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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 Brit. Virgin Islands Brit. Virgin Islands

Country Information & Lifestyle

 Discover the Magic of the Islands

Discover the Magic of the Islands

The British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The BVI were part of the Leeward Islands Colony until 1959 and became an autonomous territory in 1967.

The BVI have a tropical rain-forest climate, moderated by trade winds. Tourism accounts for approximately 45% of national income. English is the official language of the BVI, with both formal and Creole variants spoken. US dollar is the official currency.

There are more than 60 islands in all, whose names reflect their colourful past. British Virgin Islanders are proud of the beauty of their islands and have a strong protective attitude toward their natural resources and their land. Let us show you what these gorgeous islands have to offer.

Tortola, the capital, is the largest and most densely populated of the sixteen inhabited islands. Experience powdery white-sand beaches, lush green mountains and sheltered yacht-filled harbours. Wander through centuries-old ruins, explore Tortola’s history at the BVI Folk Museum in Road Town and visit the Callwood's Rum Distillery, which is still in operation.

Main Street in Road Town, the capital city, has an array of shops and restaurants; offering everything from local spices, jams, rums, and soaps to handcrafted jewellery, silk-screened fabrics, and local art.

Escape to the cool slopes of Sage Mountain National Park, where traces of a primeval rain forest can still be seen at higher elevations. On the mountain ridge that runs through the island, observe local Caribbean life with its gentle rhythms, farms, settlements and churches.

Little Thatch is privately owned upon which an extremely exclusive resort has been built. The island is located less than 500 yards from the western end of Tortola, and is less than a mile away from Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

Cooper Island, just five miles from Tortola, offers visitors the perfect getaway. There are no paved roads, no cars, a small beach club, a casual hotel and a few houses.

The only coral island in the volcanic BVI chain, Anegada is definitely unique and a world apart. Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships that have been wrecked here.

The island is surrounded by Horseshoe Reef, the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean at 39 miles long, containing both a patch reef and barrier reef. Secluded, powdery white-sand beaches are protected by the sheltering reef and the points that sweep out to sea.

You can read the island's history in the maze of stone walls that surround the Settlement, the main town. In the East End, ancient conch burial mounds and islands attest to the presence of the Arawaks, who called Anegada home nearly a thousand years ago.

At the Anegada Museum, maps reveal the location of over 200 wrecks, while cannons, musket balls and ships' timbers are part of the recovered booty. Listen to tales of buccaneers, drowned ships and hoards of gold still undiscovered.

Paradise awaits you in Virgin Gorda, the third largest island of the BVI. In addition to the sheer beauty of the island, travellers are drawn to the island for its yacht clubs, quiet coves, safe anchorages and luxury resorts.

Your privacy is ensured at one of the deserted pristine beaches, or visit the most popular natural attraction in the BVI, The Baths, where huge granite boulders create mysterious grottoes, saltwater pools and a connecting trail that entices visitors to spend a day exploring, swimming and snorkelling.

Not surprisingly, Virgin Gorda has been luring people for centuries. Discover the island's African and Indian heritage; trace its Spanish history at the ruins at Little Fort National Park; observe the British influence in Spanish Town and at the Cornish Copper Mines on the island's south-western tip, where ruins stand sentinel against the azure sea.

Experience the island's exquisite cuisine, a wonderful combination of all its influences, and explore the variety of shops offering local arts and crafts, as well as gifts, resort wear and souvenirs.

Necker Island sits off Virgin Gorda’s northeast coast, reachable only by private ferry or helicopter. A mere speck in the British Virgin Islands, it’s home to Sir Richard Branson’s private estate. When he’s not in residence it is possible to stay on the island and enjoy its gorgeous beaches and myriad amenities.

Mosquito Island off the coast of Virgin Gorda,has long been a favourite for scuba divers and sailors. Sir Richard Branson purchased the island in 2007 and his company plans to turn the island into a premier Ecotourism resort.

Jost Van Dyke Island is a small island with fewer than 300 inhabitants northwest of Tortola and the place to truly get away from it all. The island's name conjures up its rich, colourful past, the island is said to have been named for an early Dutch settler, a former pirate. The island is mountainous and lush with only a single road and a handful of cars, no banks or ATMS and many of the restaurants and shops only accept cash.

Explore Jost Van Dyke's history in the vegetation-covered ruins of centuries-old sugar mills, or on the old trails that crisscross the island. In the autumn and winter, observe whales and dolphins from a peaceful hilltop, or visit the East End of the island where you can relax in the natural Jacuzzi formed by the foaming seas.

For lunch try the conch stew and barbecued ribs at Club Paradise. The Soggy Dollar Bar and Gertrude's in White Bay are renowned for drinks made with the island's famous rum, frosty beers and tales of pirates and sunken treasure. The "Painkiller," one of the most famous cocktails in the Caribbean, was invented at The Soggy Dollar Bar.

Parties here are legendary, especially at Foxy's. This bar and its owner are known to travellers from around the world for the New Year's Eve and Halloween parties, when Great Harbour fills up with yachts.

