BVI Investment Guide
The British Virgin Islands comprise 36 islands in the Caribbean sea of which only 16 are inhabited. The islands are located about 80 kilometres east of Puerto Rico, north of the Leeward Islands and adjacent to the US Virgin Islands. The aggregate land area of the island group is 153 square kilometres. The principal islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
Generally the coral islands are relatively flat and the volcanic islands are steep and hilly with the highest point being 521 metres at Mount Sage. The climate is sub-tropical, but the humidity and high temperatures are tempered by cooling trade winds.
The island of Tortola (land of turtle doves) is the largest of the British Virgin Islands situated about 130 kms east of Puerto Rico overlooking Sir Francis Drake Channel, and has Road Town, the capital, and the international airport (Beef Island). Frequent scheduled flights operate to Puerto Rico. Time is (US) Eastern Standard Time.
Little Forest National Park, a 36-acre wildlife sanctuary on Virgin Gorda was once the site of a Spanish fort whose stone walls are still evident. The Coppermine on the southwest tip of the island was mined by Cornish miners between 1838 and 1867 and the mine shafts remain today. Gorda Peak National Park contains a variety of indigenous plants and has been reafforested with mahogany trees. The island's highest point is 521metres. An intriguing group of giant granite boulders form a beach known as "the Baths" which are a series of spectacular pools and grottoes flooded with sea water.
British Virgin Islands Economy and Currency
The currency of the British Virgin Islands has been the United States dollar since 1962, although banks maintain accounts in sterling as well. There are no exchange controls. The two mainstays of the economy are tourism and offshore financial operations. Minor industries include fishing, rum distilling and construction. Exports include fish, rum, sand and gravel, fruits and vegetables.
Tourism accounts for an estimated 75% of GDP with 820,000 visitors arriving in 2005, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the islands' economy. BVI is also an established centre for the charter yacht industry.
Agriculture is minimal since there is very little arable land; the islands consist mainly of hills and beaches with the exception of Anegada which is very flat.
In March 2006, the territory's then leader Dr Orlando Smith said that the government was continuing in its attempt at economic diversifcation, and warned that the BVI should not become too dependent on financial services to prop up the economy. The BVI government has also been increasing promotional activities in other economic sectors, particularly tourism. Dr Smith also suggested that agriculture should form the "third pillar" of the BVI economy.
The financial services industry in the British Virgin Islands can fairly be described as a runaway success, particularly in recent years. Almost 700,000 companies are incorporated in the BVI, with an average 50,000 new formations taking place every year. There is no doubt that the BVI is an attractive offshore destination, offering stability, high levels of privacy, good reputation, flexible legislation, English language etc. Other centres have all these things also; but the BVI seem to be flavour of the month. The most important offshore activities are trust management, mutual funds and captive insurance. Banking has not been encouraged, as an apparently successful defence against money-laundering.
Minister for Finance Ronnie W. Skelton told assembly members in 2006 that according to forecasts, the government would receive almost USD130 million from the financial services industry in 2006, representing growth of 15% on 2005.
The BVI also intends to achieve additional growth in the financial services sector through continued marketing internationally, and by updating legislation to keep pace with global trends. Evidence of this strategy began to materialise in November 2006 with the launch of ‘Team BVI’, a team of ambassadors drawn from the public and private sectors to be the face and voice of the Territory’s distinct financial services brand.
GDP growth has been muted in recent years, but GDP per head at USD38,500 is one of the highest in the world.