Thursday, November 11, 2010


I often get asked about the population of the British Virgin Islands. How many people live there? What are the people like? What types of people live there? Are there lots of ex-pats? While official sources begin to answer these questions, I often have to rely on my own observations as well, since official sources do not account for people on the islands beyond citizens and permanent residents. So who comprises the population of the BVI?

Let's start at one of the most reliable sources for international geographic information, The CIA World Factbook. The Factbook tells us that in 2010, the BVI has an estimate population of just under 25,000 people. The majority of the population resides on Tortola (approx. 19,000), with around 4,000 on Virgin Gorda, 1000 on Jost Van Dyke, 200 on Anegada, and the remainder scattered on another 12 inhabited islands. Of the 25,000 people on 16 islands, 83% are Afro-Caribbean, 7% are white, 1% are East Indian, and the remaining 10% are "other" or "mixed". Protestantism is the dominant religion, as 86% of the population practices some form of it.

With these figures, the Factbook provides us with a good baseline for beginning to understand the population dynamics of the BVI, but it is only a beginning. The people counted in the 25,000 listed in the Factbook are only those who are citizens or permanent residents of the country. The 25,000 figure does not take into account the large number of people who are in country on work permits, or who are otherwise temporary residents here.

So here's what I've seen since I've been here. When I arrived in August, I would say that there were maybe 5,000-6,000 more people here than what the Factbook says, but that race and religion stats were pretty close to correct, with maybe a slightly higher percentage of white and East Indian population. However, the closer it has gotten to winter, the more the population has swelled, as yachties, ex-pats, and seasonal workers have begun to arrive on island, and the majority of the new arrivals (around 60% by my best guess) are white.

If the rapid growth of the unofficial population in the last week or so since I've been back is any indication, I would estimate that in the high-season months of January and February, there will be easily 45,000 people calling the BVIs home. While I understand why these folks cannot be counted in population statistics for sources like the World Factbook, I think that in considering whether to travel or move to the BVI, the prevalence of non-native workers, and of an ex-pat community (as either a source of support of annoyance) may be a factor.

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