Photos of Virgin Islands

Introduction

Background

The Danes secured control over the southern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Sugarcane, produced by African slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish holdings, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the northern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas and Saint John and inflicted severe damage to structures, roads, the airport on Saint Thomas, communications, and electricity. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria passed over the island of Saint Croix in the southern Virgin Islands, inflicting considerable damage with heavy winds and flooding rains.

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

Geography

Location

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

Geographic coordinates

18 20 N, 64 50 W

Map references

Central America and the Caribbean

Area

total: 1,910 sq km

land: 346 sq km

water: 1,564 sq km

country comparison to the world: 181

Area - comparative

twice the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

188 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

subtropical, tempered by easterly trade winds, relatively low humidity, little seasonal temperature variation; rainy season September to November

Terrain

mostly hilly to rugged and mountainous with little flat land

Elevation

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

highest point: Crown Mountain 474 m

Natural resources

pleasant climate, beaches foster tourism

Land use

agricultural land: 11.5% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.9% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.7% (2018 est.)

forest: 57.4% (2018 est.)

other: 31.1% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

1 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

while overall population density throughout the islands is relatively low, concentrations appear around Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas and Christiansted on St. Croix

Natural hazards

several hurricanes in recent years; frequent and severe droughts and floods; occasional earthquakes

Geography - note

important location along the Anegada Passage - a key shipping lane for the Panama Canal; Saint Thomas has one of the best natural deepwater harbors in the Caribbean

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Virgin Islander(s) (US citizens)

adjective: Virgin Islander

Ethnic groups

Black 76%, White 15.6%, Asian 1.4%, other 4.9%, mixed 2.1% (2010 est.)

note: 17.4% self-identify as Latino

Languages

English 71.6%, Spanish or Spanish Creole 17.2%, French or French Creole 8.6%, other 2.5% (2010 est.)

Religions

Protestant 59% (Baptist 42%, Episcopalian 17%), Roman Catholic 34%, other 7%

Age structure

0-14 years: 19.71% (male 10,671/female 10,192)

15-24 years: 10.16% (male 5,219/female 5,535)

25-54 years: 36.07% (male 17,844/female 20,342)

55-64 years: 14.24% (male 7,222/female 7,859)

65 years and over: 19.82% (male 9,424/female 11,562) (2021 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 66

youth dependency ratio: 32

elderly dependency ratio: 34

potential support ratio: 2.9 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 41.8 years

male: 40.6 years

female: 42.8 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 42

Birth rate

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

country comparison to the world: 161

Death rate

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

country comparison to the world: 69

Net migration rate

-7.42 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 214

Population distribution

while overall population density throughout the islands is relatively low, concentrations appear around Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas and Christiansted on St. Croix

Urbanization

urban population: 96% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: -0.11% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

52,000 CHARLOTTE AMALIE (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 0.95 male(s)/female

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

55-64 years: 0.91 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female

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

Infant mortality rate

total: 7.81 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 8.82 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 6.74 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 157

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 80.05 years

male: 76.84 years

female: 83.45 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 51

Drinking water source

improved: total: 98.7% of population

unimproved: total: 1.3% of population (2017 est.)

Sanitation facility access

improved: total: 100% of population

unimproved: total: 100% of population (2017 est.)

Environment

Environment - current issues

lack of natural freshwater resources; protection of coral reefs; solid waste management; coastal development; increased boating and overfishing

Climate

subtropical, tempered by easterly trade winds, relatively low humidity, little seasonal temperature variation; rainy season September to November

Land use

agricultural land: 11.5% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.9% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.7% (2018 est.)

forest: 57.4% (2018 est.)

other: 31.1% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 96% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: -0.11% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 146,500 tons (2012 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Virgin Islands

former: Danish West Indies

abbreviation: VI

etymology: the myriad islets, cays, and rocks surrounding the major islands reminded 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

unincorporated organized territory of the US with policy relations between the Virgin Islands and the federal government under the jurisdiction of the Office of Insular Affairs, US Department of the Interior

Government type

republican form of government with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches; unincorporated organized territory of the US with local self-government