Little Jost Van Dyke is a small island on the east end of the island of Jost Van Dyke. It is the location of the Diamond Cay National Park. The island is presently uninhabited but in the 18th century was the site of a Quaker colony.

Great Tobago along with sister island Little Tobago, are uninhabited and are about six miles west of Jost Van Dyke. They are protected as a national park. It is illegal to anchor but legal to snorkel and dive around the islands.

Salt Island is located about 4.7 miles south east of Road Town, the main town on Tortola. It is named after its salt ponds, which were once an important resource. Salt Island is most notable for the wreck of the Royal Mail packet steamer, RMS Rhone which sank in a hurricane on October 29, 1867 after she was driven back on Salt Island while attempting to head to safety at sea.

Most of the ship's crew were lost. The wreck of the Rhone is one of the best scuba diving sites in the Caribbean. Some of the underwater scenes in the movie The Deep were filmed in and around the wreck.

The population of the island hasn't been more than three people since at least 1980. They pay an annual rent to the Queen of the United Kingdom, delivered to the Governor, of a one pound bag of salt. The island is often visited by yachts and gets an occasional smaller cruise ship. Where before there were twenty or more households there are now only three or four derelict houses.

Sandy Cay is an uninhabited island located midway point between Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. The island is owned by the Laurance Rockefeller Estate; however, the estate is in the process of handing the island over to the B.V.I. National Parks Trust. The island is a "managed wilderness" area with short hiking trail.

Great Thatch is uninhabited and one of the westernmost islands in the Territory. It was formerly occupied and boasted a customs house and mail exchange where the mail would be delivered from Charlotte Amalie by skiff after the packet ships had called there. The island was formerly in private hands, but was repurchased by the Government of the Territory in September 1997, and is now a national park.

Prickly Pear is an uninhabited island but it does have a beach bar and recreational water sports facility on it. The entire island is, theoretically, a nature refuge, but the Government controversially granted a lease of the crown lands for the restaurant and water sports facility.

Frenchman's Cay is located 2 km southeast from Great Thatch and just east of Little Thatch by a distance of approximately 400 metres. It is connected to the main island of Tortola by a very short bridge to Tortola's West end. This cay has a number of houses, two restaurants and a hotel on it.

Nanny Cay is made up of three cays originally known as Big Cay, Little Cay and Miss Peggy Cay and is connected to Tortola by a short bridge. A marina, hotel, restaurants, condominiums and townhouses have been built on Nanny Cay.

Scrub Island is a part of the Lesser Antilles and is home to the Scrub Island Resort Marina and Spa. There is a marina for yachts as well as swimming pools and restaurants. Most of the island is uninhabited, allowing for quiet, relaxation and exploration

Ginger Island is a presently uninhabited and one of the last privately held islands in the Territory. It is the location of the better dive sites and is currently for sale.

Beef Island is the site of the international airport and is located to the east of Tortola. The two islands are connected by the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

Norman Island is an uninhabited island at the southern tip of the archipelago and is reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island. It is said the island was named after a pirate who bought it or leased it at some point during the early 18th century.

A favourite hang-out of pirates, legends of buried treasure still persist. The island has no permanent inhabitants other than wild goats, but there is a restaurant and bar named "Pirates" located in the Bight. There is also an old barge named the Willie T which operates as a bar and restaurant.

These are just some of the many islands scattered int he aquamarine sea. Visitors soon discover pristine palm-fringed beaches, rugged peaks and rich vegetation. Some islands are uninhabited and designated as national parks.

One of the best kept secrets of the British Virgin Islands is the people. Close-knit communities and strong community spirit are a fact of life. Their roots are in Africa but the culture is strongly Caribbean.

For a taste of the island visit one of the local restaurants where recipes are handed down through generations. Traditional foods tend to be spicy and hearty. Some of the favourites include pumpkin fritters, kallaloo (relative of gumbo), potato stuffing and, for a truly different dessert, red grout (a tapioca dish introduced by the Danes).

“Kallaloo is for good luck in the New year, especially for lovers”. The old folks believed that if you served kallaloo to your loved one on Old Year’s night, there would be a wedding by June.

Try Pate, fried dough filled with various meats including beef, chicken or salt-fish stuffed inside is a popular snack. Another popular snack is Johnny cake (originally known as 'journey cake'), a pastry also made with fried dough.

Local farmers grow fruits and vegetables along with the rearing of animals. Their goods are sold in local open-air markets, while supermarkets tend to carry only imported foods. Upscale restaurants often cater to tourists, serving a combination of North American dishes with tropical twists as well as local cuisine.

Because of inter-Caribbean migration, many foods from other Caribbean countries have been adopted into the Virgin Islands culinary culture. For example, a popular dish is roti, of Indo-Trinidadian origin, which consists of curried vegetables and meat wrapped in a paper-thin dough.

Jumbie stories, which are basically African folklore, have been passed on for many generations. Storytelling traditions still persist today, even though it is in a more structured setting such as community halls and festival gatherings.

