Area Codes -- The area code for the U.S.V.I. is 340; in the B.V.I., it’s 284. You can dial direct from North America; from outside North America, dial 001, plus the number for the U.S.V.I., and 011-44 plus the number for the B.V.I.
Customs -- Every visitor to the U.S.V.I. 21 years of age or older may bring in, free of duty, the following: (1) 1 liter of wine or hard liquor; (2) 200 cigarettes, 100 cigars (but not from Cuba), or 3 pounds of smoking tobacco; and (3) $100 worth of gifts. These exemptions are offered to travelers who spend at least 72 hours in the United States and who have not claimed them within the preceding 6 months. It is altogether forbidden to bring into the country foodstuffs (particularly fruit, cooked meats, and canned goods) and plants (vegetables, seeds, tropical plants, and the like). Foreign tourists may carry in or out up to $10,000 in U.S. or foreign currency with no formalities; larger sums must be declared to U.S. Customs on entering or leaving, which includes filing form CM 4790. For details regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection, consult your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or U.S. Customs (tel 800/232-5378; www.cbp.gov).
Visitors to the B.V.I. can bring in food, with the exception of meat products that are not USDA-approved. Visitors can bring up to $10,000 in currency and 1 liter of alcohol per person.
Australian Citizens: A helpful brochure available from Australian consulates or Customs offices is “Know Before You Go.” For more information, contact the Australian Customs Service, Customs House, 5 Constitution Ave., Canberra City, ACT 2601 (tel 1300/363-263, or 61 2 9313 3010 from outside Australia; www.customs.gov.au).
Canadian Citizens: For a clear summary of Canadian rules, write for the booklet “I Declare,” issued by the Canada Border Services Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0L8 (tel 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
New Zealand Citizens: Most questions are answered in a free pamphlet available at New Zealand consulates and Customs offices: “New Zealand Customs Guide for Travellers, Notice no. 4.” For more information, contact New Zealand Customs Service, the Customhouse, 1 Hinemoa St., Harbour Quays, Wellington 6140 (tel 04/901-4500; www.customs.govt.nz).
U.K. Citizens: From the B.V.I., U.K. citizens can bring back (duty-free) 200 cigarettes (250g of tobacco), 2 liters wine, 1 liter strong liquor, 60cc perfume, and £145 of goods and souvenirs. Larger amounts are subject to tax. For further information, contact HM Revenue & Customs, Crownhill Court, Tailyour Road, Plymouth, PL6 5BZ (tel 0300 200 3700; www.hmrc.gov.uk).
U.S. Citizens & Residents: From the U.S.V.I., U.S. citizens can bring back 5 liters of liquor duty-free, plus an extra liter of rum (including Cruzan rum) if one of the bottles is produced in the Virgin Islands. Goods made on the island are also duty-free, including perfume, jewelry, clothing, and original paintings; however, if the price of an item exceeds $25, you must be able to show a certificate of origin.
Be sure to collect receipts for all purchases in the Virgin Islands, and beware of merchants offering to give you a false receipt—he or she might be an informer to U.S. Customs. Also, keep in mind that any gifts received during your stay must be declared. For the most up-to-date specifics on what you can bring back from the B.V.I. and the corresponding fees, contact the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel 877/227-5511;www.ct.gov/dcp.gov).
Disabled Travelers -- For the most part, the accessibility of hotels and restaurants in the U.S.V.I. remains far behind the progress made on the mainland. Of the U.S. Virgins, St. Thomas and St. John remain the most difficult islands for wheelchair-bound visitors to maneuver because of their hilly terrain. St. Croix is flatter and is an easier place to get around.
Although most hotels in the Virgin Islands have a long way to go before they become a friend of a person with disabilities, some have made inroads. As of this writing, about a third of the major resorts in St. Thomas or St. Croix have the facilities to accommodate vacationers who have disabilities. Many inns, guesthouses, and villas terraced in the hills of Charlotte Amalie can present challenges to those with mobility issues—a number have steep steps and no elevators. Of the resorts in the U.S.V.I., the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, is the most hospitable to persons with disabilities. It maintains “accessible rooms”—rooms that can be reached without navigating stairs—in every price category. The Ritz also offers beach wheelchairs (resting on balloon tires).
