst statistics and hard data are relatively rare, and are not regularly published by governmental sources in the British Virgin Islands, the Premier did announce that in 2013 there has been a 14% decline in recorded crime as against 2012. [34] Homicides are rare, [35] with just one incident recorded in 2013.

The Virgin Islands Prison Service operates a single facility, His Majesty's Prison in East End, Tortola. [36]

The British and US Virgin Islands sit at the axis of a major drugs transshipment point between Latin America and the continental United States. [3] The American Drug Enforcement Administration regards the adjacent US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area". [37] A co-operation agreement exists between the British Virgin Islands and the US Coast Guard allowing American forces to pursue suspected drug traffickers through the territorial waters of the British Virgin Islands.[ citation needed ] In August 2011 a joint raid between the American DEA and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force arrested a number of British Virgin Islands residents who are accused of being involved in major drugs transshipments, [38] although their extradition to the United States has since become stalled in protracted legal wrangling. [39]


As a British Overseas territory, defence of the islands is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. [3]


A proportional representation of British Virgin Islands exports, 2019 British Virgin Islands Product Exports (2019).svg
A proportional representation of British Virgin Islands exports, 2019
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands Roadtown, Tortola.jpg
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

The twin pillars of the economy are financial services (60%) and tourism (roughly 40-45% of GDP). [40] [3] [41] Politically, tourism is the more important of the two, as it employs a greater number of people within the territory, and a larger proportion of the businesses in the tourist industry are locally owned, as are a number of the highly tourism-dependent sole traders (for example, taxi drivers and street vendors).[ citation needed ]

Economically however, financial services associated with the territory's status as an offshore financial centre are by far the more important. [2] 51.8% of the Government's revenue comes directly from licence fees for offshore companies, and considerable further sums are raised directly or indirectly from payroll taxes relating to salaries paid within the trust industry sector (which tend to be higher on average than those paid in the tourism sector). [42]

The official currency of the British Virgin Islands has been the United States dollar (US$) since 1959, the currency also used by the United States Virgin Islands. [3]

The British Virgin Islands enjoys one of the more prosperous economies of the Caribbean region, with a per capita average income of around $42,300 (2010 est.) [43] The average monthly income earned by a worker in the territory was US$2,452 as at the time of the 2010 Census. [1] 29% of the population fell into the "low income" category.[ citation needed ]

Although it is common to hear criticism in the British Virgin Islands' press about income inequality, no serious attempt has been made by economists to calculate a Gini coefficient or similar measure of income equality for the territory. A report from 2000 suggested that, despite the popular perception, income inequality was actually lower in the British Virgin Islands than in any other OECS state, [44] although in global terms income equality is higher in the Caribbean than in many other regions.


The Baths, Virgin Gorda TheBaths VirginGorda BVI.jpg
The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Tourism accounts for approximately 45% of national income. [40] The islands are a popular destination for US citizens. [40] Tourists frequent the numerous white sand beaches, visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkel the coral reefs near Anegada, or experience the well-known bars of Jost Van Dyke. The BVI are known as one of the world's greatest sailing destinations, and charter sailboats are a very popular way to visit less accessible islands. Established in 1972, [45] the BVI hosts the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival. [46] A substantial number of the tourists who visit the BVI are cruise ship passengers, and although they produce far lower revenue per head than charter boat tourists and hotel based tourists, they are nonetheless important to the substantial - and politically important - taxi driving community. Only Virgin Islanders are permitted to work as taxi drivers.[ citation needed ]

Financial services

Financial services account for over half of the income of the territory. The majority of this revenue is generated by the licensing of offshore companies and related services. The British Virgin Islands is a significant global player in the offshore financial services industry. [47] Since 2001, financial services in the British Virgin Islands have been regulated by the independent Financial Services Commission.

The BVI is relied upon for its sophisticated Commercial Court division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, as well as the more recent BVI Arbitration Centre. Caribbean KCs and British KCs preside over the majority of important cases and the laws of the Virgin Islands are based on English laws, meaning the jurisdiction provides clarity and consistency should parties require commercial disputes to be resolved. Owing to the international nature of BVI companies' operations and asset holdings, the BVI Commercial Court routinely hears highly sophisticated matters at the cutting edge of cross-border litigation and enforcement, where billions of dollars are at issue.

