British Virgin Islands
Overseas territory of the United Kingdom
|Motto: "Vigilate" (Latin)
|Anthem: God Save the Queen (official)
Territorial song: Oh, Beautiful Virgin Islands (official)
and largest city
|Government||British Overseas Territoryc|
|-||Governor||William Boyd McCleary|
|-||Deputy Governor||Vivian Inez Archibald|
|-||Responsible Ministerd (UK)||Mark Simmonds MP|
|Legislature||House of Assembly|
|British Overseas Territory|
|-||Total||153 km2 (216th)
59 sq mi
|-||2005 census||27,000 (212th)|
|Currency||United States dollar (
|Time zone||AST (UTC-4)|
|-||Summer (DST)||not observed (UTC-4)|
|a.||Mostly British and Portuguese.|
|b.||Mostly Puerto Ricans.|
|c.||Parliamentary democratic dependency under constitutional monarchy.|
|d.||For the Overseas Territories.|
The Virgin Islands, commonly known as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), is a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, the remaining islands constitute the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands.
The official name of the Territory is still simply the "Virgin Islands", but the prefix "British" is often used 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. British Virgin Islands government publications continue to begin with the name "The Territory of the Virgin Islands", 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".
The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands have a population of about 27,800, of whom approximately 23,000 live on Tortola.
British Virgin Islanders are classed as British Overseas Territories citizens and since 2002 have had full British citizenship. Although the territory is not part of the European Union and not directly subject to EU law, its citizens are deemed to be citizens of the EU as well.
The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC). 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, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named.
The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula.
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. There is no record of any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands during this period, although the native population on nearby Saint Croix was decimated.
The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the English annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix.
The British islands were considered principally a strategic possession, but were planted when economic conditions were particularly favourable. The British introduced sugar cane which was to become the main crop and source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. The islands prospered economically until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the Territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline.
In 1917, the United States purchased St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix from Denmark for US$25 million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands.
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. The island gained separate colony status in 1960 and became autonomous in 1967. 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.
The British Virgin Islands comprise around sixty tropical Caribbean islands, ranging in size from the largest, Tortola 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide, to tiny uninhabited islets. They are located in the Virgin Islands archipelago, a few miles east of the US Virgin Islands. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north of the islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat island composed of limestone and coral.
See also Islands of the British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical climate, moderated by trade winds. 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 24 °C (75.2 °F) in the summer and 21 °C (69.8 °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. Hurricanes occasionally hit the islands, with the hurricane season running from June to November.
|Climate data for Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands|
|Record high °C (°F)||33
|Average high °C (°F)||26
|Average low °C (°F)||20
|Record low °C (°F)||17
|Precipitation mm (inches)||74.2
Executive authority in British Virgin Islands is vested in The Queen and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.
A new constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007) and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the new constitution is the Premier (prior to 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. A Cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed by the Governor. The Legislature consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor) and a unicameral House of Assembly made up of 13 elected members plus the Speaker and the Attorney-General.
The British Virgin Islands is divided into 9 electoral districts. 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. The Territory is also technically divided into 5 administrative districts (one for each of the four largest islands, and then a fifth for all other islands), and into 6 civil registry districts (three for Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda and Anegada) although these have little practical relevance today.
Law and criminal justice
The British Virgin Islands are a major target for drug traffickers, who use the area as a gateway to the United States. According to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, "Problems associated with drug trafficking are potentially the most serious threat to stability in the BVI". In August 2011 a joint raid between the American DEA and local British Virgin Islands police arrested a number of residents who are accused of being involved in major drugs transshipments.
The "twin pillars" of the economy are tourism and financial services. 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). Economically however, financial services associated with the territory's status as an offshore financial centre are by far the more important. 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).
Tourism accounts for approximately 45% of national income. The islands are a popular destination for US citizens. In 2006 a total of 825,603 people visited the islands (of whom 443,987 were cruise ship passengers). 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. Every year since 1972 the BVI has hosted the Spring Regatta, which is a seven-day collection of sailing races throughout the islands. A substantial number of the tourists who visit the BVI are cruise ship passengers, 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.
By 2012 "the British Virgin Islands were recognized as "a particularly successful hideaway, thanks to the exceptional secrecy on offer. This Caribbean territory, which is ultimately controlled by the UK, has sold more than a million anonymously-owned offshore entities since launching itself in 1984 as a tax haven." 
