British Virgin Islands: What Is British about Them and What Is Not

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are identified by two important features which do not necessarily complement each other:

  1. Politics: The group of islands is a British dependent territory.
  2. Geography: The islands are located within the Caribbean region with the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) as their closest neighbor.

Road Town in Tortola is the capital of the  BVI.  The Francis Drake Channel is the main passage way between the islands.
Road Town in Tortola is the capital of the BVI. The Francis Drake Channel is the main passage way between the islands. | Source

The BVI is comprised of more than 50 islands and cays within an area of 153 kilometers or 59.07 square miles. Only 15 of the islands are inhabited, some privately owned. They are situated to the east of the USVI which includes St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.

In the table below, the four largest islands are ranked in descending order. Some of the other islands are listed on Wikipedia.

Rank
Island
Area in Kilometers
Area in Square Miles
Population in 2010
1
Tortola
55.7
21.5
23,908
2
Anegada
38
15
200
3
Virgin Gorda
21
8
3,000
4
Jost Van Dyke
8
3
297

Don’t be fooled by the sizes of the BVI. Beside the super-steep hills rising out of the ocean (except on Anegada which is flat) and the powdery-white sand on their pristine beaches, many other aspects of their life are fascinating.

However, given the oddity of a British territory, with American territory as its closest neighbor, and situated within the Caribbean region, it is reasonable to wonder what’s British about the BVI and what’s not.

A brief look at six aspects of BVI after a very brief history, will help us decide.

A Brief History

  • 1493. Christopher Columbus sailed into the islands during his conquests for Spain.
  • 1602. The Dutch challenged the Spanish and set up the first European settlement.
  • 1666. The British gained control of the BVI from the Dutch.
  • 1672. The islands were established as British colony and later administered by the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands.
  • 1967. Constitutional reform established the BVI as a British dependent territory.

The British Union Jack is the BVI official state flag with a coat of arms depicting St. Ursula for whom Columbus named the islands.
The British Union Jack is the BVI official state flag with a coat of arms depicting St. Ursula for whom Columbus named the islands. | Source

1. Government

Government is one certain area in which the islands are firmly British. Their official national anthem is God Save the Queen.

From 1672, when the group became an English colony, they remained British. The Governor is appointed by Britain; is the Queen’s personal representative; is responsible for external affairs and internal security; and heads the Executive Council which is locally elected and is responsible for formulating the government’s policies. English is the official language.


2. Ethnicity

Censuses taken in 2004 and 2008 affirm that blacks comprise more than 80% of the population. The other less than 20% is comprised of Amerindians, East Indians, Middle Easterners and European whites.

According to Claudine Colli in her book British Virgin Islands, "Ask an islander where he or she is from and the answer may be, ‘My mother was born here, but my father is from Grenada—or Antigua, Dominica or St Vincent.’ ”


3. Currency

The currency is the American dollar—an accommodation for daily commerce with the USVI.

Tortola in the BVI and St. Thomas in the USVI are 16 km or 10 miles apart. Daily ferry rides between the islands take 45 minutes, the same amount of time it takes to get to a shopping destination in some large cities.

The BVI launched its international financial services sector in 1980. The International Business Companies (IBC) ordinance exempts offshore companies from the local business tax; consequently, the BVI has more than half a million offshore businesses on its IBC register. It has anti-money laundering legislation modeled after the British system.


Left side traffic.  Used by permission from owner.  Thank you, Amanda Sonmor.
Left side traffic. Used by permission from owner. Thank you, Amanda Sonmor. | Source

4. Traffic

Driving in the BVI is a 50-50 British American experience.

Generally, cars are imported from the United States, so the steering wheels are on the left. However, residents drive on the left in keeping with the British traffic system.


The BVI National Dish - Fungi (cornmeal and okra) and fish.
The BVI National Dish - Fungi (cornmeal and okra) and fish. | Source

5. Food

British residents and visitors may find a taste of Britain on menus prepared especially for them at some hotels.