Capital

name: Charlotte Amalie

geographic coordinates: 18 21 N, 64 56 W

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

etymology: originally called Taphus in Danish - meaning "tap house" or "beer house" because of its many beer halls - the town received a more dignified name in 1691 when it was named Charlotte Amalie in honor of Danish King Christian V’s wife, Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel (1650–1714)

Administrative divisions

none (territory of the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are 3 islands at the second order; Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas

Independence

none (territory of the US)

National holiday

Transfer Day (from Denmark to the US), 31 March (1917)

Constitution

history: 22 July 1954 - the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands functions as a constitution for this US territory

amendments: amended several times, last in 2012

Legal system

US common law

Citizenship

see United States

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal; note - island residents are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections

Executive branch

chief of state: President Joseph R. BIDEN Jr. (since 20 January 2021); Vice President Kamala D. HARRIS (since 20 January 2021)

head of government: Governor Albert BRYAN, Jr. (since 7 January 2019), Lieutenant Governor Tregenza ROACH (since 7 January 2019)

cabinet: Territorial Cabinet appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate

elections/appointments: president and vice president indirectly elected on the same ballot by an Electoral College of 'electors' chosen from each state; president and vice president serve a 4-year term (eligible for a second term); under the US Constitution, residents of the Virgin Islands do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in the Democratic and Republican presidential primary elections; governor and lieutenant governor directly elected on the same ballot by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 4-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 6 November 2018 with a runoff on 20 November 2018 (next to be held in November 2022)

election results:

Albert BRYAN, Jr. elected governor in the second round; percent of vote in first round - Albert BRYAN, Jr. (Democratic Party) 38.1%, Kenneth MAPP (independent) 33.5%, Adlah "Foncie" DONASTORG, Jr. (independent) 16.5%, other 11.9%; percent of vote in second round- Albert BRYAN, Jr. (Democratic Party) 54.5%, Kenneth MAPP (independent) 45.2%, other .3%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Legislature of the Virgin Islands (15 seats; senators directly elected in single- and multi-seat constituencies by simple majority popular vote to serve 2-year terms)

the Virgin Islands directly elects 1 delegate to the US House of Representatives by simple majority vote to serve a 2-year term

elections: Legislature of the Virgin Islands last held on 6 November 2018 (next to be held in November 2020)
US House of Representatives last held on 6 November 2018 (next to be held in November 2020)

election results: Legislature of the Virgin Islands - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Democratic Party 13, independents 2; composition - men 11, women 4, percent of women 26.7%

delegate to US House of Representatives - seat by party - Democratic Party 1; composition - 1 woman

note: the Virgin Islands to the US House of Representatives can vote when serving on a committee and when the House meets as the Committee of the Whole House, but not when legislation is submitted for a “full floor” House vote

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands (consists of the chief justice and 2 associate justices); note - court established by the US Congress in 2004 and assumed appellate jurisdiction in 2007

judge selection and term of office: justices appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Virgin Islands Senate; justices serve initial 10-year terms and upon reconfirmation, during the extent of good behavior; chief justice elected to position by peers for a 3-year term

subordinate courts: Superior Court (Territorial Court renamed in 2004); US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (has appellate jurisdiction over the District Court of the Virgin Islands; it is a territorial court and is not associated with a US federal judicial district); District Court of the Virgin Islands

Political parties and leaders

Democratic Party [Stacey PLASKELL]
Independent Citizens' Movement or ICM [Dale BLYDEN]
Republican Party [John CANEGATA]

International organization participation

AOSIS (observer), Interpol (subbureau), IOC, UPU, WFTU (NGOs)

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of the US)

Diplomatic representation from the US

none (territory of the US)

Flag description

white field with a modified US coat of arms in the center between the large blue initials V and I; the coat of arms shows a yellow eagle holding an olive branch in its right talon and three arrows in the left with a superimposed shield of seven red and six white vertical stripes below a blue panel; white is a symbol of purity, the letters stand for the Virgin Islands

National anthem

name: Virgin Islands March

lyrics/music: multiple/Alton Augustus ADAMS, Sr.

