Photos of British Virgin Islands

Satellite image showing many of the main islands that make up the British Virgin Islands. The capital of Road Town is clearly visible as the built up area surrounding Road Bay on the island of Tortola. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Introduction

Background

First inhabited by Arawak and later by Carib Indians, the Virgin Islands were settled by the Dutch in 1648 and then annexed by the English in 1672. The islands were part of the British colony of the Leeward Islands (1872-1960); they were granted autonomy in 1967. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west, and the US dollar is the legal currency. In 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated the island of Tortola. An estimated 80% of residential and business structures were destroyed or damaged, communications disrupted, and local roads rendered impassable.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico

Geographic coordinates

18 30 N, 64 30 W

Map references

Central America and the Caribbean

Area

total: 151 sq km

land: 151 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: comprised of 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands; includes the islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke

comparison ranking: total 220

Area - comparative

about 0.9 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds

Terrain

coral islands relatively flat; volcanic islands steep, hilly

Elevation

highest point: Mount Sage 521 m

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

Natural resources

NEGL; pleasant climate, beaches foster tourism

Land use

agricultural land: 46.7% (2018 est.)

arable land: 6.7% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 6.7% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 33.3% (2018 est.)

forest: 24.3% (2018 est.)

other: 29% (2018 est.)

Population distribution

a fairly even distribution throughout the inhabited islands, with the largest islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke having the largest populations

Natural hazards

hurricanes and tropical storms (July to October)

Geography - note

strong ties to nearby US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

People and Society

Population

total: 40,102

male: 19,042

female: 21,060 (2024 est.)

comparison rankings: female 212; male 213; total 213

Nationality

noun: British Virgin Islander(s)

adjective: British Virgin Islander

Ethnic groups

African/Black 76.3%, Latino 5.5%, White 5.4%, mixed 5.3%, Indian 2.1%, East Indian 1.6%, other 3%, unspecified 0.8% (2010 est.)

Languages

English (official), Virgin Islands Creole

Religions

Protestant 70.2% (Methodist 17.6%, Church of God 10.4%, Anglican 9.5%, Seventh Day Adventist 9.0%, Pentecostal 8.2%, Baptist 7.4%, New Testament Church of God 6.9%, other Protestant 1.2%), Roman Catholic 8.9%, Jehovah's Witness 2.5%, Hindu 1.9%, other 6.2%, none 7.9%, unspecified 2.4% (2010 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 16.6% (male 3,298/female 3,351)

15-64 years: 71.3% (male 13,455/female 15,152)

65 years and over: 12.1% (2024 est.) (male 2,289/female 2,557)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 32.8

youth dependency ratio: 20.2

elderly dependency ratio: 12.6

potential support ratio: 8 (2021)

Median age

total: 38.5 years (2024 est.)

male: 38.1 years

female: 38.9 years

comparison ranking: total 74

Population growth rate

1.82% (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 47

Birth rate

10.9 births/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 168

Death rate

5.5 deaths/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 183

Net migration rate

12.9 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 4

Population distribution

a fairly even distribution throughout the inhabited islands, with the largest islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke having the largest populations

Urbanization

urban population: 49.7% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.73% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Major urban areas - population

15,000 ROAD TOWN (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 0.98 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.89 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.9 male(s)/female

total population: 0.9 male(s)/female (2024 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 13.4 deaths/1,000 live births (2024 est.)

male: 16 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 10.7 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 105

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 80.1 years (2024 est.)

male: 78.6 years

female: 81.7 years

comparison ranking: total population 57

Total fertility rate

1.38 children born/woman (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 213

Gross reproduction rate

0.67 (2024 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: total: 99.9% of population

unimproved: total: 0.1% of population (2020 est.)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 97.5% of population

rural: 97.5% of population

total: 97.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 2.5% of population

rural: 2.5% of population

total: 2.5% of population (2015 est.)