Citco, also known as the Citco Group of Companies and the Curaçao International Trust Co., is a privately owned global hedge fund administrator headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, founded in 1948. [48] It is the world's largest hedge fund administrator, managing over $1 trillion in assets under administration. [49]

In May 2022, the banking sector of the British Virgin Islands comprised seven commercial banks [50] and one restricted bank, 12 authorised custodians, two licensed money services businesses and one licensed financing service provider. [51]

As such the British Virgin Islands is frequently referred to as a "tax haven" by campaigners and NGOs, including Oxfam, which itself has investment funds registered in lesser regulated jurisdictions such as Lichtenstein and Delaware [52] and has been expressly named in anti-tax-haven legislation in other countries on various occasions. [53] Successive governments in the British Virgin Islands have implemented tax exchange agreements and verified beneficial ownership information of companies following the 2013 G8 summit putting their governance and regulatory regimes far ahead of many "onshore" jurisdictions.

On 10 September 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron said "I do not think it is fair any longer to refer to any of the Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies as tax havens. They have taken action to make sure that they have fair and open tax systems. It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens." [54] [55] Yet journalist and author for The Economist, Nicholas Shaxson, writes in his 2016 Treasure Islands, tax havens and the men who stole the world: "...Britain sits, spider-like, at the centre of a vast international web of tax havens, which hoover up trillions of dollars' worth of business and capital from around the globe and funnel it up to the City of London. The British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories - ...the British Virgin Islands... are some of the biggest players in the offshore world."(pp. vii-viii) Shaxson points out that despite BVI having fewer than 25000 inhabitants, hosts over 800,000 companies. "Companies and capital migrate not where they are most productive, but to where they can get the best tax break...and the worlds top secrecy jurisdictions" (pp. 13, 16). For example, News Corporation had 62 subsidiaries in the British Virgin Islands, 33 in Cayman and 21 in Hong Kong, while the Commonwealth Development Corporation has 78 subsidiaries in tax havens including the British Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands is a "top secrecy jurisdiction, actively supported and managed from Britain and intimately linked to the City of London."(Ibid., p. 90). For these reasons, Shaxson says that "tax havens help explain why international investment flows often look so strange. The two biggest sources of foreign investment into China in 2007 were not Japan, or the US or South Korea, but Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands."(Ibid., p. 164).

In the April 2016 Panama Papers leak, while all of the wrongdoing by Mossack Fonseca personnel occurred in Panama and the US, the British Virgin Islands was by far the most commonly-used jurisdiction by clients of Mossack Fonseca. [56]

Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

On 30 June 2014, The British Virgin Islands [57] was deemed to have an Inter- Governmental Agreement (IGA) with the United States of America with respect to the "Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act" of the United States of America.

The Model 1 Agreement (14 Pages) [58] recognizes that: The Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland provided a copy of the Letter of Entrustment which was sent to the Government of the British Virgin Islands, to the Government of the United States of America "via diplomatic note of 28 May 2014".

The Letter of Entrustment dated 14 July 2010 was originally provided to the Government of the British Virgin Islands and authorised the Government of the BVI "to negotiate and conclude Agreements relating to taxation that provide for exchange of information on tax matters to the OECD standard" (Paragraph 2 of the FATCA Agreement). Via an "Entrustment Letter" dated 24 March 2014, The Government of the United Kingdom, authorised the Government of the BVI to sign an agreement on information exchange to facilitate the Implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. [58] On 27 March 2017, the US Treasury site disclosed that the Model 1 agreement and related agreement were "In Force" on 13 July 2015.

Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act

Under the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2018, beneficial ownership of companies in British overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands must be publicly registered for disclosure by 31 December 2020. [59] The Government of the British Virgin Islands plans to challenge this law, arguing that it violates the Constitutional sovereignty granted to the islands, would in practice be relatively ineffective in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing and would raise serious privacy and human rights issues. Further, this would put the British Virgin Islands in a position where it would be at a severe disadvantage because other International Finance Centres do not have this in place, and in the case of the US and the UK, there is very little near-term prospect of the same. [59]

