British Virgin Islands
All visitors except Americans and Canadians must have a passport to enter the BVI. U.S. and Canadian citizens can enter using a birth certificate and government-issued ID. However, all travelers, including U.S. citizens, need a passport to re-enter the United States from the Caribbean. This means that American visitors to the British Virgin Islands are not required to have a passport to get in, but they need one to get back home. Canadians who have to go through the United States to get home also need a passport.
Visitors are allowed to stay in the BVI for up to one month in the first instance. Further tourist visas must be applied for once you are here. All visitors should have a return ticket home and prearranged accommodations.
Nationals of 91 different countries including Jamaica, China, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Russia, and Suriname need to apply for a visa at the local British Embassy before traveling to the territory. Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, and Western Europeans do not need a visa. Call the BVI Passport Office (284/468-3701, ext. 3038) for complete visa information.
All non-belongers must have a work permit to work in the BVI. British citizens are not exempt from this requirement. Work permits must be applied for by your employer while you are outside of the territory. In other words, it is not okay to come to the BVI, look for work, and apply for a work permit while you are supposedly on vacation. If you make the mistake of telling the immigration officer that you are looking for a job, you might very well be on the next plane home.
If you are interested in working in the BVI, find a job first. Vacancies are listed in the local papers. Once you are hired, you and your employer will have to navigate the formidable maze of labor and immigration officials in order to get a work permit and entry permit. Work permits are issued for one-year periods and must be renewed. While you are on a work permit, you cannot work for anyone else.
There is no income tax in the BVI, although a payroll tax functions much like a flat income tax would. Employees’ annual salaries over $10,000 are taxed at 8 percent. At the same time, employers pay 2–6 percent of their total payroll in taxes, depending on the size of the business.
There is no sales tax, but the government charges a 7 percent hotel tax, which is added to hotel bills, often along with a service charge. Most hotels do not include the tax in their published rates. There is also a departure tax of $5 by sea, $20 by air, and $7 for cruise ship passengers.
Customs duties are one of the reasons why goods and services are so expensive in the BVI. Duties range from zero to 20 percent, depending on the good and the purpose for which it is being imported. Most goods are charged a 10 percent customs duty. Everything coming into the country is subject to customs duty, including mail-order items and gifts. Residents returning to the BVI after more than 72 hours away are allowed the paltry sum of $50 duty-free. A retailer bringing items in for resale will pay the same customs duty as people bringing the same item in for themselves.
Permits and Licenses
Charter boats pay a special charter boat permit fee to the Customs Department. The fee is $4 per person per day for boats based outside of the BVI and $2 per person per day for BVI-based boats December–April. The rate for BVI-based boats goes down to $0.75 per person per day during the summer.
You must obtain a fishing license before you can fish in the BVI. Fishing licenses are obtained from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour (284/468-3701, ext. 2147). Many crewed charter boats, plus all fishing charters, have the necessary license already. If you want to fish, your best bet is to sign up with one of these operators or take part in a fishing tournament.
Offering a bribe is a highly disrespectful move that will backfire on you. Police, customs, and immigration officers do not accept bribes and will not welcome your suggestion that they do.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Virgin Islands, 4th edition