Accessible Island Tours (tel 340/344-8302; http://accessvi.com) is a tour operator in St. Thomas that offers a land-based tour of St. Thomas in a custom wheelchair-accessible vehicle. Originating from Wico Dock at Havensight or Crown Bay at the Sub Base, tours stop at Magens Bay, Drakes Seat, and the Skyline Drive, and cost $37 per person (minimum of six passengers).
Doctors -- You should have no trouble finding a good doctor in the Virgin Islands. See "Fast Facts” in individual island chapters for information on doctors.
Drinking Laws -- In the U.S. Virgins, the legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it’s always a good idea to bring ID when you go out. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn’t zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. Don’t even think about driving while intoxicated. Although 18-year-olds can purchase, drink, and order alcohol, they cannot transport bottles back to the United States with them. If an attempt is made, the alcohol will be confiscated at the Customs check point. The same holds true for the B.V.I.
In the B.V.I., the legal minimum age for purchasing liquor or drinking alcohol in bars or restaurants is 18. Alcoholic beverages can be sold any day of the week, including Sunday. You can have an open container on the beach, but be you can be fined if you litter.
Driving Rules -- In both the U.S.V.I. and the B.V.I., you must drive on the left. See “Getting Around,” earlier in this chapter.
Electricity -- The electrical current in the Virgin Islands is the same as on the U.S. mainland and Canada: 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- There are no embassies or consulates in the Virgin Islands. If you have a passport issue, go to the local police station, which in all islands is located at the center of government agencies. Relay your problem to whomever is at reception, and you’ll be given advice about which agencies can help you.
Emergencies -- Call tel 911 in the U.S.V.I. or 999 in the B.V.I.
Family Travel -- The Virgin Islands, both U.S. and British, are very family-friendly. St. Thomas and St. Croix have the most facilities and attractions for families. The British Virgin Islands have fewer attractions that cater specifically to children, although families who love watersports, boating, and nature activities will have a great time. When compared with some of the other major destinations in the Caribbean (such as Jamaica, where crime is high), the U.S. Virgins are generally safe, and the British Virgin Islands are even safer.
Gasoline -- Please see “Getting Around,” earlier in this chapter, for information.
Health -- Other than the typical tropical environment health concerns, like sun exposure and seasickness, there are no major health concerns in the Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas has the best hospital in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Schneider Regional Medical Center; St. Croix also has good hospital facilities (St. Croix Regional Medical Center. There is only a health clinic on St. John; more serious cases are transferred to the hospital on St. Thomas.
The B.V.I. has one small general hospital, Peebles on Tortola. Day clinics are available on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. Both Tortola and Virgin Gorda are served by ambulances with paramedics. The Eureka Medical Centre (www.eurekamedicalclinic.com), Geneva Place, Road Town, Tortola, is a private-run urgent-care facility. There is also no hyperbaric chamber in the B.V.I. Patients requiring treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St. Thomas.
In very serious cases, patients in the U.S. Virgins and the B.V.I. are transported to Puerto Rico.
It is not difficult to get a prescription filled or find a doctor on St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Tortola. Pharmacies are few and far between on the smaller islands, so you should get any prescriptions refilled before you venture into more remote territory. Often it requires a phone call from the U.S.V.I. to a stateside pharmacy or to the doctor who prescribed the medicine in the first place. CVS and Wal-Mart are the best for contacting a stateside branch of those chains, if your prescription is on a computer file. To avoid possible hassles and delays, it is best to arrive with enough medication for your entire vacation.
Bugs & Bites -- Mosquitoes do exist in the Virgin Islands, but they aren’t the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean. They’re still a nuisance, though. Sand flies, which appear mainly in the evening, are a bigger annoyance. Screens can’t keep these critters out, so use bug repellent.