Local restaurants and caterers serve johnny cake, fried dough (a traditional English food which was convenient when people travelled by foot) and salt fish (also standard for English sailors before refrigeration). The rest of the menu lists a variety of dishes: American, Mediterranean, Indian, Latin, but mostly Caribbean cuisine—rice and beans; fungi and fish; “ground provisions” such as sweet potatoes, yams, tania and other roots; meat stews made with bullfoot, goathead, oxtail; soursop, passion fruit and mauby beverages.


6. Sports

A brief look at some of the sports played in the BVI, further affirms a multi-cultural blend with a British presence.

  • Here, football means soccer, as it does in Britain and in most parts of the world. They have a national team and a junior national team, both of which compete with other teams in the region.
  • Rugby is usually played by the British population.
  • BVI residents are equally enthusiastic about American sports like baseball and softball.
  • Horse racing, popular with the British, is part of their annual Emancipation Festival celebration.
  • BVI athletes are represented at the Olympics in track and field events.

Road Town, Tortola, BVI.  Photo by Bgabel
Road Town, Tortola, BVI. Photo by Bgabel | Source

Exploring the BVI

Would You Like to Visit?

The BVI citizens are proud of their British heritage. They are more rural than their American neighbors, and some still farm and fish. However, their two main industries are tourism and financial services (mentioned under Currency).

Just in case you would like to visit, here are two reminders for tourists:

  1. Visitors are required to have a valid passport, and pre-arranged accommodations. For further details, see Entry Requirements.
  2. The electricity voltage on the island is 110 (American system). Even travelers from Britain must use an adapter with their electrical equipment.

There are no direct flights from the American mainland or Europe, but it is worth the trip to visit this multi-cultural experience.

Choose Your Route

  • Tourists from the United States can fly into Puerto Rico, and hop on one of the many 30-minute inter-island flights to the BVI main airport (Terrance B. Lettsome International) on Beef Island. From Beef Island, a bridge connects to Tortola, and small ferries sail to any of the other islands.
  • Travelers from the United States can also fly into St. Thomas and take a 45-minute ferry ride to Tortola.
  • Travelers from Britain can fly into Antigua, and then to Beef Island.

Given the versatility of people and culture in the BVI, people from anywhere and everywhere will find something to enjoy.

Sources

© 2013 Dora Isaac Weithers

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37 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

I just voted everything up -- is that legal? I am a coming to the BVI.

This is a really really cool hub. "carry me away".

I have done a few million in transactions there but had no idea about how wonderful the world there is. I need to go there.

Hugs and honey bunnys to you.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Eric, I think you and the BVI will enjoy each other. I like everything except the steep hills. I "pray without ceasing" when I get in the car. Thank you for your support all through 2013, and looking forward to more good times with you during the New Year.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Peace and love be in you. Let me tell you a fun story.:

I was just a boy. 14. I was raised by American black people. They were southerners to our American way. They were children of our sharecroppers way. And they were heroes. And they talked funny like a Creole do. Louisianan and Alabaman were there roots and Korean War and wet nurse were their truth.

Then one day I lost my passport in Victoria Station UK and a huge black man rescued it for me. And by God he spoke the Queen's English with a Cockney flare. My world changed. There it was, my folk talking like they was belonging. By Jehosaphat I saw a whole new world. I could be anything!!

Your BVI story brought home that love I have for our world. And it was brought to me by a great woman of love MsDora. Amen!


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Oh, MsDora, you are a great travel agent! I would love to visit no doubt about it! This is a most informative and interesting hub. Sounds like a wonderful place to live and visit. If I visited, I may never want to leave.

Up and more and sharing

God bless,

Faith Reaper


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Interesting travel hub MsDora. I've always been intrigued about the Virgin Islands (British and US), and you have helped inform me. I still find it a place of contrasts and contradictions having the US dollar as currency, left hand drive vehicles but driving on the left of the road like Britain etc. It would be an interesting place to visit. Voted up.


mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 2 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I was in Virgin Gorda about 23 years ago, and just loved it. Good article on a wonderful place to visit. Voted up, useful and interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

You sound like I use to be on scary roads, my prayer started before I ever got in the car. lol Very interesting read. I have never been there either but have seen videos and know they are just fantastic. Thanks for sharing. ^