By 2000 KPMG reported in its survey of offshore jurisdictions for the United Kingdom government that over 41% of the world's offshore companies were formed in the British Virgin Islands. Since 2001, financial services in the British Virgin Islands have been regulated by the independent Financial Services Commission. While at one time the BVI was well regarded as a good domicile for captive insurance services, this changed beginning in recent years with the change of insurance regulators in 2007 and the government's increasing pressure to hire only locals ("belongers") in the insurance industry. Official reports from the Financial Services Commission reflect as of 30 June 2012 only 161 captives in the BVI. Beginning in 2008 there was a mass exodus of captives for other Caribbean jurisdictions such as Nevis and Anguilla.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists collaborated with major international media outlets in a research effort to uncover an "extraordinary global network" of companies with nominee directors most of them British, with companies located in places like the British Virgin Islands. Twenty-eight nominee directors were linked 21,500 companies keeping their commercial transactions in the shadows to avoid taxation and to conceal assets.
In March, 2013, a list of the owners of secret offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands was released. In 2013, International Consortium for Investigative Journalists released the results of a 15 month long investigation based on 260 gigabytes of data regarding the ownership of secret offshore bank accounts. The data was obtained by Gerard Ryle as a result of his investigation into the Firepower scandal. The ICIJ partnered with the The Guardian, BBC, Le Monde, the Washington Post, SonntagsZeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung and NDR to produce an investigative series on offshore banking. ICIJ and partnering agencies used the ownership information to report on government corruption across the globe, tax avoidance schemes used by wealthy people, the use of secret offshore accounts in Ponzi Schemes, the active role of major banks in facilitating secrecy for their clients, and the strategies and actors that make these activities possible
Substantial revenues are also generated by the registration of offshore companies. According to official statistics 447,801 BVI companies were 'active' (i.e. incorporated and not yet struck-off, liquidated or dissolved) as of 30 June 2012. There are no recent official statistics on total numbers of incorporations (including struck, liquidated and dissolved companies) but these are estimated at approximately 950,000. The BVI is also the second largest domicile for formation of offshore investment funds (behind the Cayman Islands), with 2,422 licensed open-ended funds as of 30 June 2012 (there is no official statistics for closed-ended funds which are not licensed in BVI).
Agriculture and industry
Agriculture and industry account for only a small proportion of the islands' GDP. Agricultural produce includes fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, livestock and poultry, and industries include rum distillation, construction and boat building.
The British Virgin Islands is heavily dependent on migrant workers, and over 50% of all workers on the islands are of a foreign descent. 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 estimate to work in agriculture (the balance in industry).
The population of the Islands is around 21,730 in 2003. The majority of the population (83%) are Afro-Caribbean, descended from the slaves brought to the islands by the British. Other large ethnic groups include those of British and other European origin.
The 2004 Census reports:
- 83.4% African
- 7% European/Caucasian
- 9.6% Others*
* Includes Indian, Carib/Amerindian, Black/Carib mixed, and mixed-race Hispanic
About 5% of the population is of Hispanic origin, regardless of race, primarily from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The territory has also been recently relieving immigrants from many islands in Lesser Antilles. The islands are heavily dependent upon migrant labour. In 2004, migrant workers accounted for 50% of the total population. 32% of workers employed in the British Virgin Islands work for the Government.
The islands are overwhelmingly Christian (84%) with the largest individual Christian denominations being Methodist (23%), Anglican (12%), Church of God (11%) and Catholic (9%).Muslims and Hindus constitute each approximately 1.2% of the population according to Word Religion Database 2005.
|Church of God||11.4||9.2|
|Seventh Day Adventist||8.4||6.3|
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. American Eagle, Cape Air, LIAT and Air Sunshine are amongst the airlines offering scheduled service. Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. Island Birds Air Charter flies directly to all three islands from any major airport. 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. As in the UK, cars in the British Virgin Islands drive on the left, however they differ in that nearly all cars are left hand drive, being imported from the United States. The roads are often quite steep, narrow and winding, and ruts can be a problem when it rains.
Cyril E. King Airport in the US Virgin Islands has flights to a wider range of destinations, so is also used for travelling to the British Virgin Islands.
