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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 US Virgin Islands US Virgin Islands

Country Information & Lifestyle

 Pure relaxation awaits you in the US Virgin Islands

Pure relaxation awaits you in the US Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands are located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and are approximately 1,000 miles from Miami, Florida and 40-50 miles east of Puerto Rico.

The Virgin Islands consist of two groups of islands, the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The USVI consist of four larger islands, St.Croix, St.Thomas, St.John, Water Island and some 50 smaller islets and cays.

The first people known to have inhabited what are today the Virgin Islands were the Carib, Arawak and Ciboney Indians. These indigenous people are believed to have left and/or been forcibly removed by the late 1500's. Between the early 1600s and mid-1800's the residents of the islands were of European and African extraction. Settlers, mainly from Holland, England, Denmark, Ireland and France, came to the islands to operate plantations, to run shops and warehouses, as indentured servants and to live in the fledgling new colonies.

Outnumbering the European whites were African slaves that were forcibly brought to the islands as labour for the plantations. Whites and Blacks born in the islands were called Creoles. At the end of the plantation era many of the white planters and their families returned to Europe. The islands were purchased by the United States in 1917. In the mid-1900s the USVI began to develop a tourism trade and today it is the islands' primary industry.

The official and most widely spoken language in the Virgin Islands is English, although it is common to hear French Creole and Spanish spoken, particularly on St. Thomas and St.Croix.

Welcome to perpetual summer weather! The Virgin Islands does not experience significant seasonal changes, therefore weather and temperatures are fairly consistent year round.
One of the greatest natural threats in the Virgin Islands is hurricanes. Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th with the highest occurrences of storms in August and September.

The Virgin Islands conjures up visions of beautiful Blue Ocean, crystal-clear waters, pristine white sand beaches and coral reefs teeming with marine life. In addition to this there are historic plantations, forests, mangroves, salt ponds, and everywhere, warm, friendly people.

While a variety of music is played in the Virgin Islands, it is calypso, soca, reggae and steel pan bands that are most often heard. Calypso music can be traced to the days of slavery. It was a means of communication and a vent to the strains of oppression. Add some soul to calypso and you have soca!

Animal life in the Virgin Islands is varied. Wild donkeys are found on St.John, descendants of domestic donkeys that were released or escaped into the wild. Goats can be seen in small groups all over the islands in backyards, school yards, on some un-populated islands or eating grass on the sides of roads. There is a population of white tailed deer in the Virgin Islands, occasionally sighted in the National Park on St.John, in densely forested areas of St.Croix and on the East End of St.Thomas.

Virgin Islanders are religious people and they love storytelling. There are often stories about jumbies(spirits) that walk around in homes, on the street and anywhere the person telling the story wants them to be. Jumbie stories are a Caribbean tradition and are often used as cautionary tales for children. Bru Nansi, a spidery-man who prevails in the most adverse circumstance, is a popular story character.

Virgin Island cuisine is a result of interactions between indigenous Indians and Europeans during the early years of exploration. The Indians raised ground provisions like cassava and knew how to make bread from it. The Europeans brought beef, onions, garlic, wheat and fruits like breadfruits, limes, mangoes and sugar cane.

With the importation of African slaves came new crops like okra and new cooking styles. From the Americas came beans, corn, potatoes and varying types of peppers. When slavery was abolished indentured servants came from China and India.

Each of three major islands has a unique character all of its own. Come revitalise your heart with an escape to utopia. Starting off with the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, tranquil St.Croix is rich in cultural diversity and has a past filled with a fascinating history. Although only 22.7 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point, the landscape of St.Croix is surprisingly diverse.

Gorgeous beaches, world-class recreational activities, fine dining, casino, and golf, these are only a few of the things you can enjoy on the island.

St.Croix has a past filled with a fascinating history. The Danish influence is perfect for visitors who prefer a laid-back experience. From horseback riding near 18th-century sugar mills to playing golf on one of the island's three scenic golf courses, you're sure to find something to suit your tastes.

