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A Helping Hand

Residing in the British Virgin Islands

Words by Paul Mellor, Senior Associate—Harneys

Photography by Rainbow Visions BVI

This article was written prior to hurricane Irma and while it reflects the current law and policy, it’s possible there will be some changes to legislation to facilitate the recovery.

Readers should get in touch with their usual Harneys contact for advice on the options and requirements for residing in the BVI or any other related matters to acquiring property or a yacht, registering a business, or protecting assets to ensure they are successfully transitioned to the next generation.

The British Virgin Islands is a place of great natural beauty and many visitors find themselves sufficiently captivated by the Islands’ charm, wishing to make their stay more permanent.

If you are considering investing in a dream home, desiring to live and work here or perhaps keen to spend your retirement in the BVI, then you will need to give careful thought to the options and requirements for residing here.

Residing Indefinitely in the British Virgin Islands

The first important point to bear in mind is that, unless you are a Virgin Islander there are very limited options for residing indefinitely in the BVI. To be able to do so, you must be either:

  • a Belonger of the BVI
  • a person to whom a certificate of residence has been issued under the relevant immigration legislation

Each of these options is explored in turn below.


A Belonger is a person deemed to belong to the BVI according to the Constitution of the BVI. The precise definition is a little too involved for the purpose of this article, but in broad terms, a Belonger is a person of BVI ancestry and other persons who have been granted Belonger status under the relevant immigration legislation. 

While it’s possible for Belonger status to be granted to a person who is a Non-Belonger, the circumstances in which the status may be granted are limited.

Certificate of Residence

A certificate of residence may be granted to any person of good character who—in their application—has stated their intention to reside permanently in the BVI. 

While the immigration legislation does provide for the certificate of residence to be endorsed so as to relate also to the spouse and dependent children of that person, in practice the immigration authorities prefer for spouses to be independently certified as permanent residents. For that reason a full application is generally required for spouses.

While an application for a certificate of residence may be an option for some, it’s unlikely to be of broad appeal because:

  • the current immigration policy established a threshold of 20 years of continuous residence in the BVI before a person’s application for permanent residence will be considered
  • in order for a person’s period of permanent residence to be considered permanent, that person should not have been absent from the BVI for any period greater than 90 days in any calendar year
  • the current immigration policy provides for a very limited number of applications to be approved in each year

Because of the limited availability of options for indefinite residency in the BVI for the vast majority of persons, we shall now explore alternatives, which are in many ways more easily attainable, though as indicated above, will not permit residence on an indefinite basis as a matter of right.  

Each option has its own particular strengths and weaknesses and whether an option is appropriate or not will depend to a great extent on personal circumstances. These options are as follows:

  • Permission to reside/entry permit
  • Employment within the BVI following the issue of a work permit
  • Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence ID Card
  • Visitor Entry

Permission to Reside

A person who does not hold a certificate of residence, may remain in the BVI from year to year pursuant to immigration clearance on the basis of permission to reside.

An application for permission to reside may be made to the Chief Immigration Officer, providing evidence to satisfy that the applicant:

  • does not intend to remain permanently in the BVI
  • will not engage in or seek to engage in any employment in the BVI
  • has sufficient funds to support themselves without working for the duration of their stay and can also meet the cost of a return journey to the applicant’s usual place of residence

The application for permission to reside typically takes one/two months to be processed.  The fee is fairly modest; however, the applicant is likely to be required to post a bond with the Immigration Department to cover the cost of a return journey to the applicant’s usual place of residence in the event that the applicant breaches the terms of the permission to reside and is required to leave the BVI as a consequence. 

The bond is refundable in the event the applicant does not renew the permission to reside.

This is a popular option for homeowners in the BVI who plan to spend significant amounts of time in the Territory. 

The permission to reside is valid for up to one year and during that time, the recipient may leave and re-enter the BVI at will. For many, this will be preferable to some of the other, shorter-term options for remaining in the BVI.

There are no limits under the relevant immigration legislation on the number of times that the permission to reside may be renewed. Renewal is solely at the discretion of the Chief Immigration Officer or the Minister responsible for Immigration.

Employment within the British Virgin Islands

The economy of the BVI is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, being based upon the ‘twin pillars’ of financial services, which generates approximately 60% of government revenues. Tourism generates much of the remainder.

For persons with the requisite skills in these areas, there’s the potential opportunity to reside and work in the BVI, where employment positions cannot be filled locally.

Work permits are required for all those wishing to engage in employment in the BVI (whether paid or unpaid), unless you are:

  • a Virgin Islander
  • a Belonger
  • otherwise exempt from requiring a work permit pursuant to the relevant employment legislation

Holders of work permits relating to employment in the BVI may continue to reside in the BVI from year to year while the contract of employment underlying the work permit, and the work permit both remain in effect.

The work permit is renewable annually and in this regard the work permit is similar to the permission to reside, but there is of course no prohibition on working.

As with the permission to reside, there are no statutory limits on the number of times that a work permit, and the related immigration clearance, may be renewed.

Unlike some other countries in the Caribbean (and other parts of the world), there is currently no scheme in the BVI which grants residence status exclusively on the basis of investment in the local economy.

However, an increasing number of people are choosing to base their business operations in the BVI. By doing so, those persons have the opportunity to reside in the BVI as holders of a work permit, subject of course to also satisfying the various regulatory requirements to enable the operation of the underlying business.

Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence ID Card

The purchase of property in the BVI does not by itself entitle a person to resident status. A Non-Belonger (a person who is neither a Virgin Islander or a Belonger) wishing to purchase property in the BVI must first apply for and have been granted a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence, which authorises the holder to own property in the BVI.

Once a person holds such a Licence, that person will be entitled to apply for an identification card which may be shown to the immigration officials on arrival to the BVI. This will allow that person to remain in the BVI for up to six months in any twelve-month period, subject to any extension granted by the Chief Immigration Officer.

Visitor Entry

In the absence of the identification card referred to above (or the other forms of immigration clearance already discussed), persons may enter and remain in the BVI subject to the usual conditions of entry afforded to visitors.

Visitors are usually permitted to remain for one month, subject to any extension granted by the Chief Immigration Officer. While an entry visa is not required for visitors from many countries—including the United States of America and much of Western Europe—visitors should check the BVI’s visa requirements (if any) applicable to their country of citizenship.

Immigration legislation and policy can and does change from time to time and therefore persons interested in exploring their options to reside in the BVI—whether that be on a short or long-term basis—are advised to spend some time at the outset to ensure that they fully understand the rules and requirements, seeking professional advice to help them through the process where required.

Harneys Private Client team regularly advises clients on the options and requirements for residing in the BVI.

For more information on these solutions or any other related matters to acquiring property or a yacht, registering a business, or planning for future generations, please contact Sheila George, Johann Henry, or your usual Harneys contact.

Erin Paviour-Smith

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