Foreign travel advice

British Virgin Islands

Summary

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Extensive damage was caused by Hurricane Irma and the islands were further impacted by Hurricanes Jose and Maria. On 21 September 2017, the local authorities extended the state of emergency for 14 days and a curfew, which remains in force from 8 pm to 6 am. There is widespread damage to infrastructure with a large proportion of homes and buildings very badly damaged. Access to medical supplies, food and water are limited and power supplies have been affected although some sea ports are now open and a small number of ferry services have begun to resume. Communications have been damaged in the region, including mobile phone networks. The security situation remains stable.

The UK is providing assistance and financial support to the British Virgin Islands. for more information on the UK Government response and advice for British nationals. You can also follow the Twitter account of the Governor @GusJaspert for updates on BVI.

The hurricane season usually runs from June to November and further storms could affect the Caribbean. The impact of these could be particularly severe in light of the damage already caused by Hurricane Irma. You are advised to monitor updates from the US National Hurricane Centre and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders, in the case of any further storms.

As the BVI is a British Overseas Territory, there is no formal British diplomatic representation and the local authorities deal with all requests for emergency assistance. Following the impact of Hurricane Irma, the UK Government is providing disaster relief.

UK health authorities have classified the British Virgin Islands as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the British Virgin Islands, attacks can’t be ruled out.

Safety and security

Crime

Although most visits to the BVI are trouble-free, serious incidents, including armed robbery, do occur. You should take sensible precautions against petty crime. Avoid walking alone in isolated areas including beaches, particularly after dark. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or jewellery. Use a hotel safe if possible. Never leave anything valuable unattended on the beach. Take particular care of your passport as it can’t be renewed or replaced in the BVI.

Don’t offer resistance to an armed robber. If you need help contact the police by calling 911 or 311 in the first instance.

Local travel

There are regular ferry services between Tortola and its sister islands of Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke, and also to the US Virgin Islands.

Road travel

Driving conditions can be hazardous, due to steep and narrow mountain roads, and poor driving standards.

Temporary driving licences are no longer issued in the BVI. You can drive for up to 30 days on a UK licence and then must apply for a local one at the Vehicle Department. Cars are left-hand drive, and vehicles drive on the left as in the UK.

Standard taxi fares exist for most destinations, but it is sensible to clarify the fare with the driver beforehand.

Sea travel

Many visitors to the BVI take part in water sports. The rate of accidents is very low, but they do occur. Many accidents involve the consumption of alcohol. Fear and dehydration exaggerate the effects of alcohol, so take care if you have been drinking.

Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) respond to emergencies at sea. VISAR can be contacted as follows:

  • dial 767 (SOS)
  • dial 999 or 911
  • dial 494 4357 (494-HELP)
    -send a distress call on VHF Channel 16

Emergency assistance

As the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a British Overseas Territory, there is no formal British diplomatic or consular representation. The local authorities deal with all requests for emergency assistance. Following the impact of Hurricane Irma on 7 September 2017, the UK Government is providing disaster relief to the BVI. for more information on the UK Government response and advice for British nationals.

If you need the police, please call one of the following numbers as their 911 service is currently not functional:
+1 284 468 9001
+1 284 468 9000
+1 284 344 1818
+1 284 344 1822
+1 284 344 1977
+1 284 545 4866.

Peebles Hospital on Tortola: +1 284 852 7500 or +1 284 394 3497

Peebles Hospital Disaster Centre: +1 284 852 7525

BVI Red Cross: +1 284 547 4047

BVI DDM: +1 284 468 4200 / bviddm@surfbvi.com / bviddmirma@gmail.com

VHF Channel – 16

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are processed by the British High Commission in Barbados and in a genuine emergency, the BVI Civil Registry and Passport Office (+1 284 494-3701 ext 3035/3036) may be able to issue a regional Emergency Travel Document (not valid for travel through the United States of America).

Terrorism

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the British Virgin Islands, attacks can’t be ruled out.

There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a separate legal jurisdiction to the United Kingdom and has its own laws.

Don’t get involved with illegal drugs, including marijuana. Possession of even small quantities can lead to large fines or imprisonment. Drug trafficking is a serious offence. Pack your own luggage yourself and don’t carry items that do not belong to you.

Observe customs regulations on the import and export of agricultural products and the protection of marine and animal life. There are a number of marine and animal specimens that may not be taken from the island. If in doubt, check with the local customs authorities before buying, or attempting to import or export such items.

Spear fishing isn’t permitted in the BVI. The use of SCUBA equipment, explosive, poison or other noxious substance to capture or remove any marine animal or coral is against the law (this includes dead coral and shells). Fishing within the boundaries of any marine park is strictly forbidden.

Fishing without the correct permit carries steep penalties. You can get a temporary permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour or the Department of Conservation & Fisheries:

Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour
Administration Complex
Road Town
Tortola
Telephone: (284) 468-3701 extension 2147
Fax: (284) 494-2499

Department of Conservation and Fisheries,
The Quastisky Building
PO Box 3323
Road Town, Tortola.
Telephone: (284) 494-5681/3429 or (284) 468-3701 extension 5555/1
Fax: (284) 494-2670

Homosexuality is legal under BVI law. There’s no provision for marriage or civil partnerships between same sex couples. Attitudes in the main tourist destinations are tolerant. Throughout BVI, hotels and resorts are generally welcoming regardless of sexual orientation. Outside the tourist areas local attitudes can be conservative and some people may not approve of public displays of affection between same sex couples.

Entry requirements

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit the British Virgin Islands (BVI). It’s normal practice for BVI immigration authorities to issue you with a one-month entry stamp on arrival. You may also be granted an extension for one further month. Extensions for up to 6 months are granted on the discretion of the Chief Immigration Officer provided that the individual can show proof of independent financial means. You may need to provide evidence of accommodation and your plans to leave the BVI at the end of your stay.

For all other immigration and labour matters, including work permits, contact the BVI authorities:

Immigration Department

Chief Immigration Officer

Government Offices

Road Town

Tortola

BVI

Telephone: 001 284 494-3471 or 001 284 468-3701 extension 4700/4770

Fax: 001 284 494-4399

Labour Department

Geneva Place

Road Town

Tortola

BVI

Telephone: 001 284 468 3701 extension 4708-4713 or 001 284 494 3451

Fax: 001 284 494 3027

Passport validity

You must hold a valid passport to enter the BVI. Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay.

Departure tax

There is a $15 US departure tax and $5 US security charge (per person) payable on leaving the BVI by air which is generally included in the ticket price. If you are departing the BVI by ferry, a departure tax of $15 per person or $10 for residents is payable.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

There is only one hospital in the BVI and medical facilities are limited. Complex medical problems are frequently referred to hospitals in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or mainland USA. The US visa waiver scheme does not apply to one-off charter flights. Special arrangements have to be made for any non-US visa holder who is medically evacuated by charter flight. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

UK health authorities have classified the British Virgin Islands as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Cases of Chikungunya virus have been confirmed in BVI and the number of reported cases in the region is increasing. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

The BVI Environmental Health Division is continuing its mosquito vector control activities as the risk of Dengue is present.

There is no hyperbaric chamber in the BVI. Patients needing treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St John, US Virgin Islands. More sensitive medical cases are transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 999 or 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Natural disasters

The hurricane season in the Caribbean normally runs from June to November. You should monitor weather updates from the US National Hurricane Centre and the BVI Department of Disaster Management. 

See our Tropical Cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a storm.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.