The two main towns offer quaint shops, charming pastel buildings and refreshing cultural diversity. From regal 18th and 19th-century homes in Christiansted, to a tropical rain forest in Frederiksted, there is plenty to see and do.

Visitors will see traces of St.Croix's rich cultural diversity in the island's distinctive arts, crafts, music and festivals. Mocko Jumbies (traditional stilt dancers thought to chase away evil spirits), reggae and calypso, steel pan bands and pulsating salsa are among the captivating sights and sounds that add to the island's cultural mix.

St.Croix's unique culture is still celebrated in customs such as the European-inspired "quadrille" dance and "quelbe," or "scratch," music. The early settlers' tradition of dancing from estate to estate has evolved into an organised town parade, performed to the sounds of drums, flutes, trumpets and gourds that are "scratched" for percussion.

With 60% of its land area comprising a pristine national park, St.John is as far away as you can get from civilisation, but still be just a short distance from upscale jewellery stores and boutiques. A visit to St.John is a must for those seeking true escape. Although it is the smallest of the three U.S Virgin Islands, St.John's unspoiled beauty is perhaps the greatest found anywhere in the Caribbean, leave your cares behind and discover this hidden jewel.

With its incredible tranquillity and carefully preserved natural beauty, St.John is truly one of the most unforgettable places you will ever visit. An escape from your escape, St. John is one of the world's most exclusive island paradises. Accessible only by ferry from the other islands, an excursion to St. John offers you a retreat like no other.

The beauty of St.John's beaches is legendary. Cinnamon Bay offers plenty of water sports; you can explore the old beachfront Danish building or wander the self-guided half-mile loop Cinnamon Bay trail. Hawksnest Beach is one of the most beautiful and a great snorkelling reef stars a few yards from the shore.

Jumbie Bay is a small jewel of a bay, located on the north shore of the island and accessed by a set of steps from the main road. At Leinster Bay you can spot turtles, starfish and stingrays while snorkelling out to Watermelon Cay. Maho Bay is known for its calm and shallow water, and scenic Salt Pond Bay offers a secluded beach with good swimming and snorkelling.

Trunk Bay has a breathtakingly beautiful beach, with soft white powdery sand and is one of the most popular in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The National Park maintains an underwater snorkelling trail at Trunk Bay with underwater signs providing a wealth of interesting information.

Annaberg sugar plantation ruins is part of the island's National Park, where you can travel back in time to 1780 when sugar, molasses and rum were produced at this very plantation. Meander among the ruins of the old windmill or catch a cultural demonstration.

Elaine Ione Sprauve Library & Museum houses a collection of historic photographs, rare documents and other artefacts, this museum is located in a restored plantation estate home. A great place to learn about the island's history.

Reef Bay Trail & Petroglyphs is the most popular trek in the National Park and descends 937 feet through a shady forest. While hiking, you encounter the visible remains of four sugar estates and ancient petroglyph rock carvings. The trail ends at the Reef Bay Plantation ruins near Genti Bay.

St.Thomas is the most cosmopolitan island, yet it still retains the distinctive atmosphere of a secluded Caribbean paradise. St.Thomas boasts one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. Charlotte Amalie (named for a Dutch queen), is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the most popular cruise port in the Caribbean.

Colourful sloops dock along the waterfront, white and pastel houses are heavily sprinkled against a background of emerald hills, and a few steps back, down alleyways lined with Old Dutch warehouse buildings, is a world-famous shopping centre.

St.Thomas is one of the world's premier sport fishing destinations, but there are also many other ways to revel in the beauty of its marine surroundings. The islands possess some of the most unique diving opportunities in the world with incredible, vibrant reefs just minutes away from fascinating sunken ships.

