Virgin Islands

Flag of Virgin Islands

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During the 17th century, the archipelago was divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish portion, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848.


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

Geographic coordinates:

18 20 N, 64 50 W


total: 352 sq km
water: 3 sq km
land: 349 sq km


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


mostly hilly to rugged and mountainous with little level land

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Crown Mountain 474 m

Natural resources:

sun, sand, sea, surf

Land use:

arable land: 11.76%
permanent crops: 2.94%
other: 85.29% (2001)

Irrigated land:

NA sq km

Natural hazards:

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

Environment - current issues:

lack of natural freshwater resources

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


108,775 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

black 78%, white 10%, other 12%
note: West Indian 81% (49% born in the Virgin Islands and 32% born elsewhere in the West Indies), US mainland 13%, Puerto Rican 4%, other 2%


Baptist 42%, Roman Catholic 34%, Episcopalian 17%, other 7%


English (official), Spanish, Creole

Dependency status:

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


Charlotte Amalie

National holiday:

Transfer Day (from Denmark to the US), 27 March (1917)

Legal system:

based on US laws

Economy - overview:

Tourism is the primary economic activity, accounting for 80% of GDP and employment. The islands normally host 2 million visitors a year. The manufacturing sector consists of petroleum refining, textiles, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and watch assembly. The agricultural sector is small, with most food being imported. International business and financial services are a small but growing component of the economy. One of the world's largest petroleum refineries is at Saint Croix. The islands are subject to substantial damage from storms. The government is working to improve fiscal discipline, to support construction projects in the private sector, to expand tourist facilities, to reduce crime, and to protect the environment.

Labor force:

48,900 (2003 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture 1%, industry 19%, services 80% (2003 est.)

Unemployment rate:

9.3% (2003 est.)


revenues: $560
expenditures: NA (2003)

Agriculture - products:

fruit, vegetables, sorghum; Senepol cattle


tourism, petroleum refining, watch assembly, rum distilling, construction, pharmaceuticals, textiles, electronics

Exports - commodities:

refined petroleum products

Exports - partners:

US, Puerto Rico

Imports - commodities:

crude oil, foodstuffs, consumer goods, building materials

Imports - partners:

US, Puerto Rico


US dollar (USD)

Telephones - main lines in use:

69,400 (2002)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

41,000 (2002)

Telephone system:

general assessment: NA
domestic: modern system with total digital switching, uses fiber-optic cable and microwave radio relay
international: country code - 1-340; submarine cable and satellite communications; satellite earth stations - NA


total: 856 km
paved: NA km
note: the only US possession where driving on the left side of the road is practiced (2000)
unpaved: NA km

Ports and harbors:

Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, Cruz Bay, Port Alucroix

Merchant marine:



2 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 2 (2003 est.)

Military - note:

defence is the responsibility of the US