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 Honourable Lavity Stoutt (Chief Minister).
The literacy rate in the British Virgin Islands is a relatively high 98%.
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. 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.
This is 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 globe to attend these races. The Spring Regatta is part race, part party, part festival. There are races, games, and music during the day, and some partying at night. The Spring Regatta is normally held during the first week of April.
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. 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. The popular singer Iyaz is from the British Virgin Islands. In the music video for his song Replay he had the flag of the British Virgin Islands in the background.
- The Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 (which refers to the territory as the "Virgin Islands" – not, for the avoidance of doubt, as the "British Virgin Islands").
- Report of Virgin Islands Constitutional Commissioners 2005
- "EU relations with Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)," European Commission website, accessed 5 December 2012
- Wilson, Samuel M. ed. The Indigenous People of the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997. ISBN 0-8130-1692-4
- In the United Kingdom, a major market for sugar from the Territory, the Sugar Duties Act 1846 also created a considerable downward effect on the price of Caribbean sugar cane.
- "Virgin Gorda historic weather averages in British Virgin Islands". Intellicast. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- Explanatory Memorandum to the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007
- The Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007
- British Virgin Islands Country Profile, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- US Justice Department (25 August 2011). "Thirteen Indicted for Airdropping Multi-Hundred Kilogram Quantities of Cocaine in the Caribbean Sea and for Money Laundering Offenses". Retrieved 2012-03-19.
- Ben Fox (9 May 2009). "Islands resent crackdown of the tax havens by G-20". Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-10-11.
- CIA. Economy: British Virgin Islands. The World Factbook, CIA publications, 19 December. 2006. Retrieved 25 December. 2006.
- Leigh, James; Ball, Harold (25 November 2012). "Offshore secrets revealed: the shadowy side of a booming industry". The Guardian. Retrieved March 2013.
- "Q2 2012 BVIFSC Statistical Bulletin".
- Leigh, David (4 April 2013). "PM of Georgia among owners of secret firms in British Virgin Islands: As fresh names emerge, senior Lib Dem politician says British Virgin Islands offshore haven 'stains".
- Pitzke, Marc. "Offshore Leaks: Vast Web of Tax Evasion Exposed". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "Offshore secrets: what is the Guardian investigation based on?". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze". http://www.icij.org. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- The Times. "British Virgin Islands – workforce". Retrieved 2012-03-19.
- "National Population Census Report 2001 – The British Virgin Islands" (PDF). Caribbean Community Secretariat. 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- cited in "Mapping the Global Muslim Population" (PDF). Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- British Virgin Islands (British Overseas Territory)
- British Virgin Islands Schools, BVI Government website
- "The Best Sailing". Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- Penn, Dexter J.A. Music of the British Virgin Islands: Fungi. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
|Find more about British Virgin Islands at Wikipedia's sister projects|
|Definitions and translations from Wiktionary|
|Media from Commons|
|Learning resources from Wikiversity|
|News stories from Wikinews|
|Quotations from Wikiquote|
|Source texts from Wikisource|
|Textbooks from Wikibooks|
|Travel guide from Wikivoyage|
- British Virgin Islands from UCB Libraries GovPubs
- British Virgin Islands at the Open Directory Project
- NGO sources
- "Non-Self-Governing Territories listed by General Assembly in 2002". United Nations Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization. Retrieved 10 March 2005.
- Official sites and overviews
- The Government of the British Virgin Islands (official government site)
- The Government of the BVI, London Office — Official government site
- HM Governor's Office in the British Virgin Islands
- Old Government House Museum, British Virgin Islands
- British Virgin Islands Tourist Board
- The British Virgin Islands Ports Authority — Official site
- National Parks Trust of the British Virgin Islands — Official site
- British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission — Official site
- British Virgin Islands entry at The World Factbook
- Wikimedia content
|Wikivoyage has travel information related to: British Virgin Islands|
Read in another language
This page is available in 89 languages
- Беларуская (тарашкевіца)
- Bikol Central
- বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী
- Bahasa Indonesia
- Basa Jawa
- Bahasa Melayu
- Norsk bokmål
- Norsk nynorsk
- Simple English
- Српски / srpski
- Srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски
- Basa Sunda
- ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche
- Tiếng Việt