note: adopted 1963; serves as a local anthem; as a territory of the US, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is official (see United States)

Economy

Economic overview

Tourism, trade, other services, and rum production are the primary economic activities of the US Virgin Islands (USVI), accounting for most of its GDP and employment. The USVI receives between 2.5 and 3 million tourists a year, mostly from visiting cruise ships. The islands are vulnerable to damage from storms, as evidenced by the destruction from two major hurricanes in 2017. Recovery and rebuilding have continued, but full recovery from these back-to-back hurricanes is years away. The USVI government estimates it will need $7.5 billion, almost twice the territory’s GDP, to rebuild the territory.

The agriculture sector is small and most food is imported. In 2016, government spending (both federal and territorial together) accounted for about 27% of GDP while exports of goods and services, including spending by tourists, accounted for nearly 47%. Federal programs and grants, including rum tax cover-over totaling $482.3 million in 2016, contributed 32.2% of the territory’s total revenues. The economy picked up 0.9% in 2016 and had appeared to be progressing before the 2017 hurricanes severely damaged the territory’s infrastructure and the economy.

Real GDP growth rate

0.9% (2016 est.)

0.3% (2015 est.)

-1% (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 175

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$3.872 billion (2016 est.)

$3.759 billion (2015 est.)

$3.622 billion (2014 est.)

note: data are in 2013 dollars

country comparison to the world: 186

GDP (official exchange rate)

$5.182 billion (2016 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$37,000 (2016 est.)

$35,800 (2015 est.)

$34,500 (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 54

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 2% (2012 est.)

industry: 20% (2012 est.)

services: 78% (2012 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 68.2% (2016 est.)

government consumption: 26.8% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 7.5% (2016 est.)

investment in inventories: 15% NA (2016 est.)

exports of goods and services: 46.7% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -64.3% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

fruit, vegetables, sorghum; Senepol cattle

Industries

tourism, watch assembly, rum distilling, construction, pharmaceuticals, electronics

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 1%

industry: 19%

services: 80% (2003 est.)

Budget

revenues: 1.496 billion (2016 est.)

expenditures: 1.518 billion (2016 est.)

Public debt

53.3% of GDP (2016 est.)

45.9% of GDP (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 91

Fiscal year

1 October - 30 September

Exports

$1.81 billion (2016 est.)

$1.537 billion (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 148

Exports - partners

Haiti 14%, Guadeloupe 7%, Malaysia 7%, Martinique 7%, Barbados 7%, British Virgin Islands 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

refined petroleum, jewelry, recreational boats, watches, rum (2019)

Imports

$2.489 billion (2016 est.)

$1.549 billion (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 164

Imports - partners

India 18%, Algeria 14%, South Korea 9%, Argentina 9%, Sweden 7%, Brazil 5% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, crude petroleum, rubber piping, jewelry, beer (2019)

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 77,212

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 72.41 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 145

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: modern system with total digital switching, uses fiber-optic cable and microwave radio relay; good interisland and international connections; broadband access; expansion of FttP (Fiber to the Home) markets; LTE launches; regulatory development and expansion in several markets point to investment and focus on data (2020)

domestic: full range of services available; fixed-line 72 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular 75 per 100 (2019)

international: country code - 1-340; landing points for the BSCS, St Thomas-ST Croix System, Southern Caribbean Fiber, Americas II, GCN, MAC, PAN-AM and SAC submarine cable connections to US, the Caribbean, Central and South America; satellite earth stations - NA (2020)

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

about a dozen TV broadcast stations including 1 public TV station; multi-channel cable and satellite TV services are available; 24 radio stations

Internet users

total: 68,872

percent of population: 64.38% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 189

Transportation

Airports - with paved runways

total: 2 (2019)

over 3,047 m: 1

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1

Merchant marine

total: 1,868

by type: bulk carrier 91, container ship 39, general cargo 1,205, oil tanker 118, other 415 (2019)

country comparison to the world: 14

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, Cruz Bay, Frederiksted, Limetree Bay

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US

Transnational Issues