Latin America & Caribbean

British Virgin Islands profile

Map of the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands, or BVI, comprise more than 40 Caribbean islands and islets with subtropical vegetation, white sandy beaches and coral reefs.

The British overseas territory forms part of an island chain, alongside the neighbouring US Virgin Islands. Tortola, the largest of the 16 inhabited islands, is home to more than three quarters of the population.

Named by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the islands were settled by the Dutch until 1666. They became part of Britain's Leeward Islands colony in 1872, gaining a limited degree of self-rule in 1967. A new constitution adopted in 2007 established a greater degree of self-government.

Tourism and offshore finance dominate the economy, with financial and business services accounting for nearly half of the islands' GDP. A huge leak in 2016 of documents known as the "Panama Papers" revealed the islands to be the most popular tax haven by far with clients of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The leak threw new light on how the rich and powerful hide their wealth and caused a global stir.

FACTS

British Virgin Islands

British overseas territory

20,600

  • Population 20,600

  • Area 153 sq km (59 sq miles)

  • Major language English

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Currency US dollar

Getty Images

LEADERS

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor

The governor is responsible for external affairs, defence, internal security, public services and the administration of the courts.

Premier: Orlando Smith

A trained physician, Orlando Smith was elected to his third stint as premier in June 2015 when his National Democratic Party (NDP) decisively defeated the opposition Virgin Islands Party. He previously held the post of chief minister from 2003 until 2007 when his party's defeat in the general election ended his tenure.

The territory has a ministerial system of government. Elections to the 13-member Legislative Council are held every four years.

MEDIA

Image copyright AP
Image caption A thriving financial services industry has evolved in the British Virgin Islands over the last 30 years

There are no public broadcasters based in the BVI; the TV station and radio stations are operated by private concerns.

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