The British Virgin Islands are a small group of islands situated in the north-eastern Caribbean some 60 miles east of Puerto Rico and directly adjacent to and forming a part of the same geographic group as the United States Virgin Islands. Direct access by air to the British Virgin Islands from North America and Europe is primarily achieved through San Juan, Puerto Rico which is 30 minutes away by connecting air links. San Juan is approximately 2 hours flying time from Miami. The proximity to the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have made these two territories the natural trading partners of the British Virgin Islands with a great deal of trade and travel going back and forth between the islands.
The British Virgin Islands are located in the same time zone as the eastern United States and 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.
Though the British Virgin Islands consists of some 60 islands and cays with a combined land mass of less than 100 square miles, there are four principal population centers, the largest being the island of Tortola, site of Road Town, the capital and commercial center of the territory. The British Virgin Islands are mostly volcanic in origin with a topography characterized by steep wooded hills and white sand beaches ringing the coasts of most islands, the island of Anegada the sole exception, being perfectly flat and limestone in origin.
The main industries in the British Virgin Islands are tourism and financial services. Each sector currently contributes approximately fifty percent to the revenue of the territory, contributing to one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, with a per capita income of approximately $30,000 in 1996. The literacy rate is 98%.
The British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory, one of a handful in the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands are constitutionally autonomous of the United Kingdom and are internally self-governing with a Governor appointed by the British Government as the representative of the British Crown in the territory. The Governor is responsible for defense, external affairs, the local police force and the administration of justice. The Governor normally acts on the advice of the locally elected government.
Most government functions are the responsibility of locally elected representatives who together with the opposition members, comprise and sit in the Legislative Council, a unicameral body that consists of 13 members. The head of the Government is the Chief Minister who with a Cabinet of three ministers conducts the affairs of government for the territory. The voting age is 18 years. There are two main political parties. However, there is broad consensus on the general trend of development in the territory. The British Virgin Islands are regarded as politically and economically stable.
The official language is English.
The British Virgin Islands has a population of approximately 24,000 (July 2002 est.) persons of which perhaps 13,500 possess full status to live and work in the territory without restriction.
Several population groups coexist in harmony.