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British Virgin Islands

There are 16 inhabited islands in The Virgin Islands with a total population estimated at 28,882 in 2009. The British Virgin Islands is categorized as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes the islands on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The Lesser Antilles island chain separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea. Part of that island chain consists of the Virgin Islands, some governed by the United States, and some by the United Kingdom. The British Virgin Islands are comprised of the islands of Anegada, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, and Virgin Gorda. St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda are the four main islands.

Of the British Virgin Islands, the largest is Tortola, roughly 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide and 19 kilometers (14 miles) long. Tortolas origins are volcanic, and the island consists of a chain of rugged hills. With an elevation over 500 meters, the islands highest point, Mt. Sage, is also the highest point in the British Virgin Islands.

Tortola (Spanish for Turtle Dove), largest and most populated of the four main Islands, is a lush mountainous Island which was formed by volcanic activity. Crowning Tortola is the tallest peak, Sage Mountain National Park, at 1716 feet, which exhibits the characteristics of a tropical rain forest. The Island has a population of 24,045 and 55.7 sq. km (21.5 sq. mi) in size. Tortola is also the vibrant hub of the financial and government sectors with Road Town "The Small Town with a Big Heart" as its capital.

Road Town is home to the beautiful J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens which features close to three acres of indigenous and exotic plants, trees and herbs. The capital is also filled with restaurants, shops, and is the site for the hospital, government administration offices and official Governor's House with its historical museum. Just behind Waterfront Drive is Main Street, a peep into the BVI's architectural past, which still has many historic buildings and churches, charming cafes, and curio shops as well as the Virgin Islands Folk Museum.

Tortola also provides the main port of entry for a growing mega yacht and cruise tourism industry. Beef Island, an island in the British Virgin Island, is located to the east of Tortola, and the two islands are connected by the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. Beef Island is the site of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (IATA code EIS), the main commercial airport that serves Tortola and the rest of the British Virgin Islands. Adjacent to it is sailboat-filled Trellis Bay, a unique cultural village with craft shops and restaurants.

The Crown dependencies and the overseas territories have tax regimes designed to be "internationally competitive". Many regard the islands and outposts as tax havens, although that is a label they strongly dispute. The British Virgin Islands is home to 452,000 international businesses, the second largest home to international businesses behind Hong Kong. There is no income tax, no capital gains tax and no inheritance tax. There is also no public record of any owners of a business and no accounts are published, ensuring secrecy for those operating there.

Although most visits to the BVI are trouble-free, serious incidents, including armed robbery, do occur. Take sensible precautions against petty crime. Avoid walking alone in isolated areas including beaches, particularly after dark. Dont carry large amounts of cash or jewellery. Use a hotel safe if possible. Never leave anything valuable unattended on the beach. Take particular care of your passport as it cant be renewed or replaced in the BVI. Dont offer resistance to an armed robber.

Driving conditions can be hazardous, due to steep and narrow mountain roads, and poor driving standards. There is only one hospital in the BVI and medical facilities are limited. Complex medical problems are frequently referred to hospitals in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or mainland USA. The US visa waiver scheme does not apply to one-off charter flights. Special arrangements have to be made for any non-US visa holder who is medically evacuated by charter flight.

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