British Virgin Islands travel guide
About British Virgin Islands
Sloping hills of green, lush mountainous terrain, extensive coral reefs and famous shipwrecks sum up the thrills and spills of the British Virgin Islands. With myriad nautical pursuits on offer, the 50 idyllic islands are a slice of paradise.
Norman Island was supposedly the location that Robert Louis Stevenson based Treasure Island on. Today's visitors might not stumble across swashbuckling pirates or half-concealed treasure troves, but they will find a highly prized booty of soft sand and gentle, teal waters. For travellers who prefer to watch the sea rather than get into it, there is the breathtaking chance of spotting dolphins and whales criss-crossing the surface.
Throughout much of their history, the string of islands and cays were sleepy and unnoticed. Today, colossal cruise ships glide to a halt in the shadow of Road Town on Tortola, the largest of the islands. Smaller ships also take in Virgin Gorda, the second biggest island, docking outside the curiously named Spanish Town. Hardly qualifying as a town, the latter has a few shops and a pretty marina, and is quiet, picturesque settlement. Road Town offers a little more action, with a gleaming harbour and waterfront, as well plenty of pastel-coloured West Indian architecture. Sir Olva Georges Square is a pleasant spot to take a seat and admire the views.
Although the tourism industry is booming here, you can easily get away from it all. Much of the accommodation beyond Road Town offers utter tranquility, while some of the hotels elsewhere in the territory pretty much have islands to themselves.
Paradise does come at a cost. Overall, the British Virgin Islands are quite an expensive destination. But, for some, this is the necessary price of saving a Caribbean gem from over-commercialisation. And if that's the intention, the British Virgin Islands are, for now, a resounding success.
153 sq km (59 sq miles).
30,659 (UN estimate 2016).
218.7 per sq km.
Road Town, Tortola.
British Overseas Territory.
HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952, represented locally by Governor Gus Jaspert since 2017.
Premier Andrew Fahie since 2019.
Last updated: 22 July 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Extensive damage was caused by Hurricane Irma on 6 September 2017, and the islands were then further impacted by Tropical Storm Jose and Hurricane Maria. There was widespread damage to infrastructure with a large proportion of homes and buildings very badly damaged. Good progress has been made and the Recovery and Development Agency Act has been passed, which paves the way for financing the long-term recovery.
Electricity has been restored on Tortola and its sister island of Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke to more than 99% of pre-hurricane network. Most roads are passable and work is ongoing to repair the remainder. The main port is fully functioning, the local shops are open and there are no restrictions on available food items. Peebles Hospital is fully functioning.
The Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Tortola is fully functioning and ferry services to sister islands and the US Virgin Islands have now resumed. Communications, including mobile phone networks, have largely been restored across the islands. The security situation remains stable and the police and magistrate’s court are fully functioning.
Tourism, particularly in the marine sector has bounced back and all beaches are open. Several hotels as well as bars and restaurants remain closed. Visitors should, however, be aware that recovery and clean-up efforts continue. Swimmers should be mindful that debris may remain on some beaches or in the sea, and should exercise caution.
Local authorities can provide further information and you should follow their advice. You can follow the Governor’s Office Facebook page and 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 the 2017 hurricanes. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the US National Hurricane Center and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
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.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are processed by the British High Commission in Barbados (not valid for travel through the United States of America without a valid US visa).
UK health authorities have classified the British Virgin Islands as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit 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
You should avoid walking alone in isolated areas including beaches, particularly after dark.
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 jewelry.
- 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 on one of the following numbers as their 911 and 311 services are 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
Ferry services between Tortola and its sister islands of Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, and also to the US Virgin Islands have now resumed.
Most roads are passable, but work is ongoing to repair the remainder. Great care should be taken when driving particularly on the mountain roads.
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.
The yacht charter business in BVI is returning to normal. If you have already made bookings with yacht charter companies you should check with your operator before you 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:
• Send a distress call on VHF Channel 16
• dial 767 (SOS)
• +1 284 499 0911 (emergency)
• +1 284 345 4357 (office)
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.
Since Hurricane Irma hit on 7 September 2017, the UK Government continues to provide support with the recovery.
For medical assistance and other services, call:
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
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).
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.
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 or the Government’s Chief Conservation & Fisheries Officer before buying, or attempting to import or export such items.
A GROUNDED VESSEL that has sustained “material damage affecting her seaworthiness or efficiency”, must notify the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry within 24 hours of the accident.
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. Commercial, sport and pleasure fishing requires a fishing license and the boat you are fishing from must be registered. You can get a temporary permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour or the Department of Conservation and Fisheries:
Ministry of Natural Resources and 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. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
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:
Chief Immigration Officer
Telephone: 001 284 494-3471 or 001 284 468-3701 extension 4700/4770
Fax: 001 284 494-4399
Telephone: 001 284 468 3701 extension 4708-4713 or 001 284 494 3451
Fax: 001 284 494 3027
You must hold a valid passport to enter the BVI. Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay.
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.
Visitors arriving by air or sea are also charged an environmental and tourism levy of $10 on arrival.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each overseas territory page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in overseas territories. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the local territory government.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
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.
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.
The hurricane season in the Caribbean normally runs from June to November, but can occur any time of the year. 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.
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 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.