Photos of British Virgin Islands

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 from 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: 3 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds

Terrain

coral islands relatively flat; volcanic islands steep, hilly

Elevation

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

highest point: Mount Sage 521 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

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% (male 1,921/female 2,105) (2021 est.)

Median age

total: 37.2 years

male: 37 years

female: 37.5 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 71

Birth rate

10.98 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 176

Death rate

5.3 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 187

Net migration rate

13.93 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 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: 48.5% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 2.42% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

15,000 ROAD TOWN (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

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

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

55-64 years: 0.94 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.92 male(s)/female

total population: 0.91 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 14.56 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 17.39 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 11.58 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 108

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 79.44 years

male: 77.94 years

female: 81.03 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 58

Drinking water source

improved: total: 100% of population

unimproved: total: 0% of population (2017 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.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 12 years

female: 12 years (2018)

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)

Dependency status

overseas territory of the UK; internal self-governing

Government type

parliamentary democracy; self-governing overseas territory of the UK

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: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor John J. RANKIN (since 29 January 2021)

head of government: Premier Andrew FAHIE (since 26 February 2019)

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

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 - men 12, women 3, percent of women 20%

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 [Myron WALWYN]
People's Empowerment Party or PEP [Alvin CHRISTOPHER]
Progressive Virgin Islands Movement or PVIM [Ronnie SKELTON]
Progressives United or PU [Julian FRASER]
Virgin Islands Party or VIP [Andrew FAHIE]

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 a territory of the United Kingdom, "God Save the Queen" 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 growth rate

2% (2017 est.)

1.9% (2016 est.)

1.8% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 135

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$500 million (2017 est.)

$490.2 million (2016 est.)

$481.1 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 214

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: 210

Exports - partners

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

Exports - commodities

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

Imports

$300 million NA (2017 est.)

$210 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 206

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)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 7,640

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 20.88 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 195

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 72,589

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 198.38 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 200

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: good overall telephone service; major expansion sectors include the mobile telephony and data segments, which continue to appeal to operator investment; several operators licensed to provide services within individual markets, most of them are small and localized; telecommunication contributes to overall GDP (2020)

domestic: fixed-line connections exceed 21 per 100 persons and mobile cellular subscribership is roughly 198 per 100 persons (2019)

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 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

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: 27,818

percent of population: 77.7% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 207

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 4,715

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 13 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 180

Transportation

Airports - with paved runways

total: 2 (2019)

914 to 1,523 m: 1

under 914 m: 1

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 2 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2013)

Roadways

total: 200 km (2007)

paved: 200 km (2007)

country comparison to the world: 207

Merchant marine

total: 31

by type: general cargo 4, other 27 (2020)

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