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Eric, you tell a lot of stories about faith, love and kindness. As the island fold would say, "You're good people." You see those attributes because you have them. Thanks for being you!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Faith, you're right. Prepare for anything when you visit these islands. they can grow on you. Blessings to you also as we head into the New Year!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Jodah, "a place of contrasts" is a very appropriate description. That is what intrigued me about the place. Thank you for your input.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mperrottet, having visited the BVI, your approval means much to me. Thank you.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thank you, Jackie. Glad, I'm not alone in my fear of scary roads. Thank you for sharing. If you ever get the chance to visit, you'll love the BVI.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

A wonderful synopsis of a beautiful place. I would love to visit there one day when I am rich and famous. :) Thank you for the tour, Dora, and blessings to you always.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Very interesting. I was intrigued by the whole odd mix of US cars yet also driving on the "wrong" side of the road. I'd love to visit. Hope your Christmas was a merry one.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Billy, why wait? Perhaps your visit to the BVI will make you richer and more famous, because you're already rich and famous! Thanks for your comment.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Flourish, thank you. This Christmas was the first in a long time that my family spent together, including my ne grandson. It was great! Hope yours was,too.

The odd mix was also the attraction to these islands for me. Odd, but beautiful!


My Cook Book profile image

My Cook Book 2 years ago from India

Cool, great hub... Had a good read :)


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

MyCookbook, you made my day! Thank you.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

I think this would e a very interesting place to visit with it's mixture of cultures.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

sheila, I think you're right. Thanks for your input.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Just dropped by to say --- coolio rulio another awesome hub that has legs. I am proud you know my name.

e


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Msdora thank you for breaking it down.LOL you are a prolific Travel guide..:) bless you and happy new year


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, thank you for all your kind support throughout this passing year. Looking forward to more pleasant interaction with you in the New Year. Blessings to you, also.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

British Virgin Islands: What Is British about Them and What Is Not is an interesting and informative hub.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

DDE, thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed the research.


mts1098 profile image

mts1098 2 years ago from InsideTheManCave

a great job on a great vacation spot...we went to st thomas back in 1989 and parasailed over megan's bay. It was a great trip and we have always wanted to return...thanks for bringing back some great memories


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mts, happy that you have fond memories of the US Virgin Islands. Perhaps you will try the British Virgin Islands next. Thank for commenting.


Tolovaj profile image

Tolovaj 2 years ago

After this interesting presentation I have to consider British Virgin Islands as possible holiday destination. It would surely be experience to remember!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Tolovaj, take your spirit of adventure with you, and you will be in for treat. Thanks for the visit.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

Although I have heard of the British Virgin Isloands, I knew nothing about them, or their relationship with the U.S Virgin Islands. so thanks for informing me. It sounds like a delightful chain of islands, well worth a visit.

Nicely presented hub Dora with all the important facts and a good video too. Cheers. Alun.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Alun, your comment is so encouraging. Glad to share about the BVI. Visited few months ago, and intend to visit again. There's much to enjoy.


Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 2 years ago from Brazil

I would love to visit. My husband and I are thinking about buying a boat (still dreaming stages really) and BVI would definitely be on the list to visit.

The car situation does seem strange. I have driven US vehicles in the UK. The passenger just see cars coming towards them and no steering wheel,a bit unnerving.Over taking is also difficult.

Wonderful hub. I'll bet you have a lot of people adding BVI to their bucket lists.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Blond Logic, hope you and your husband can make it to the BVI. You will really enjoy your visit. Thank you for your kind comment on the article.


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

These islands sound like a tropical paradise, but I always pictured them as flat. I didn't realize there were hills. Anyway, this is a great article. Voted up and shared.


handymanbill profile image

handymanbill 2 years ago from western pennsylvania

I spent the best week of my life there on a "Windjammer Cruise". It is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Clear blue waters. I went scuba diving 2 times and day. This was about 25 years ago thou.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Ologsinquito, there's still so much to learn about these islands. Tortola is all hills, some making you feel like you're hovering in an airplane when you look in the distance while driving in a car. Go experience it; you'll love it.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Handyman Bill, it's time to visit again and do some more scuba diving. Thanks for sharing.

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