Education expenditures

2.6% of GDP (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 172

Literacy

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 12 years

female: 12 years (2018)

Environment

Environment - current issues

limited natural freshwater resources except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola; most of the islands' water supply comes from desalination plants; sewage and mining/industry waste contribute to water pollution, threatening coral reefs

Climate

subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds

Land use

agricultural land: 46.7% (2018 est.)

arable land: 6.7% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 6.7% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 33.3% (2018 est.)

forest: 24.3% (2018 est.)

other: 29% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 49.7% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.73% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Air pollutants

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.21 megatons (2016 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 21,099 tons (2000 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: British Virgin Islands

abbreviation: BVI

etymology: the myriad islets, cays, and rocks surrounding the major islands reminded explorer Christopher COLUMBUS in 1493 of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgin followers (Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes), which over time shortened to the Virgins (las Virgenes)

Government type

Overseas Territory of the UK with limited self-government; parliamentary democracy

Dependency status

overseas territory of the UK; internal self-governing

Capital

name: Road Town

geographic coordinates: 18 25 N, 64 37 W

time difference: UTC-4 (1 hour ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: name refers to the nautical term "roadstead" or "roads," a body of water less sheltered than a harbor but where ships can lie reasonably safely at anchor sheltered from rip currents, spring tides, or ocean swells

Administrative divisions

none (overseas territory of the UK)

Independence

none (overseas territory of the UK)

National holiday

Territory Day, 1 July (1956)

Constitution

history: several previous; latest effective 15 June 2007 (The Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007)

amendments: initiated by any elected member of the House of Assembly; passage requires simple majority vote by the elected members of the Assembly and assent by the governor on behalf of the monarch; amended 2015

Legal system

English common law

Citizenship

see United Kingdom

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: King CHARLES III (since 8 September 2022); represented by Governor Daniel PRUCE (since 29 January 2024)

head of government: Premier Dr. Natalio WHEATLEY (since 5 May 2022)

cabinet: Executive Council appointed by the governor from members of the House of Assembly

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition usually appointed premier by the governor

note; on 5 May 2022, Premier Andrew FAHIE was removed from office by a no confidence vote in House of Assembly following his arrest on drug trafficking and money laundering charges on 28 April 2022; Premier Dr. Natalio WHEATLEY sworn in as premier on 5 May 2022

Legislative branch

description: unicameral House of Assembly (15 seats; 13 members - 9 in single-seat constituencies and 4 members in a single, nationwide constituency directly elected by simple majority vote and 2 ex-officio members - the attorney general and the speaker - chosen from outside the House; members serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 24 April 2023 (next to be held in 2027)

election results: percent of vote by party - VIP 39.6%, NDP 29.1, PVIM 15.7%, PU 5%, independent 10.6%; seats by party - VIP 6, NDP 3, PVIM 3, PU 1; composition - men NA, women NA, percentage women NA%; note - percentages reflect 9 elected single seat constituencies, seat total includes four nationwide at-large elected members

Judicial branch

highest court(s): the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) is the superior court of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States; the ECSC - headquartered on St. Lucia - consists of the Court of Appeal - headed by the chief justice and 4 judges - and the High Court with 18 judges; the Court of Appeal is itinerant, traveling to member states on a schedule to hear appeals from the High Court and subordinate courts; High Court judges reside in the member states, with 3 in the British Virgin Islands

judge selection and term of office: Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court chief justice appointed by His Majesty, King Charles III; other justices and judges appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission; Court of Appeal justices appointed for life with mandatory retirement at age 65; High Court judges appointed for life with mandatory retirement at age 62

subordinate courts: Magistrates' Courts

Political parties and leaders

National Democratic Party or NDP [Marlon PENN]
Progressive Virgin Islands Movement or PVIM [Ronnie SKELTON]
Progressives United or PU [Julian FRASER]
Virgin Islands Party or VIP [Natalio WHEATLEY]

International organization participation

ACS (associate), Caricom (associate), CDB, Interpol (subbureau), IOC, OECS, UNESCO (associate), UPU

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (overseas territory of the UK)

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (overseas territory of the UK)

Flag description

blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Virgin Islander coat of arms centered in the outer half of the flag; the coat of arms depicts a woman flanked on either side by a vertical column of six oil lamps above a scroll bearing the Latin word VIGILATE (Be Watchful); the islands were named by COLUMBUS in 1493 in honor of Saint Ursula and her 11 virgin followers (some sources say 11,000) who reputedly were martyred by the Huns in the 4th or 5th century; the figure on the banner holding a lamp represents the saint; the other lamps symbolize her followers

National symbol(s)

zenaida dove, white cedar flower; national colors: yellow, green, red, white, blue

National anthem

note: as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, "God Save the King" is official (see United Kingdom)

Economy

Economic overview

British Caribbean island territorial economy; strong tourism and services industries; vulnerable to hurricanes; navigating public debt insolvency since 2008 Crisis; considered a tax haven; high electrification costs; major rum exporter

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$500 million (2017 est.)
$490.2 million (2016 est.)
$481.1 million (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 213

Real GDP growth rate

2% (2017 est.)
1.9% (2016 est.)
1.8% (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 165

Real GDP per capita

$34,200 (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 66

GDP (official exchange rate)

$1.38 billion (2018 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

4.2% (2022 est.)
2.8% (2021 est.)
0.4% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 61

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 0.2% (2017 est.)

industry: 6.8% (2017 est.)

services: 93.1% (2017 est.)

comparison rankings: services 5; industry 217; agriculture 217

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 25.1% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 7.5% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 21.7% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 20.4% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 94.7% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -69.4% (2017 est.)

