Capital Road Town
Area 59 square miles (153 km2)
Population 27,800 (2012)
Currency United States dollar (USD)
Government British Overseas Territory
British Overseas Territory Total $853.4 million
Per capita $43,366
Time zone AST (UTC-4)
Official Language English

The British Virgin Islands are located in the Eastern Caribbean. The territory lies to the east of Puerto Rico and is in close proximity and just to the northeast of the U. S. Virgin Islands. There are approximately 60 islands and islets in the BVI of which 16 are inhabited. The total land area is 151 square miles and the largest island is Tortola, which is where the capital and commercial center is located. The islands that make up this British Territory are either flat coral islands or steep and hilly volcanic islands. Constant trade winds make the BVI climate both subtropical and pleasant.

Political Structure

The BVI is an internal self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The Chief of State is the Queen of England who is represented by the British Virgin Islands Governor. The BVI Prime Minister is the head of government. The Prime Minister’s cabinet, the Executive Council, is appointed by the governor from members of the Legislative Branch’s House of Assembly. The leader of the majority party (or of a majority coalition) in the House of Assembly is normally appointed by the governor to the post of Prime Minister.

The House of Assembly is a unicameral body consisting of 13 elected seats together with one non-voting member, the attorney general. Members are elected by popular vote and serve 4-year terms. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Three of the high judges reside in the BVI.

Economy and Infrastructure

The British Virgin Islands features one of the most prosperous economies in the Caribbean with a per capita GDP that ranks within the top 20 in the world. Approximately 60% of the BVI economy is based on financial services, primarily British Virgin Islands offshore financial services, with the bulk of the remainder based on tourism. The BVI has become a cruise ship destination in recent years.

There were nearly 448,000 active BVI companies in 2012. Incorporation fees account for nearly half the BVI annual revenues. The territory is among the largest domiciles in the world for formation of offshore investment funds, at one point in recent years being second only to the Cayman Islands. With respect to being a source of foreign direct investment, only Hong Kong is a larger source.

Current estimates indicate that upwards of US$125 billion is invested in the BVI each year.

Population, Language and Culture

What is now the British Virgin Islands was first sighted by Christopher Columbus is 1493. The Dutch were the first to establish a European presence on the islands. The islands came under British rule in 1666. English is the official language, the language of business and commerce, and is also the most widely spoken language in the islands. The BVI population was estimated to be 32,000 in 2013. Approximately a third of the population lives in Road Town, the capital, and 41% of the population lives in an urban setting. 82% majority of the population are Afro-Caribbean, 6.8% are white, and the remainder are Indian or mixed.

The national holiday in the BVI is Territory Day, which is celebrated on July 1. Among the various events and festivals of importance the most important is the Emancipation Festival, an annual event celebrating the end of slavery in 1843. The love of water sports that is characteristic of the islands’ inhabitants makes itself known during the Spring Regatta. There is also an annual Music Festival, an Easter Festival, and a Christmas on Main Street event held each year in the capital. The close ties between the BVI and the U.S. Virgin Islands are celebrated once a year on BVI/USVI Friendship Day.

The citizens of the Territory are called British Virgin Islanders. All BVI citizens are also British citizens and can travel on a UK passport and work in the UK and in the EU. Approximately 85% of the population is Protestant. Another 10% is Roman Catholic. The literacy rate of the population over 15 years of age in the BVI is 98.2%.

Exchange Control

The British Virgin Islands has no exchange controls. The US dollar is both legal tender and the currency that is in use. There are no restrictions on the movement of dollar funds into or out of the BVI. Holders of US dollars may freely convert them to other currencies.

The BVI Financial Services Commission is the single financial services regulator in the territory and in conjunction with the British Virgin Islands corporate registry is responsible for authorizing and registering companies or individuals to conduct business in the territory.

Type of Law

The British Virgin Islands law is based heavily on English common law. The Territory’s laws that apply to British Virgin Islands companies, including offshore companies, are quite modern and up-to-date to the point where regulations are presently in place addressing e-commerce. British Virgin Islands company law is regarded by international investors as being extremely sophisticated and is therefore subject to being copied by other offshore jurisdictions. Much of British Virgin Islands company law addresses financial services, key statues being the Securities and Investment Business Act 2010, the Companies Management Act 1990, and the Financing and Money Services Act 2009. BVI law provides a stable framework for BVI offshore company formation and for investors in general.

Principle Corporate Legislation

It is worth pointing out that the BVI government takes some pains to avoid the use of the term “British Virgin Islands tax haven” lest investors look upon the jurisdiction as a place where tax evasion is practiced, which is illegal, rather than a place where tax avoidance is practiced, which is legal. The BVI has a fair and open tax system.

The principal statute for BVI company law is the BVI Business Companies Act 2004. This statute supersedes the International Business Companies Act, which was based on Delaware Company law. This newer statute is based on the New Zealand statute and applies to both local and offshore businesses. Passage of the Act was designed to make BVI more attractive as an offshore financial center.

The BVI Business Companies Act 2004 among other things modernized the regime for registration of security interests, increased the types of companies that can be formed, removed restrictions in relation to the declaration of dividends and removed the requirement that companies had to have a stated corporate object.