BVI Investment Guide
British Virgin Islands Economy and Currency British Virgin Islands Entry and Residence British Virgin Islands Business Environment British Virgin Islands Investments by Foreigners
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.
All non-residents, including British citizens, require a passport to enter the BVI, except that Canadian and US citizens need only a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or voter registration card. However, under the US government's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico will also have to present a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality, in order to enter or re-enter the United States by air from within the Western Hemisphere. This will affect visitors to the Caribbean from January 2008.
Visas are given for up to six months' stay provided that there is a return or onward ticket and evidence of sufficient funds.
In order to work in the BVI, a work permit is needed, except for 'Belongers', naturalised citizens and holders of a certificate of residency. Work permits are issued only when there is no suitable local applicant for the job. At the time of writing, in order to lease or purchase land, non-Belongers must obtain an Alien Landholding Licence. Applications for a Licence must be accompanied by two personal financial references, one bank reference, two character references, police record, application fee of USD50 (individual) or USD75 (company), and licence fee of USD150 (individual) or USD200 (company). Licences carry a 2 or 3 year commitment to develop unimproved land.In December, 2004, the government outlined the details of a new immigration policy framework in a bid to clarify the rules surrounding applications for residence and ‘belonger’ status. Chief Minister Orlando Smith explained that the Board of Immigration would make recommendations in 2005 concerning those who applied for residence status before January 1st 2003 and had lived in the territory continuously for the last twenty years. In June, 2005, 92 of these individuals received residence and belonger certificates. Approvals for those applying for residency status after January 1st 2003 are limited to no more than 25 persons per year. The government also stressed that in all cases, individuals cannot be away from the BVI for more than 90 days in any calendar year if they want to qualify for residency status. Smith acknowledged that controlling immigration in the territory represented a “very serious challenge” for the government, and explained that a balance must be struck between welcoming outsiders and protecting the privileges afforded to BVI citizens. In March 2008, Premier and Minister of Finance Ralph O’Neal announced in his budget speech that comprehensive immigration reform would be a priority in 2008. "We will amend existing legislation to implement additional control measures. Current legislation will be reviewed to ensure compliance with international laws, human rights and other conventions. As we embark on the reform process, we will ensure citizen participation by conducting regular consultations with representatives of the community, advocacy groups and other private sector organisations," he revealed. As part of this process, preparations are to be made this year to streamline immigration procedures by creating a "one-stop process" for obtaining entry permits and work permits.
The BVI have an excellent business infrastructure with good tele-communications; this coupled with the widespread use of the English language and a legal system largely based on English law makes the island a very convenient and effective business base. The very large numbers of offshore companies, trusts, insurers and mutual funds on the islands are supported by a well-developed and diverse professional services sector.
To do business in the BVI (as distinct from establishing an offshore trust or company) a Trade Licence is required from the Trade and Investment Promotion Department. The application form is accompanied by a financial statement, police record, two business references (for the individual or the company applying) and financial details of the proposed business.
Under the Pioneer Services and Enterprise Ordinance, ten-year tax holidays and import duty exemptions on capital equipment are available for investors into enterprises for which there is a 'special need' in the territory.
Under the Hotel Aid Ordinance, ten- or twenty-year tax holidays and import duty exemptions on building materials and equipment are available.
The Administration is generally supportive of investment into a range of activities, including food processing, tourist-oriented manufacturing, film production, beverage production, yachting services, and most recently, e-commerce.
British Virgin Islands Economy and Currency
British Virgin Islands Entry and Residence
British Virgin Islands Business Environment
British Virgin Islands Investments by Foreigners