British Virgin Islands

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First settled by the Dutch in 1648, the islands were annexed in 1672 by the English. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west; the US dollar is the legal currency.


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

Geographic coordinates:

18 30 N, 64 30 W


total: 153 sq km
note: comprised of 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands; includes the island of Anegada
water: 0 sq km
land: 153 sq km


subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds


coral islands relatively flat; volcanic islands steep, hilly

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Mount Sage 521 m

Land use:

arable land: 20%
permanent crops: 6.67%
other: 73.33% (2001)

Natural hazards:

hurricanes and tropical storms (July to October)

Environment - current issues:

limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands' water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments)

Geography - note:

strong ties to nearby US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico


22,187 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

black 83%, white, Indian, Asian and mixed


Protestant 86% (Methodist 33%, Anglican 17%, Church of God 9%, Seventh-Day Adventist 6%, Baptist 4%, Jehovah's Witnesses 2%, other 15%), Roman Catholic 10%, none 2%, other 2% (1991)


English (official)

Dependency status:

overseas territory of the UK; internal self-governing


Road Town

National holiday:

Territory Day, 1 July

Legal system:

English law

Economy - overview:

The economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, generating an estimated 45% of the national income. An estimated 350,000 tourists, mainly from the US, visited the islands in 1998. Tourism suffered in 2002 because of the lackluster US economy. 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, is expected to make the British Virgin Islands even more attractive to international business. Livestock raising is the most important agricultural activity; poor soils limit the islands' ability to meet domestic food requirements. Because of traditionally close links with the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands has used the dollar as its currency since 1959.

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

2.5% (2002)

Labor force:

4,911 (1980)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture NA, industry NA, services NA

Unemployment rate:

3% (1995)

Agriculture - products:

fruits, vegetables; livestock, poultry; fish


tourism, light industry, construction, rum, concrete block, offshore financial center

Exports - commodities:

rum, fresh fish, fruits, animals; gravel, sand

Exchange rates:

the US dollar is used

Fiscal year:

1 April - 31 March

Telephones - main lines in use:

11,700 (2002)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

8,000 (2002)

Ports and harbors:

Road Town

Merchant marine:

total: 3 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 83,825 GRT/155,909 DWT
registered in other countries: 32 (2003 est.)
by type: cargo 1, liquefied gas 1, petroleum tanker 1
foreign-owned: Norway 1


3 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Military - note:

defense is the responsibility of the UK

Illicit drugs:

transshipment point for South American narcotics destined for the US and Europe; large offshore financial center makes it vulnerable to money laundering