Gentle haggling is common in markets. In all other instances, you're expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Mosquitoes and no see 'ums (tiny biting insects) can be a major annoyance. Bring insect repellent.
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30. August and September are the peak months, followed by October. If this is the only time you can visit, take heart: the chance of a major storm is small. What's more, a good watch system is in place with warnings that precede storms by several days. But do consider trip insurance during this period.
August through November are the wettest months, though rain tends to fall in brief, heavy bursts rather than pouring all day.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Ambulance, Fire, Police||999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- You can bring in food (but no meat). Officially you're required to pay 5% to 15% import duty on the value, but it isn't often enforced. One liter of alcohol is permitted duty free.
- Determining what you can take home depends on your country of origin. Check with your country's customs agency for clarification. US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) has details for citizens of the United States.
- Save your receipts, as a customs agent may ask to see them along with the items purchased.
Everyone needs a passport to enter the BVI (except Canadians, who can use a birth certificate and photo ID).
Whether arriving by air or sea, you’ll go through BVI immigration and customs. Officials might ask to see a return ticket and proof of funds, though that’s rare. It can take half an hour or so to clear customs. There’s no reason why, other than it’s just a slow-moving process. If you’re arriving on a ferry, you’ll clear through a customs house (www.bviports.org) near the dock.
Visitors from most Western countries do not need a visa to enter the BVI for 30 days or less. Check www.bvitourism.com/visas for a list of nationalities that do require a visa. If your home country does not qualify for exemption, contact your nearest British embassy to obtain a visa.
- Greet locals with a 'good day' or 'good evening' before asking questions or discussing business. Good manners are prized.
- Men without shirts and women in bathing suits or other skimpy attire are frowned upon anywhere besides the beach.
- The territory is on 'island time.' Don't expect things to run like clockwork.
Religious taboos on the gay and lesbian lifestyle are slow to crumble. You’re not likely to meet many islanders who are ‘out,’ nor are you likely to see public displays of affection among gay couples. GLBT discrimination is illegal. Same-sex marriage is not recognized here.
Internet cafes are sporadic but do still exist, often near marinas. Access generally costs US$5 per half-hour. Wi-fi is widely available, though service can be slow and fitful. Most lodgings have it for free in their public areas (though it is less common in-room), as do many restaurants and bars in the main towns.
The blood-alcohol limit in the BVI is 0.08%. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, subject to stiff fines and even imprisonment.
- Newspapers The BVI Beacon is the main newspaper; it is published weekly. BVI News (www.bvinews.com) offers free daily content online. The free, weekly Limin’ Times has entertainment listings.
- Radio ZBVI (780AM) airs talk and music from Tortola, including BBC broadcasts.
Currency is the US dollar (US$). ATMs are in main towns on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, but not elsewhere. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Dive/tour boat operators 15% of fee is reasonable.
- Hotels US$1 to US$2 per bag for bellhop; US$2 to US$5 per night for cleaning staff.
- Restaurants 15% to 20% of bill.
- Taxis 10% to 15% of fare.
Banks 9am–4pm Monday to Thursday, to 5pm Friday.
Bars & pubs Noon to midnight.
Restaurants Breakfast 7am–11am, lunch 11am–2pm, dinner 5pm–9pm daily; some open for brunch 10am–2pm Sunday.
Shops 9am–5pm Monday to Saturday.
The BVI postal service is reliable, but it can take a while. Mail sent to the USA takes four to 17 business days; it takes 10 to 25 business days to reach the UK.
New Year's Day January 1
HL Stoutt’s Birthday First Monday in March
Commonwealth Day Second Monday in March
Good Friday & Easter Monday (in March or April)
Whit Monday May or June (date varies)
Sovereign’s Birthday Mid-June (date varies)
Territory Day July 1
BVI Festival Days First Monday to Wednesday in August
St Ursula’s Day October 21
Christmas Day & Boxing Day December 25 and 26
- Smoking Banned in all restaurants, bars and other public venues.
Taxes & Refunds
The BVI has no sales tax on goods or services. The stated price on restaurant menus and in shops is what you pay.
Country code 1
Area code 284
Dialing BVI phone numbers consist of the area code, followed by a seven-digit local number. If you are calling from abroad, dial 1 + 284 + seven-digit number. If you are calling locally, just dial the seven-digit number.
You should be able to use your cell phone on the islands, but watch out for exorbitant roaming fees.
CCT (www.cctbvi.com), Flow (www.discoverflow.co) and Digicel (www.digicelbvi.com) provide the local service. SIM cards are easy to get at local shops in Road Town and at large marinas. They cost about US$20.
The islands are on Atlantic Standard Time (GMT/UTC minus 4 hours). Relative to New York, Miami and the eastern time zone: the Virgins are one hour ahead in winter, and in the same time zone in summer (due to daylight saving time).
Toilets are of the sit-down variety. There are no public toilets. Your best bet is to find a bar or restaurant.
BVI Tourist Board (www.bvitourism.com) Official site with comprehensive lodging and activity info.
Travel with Children
The islands are fairly child-friendly. While baby-changing facilities and smooth pavements for prams are not ubiquitous, resorts with kids’ programs and a welcoming attitude toward families are.
Virgin Gorda offers a couple of top attractions. The Bitter End Yacht Club & Resort has a full slate of activities for kids each week where they hike, learn to sail and have cupcake and pizza parties. It’s best for youngsters aged eight and older. The Baths are a splash-worthy national park, where kids can tromp around enormous boulders, climb up rope ladders and explore sea-filled grottoes.
Tortola’s East End features Surf School BVI, which teaches all ages to hang ten but is especially good for teens. Not far away, Aragorn’s Full Moon Party at Trellis Bay thrills families with fire jugglers and stilt walkers.
All the islands offer villa and apartment rentals, which have lots of space and kitchens for DIY meals. Virgin Gorda and Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay Area are laden with such properties.
Most restaurants do not have a children’s menu, but they often serve burgers and pizza as part of their line-up. The ambience tends to be informal and relaxed wherever you go.
On Virgin Gorda, Tropical Nannies (www.tropicalnannies.com) provides babysitting services by trained, professional nannies. They’ll come to your hotel or take the kids off your hands starting at US$20 per hour. The company also rents cribs and high chairs.
The BVI is not particularly accessible and does not have any specific services geared toward travelers with disabilities.
Weights & Measures
The islands use imperial measurements. Distances are in feet and miles; gasoline is measured in gallons.
There are no BVI-specific volunteering organizations, but you can find opportunities through groups such as Workaway (www.workaway.info) and Help Exchange (www.helpx.com), in which locals provide food and lodging in return for assistance with tasks such as painting, mangrove planting, dock building etc. The websites have details on time commitment, location and other requirements. The groups charge an annual fee (between US$21 and US$29) to join.
It’s safe for women to travel solo in the BVI. Just use the same degree of caution you would in a big city at home: be aware of your surroundings and don’t walk alone at night in unfamiliar areas. Avoid isolated beaches at any time of day or night.
Only Belongers (naturalized citizens) can work without a permit in the BVI. The government doesn't issue work permits easily, as it is keen to give jobs to locals. To learn more about the process, check BVI Newbie (www.bvinewbie.com) and click 'relocating.' Find job listings at www.bviemployment.com.