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.
Country Flag
Country Map
Special Country Products
Locator Map

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; the US dollar is the legal currency. On 6 September 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

country comparison to the world: 219

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

Map description

British Virgin Islands map showing the many islands that make up this UK territory in the Caribbean Sea.

People and Society

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)

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: 16.48% (male 3,088/female 3,156)

15-24 years: 12.22% (male 2,212/female 2,418)

25-54 years: 47.84% (male 8,476/female 9,652)

55-64 years: 12.83% (male 2,242/female 2,521)

65 years and over: 10.63% (2021 est.) (male 1,921/female 2,105)

2022 population pyramid
2022 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Median age

total: 37.2 years

male: 37 years

female: 37.5 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 71

Birth rate

10.95 births/1,000 population (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 171

Death rate

5.38 deaths/1,000 population (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 186

Net migration rate

13.56 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 5

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: 49.3% of total population (2022)

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

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

15-24 years: 0.92 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.88 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.93 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.76 male(s)/female

total population: 0.91 male(s)/female (2022 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 14.16 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 16.89 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 11.28 deaths/1,000 live births (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 107

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 79.67 years

male: 78.17 years

female: 81.25 years (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 57

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.)

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

Air pollutants

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.21 megatons (2016 est.)

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: 49.3% of total population (2022)

rate of urbanization: 1.73% annual rate of change (2020-25 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 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 John J. RANKIN (since 29 January 2021)

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 removed 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 at-large seats 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 25 February 2019 (next to be held in 2023)

election results: percent of vote by party - VIP 46.5%, NDP 28.2%, PVIM 17.4%, PU 8%; seats by party - VIP 8, NDP 3, PVIM 1, PU 1; composition as of March 2022 - men 11, women 4, percent of women 26.7%

Judicial branch

highest courts: 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 Her Majesty, Queen ELIZABETH II; 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

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

The economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, which generates an estimated 45% of the national income. More than 934,000 tourists, mainly from the US, visited the islands in 2008. Because of traditionally close links with the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands has used the US dollar as its currency since 1959.

 

Livestock raising is the most important agricultural activity; poor soils limit the islands' ability to meet domestic food requirements.

 

In the mid-1980s, the government began offering offshore registration to companies wishing to incorporate in the islands, and incorporation fees now generate substantial revenues. Roughly 400,000 companies were on the offshore registry by yearend 2000. The adoption of a comprehensive insurance law in late 1994, which provides a blanket of confidentiality with regulated statutory gateways for investigation of criminal offenses, made the British Virgin Islands even more attractive to international business.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$500 million (2017 est.)

$490.2 million (2016 est.)

$481.1 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 213

Real GDP growth rate

2% (2017 est.)

1.9% (2016 est.)

1.8% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 134

GDP (official exchange rate)

$1.028 billion (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 0.2% (2017 est.)

industry: 6.8% (2017 est.)

services: 93.1% (2017 est.)

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

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 0.6%

industry: 40%

services: 59.4% (2005)

Budget

revenues: 400 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: 400 million (2017 est.)

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Current account balance

$362.6 million (2011 est.)

$279.8 million (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 55

Exports

$23 million (2017 est.)

$23 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 216

Exports - partners

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

Exports - commodities

recreational boats, aircraft, diamonds, paintings, precious stones (2019)

Imports

$300 million (2017 est.) NA

$210 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 209

Imports - partners

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

Imports - commodities

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

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

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.)

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 barrels/day (2018 est.)

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

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

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.)

country comparison to the world: 205

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 7,000 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 23 (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 194

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 35,163 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 116 (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 211

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 24 per 100 persons and mobile cellular subscribership is roughly 116 per 100 persons (2020)

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)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced a downturn, particularly in mobile device production; progress towards 5G implementation has resumed, as well as upgrades to infrastructure; consumer spending on telecom services has increased due to the surge in demand for capacity and bandwidth; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home is still evident, and the spike in this area has seen growth opportunities for development of new tools and increased services

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: 23,585 (2020 est.)

percent of population: 78% (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 209

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 6,738 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 22 (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 182

Transportation

Airports - with paved runways

total: 2

914 to 1,523 m: 1

under 914 m: 1 (2021)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 2

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2021)

Roadways

total: 200 km (2007)

paved: 200 km (2007)

country comparison to the world: 207

Merchant marine

total: 30

by type: general cargo 3, other 27 (2021)

country comparison to the world: 133

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): 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