St.Thomas's history and culture alone are worth a visit to the island. Fort Christian, a U.S. National Landmark, is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands and home to the Virgin Islands Museum, where early island memorabilia and old maps trace the islands' history. Market Square, a bustling produce marketplace, was once one of the West Indies' busiest 18th-century slave markets. On Government Hill stands Blackbeard's Castle, known as Skytsborg, this 17th century fortified tower also serves as a popular restaurant and hotel.

Elegant dining, exciting nightlife, duty-free shopping, world-renowned golf course, picture-perfect beaches and spectacular nightlife, St.Thomas has it all.

Water Island is located just south of Charlotte Amalie. The island provides the protection from the open sea that serves to create Charlotte Amalie Harbour. Water Island is 2 miles long by one mile wide approximately and almost 500 acres. Sheer cliffs line the exposed southern coast while deeply indented bays and beaches characterise the rest of the island.

The roads on the island are narrow and scenic, some paved others are dirt. Many of the inhabitants use golf carts and bicycles instead of cars to get around. Magnificent views abound from all over the island. Honeymoon Bay is the most popular beach on Water Island with calm waters, beautiful surrounding and fine snorkelling. A short trail leads down to the rarely visited Limestone Beach, an excellent venue for beach combing, shelling and bird watching.

There is scheduled ferry service between Crown Bay on St. Thomas and Water Island. A well-protected marina occupies a salt pond opened to the sea, accommodating vessels of up to 20 feet.

Relax on the beach in the morning, explore a colonial church in the afternoon, and have a romantic dinner in the evening. Such is the extraordinary day in the life of a visitor to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Due to the unique history and picturesque setting, you will find an experience unlike anything else in the Caribbean.

Purchasing a Property

The US Virgin Islands have become a popular destination for retirees, second homeowners and anyone aspiring to live a better quality of life. Of course there are cheaper places to move to, but in the Virgin Islands you can live the island life while still being protected by US laws, government and a stable economy.

The U.S.V.I. is a lot better tax haven than most people realise, offering tax incentives for U.S. companies and foreign investors alike.

Foreign investors who do not seek residence or citizenship in the U.S. Virgin Islands or the United States can establish a tax-free U.S. Virgin Islands exempt company for their worldwide investments (other than investments in the United States or the U.S. Virgin Islands). Not surprisingly, the U.S. Virgin Islands have seen a rapid increase in the establishment of exempt companies.

A foreign investor can use a U.S. Virgin Islands exempt company to hold his or her worldwide assets because such entity pays no taxes in the U.S. Virgin Islands, except for an annual US$1,000 franchise tax on its non-U.S., non-Virgin Islands income.

A foreign investor seeking U.S. citizenship can qualify by investing a minimum of US$500,000 on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands which offers available flat land and a highly educated work force. The business should employ at least 10 persons.

The investor will qualify for an immigrant employment creation visa for such investment from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, leading to U.S.citizenship.

An investor can also qualify for the U.S. Virgin Islands/industrial development benefits by making the investment.

The investor will thus be exempt from any property taxes and gross receipts taxes on the investment, receive substantial reductions in excise taxes and customs duties, and as a resident of the U.S. Virgin Islands pay income tax at less than a 4% rate on his income from the investment.

Once the investor obtains U.S. citizenship in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the investor will be exempt from Federal estate and gift taxes on all his/her non-U.S.situs assets (including the investment in the U.S. Virgin Islands) and will be similarly exempt from all U.S Virgin Islands inheritance and gift taxes.

Fees & Taxes

US Virgin Islands residents are subject to the Virgin Islands IRS tax code, which is a mirror image of the Federal IRS tax code. There are no city or state taxes. Businesses pay a 4% gross receipts tax on gross income.

Transfer tax is usually paid by the seller at the following rates :-
2% for any property valued up to US$350,000
2.5% for property valued from US$350,000 up to $1,000,000
3% for property valued from US$1,000,000 up to $5,000,000
3.5% for all property valued above US$5,000,000.