Dietary Red Flags -- If you experience diarrhea, moderate your eating habits and drink only bottled water until you recover. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor. Much of the fresh water on the Virgin Islands is stored in cisterns and filtered before it’s served. Delicate stomachs might opt for bottled water. Some say a nightly drink of ginger ale and bitters helps soothe tummies.
Seasickness -- The best way to prevent seasickness is with the scopolamine patch by Transderm Scop, a prescription medication. Bonine and Dramamine are good over-the-counter medications, although each causes drowsiness. Smooth Sailing is a ginger drink that works quite well to settle your stomach. You might also opt for an acupressure wristband available at drugstores (www.sea-band.com). Some say a ginger pill taken with a meal and followed by Dramamine an hour before boating also does the job.
Sun Exposure -- The Virgin Islands’ sun can be brutal. To protect yourself, consider wearing sunglasses and a hat, and use sunscreen (SPF 15 and higher) liberally. Limit your time on the beach for the first few days. If you overexpose yourself, stay out of the sun until you recover. If your sunburn is followed by fever, chills, a headache, nausea, or dizziness, see a doctor.
Hospitals -- The largest hospital in St. Thomas is the Schneider Regional Medical Center with 24-hour emergency-room service. Islanders from St. John also use this hospital, which is about a 5-minute drive from Charlotte Amalie. The other major hospital is the St. Croix Regional Medical Center on St. Croix; it has a Level IV trauma center offering 24-hour emergency-room service. Both offer air and ground-level support to hospitals with more extensive facilities. The payment of Medicare and Medicaid operates as it does in the United States. If you walk into a hospital without any coverage or insurance, you are expected to pay.
On Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, the main hospital in the little country is Peebles Hospital, with surgical, X-ray, and laboratory facilities. If you are on one of the out islands, you are generally taken to Tortola for treatment. In addition to these hospitals, there are a number of private doctors’ offices throughout the islands, charging higher rates than the hospitals.
Internet & Wi-Fi -- Internet access is becoming increasingly available all around the Virgin Islands, but it can still be spotty on some of the more remote islands. Most hotels and resorts are ratcheting up their Internet capabilities. Many bars and cafes throughout the Virgin Islands have free Wi-Fi access.
If you’re in transit and looking for a spot with Internet access, see the “Fast Facts” section of each island chapter for recommendations on where to go.
Language -- English is the official language of both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
Legal Aid -- While driving, if you are pulled over for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. In the U.S.V.I., the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice.
LGBT Travelers -- The Virgin Islands are some of the most gay-friendly destinations in the Caribbean. However, discretion is still advised. Islanders tend to be religious and conservative, and displays of same-sex affection, such as hand holding, are frowned upon.
St. Thomas is the most cosmopolitan of the Virgin Islands, but it is no longer the “gay paradise” it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Most gay vacationers now head for Frederiksted, in St. Croix, which has more hotels and other establishments welcoming to the gay market. In Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas, the most boisterous gay nightlife takes place in the Frenchtown section of the city.
Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates in the U.S.V.I. were 33[ce] for a postcard and 46[ce] for a letter up to 1 ounce. For international mail, a first-class postcard or letter stamp costs $1.10. For more information, go to www.usps.com. Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don’t know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.
If you aren’t sure what your address will be in the U.S. Virgin Islands, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver’s license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, and Saturday 9am to 3pm.
Postal rates in the British Virgin Islands to the United States or Canada are 35[ce] for a postcard (airmail), and 50[ce] for a first-class airmail letter ( 1/2 oz.). Mailing a postcard to the U.K. costs 50[ce] and a first-class letter via airmail costs 75[ce] ( 1/2 oz.). B.V.I. postage stamps are beautiful and highly coveted; contact the BVI Philatelic Bureau (tel 284/494-7789) for information about exhibitions.
Medical Requirements -- Unless you’re arriving from an area known to be suffering from an epidemic (particularly cholera or yellow fever), inoculations or vaccinations are not required for entry into the U.S. Virgin Islands or the British Virgin Islands.