Agricultural products

fruits, vegetables; livestock, poultry; fish

Industries

tourism, light industry, construction, rum, concrete block, offshore banking center

Industrial production growth rate

1.1% (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 146

Unemployment rate

2.9% (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 36

Budget

revenues: $400 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: $400 million (2017 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

0% (of GDP) (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 46

Taxes and other revenues

38.9% (of GDP) (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 15

Exports

$23 million (2017 est.)
$23 million (2015 est.)

note: Data are in current year dollars and do not include illicit exports or re-exports.

comparison ranking: 216

Exports - partners

Malta 30%, Seychelles 29%, Switzerland 14% (2019)

Exports - commodities

aircraft, recreational boats, ships, hydrogen, halogens (2021)

Imports

$300 million (2017 est.) NA
$210 million (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 208

Imports - partners

Germany 32%, United States 22%, Italy 9%, France 7%, Seychelles 7% (2019)

Imports - commodities

recreational boats, aircraft, refined petroleum, cars, furniture (2019)

Debt - external

$36.1 million (1997)

comparison ranking: 198

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2021)

Electricity

installed generating capacity: 33,000 kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 116.298 million kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 22.5 million kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: imports 148; exports 136; installed generating capacity 200; transmission/distribution losses 31; consumption 194

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 98.8% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 0.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 1% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

Coal

production: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 0 metric tons (2019 est.)

Petroleum

total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 1,200 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 161

Refined petroleum products - exports

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 124

Refined petroleum products - imports

1,227 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 199

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

173,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 173,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 205

Energy consumption per capita

80.136 million Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 74

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 23,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 73 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 172

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 38,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 121 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 210

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: the telecom sector has seen a decline in subscriber numbers (particularly for prepaid mobile services the mainstay of short term visitors) and revenue; fixed and mobile broadband services are two areas that have benefited from the crisis as employees and students have resorted to working from home; one major casualty may be the region’s second largest telco operator, Digicel; the company filed for bankruptcy in the US in April 2020; it continues to operate in all of its Caribbean markets as it seeks to refinance billions of dollars of debt; the other major telco, regional incumbent Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), is experiencing similar drops in subscriber numbers and revenue; CWC is expanding and enhancing its fixed and mobile networks in many of the countries it serves around the Caribbean, despite many locations being small islands with very small populations; one area of the telecom market that is not prepared for growth is 5G mobile; governments, regulators, and even the mobile network operators have shown that they have not been investing in 5G opportunities at the present time; network expansion and enhancements remain concentrated around improving LTE coverage. (2021)

domestic: fixed-line connections exceed 22 per 100 persons and mobile cellular subscribership is roughly 110 per 100 persons (2021)

international: country code - 1-284; landing points for PCCS, ECFS, CBUS, Deep Blue Cable, East-West, PAN-AM, Americas-1, Southern Caribbean Fiber, Columbus- IIb, St Thomas - St Croix System, Taino-Carib, and Americas I- North via submarine cable to Caribbean, Central and South America, and US (2019)

Broadcast media

1 private TV station; multi-channel TV is available from cable and satellite subscription services; about a half-dozen private radio stations

Internet users

total: 24,087 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 77.7% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 211

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 6,738 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 22 (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 182

Transportation

Airports

3 (2024)

comparison ranking: 195

Heliports

1 (2024)

Roadways

total: 200 km

paved: 200 km (2007)

comparison ranking: total 209

Merchant marine

total: 29 (2023)

by type: general cargo 3, other 26

comparison ranking: total 137

Ports

total ports: 1 (2024)

large: 0

medium: 1

small: 0

very small: 0

ports with oil terminals: 1

key ports: Road Harbor

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the UK

Transnational Issues

Illicit drugs

transshipment point for South American narcotics destined for the US and Europe; large offshore financial center makes it vulnerable to money laundering