Agriculture and industry

Agriculture and industry account for only a small proportion of the islands' GDP. [3] Agricultural produce includes fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, livestock and poultry, and industries include rum distillation, construction and boat building. Commercial fishing is also practised in the islands' waters. [5]


The British Virgin Islands is heavily dependent on migrant workers, and over 50% of all workers on the islands are of a foreign descent. Only 37% of the entire population were born in the territory. [1] The national labour-force is estimated at 12,770, of whom approximately 59.4% work in the service sector but less than 0.6% are estimated to work in agriculture (the balance working in industry). [60] [3] The British Virgin Islands has met challenges in recruiting sufficient numbers in recent years, having been affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, and having continued to lag behind other jurisdictions in providing a reliable permanent residence regime. This has had a knock-on effect in limiting schooling and amenities when compared to IFCs like Cayman, UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong.

CARICOM status and the CARICOM Single Market Economy

As of 2 July 1991, the British Virgin Islands holds Associate Member status in CARICOM, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). [61] [62]

In recognition of the CARICOM (Free Movement) Skilled Persons Act which came into effect in July 1997 in some of the CARICOM countries such as Jamaica and which has been adopted in other CARICOM countries, [63] such as Trinidad and Tobago, [64] [65] it is possible that CARICOM nationals who hold the "A Certificate of Recognition of Caribbean Community Skilled Person" may be allowed to work in the BVI under normal working conditions.


Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island Tortola-airport.jpg
Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island

There are 113 kilometres (70 mi) of roads. The main airport, Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, also known as Beef Island Airport, is located on Beef Island, which lies off the eastern tip of Tortola and is accessible by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Cape Air, and Air Sunshine are among the airlines offering scheduled service. [66] Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. Private air charter services operated by Island Birds Air Charter fly directly to all three islands from any major airport in the Caribbean. [67] Helicopters are used to get to islands with no runway facilities; Antilles Helicopter Services is the only helicopter service based in the country.

The main harbour is in Road Town. There are also ferries that operate within the British Virgin Islands and to the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands. Cars in the British Virgin Islands drive on the left just as they do in the United Kingdom and the United States Virgin Islands. However, most cars are left hand drive, [68] because they are from the United States. The roads are often quite steep, narrow and winding, and ruts, mudslides and rockfall can be a problem when it rains.


As of the 2010 Census, the population of the territory was 28,054. [1] Estimates put the population at 35,800 (July 2018) yet in 2022, it is thought to be much less than 30,000 post-Irma and with people having left during COVID lockdowns due to unemployment in the tourism industry. [3] The majority of the population (76.9%) are Afro-Caribbean, descended from slaves brought to the islands by the British. [5] Other large ethnic groups include Latinos (5.6%), those of European ancestry (5.4%), Mixed ancestry (5.4%) and Indian (2.1%). [3]

The 2010 Census reports:

*Includes Chinese, Carib/Amerindian, Filipinos and Arabs

The 2010 Census reports the main places of origin of residents as follows: [1]

The islands are heavily dependent upon migrant labour. In 2004, migrant workers accounted for 50% of the total population. [70] 32% of workers employed in the British Virgin Islands work for the government. [71]

Unusually, the territory has one of the highest drowning mortality rates in the world, being higher than other high-risk countries such as China and India. [72] 20% of deaths in the British Virgin Islands during 2012 were recorded as drownings, [73] [74] all of them being tourists. Despite this, the territory's most popular beach still has no lifeguard presence. [73] [75]


Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church in 2010 Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church 2010.jpg
Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church in 2010
Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church in 2019, after Hurricane Irma Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church 2019.jpg
Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church in 2019, after Hurricane Irma

Over 90% of the population who indicated a religious affiliation at the 2010 Census were Christian [76] [77] with the largest individual Christian denominations being Methodist (17.6%), [76] Anglican (9.5%), Church of God (10.4%) and Roman Catholic (8.9%). [1] [77] The largest non-Christian faiths in 2010 were Hinduism (1.9%) and Islam (0.9%). [77] However Hindus and Muslims constitute each approximately 1.2% of the population according to Word Religion Database 2005. [78]

The Constitution of the British Virgin Islands commences with a professed national belief in God. [79]

in % of population
National Census 2010 [1]
Church of God10.411.49.2
Seventh Day Adventist9.08.46.3
Roman Catholic8.99.510.5
Jehovah's Witnesses2.52.22.1
Not stated2.42.71.1
Salvation Army-0.030.04