If you have a medical condition that requires syringe-administered medications, carry a valid signed prescription from your physician; syringes in carry-on baggage will be inspected. Insulin in any form should have the proper pharmaceutical documentation. If you have a disease that requires treatment with narcotics, you should also carry documented proof with you—smuggling narcotics aboard a plane carries severe penalties in the U.S.
For HIV-positive visitors, requirements for entering both the U.S.V.I. and B.V.I. are somewhat vague and change frequently. Anyone who does not appear to be in good health may be required to undergo a medical exam, including HIV testing, prior to being granted or denied entry. For up-to-the-minute information, contact AIDSinfo (tel 800/448-0440 or 301/519-0459 outside the U.S.; www.aidsinfo.nih.gov) or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (tel 212/367-1000; www.gmhc.org). Also see “Health.”
Mobile Phones -- In the U.S. Virgin Islands: The two largest cellphone operators in the U.S.V.I. include Sprint PCS (www.sprint.com) and AT&T Wireless (www.att.com/wireless). Phones operating in the mainland U.S. under those plans will usually operate seamlessly, and without any excess roaming charges, in the U.S.V.I. If your phone presently operates through some other carrier, it’s wise to call them before your departure about signing up (at least temporarily) for one of their international plans, which will save you money on roaming charges during the duration of your trip. If your cellphone is not equipped for reception and transmission in the U.S.V.I., consider renting (or buying) a cheap cellphone for temporary use, or, less conveniently, head for a Sprint PCS or AT&T sales outlet (each maintains offices on all three of the U.S.V.I.’s major islands) for a substitute SIM card, a key operating component that can be inserted into your existing phone, making it operational. Throughout the U.S.V.I., the electrical system is the same as within the U.S. mainland (115 volts and female sockets which accept the U.S.-style “flat” plugs), so most U.S. residents won’t need any special transformers or adaptors.
In the British Virgin Islands: The three largest cellphone operators in the B.V.I. are CCT Global Communications (www.cctwireless.com), LIME (www.lime.com), and Digicell BVI (www.digicelbvi.com), all with offices in Road Town and on Virgin Gorda. Other than that, the cellphone situation is roughly equivalent to what’s described immediately above in the U.S.V.I. The electrical system in the B.V.I. is the same as that within the U.S.V.I. and the mainland U.S. (115 volts), so British and European visitors may want to bring adaptors and transformers. Hotels in the B.V.I. often have the appropriate adaptors, and in some cases, those adaptors are physically built directly into the wall sockets.
Money & Costs[en]The U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands both use the U.S. dollar as the form of currency. Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions quoted above were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.xe.com to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Banks on the islands are your only option if you need to exchange currency. These rates can be expensive, and additional charges are often tacked on; it is best to change money before you arrive.
ATMs throughout the Virgin Islands dispense U.S. dollars. ATMs are most prevalent on St. Thomas in Charlotte Amalie (on the downtown streets, near the cruise-ship terminals, within the large resorts, and in shopping malls) and in Christiansted on St. Croix. You will also find several ATMs in Cruz Bay on St. John. ATMs are less prevalent in the British Virgin Islands; you will find a cluster of banks in Wickham Cay I, Road Town, Tortola, and a couple in the harbor in Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. The other islands do not have ATMs, so if you’re planning a visit, be sure to visit an ATM to get some cash first (or have your resort front you some petty cash). Each machine charges around $2 to $3 for a transaction fee. Nearly all of the machines are operated by three banks: Scotiabank (www.scotiabank.com), FirstBank (www.firstbankvi.com), and Banco Popular (www.bancopopular.com/vi).
Most establishments in the Virgin Islands accept credit cards; we note in our reviews those places that accept cash only. MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted on all the islands that cater to visitors, especially Virgin Gorda, Tortola, St. John, St. Croix, and, of course, St. Thomas. In the past few years, there has been a tendency to drop American Express because of the high percentage it takes from transactions.
However, visitors should not rely solely on credit cards, as a number of establishments in the Virgin Islands accept only cash. You will want to arm yourself with cash while browsing the small boutiques and curio shops throughout the islands—many do not take credit cards. Most taxi drivers only deal in cash.
