Visas & permits

Americans don’t need a passport to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, and anyone who enjoys visa-free entry to the United States can come to the U.S. Virgin Islands without hassle.

All visitors to the BVI need a passport and proof of pre-arranged accommodation and onward passage. The BVI has strict rules about non-residents working without a work visa.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Visas

Travelers who do not qualify for visa-free entry to the United States will need a nonimmigrant visa to visit the United States. Check with the nearest U.S. embassy to find out if you need a visa, or check the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov.

Travelers from most European countries, Canada, and Australia do not need a nonimmigrant visa, although they must obtain prior authorization to land under the United States Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program. ESTA applications can be made on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency website (www.cbp.gov) and should be made at least 72 hours prior to your trip to the United States. There is a $14 processing fee for each ESTA application; once obtained, an ESTA is valid for two years.

An ESTA is required even if you are merely in transit through the United States.

Customs

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency considers the U.S. Virgin Islands outside the customs territory of the U.S. mainland. This means that you will have to clear customs and border protection before you board your aircraft in St. Thomas or St. Croix. Fill your customs declaration form in completely and accurately and you should have no trouble.

U.S. residents, including children, can bring back up to $1,200 in goods duty-free from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, $1,000 in goods can be imported at a flat rate of 5 percent, and you can mail an unlimited number of gifts up to $100 in value, excluding perfume, liquor, and tobacco products. U.S. residents over 21 can bring five bottles of liquor home, or six if one is locally produced in the Virgin Islands.

Permits and Licenses

There are no special work permit requirements in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As long as you can legally live and work in the United States, you can do so in the U.S. Virgin Islands. No cruising permit is required for boats in the Virgin Islands for less than six months. If you plan to stay longer, you will need to register your boat with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

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 reenter the United States from the Caribbean. This means that for all intents and purposes American visitors to the British Virgin Islands need a passport to travel to the BVI. Canadians who have to go through the United States to get home also need a passport.

Visas

Visitors are allowed to stay in the BVI for up to one month in the first instance. Further tourist visas must be applied for in person once you are here. All visitors must have a return ticket home and prearranged accommodations. Nationals of 91 different countries, including Jamaica, 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. Contact the BVI Passport Office for complete visa information.

Belonger Status

You may encounter the term “belonger” during your visit to the BVI. It is a legal category first introduced by the British during the colonial period. Belonger status does not depend on one’s citizenship or nationality. Instead it confers that, regardless of nationality, the holder has permanent ties to the British Virgin Islands.

Most belongers obtain their status by being born to a belonger parent. But belonger status can also be obtained by application (there is a twenty-year minimum residency requirement) and by marriage (there is a five-year waiting period). Belongers are free to work and buy land without a special permit, they may vote, they pay lower property taxes, and they will find it easier to obtain a business license. Other UK overseas territories utilize the term belonger to describe a category of people as well, but being a BVI belonger does not give you belonger status in another overseas territory, say, Anguilla, or the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Work Permits

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 permitted 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 an 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 rules to get a work permit and entry permit. Work permits are typically issued for one-year periods and the permit fee varies based on the foreign worker’s salary. While you are on a work permit, you cannot work for anyone else.

Permits and Licenses

Charter boats pay a special charter boat permit fee to the Customs Department. The fee is $6 per person per day for boats based in the BVI and $16 per person per day for non BVI-based boats.

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. Many crewed charter boats, plus all fishing charters, will take care of this for you. If you want to fish, your best bet is to sign up with one of these operators or take part in a fishing tournament.