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.
September, October and November are the wettest months, though rain tends to fall in brief, heavy bursts rather than pouring all day.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
- Determining what you can take home depends on your country of origin. Check with your country's customs agency for clarification.
- US citizens (including children) can bring home, duty-free, 5 liters of alcohol and US$1600 worth of goods total from the Virgin Islands, though at least US$800 in items and one of the alcohol liters must be from the USVI. US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) has details.
- You do not clear customs entering the USVI if you're coming from the United States.
- You cannot take fruits or vegetables out of the USVI.
- Save your receipts, as a customs agent may ask to see them along with the items purchased.
US citizens do not need a passport to visit the US Virgin Islands, but all other nationalities do. Note that when departing the USVI, everyone must clear immigration and customs before boarding the plane. US citizens will be asked to show photo identification (such as a driver’s license) and proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate). If traveling to any other Caribbean country (besides Puerto Rico), US citizens must have a valid passport to reenter the US.
- Visitors from most Western countries do not need a visa to enter the USVI if they are staying less than 90 days.
- This holds true as long as you can present an electronic passport (with digital chip) and are approved under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta). Note that you must register for ESTA at least 72 hours before arrival, and there’s a US$14 fee for processing and authorization (payable online).
- If you do need a visa, contact your local US embassy. The US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) has the latest information on admission requirements.
- 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.
While a fair number of islanders are gay, you’re not likely to meet many who are ‘out,’ nor are you likely to see public displays of affection among gay couples.
St Croix is the most gay friendly of the islands, with Frederiksted the center of gay life, but overall there aren’t many structured outlets for meeting. One exception is Sand Castle on the Beach, in Frederiksted.
Internet cafes are sporadic but do still exist, often near marinas and cruise-ship docks. Access generally costs US$5 per half-hour. Wi-fi is widely available, though service can be slow and fitful. Most lodgings have it for free in their public areas (though it is less common in-room), as do many restaurants and bars in the main towns.
The blood-alcohol limit in the USVI is 0.08%. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, subject to stiff fines and even imprisonment.
Open-container laws do not exist here, so you can walk around with drinks on the streets.
Newspapers & Magazines
- Newspapers The VI Daily News is the main paper. VI Source (www.visource.com) provides news online for free.
- Magazines St Thomas/St John This Week and St Croix This Week are free and widely available monthly (despite the name!) magazines.
Radio & TV
- Radio WVGN (93.1FM) is the National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate, airing from St Thomas.
- TV Local stations include channels 8 (ION) and 12 (PBS).
Currency is the US dollar (US$). ATMs in main towns on all three islands. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- 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
- Dive/tour-boat operators 15% of fee is reasonable
Banks 9am–4pm Monday to Thursday, to 5pm Friday.
Bars & pubs Noon–midnight.
Restaurants Breakfast 7–11am, lunch 11am–2pm, dinner 5–9pm daily; some open for brunch 10am–2pm Sunday.
Shops 9am–5pm Monday to Saturday.
Postal service is reliable. The islands use the same postal system and mail rates as the United States. It costs $0.49 to send a letter (weighing up to 1oz) and $0.34 to send a postcard to the USA.
New Year's Day January 1
Three Kings Day (Feast of the Epiphany) January 6
Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Transfer Day March 31
Holy Thursday & Good Friday Before Easter Sunday (in March or April)
Easter Monday Day after Easter Sunday
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Emancipation Day July 3
Independence Day (Fourth of July) July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Liberty Day November 1
Veterans’ Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
- Smoking Banned in all restaurants, bars and other public venues.
Taxes & Refunds
The islands have 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 340
Dialing USVI phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code, followed by a seven-digit local number. If you are calling from abroad, dial all 10 digits preceded by 1. If you are calling locally, just dial the seven-digit number.
AT&T and Sprint are the islands’ main service providers. Other companies (ie Verizon) may also work without roaming fees, but check in advance with your provider to make sure. Be careful on St John, as phones can accidentally pick up British Virgin Island cell towers and lead to enormous roaming charges. It’s a hassle to find local SIM cards.
The islands are on Atlantic Standard Time (GMT/UTC minus 4). 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.
USVI Department of Tourism (www.visitusvi.com) Official tourism site with a 'hot deals' link.
Travel with Children
The islands are relatively child friendly. While baby-change facilities and smooth pavements for prams are not ubiquitous, calm beaches and comfortable lodgings for families are.
Specific beaches that are good for children, with shallow water and minimal waves, include Secret Harbour and Magens Bay (St Thomas), Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay (St John), and Protestant Cay (St Croix). Magens and Cinnamon have large water-sports centers that rent kayaks, paddleboards and more, so teens groove on these beaches, too.
St Croix’ cannon-clad forts are cool for youngsters. Teens like dipping a paddle on tours with St Thomas' Virgin Islands Ecotours and St Croix' Virgin Kayak Tours; the latter uses easy-to-maneuver pedal-operated vessels.
All the islands offer villa and condominium rentals, which have lots of space and kitchens for DIY meals. Resorts offer similar amenities. St Thomas’ East End is laden with such properties. Caneel Bay Resort on St John is another good option.
Even if most restaurants do not have a children’s menu, they often serve burgers and pizza as part of their lineup. The ambience tends to be informal and relaxed wherever you go.
On St John, Island Baby (www.islandbabyvi.com) rents out gear such as high chairs (per week US$60), baby hiking backpacks (per week US$50), baby monitors and much more, which can lighten one's travel load considerably.
While the Americans With Disabilities Act holds sway in the USVI, facilities are not accessible to the same degree as they are in the US. On St John, Concordia Eco-Resort provides well-regarded accessible lodging.
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park (www.friendsvinp.org) Volunteer for weekly trail or beach cleanups on St John.
St Croix Environmental Association (www.stxenvironmental.org) Help clean beaches where sea turtles nest.
Ridge to Reef Farm (www.ridge2reef.org) Stay on an organic farm in St Croix' rainforest and work in the fields.
Weights & Measures
The islands use imperial weights and measurements. Distances are in feet and miles; gasoline is measured in gallons.
US citizens can work legally in the USVI without any red tape. Everyone else needs a work visa, which is secured through a sponsor (meaning an employer). Contact your embassy or consulate for more information.
Marinas are a good place to look for jobs on yachts; check the bulletin-board notices or ask around at the nearest bar or restaurant. You can also use a crew placement agency such as Crewseekers International (www.crewseekers.net).
VI Moving Center (www.vimovingcenter.com/employment) has further information on jobs and requirements in various fields.