Beware of credit card fees while traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions. Recent reform legislation in the U.S., for example, has curbed some exploitative lending practices. But many banks have responded by increasing fees in other areas, including fees for customers who use credit and debit cards while out of the country—even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars. Fees can amount to 3 percent or more of the purchase price. Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.
Passports -- If you’re a U.S. citizen and you travel directly to the U.S.V.I. and do not visit the British Virgin Islands, you do not need a passport—but you are highly encouraged to carry one. If you return to the mainland U.S. from the U.S.V.I. through another country (Mexico or Bermuda, for example), you will need a passport to get back home. For non–U.S. citizens, visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands is just like visiting the mainland United States: You need a passport and visa.
A passport is necessary for all visitors to the British Virgin Islands (including citizens of the U.K.).
For information on how to get a passport, contact your passport office (see below). Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods. And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you’ll pay a higher processing fee. When traveling, safeguard your passport in an inconspicuous, inaccessible place like a money belt, and keep a copy of the critical pages with your passport number in a separate place. There are no foreign consulates in the Virgin Islands, so if you lose your passport, go to the local police station.
Australia -- Australian Passport Information Service (tel 131-232; www.passports.gov.au).
Canada -- Passport Office, Passport Canada Program, Gatineau QC K1A 0G3 (tel 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
Ireland -- Passport Office, Frederick Buildings, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel 353 1 671 1633; www.dfa.ie).
New Zealand -- Passports Office, Department of Internal Affairs, 109 Featherston St., Wellington, 6140 (tel 0800 22 50 50 in New Zealand, or 64 4 463 9360; www.passports.govt.nz).
United Kingdom -- Visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the HM Passport Office, 4th Floor, Peel Building, 2 Marsham St., London, SW1P 4DF (tel 0300 222 0000; www.ips.gov.uk).
United States -- To find your regional passport office, check the U.S. State Department website (http://travel.state.gov/passport) or call the National Passport Information Center (tel 877/487-2778) for automated information.
Petrol -- Please see “Getting Around,” earlier in this chapter for information.
Pets -- To bring your pet to the U.S.V.I., you must have a health certificate from a mainland veterinarian and show proof of vaccination against rabies. Very few hotels allow animals, so check in advance. If you’re strolling with your dog through the national park on St. John, you must keep it on a leash. Pets are not allowed at campgrounds, in picnic areas, or on public beaches. Both St. Croix and St. Thomas have veterinarians listed in the Yellow Pages.
Your dog or cat is permitted entry into the B.V.I. without quarantine, if accompanied by an Animal Health Certificate issued by the Veterinary Authority in your country of origin. This certificate has a number of requirements, including a guarantee of vaccination against rabies.
Police -- Dial tel 911 for emergencies in the U.S.V.I. The Crime Line phone number is tel 340/777-8700. The main police headquarters is currently located in the Alexander Farrelly Criminal Justice Center in Charlotte Amailie (tel 340/774-2211). In the B.V.I., the main police headquarters is on Waterfront Drive near the ferry docks on Sir Olva George’s Plaza (tel 284/494-2945) in Tortola. There are also police stations on Virgin Gorda (tel 284/495-5222) and on Jost Van Dyke (tel 284/495-9345). See individual island chapters for more detailed information.
Safety -- The Virgin Islands are a relatively safe destination. The small permanent populations are generally friendly and welcoming. That being said, St. Thomas is no longer as safe as it once was. Crime, especially muggings, is on the rise in Charlotte Amalie. Wandering the town at night, especially on the back streets (particularly on Back St.), is not recommended. Guard your valuables or store them in hotel safes if possible.
The same holds true for St. Croix and the back streets of Christiansted and Frederiksted. Although these areas are safer than St. Thomas, random acts of violence against tourists in the past, even murder, have been known to happen. Know that most crime on both these islands is petty theft aimed at unguarded possessions on the beach, unlocked parked cars, or muggings at night. Exercise the same amount of caution you would if you were traveling to an unfamiliar town on the mainland. Whether on St. Thomas or St. Croix, always take a taxi home after a night out.