Buyers Closing Costs
In addition to paying the transfer tax, the buyer may wish to take out title insurance and will also need to pay for any survey of the property and lawyers fees etc.
Property taxes in the US Virgin Islands are lower than most US mainland states and are levied at 1.25% of 60% of the assessed value.

If a property is purchased using a loan, the lender will in most cases require that the property be insured. Taking out such insurance makes good sense even when not required by a lending institution, and typically costs between 2 and 3 % of the property value per year. The insurance should cover all risks and include the specific risks of hurricane building costs in the US Virgin Islands range from US$275 per square foot and upwards for buildings constructed

Transactions in the US Virgin Islands require 2% to 3.5% government transfer tax or stamp tax. All property transactions over $350,000 require a mandatory 2.5% stamp tax.

Property Tax
The US Virgin Islands currently imposes a real property tax at 1.25% of the property's assessed value. The property's assessed value is 60% of its actual value or fair market value. Thus, the effective tax rate is 0.0075% of the property's fair market value.

However, a new rate structure is being proposed wherein applicable tax rates vary depending on the classification of the property:

PROPOSED PROPERTY TAX
PROPERTY CLASSIFICATION TAX RATE
Residential property 0.0036%
Vacant land 0.0046%
Commercial property 0.0065%
Timeshare property 0.0110%

Visas

No passport is required for U.S. citizens visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands only -- but you are highly encouraged to carry one. For non-U.S. citizens, visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands is just like visiting the mainland United States: You need a passport and visa.

A passport is necessary for all visitors to the British Virgin Islands (including citizens of the U.K.).
U.S. Entry: Passport Required -- New regulations issued by the Homeland Security Department require virtually every air traveller entering the U.S. to show a passport -- and future regulations will cover land and sea entry as well.

As of January 23, 2007, all persons, including U.S. citizens, travelling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean (but not including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico), and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport. Similar regulations for those travelling by land or sea (including ferries) also apply as of January 1, 2008.

If you're a U.S. citizen and you travel directly to the U.S.V.I. and do not visit the British Virgin Islands, you do not need a passport. If you return to the mainland U.S. from the U.S.V.I. through another country (Mexico or Bermuda, for example), you will need a passport to get back home.

The U.S. State Department has a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allowing citizens of the following countries to enter the United States without a visa for stays of up to 90 days: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Canadian citizens may enter the United States without visas; they will need to show passports and proof of residence, however.

Note: Any passport issued on or after October 26, 2006, by a VWP country must be an e-Passport for VWP travellers to be eligible to enter the U.S. without a visa. Citizens of these nations also need to present a round-trip air or cruise ticket upon arrival. E-Passports contain computer chips capable of storing bio-metric information, such as the required digital photograph of the holder. (You can identify an e-Passport by the symbol on the bottom centre cover of your passport.) If your passport doesn't have this feature, you can still travel without a visa if it is a valid passport issued before October 26, 2005, and includes a machine-readable zone, or between October 26, 2005, and October 25, 2006, and includes a digital photograph.

Citizens of all other countries must have (1) a valid passport that expires at least 6 months later than the scheduled end of their visit to the United States, and (2) a tourist visa, which may be obtained without charge from any U.S. consulate.

As of January 2004, many international visitors travelling on visas to the United States will be photographed and fingerprinted on arrival at Customs in airports and on cruise ships in a program created by the Department of Homeland Security called US-VISIT. Exempt from the extra scrutiny are visitors entering by land or those (mostly in Europe) who don't require a visa for short-term visits. U.S. citizens, E.U. citizens, Canadians, Australians, New Zealand, 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.

Visa requirements are not exactly the same for the B.V.I. as they are for the U.K. A full list of countries that require a visa for entry to the B.V.I. and more information on obtaining a visa can be found on the B.V.I. Immigration website at www.bviimmigration.gov.vg.

Visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands from other nations should have a U.S. visa; those visitors may also be asked to produce an onward ticket. In the British Virgin Islands, visitors who stay for less than 6 months don't need a visa if they possess a return or onward ticket.

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