The British Virgin Islands operates several government schools as well as private schools. There is also a community college, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, that is located on the eastern end of Tortola. This college was named after Lavity Stoutt, the first Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands. [80] There remains segregation in the school system; while BVIslander and Belonger children make up a significant proportion of pupils in private schools, Non-Belongers are prohibited from attending government schools. It is extremely common for students from the British Virgin Islands to travel overseas for secondary and tertiary education, either to the University of the West Indies, or to colleges and universities in either the United Kingdom, United States or Canada. Coaching in certain sports, such as athletics, squash and football is of a high level.

The literacy rate in the British Virgin Islands is high at 98%. [60]

There is a University of the West Indies Open campus in the territory and a Marine Science educational facility. [81]



The primary language is English, although there is a local dialect. [5] Spanish is spoken by Puerto Rican, Dominican and other Hispanic immigrants.


The traditional music of the British Virgin Islands is called fungi after the local cornmeal dish with the same name, often made with okra. The special sound of fungi is due to a unique local fusion between African and European music. It functions as a medium of local history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools.[ citation needed ] The fungi bands, also called "scratch bands", use instruments ranging from calabash, washboard, bongos and ukulele, to more traditional western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar, bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as well as BVI oral history. [82]


Because of its location and climate, the British Virgin Islands has long been a haven for sailing enthusiasts. Sailing is regarded as one of the foremost sports in all of the BVI. Calm waters and steady breezes provide some of the best sailing conditions in the Caribbean. [83]

Many sailing events are held in the waters of this country, the largest of which is a week-long series of races called the Spring Regatta, the premier sailing event of the Caribbean, with several races hosted each day. Boats include everything from full-size mono-hull yachts to dinghies. Captains and their crews come from all around the world to attend these races. The Spring Regatta is part race, part party, part festival. The Spring Regatta is normally held during the first week of April. [84]

Since 2009, the BVI have made a name for themselves as a host of international basketball events. The BVI hosted three of the last four events of the Caribbean Basketball Championship (FIBA CBC Championship). [85]

See also

Related Research Articles

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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are one of three political divisions of the Virgin Islands archipelago located in the Lesser Antilles, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The BVI are the easternmost part of the island chain. The land area totals and comprises 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands. The islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke are the largest. Maritime claims include 12 nmi territorial sea and a 200 nmi exclusive fishing zone. In terms of land use, it is 20% arable land, 6.67% permanent crops and 73.33% other as of a 2005 figure. It has strong ties to nearby U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Economy of the British Virgin Islands</span> Overview article

The economy of the British Virgin Islands is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean. Although tiny in absolute terms, because of the very small population of the British Virgin Islands, in 2010 the Territory had the 19th highest GDP per capita in the world according to the CIA World factbook. In global terms the size of the Territory's GDP measured in terms of purchasing power is ranked as 215th out of a total of 229 countries. The economy of the Territory is based upon the "twin pillars" of financial services, which generates approximately 60% of government revenues, and tourism, which generates nearly all of the rest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the British Virgin Islands</span> Aspect of history

The History of the British Virgin Islands is usually, for convenience, broken up into five separate periods:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virgin Gorda</span> Island which is part of the British Virgin Islands

Virgin Gorda is the third-largest island and second-most populous of the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anegada</span> Northernmost of the British Virgin Islands

Anegada is the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a group of islands that form part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands. It lies approximately 15 miles (24 km) north of Virgin Gorda. Anegada is the only inhabited British Virgin Island formed from coral and limestone, rather than being of volcanic origin. While the other islands are mountainous, Anegada is flat and low. Its highest point is only about 28 feet (8.5 m) above sea level, earning it its name, which is the Spanish term for the flooded land, "tierra anegada".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road Town</span> Capital and the largest city of the British Virgin Islands

Road Town, located on Tortola, is the capital of the British Virgin Islands. It is situated on the horseshoe-shaped Road Harbour in the centre of the island's south coast. The population was about 15,000 in 2018.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tortola</span> Largest of the British Virgin Islands

