Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands use U.S. currency.
While hotels, car rental agencies, charter boat companies, retail shops, and large restaurants almost always accept credit cards, many smaller enterprises including all taxis only take cash. Some shops also have minimum purchase requirements if you wish to use a credit card.
Travelers from Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world can in theory exchange money at banks throughout the islands, but that will be a hassle. It would be better just to plan on withdrawing funds from an ATM immediately after arriving. There are no independent money changers.
Despite being British, the British Virgin Islands use imperial measures: Miles, feet, and pounds are the common parlance. Speed limits are posted in miles, gas is sold by the gallon, and groceries are weighed in pounds and ounces. The same is true for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Electricity is 110 volts, 60 cycles, the same as in the United States. Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands experience occasional power outages, but many hotels and guesthouses have backup generators, so you may not notice.
The Virgin Islands are on Atlantic Standard Time (AST), four hours behind Universal Standard Time and one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. There is no daylight savings time.
Internet service is readily available in both the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, but speeds, reliability and coverage are poor compared to what you may be used to. Hurricanes Irma and Maria did serious damage to the telecommunications infrastructure and it is still being repaired. Wifi is a common amenity at most hotels and villas, but the quality of the connection is unlikely to be very good. Ask for specifics about average wifi speeds when you make your reservation if this is especially important to you.
Some marinas, restaurants and coffee shops provide wifi for paying guests but don’t count on it. If you really need constant access to the internet, don’t rely on wifi: get a local SIM card with a data plan.
Placing calls to and from the U.S. Virgin Islands is easy and relatively affordable. As part of the United States, the territory is usually not considered an international call, although it’s never a bad idea to double check your long-distance plan before making any calls. The area code is 340. Major U.S. cellular phone companies provide service in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Check your wireless plan for information on roaming charges.
The international prefix for the BVI is 284 and dialing a BVI telephone number is just like dialing a long-distance U.S. telephone number. The rates are another story though: telecommunications in the BVI are much more expensive than in the USVI, with some per-minute rates still over $1.
Further, if you are hoping to use a U.S. or other international mobile phone during your visit, be sure to speak with your home carrier first to find out if they have any preferred roaming partners in the BVI and what the roaming rates will be. It can be extremely expensive.
If you will be making lots of local calls or need consistent internet access, consider buying a temporary SIM card for use during your stay. A temporary SIM card costs less than $20 and will allow you to make local calls and get basic internet coverage when you are away from wifi.
Mobile voice and data services in the BVI are provided by Digicel (www.digicelbvi.com), LIME (www.lime.com), and CCT Global Communications (www.cctbvi.com), all of which have offices in Road Town.
If you have a U.S. mobile phone, there are a few parts of Tortola that pick up signals from the U.S. Virgin Islands, providing an inexpensive way to stay in touch if you are going to be spending time on the western side of the island.
Free, pocket-size road maps are widely available throughout the Virgin Islands. These are handy and reliable and will meet the needs of most travelers. Maps are also printed in the free tourist-oriented magazines that are widely available.
Specialized hiking maps of St. John are available from the National Park Service headquarters in Cruz Bay. The NPS shops in Cruz Bay and Christiansted, St. Croix, have the best selection of maps in the islands.
If you want a really good, detailed map of the entire Virgin Islands, you should buy it before you come. Map publishers Berndtson, International Travel Maps and National Geographic have high-quality maps available at major online map stores and booksellers.
Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands have free, helpful magazines geared for visitors.
The BVI Welcome is a free bimonthly glossy magazine for tourists with thoughtful articles, lots of useful information, and advertising. It is widely available at hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-oriented places.
St. Thomas-St. John This Week and St. Croix This Week are monthly magazines geared toward tourists. Both contain calendars of events, useful phone numbers, and lots of advertising.
You will find tourist offices and information desks in Road Town, Tortola; Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Christiansted, St. Croix. The National Park Service office on St. John doubles as an information desk. Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands have tourist offices in the mainland United States and Europe, plus useful websites.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are served by the U.S. Postal Service, and the same products and services available on the mainland are available at post offices in the islands, including overnight, registered, and priority mail. Zip codes for the U.S. Virgin Islands are 00801-00809. There is one post office on St. John, five on St. Thomas, and six on St. Croix. Postal rates are the same as in the mainland United States.
Through the BVI Post Office you can mail letters and packages, buy stamps, and purchase money orders. There is no overnight or priority mail service, however. The main BVI post office is located near the roundabout in Road Town. It takes 7-10 days (and sometimes longer) for a letter mailed in the BVI to reach the United States or Canada. Many a traveler has had the experience of already being home when their postcards start to turn up in friends’ mailboxes.
International couriers FedEx, DHL, and UPS also have offices in both territories.
Neither the U.S. nor British Virgin Islands have a system of postal addresses. With the exception of downtown Christiansted in St. Croix, all customers use post office boxes to receive their mail. This is one reason why giving directions is so challenging in both territories.
The Virgin Islands Daily News is the largest newspaper in the Virgin Islands. It covers happenings in the U.S. Virgin Islands in great detail and sometimes includes stories about the British Virgin Islands as well. It reports regional and international news and includes comics, TV listings, crosswords, weather, and more. The Daily News is published every day except Sunday and costs $1.
The St. Croix Avis is a daily focusing on St. Croix news, widely available on that island.
The British Virgin Islands are served by two different national weekly newspapers. The BVI Beacon, published on Thursdays, is the best. The Island Sun, published on Fridays, runs a lot of government press releases.
There is an abundance of local radio stations in the Virgin Islands. Listening to local radio is a great way to soak up the local culture, pick up on Caribbean music, and find out where the big party is on the weekend.
Some good bets on the radio dial are: Mongoose 104 (104.9 FM; oldies and classics); Isle 95 (95.1 FM; reggae and urban); Magic 97 (970 AM; news, talk, and Caribbean music); ZBVI (780 AM; news, Caribbean, oldies); and KISS 101.3 (urban); 105 JAMZ (105 FM; Caribbean, reggae). Not all radio stations can be picked up on every island.