Black Sam Bellamy made a dashing figure in his long deep-cuffed velvet coat, knee breeches, silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes; with a sword slung on his left hip and four pistols in his sash. Bellamy never wore the fashionable powdered wig, but grew his dark hair long and tied it back with a black satin bow

Seeking his fortune Black Sam Bellamy captured 50 prizes in a year, many while based at his namesake Bellamy Cay in the BVI's Trellis Bay. After capturing his richest prize, the Whydah, Black Sam perished at 29 in a shipwreck at 29 while going back home. The Whydah shipwreck from 1717 was recently rediscovered.

If you are looking for somewhere amazingly beautiful, totally unspoiled and incredibly inspiring, then the BVI are for you - It truly is a little piece of heaven! You may even be lucky and find the treasure - someone has to!!

Purchasing a Property

Unless you or your parents were born in the BVI, you will need a Non-Belonger Land Holding License (NBLHL) in order to buy property. A NBLHL is only granted in order for you to take title to a specific property. A NBLHL takes 12 to 24 months to obtain. A 10% deposit is paid on a Sale & Purchase Agreement and goes on to a CD until closing. Interest to the seller is customary.

If buying an empty lot, you must agree to build within 2 to 3 years with a minimum expenditure of approximately US$250,000.

If you wish to rent your house, you must request the right to rent on your NBLH License Application. It may or may not be granted. If the home had a previous rental license from the Department of Trade then chances are you may get permission to rent. Since 1998, most NBLH Licenses have had a restrictive clause saying something to the effect: this home may not be rented without permission of the Governor in Council, which will not be reasonably withheld.

Once agreement in principle has been reached, a legally binding purchase and sale agreement is drawn up by the vendor's attorney, and signed by the parties. This normally contains a condition that completion is contingent upon the purchaser obtaining a NBLHL. A prospective purchaser normally pays a 10% earnest deposit to the vendor's agent, to be held in escrow. A purchaser will normally acquire absolute title which is registered in the BVI Government Land Registry.

Applications for a License must be accompanied by two personal financial references, one bank reference, two character references, police record, application fee of US$200 (individual) or US$500 (company), and, once approved, issuance of license fee of US$600 (individual) or US$1,000 (company). Licenses carry a 2 or 3-year commitment to develop unimproved land. The objective of the licensing regulations is to prevent speculation on undeveloped property.

If the application for a License relates to undeveloped or partly developed land, the applicant will be required to commit to spend a specific sum on development, normally not less than US$250,000, within a specified period, normally three years. Undeveloped land cannot be resold until such a development commitment has been fulfilled, or a penalty paid, normally 25% of the sale price.

However, the purchase of developed property for residential purposes will generally not incur a development commitment. An overseas investor is free to let a property on a long term or short term (holiday let) basis subject to approval to rent the property by the Executive Council as part of the License application and the granting of a Trade License. Such approval by the Executive Council will be stated on the License and will automatically grant approval of the relevant Trade License. The annual fee for the required Trade License of a Non-Belonger is US$400.

Fees & Taxes

Stamp Duty 4.00% - 12%paid by the buyer.

Non-Belonger Land Holding License US$600 paid by the buyer.

Legal Fees 1.00% - 2.00% paid by the buyer.

Real Estate Agent's Commission 6.0% - 8.0% paid by the seller.

Visas

A passport is necessary for all visitors to the British Virgin Islands (including citizens of the U.K.). The following measures are to be adhered to by all non-British Virgin Islanders entering the Territory:

Bona fide visitors may be granted entry for up to one month at the ports of entry, provided that they possess return (or ongoing) tickets, evidence of adequate means of support and pre-arranged accommodations during their stay. Visitors wishing to stay longer will need to apply for an extension.

U.S. citizens, E.U. citizens, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans do not require a visa to enter the British Virgin Islands. If you are travelling through the U.S. but your final destination is the B.V.I., you may still need to travel with a visa, according to U.S. entry requirements.

All other nationalities need to check the entry requirements prior to travel.

Yacht Clearance

If you plan to exit and then re-enter the British Virgin Islands during your sailing vacation, please be certain to follow the proper procedures for clearing your yacht and crew with both BVI Customs and Immigration.

The ports of entry and exit are located at:
Road Harbour, Tortola
Soper Hole, West End, Tortola
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke
St. Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda

Your captain may clear all crew, provided he or she has all of the required documentation, including:

Ships documentation. Prior to leaving the charter base, be sure this item is aboard if you plan to leave BVI waters.

Valid passports for each crew member. (In the absence of a passport, Canadian & US citizens need an original or notarised copy of their birth certificate and at least one piece of photo ID such as a driver's license if travelling between the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands.)

Be sure you clear into the territory you plan to visit. Don't forget to stop off again at any of the above listed BVI ports of entry on return to the British Virgin Islands.

If visiting the USVI, you may clear in at Cruz Bay, St. John or Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. If you are not either a US or Canadian citizen, and are entering the USVI waters on anything other than a commercial carrier (ferry, airline, etc.), you must obtain a visitor's visa.

Visitors from the UK and all other countries should consult their local US Embassy prior to arrival in the British Virgin Islands to determine what is required to obtain the proper visas for crew wishing to exit the BVI by yacht.


BVI Cruising Tax / Permits

A cruising permit is required for all cruising in the British Virgin Islands.

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