Even though Bermuda isn’t in the onion business the way it used to be, a born and bred islander is still called an “Onion.” The term dates from the early 20th century, when the export of Bermuda onions and Easter lilies to the U.S. mainland were the island’s major sources of income.
The “Onions”—a term that still carries a badge of pride—have their own lifestyle and even their own vocabulary. For example, an “Ace boy/girl” is your best friend”; if you’re “hot” you’re drunk; if you’re “full hot” you’re really drunk; “chingas” is an expression of amazement, used as a synonym for “wow”; “dahn de country” means to head eastward towards St. George’s; “up de country” means to head westward towards Somerset; “greeze” is a large, filling meal; and “stop ya noize” is exclaimed when something is simply unbelievable.
Residents of more troubled islands to the south often look with envy upon the “Onions,” who have a much higher standard of living than Caribbean islanders do; they also pay no personal income tax and suffer from only a 7% unemployment rate. The literacy rate is high: An estimated 99% of females age 15 and older can read and write, as can 98% of Bermudian males.
Today’s native residents are mostly of African, British, and Portuguese descent however one-third of Bermuda’s 65,000 permanent residents are foreign nationals who’ve been granted temporary work permits. Bermuda’s population density, one of the highest in the world, is about 3,210 per 2.5 sq. km (1 sq. mile). The population is about 54% black, 31% white. Many ethnic minority groups are represented, the largest and most established being the Portuguese; most inhabitants, however, are islanders from the Caribbean or The Bahamas. Some Bermudians can even trace their ancestry back to the island’s first settlers, and others to freed slaves.
Britain’s influence in Bermuda is obvious in the predominantly English accents and spelling, police who wear helmets like those of London bobbies, and cars that drive on the left. Schools are run along the lines of the British system and provide a high standard of preparatory education. Children 5 to 16 years of age must attend school and higher education is provided at The Bermuda College, a trade school that offers academic and technical studies.
An Island of Religious Tolerance
About a third of Bermuda’s population adheres to the Church of England, which has been historically dominant in the colony. Indeed, the division of Bermuda into nine parishes dates from 1618, when each parish was required by law to have its own Anglican church, to the exclusion of any other. That division still exists today, but more for administrative purposes than for religious ones.
Religious tolerance is now guaranteed by law. There are some 20,000 Catholics, many of them from the Portuguese Azores. There are also many members of Protestant sects whose roots lie within what were originally slave churches, among them the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Established in 1816 by African Americans, the sect was transported to Bermuda from Canada around 1870. Today, the church has about 7,000 members.
Also found in Bermuda are Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, and Mormons. There are also a handful of Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Bermuda today boasts more than 110 churches, an average of five per 2.5 sq. km (1 sq. mile). They range from the moss-encrusted parish churches established in the earliest days of the colony to modest structures with only a handful of members.
Who’s Minding the Store?
In essence, Bermuda is a self-governing dependency of Britain, which protects its security and stability. The governor, appointed by the queen, represents Her Majesty in the areas of external affairs, defense, and internal security.
By choosing to remain a British dependency, Bermuda rejected the trail that many former colonies in the Caribbean blazed by declaring their independence. Although they remain under the protection of the British, Bermudians manage their own day-to-day affairs. And ever since the people of Bermuda were granted the right to govern themselves in 1968, they have done so admirably well.
Bermuda has a 12-member cabinet headed by a premier. The elected legislature, referred to as the Legislative Council, consists of a 40-member House of Assembly and an 11-member Senate. Bermuda’s oldest political party is the Progressive Labour Party (PLP), formed in 1963. In 1964, the United Bermuda Party was established; it stayed in power until it was toppled by the Progressive Labour Party in 1998. In 2011, the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) was formed by merging the members of the existing two non-Labour parties, the United Bermuda Party (UBP) and the Bermuda Democratic Alliance (BDA). Currently Bermuda operates a two-party system with the PLP and OBA being its main players.
Bermuda’s legal system is founded on common law. Judicial responsibility falls to the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice in a powdered wig and a robe. English law is the fundamental guide, and in court, English customs prevail.
Tourist Dollars & No Income Tax
Bermuda’s political stability has proved beneficial to the economy, which relies heavily on tourism and foreign investment.
For much of the island’s early history, the major industry was shipbuilding, made possible by the abundant cedar forests. In the second half of the 19th century, when wooden ships gave way to steel ones, the island turned to tourism. Today, tourism is the country’s second leading industry, next to insurance and international business. In 2018, Bermuda had more than 770,600 visitors—a record number in a single year, higher even than 2017, when the America’s Cup brought scores of fans to the island. Those 2018 travelers spent more than $500 million, up from $320 million in 2017.
Because Bermuda has enacted favorable economic measures, more than 16,000 international companies are registered here. The companies engage mostly in investment holding, insurance, commercial trading, consulting services, and shipping—but fewer than 5,000 companies are actually on the island. The reason for this curious situation? Bermuda has no corporate or income tax, so companies register on Bermuda but conduct business in their home countries, thereby avoiding taxes that their home countries would otherwise deduct.
The island’s leading exports are rum and other beverages while leading imports include foodstuffs, alcoholic beverages, clothing, furniture, fuel, electrical appliances and motor vehicles. Bermuda’s major trading partners are the United States, Great Britain, Canada and the Caribbean states.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.