Tortola is the largest and most populated island of the British Virgin Islands, a group of islands that form part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands. It has a surface area of 55.7 square kilometres with a total population of 23,908, with 9,400 residents in Road Town. Mount Sage is its highest point at 530 metres above sea level.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jost Van Dyke</span> Smallest of the four main islands of the British Virgin Islands

Jost Van Dyke is the smallest of the four main islands of the British Virgin Islands, measuring roughly 8 square kilometres. It rests in the northern portion of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Jost Van Dyke lies about 8 km (5 mi) to the northwest of Tortola and 8 km (5 mi) to the north of Saint John. Little Jost Van Dyke lies off its eastern end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport</span> Airport in British Virgin Islands

Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, previously known as Beef Island Airport, is the main airport serving the British Virgin Islands, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean. The airport serves as the gateway to just about all of the islands within the BVI. The airport is also a gateway for inter-Caribbean travelers headed to the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands. Many travellers fly into Beef Island, with the intention of taking a ferry to the other smaller British Virgin Islands. The airport is located on Beef Island, a small island off the main island of Tortola, to which it is connected by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.

Auguste George Airport is the northernmost airport in the British Virgin Islands and is located on the island of Anegada. The airport is named for Captain Auguste George.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of the British Virgin Islands</span> Overview of and topical guide to the British Virgin Islands

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the British Virgin Islands:

Education in the British Virgin Islands is largely free and is a requirement for children ages 5 to 17. The British Virgin Islands has a total of 15 public primary schools and 4 secondary public schools. In addition to the public schools, there are 10 primary private schools and 3 secondary private schools. The School year is from September to June. The British Virgin Islands is a part of the British Overseas Territories and therefore the educational system is very similar to the traditional learning system in the United Kingdom. Primary schools are focused on establishing the basics of an academic curriculum and host students between the ages of 5 to 12. After the completion of primary school, students move on to secondary school and pre-university. Secondary school is for students between the ages of 13 and 17. Following the completion of secondary education, students may write their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate. There are approximately 2,700 students who attend primary school for the first 7 years of their required education; however less than 1,800 students successfully finish the following 4 required years of secondary school and complete their certificate exam incorrect,]. Students who chose to continue their education after the secondary education certificate may move on to an additional 2 years of schooling. Passing the exams entitles students the right to continue their studies even further at the University of the Virgin Islands. At the University, students can obtain associate, bachelors, and master's degrees in the departments of business, education, liberal arts and social sciences, or science and mathematic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamps and postal history of the British Virgin Islands</span>

The colony of the British Virgin Islands has issued its own stamps since 1866. The first Post Office was opened in Tortola in 1787. At the time postage stamps were not yet invented, and it was not until 1858 that a small supply of adhesive stamps issued by Great Britain depicting Queen Victoria were utilized by the local Post Office. These stamps were cancelled by an A13 postmark and are extremely rare so cancelled.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">VI Airlink</span>

VI Airlink is an airline from the British Virgin Islands, with its license issued under the British Overseas Territory's air requirements. It is the only Airline with airplanes registered in the B.V.I. It operates mostly chartered short-haul flights throughout the Caribbean from its base at Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island, using a fleet of three aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Healthcare in the British Virgin Islands</span>

Healthcare in the British Virgin Islands is predominantly provided by private healthcare providers with an overlay of public support. There is a single public hospital in the British Virgin Islands - Peebles Hospital in Road Town on Tortola. There is also one private hospital - the Bougainvillea clinic. On Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke, there are day clinics to serve non-emergency medical needs of residents of those islands. Although there is periodic discussion about the possibility of building another hospital on Virgin Gorda, to date there has been no commitment to doing so. For emergency medical evacuations from other islands a boat is maintained.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2017 in the British Virgin Islands</span> List of events

Events from the year 2017 in the British Virgin Islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hurricanes in the Virgin Islands</span>

The Virgin Islands are an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The islands fall into three different political jurisdictions:

Events from the year 2018 in the British Virgin Islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Effects of Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands</span>

The effects of Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands were significant in terms of both human and socio-economic impact on the Territory. Hurricane Irma struck the British Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane during the daylight hours of Wednesday, 6 September 2017. It caused widespread destruction, and killed a total of four people. The eye of the hurricane traveled over the three major islands in the group: Virgin Gorda, Tortola and Jost Van Dyke.


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