St. John is a bit different, because there is no major town and most of the island is uninhabited. Muggings and petty theft do happen, but such occurrences are rarely violent. You are most likely to find your camera stolen if you leave it unattended on the beach.
The British Virgin Islands are very safe, with a very low crime rate that many attribute to the illegality of owning guns. Minor robberies and muggings do occur late at night outside bars in Road Town, especially in poorly lit areas around Wickham’s Cay I and along Waterfront Drive. Car theft in Trellis Bay and by the Road Town ferry has also been on the rise. On Virgin Gorda, most resorts don’t even have room keys (although you can lock yourself in at night), and some people have reported dropping off rental cars at the airport with the keys in the lock.
Driving safety: In general, the Virgin Islands’ steep, curvy roads are often poorly lit at night; many are potholed or have been eroded by rain runoff. St. Croix’s road network is composed of rocky, steep dirt roads through the interior. As a result, car-rental insurance is higher on this island than the others. St. John’s national park roads are for the most part excellent. For those travelers who are unaccustomed to driving on the left, we suggest leaving the night driving up to a taxi driver. Do not attempt the most rural roads at night, as cellphone service is spotty at best and breakdowns (or worse) are an all-too-perfect way to ruin your Virgin Islands vacation; see “Getting Around,” earlier in this chapter.
Smoking -- In the U.S.V.I, smoking is prohibited in restaurants and public buildings; bars may allow smoking outdoors as long as it’s 20 feet from entrance and service areas. On the B.V.I., smoking is banned in public places (bars, restaurants, nightclubs, airports, offices, and sports facilities) and within 50 feet of any public space.
Student Travel -- St. Thomas has perhaps the most youth-oriented scene of any of the Virgin Islands, British or American. Many young people who visit St. Thomas stay in the guesthouses in and around Charlotte Amalie. Beyond St. Thomas, the island of St. Croix attracts a large array of young, single travelers, mainly to the inns in and around Christiansted and Frederiksted.
Taxes -- For the U.S. Virgin Islands, the United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. The U.S.V.I. may levy their own local taxes on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. A 10 percent room tax is added to hotel bills.
The British Virgin Islands has no sales tax. It charges a departure tax of $15 per person for those leaving by boat or $20 if by airplane. Most hotels add a service charge of around 10 percent; there’s also a 7 percent government room tax. Most restaurants tack on an automatic 15 percent service charge.
Telephones -- In the Virgin Islands, hotel surcharges on long-distance and local calls are usually astronomical, so you’re better off using your cellphone or a public pay telephone. Many convenience stores, groceries, and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public pay phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. Local calls made from pay phones in most locales cost either 25[ce] or 35[ce] (no pennies, please). Many of the most rural or expressly private resorts and hotels in the Virgin Islands do not provide phones in the rooms, but have phones in their lobbies or common areas.
To make calls within the United States, including the U.S. Virgins, and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.
You can call the British Virgins from the United States by just dialing 1, the area code 284, and the number; from the U.K. dial 011-44, then the number. To call the U.S. from the B.V.I., just dial 1 plus the area code and the number; to call the U.K. from the B.V.I., dial 011-44, then the number.
Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll-free. However, calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, “dating” services, and so on) can be very expensive—usually a charge of 95[ce] to $3 or more per minute, and they sometimes have minimum charges that can run as high as $15 or more.
For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0, then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
For local directory assistance (“information”), dial 411; for long-distance information, dial 1, then the appropriate area code and 555-1212.
Time -- The Virgin Islands are on Atlantic Standard Time, which is 1 hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. However, the islands do not observe daylight saving time, so in the summer, the Virgin Islands and the East Coast of the U.S. are on the same time. In winter, when it’s 6am in Charlotte Amalie, it’s 5am in Miami; during daylight saving time it’s 6am in both places.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you’ve left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (obtaining difficult-to-get dinner reservations, for example). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.
Note that many local restaurants tack on a service charge to the total bill, often between 10 and 15 percent; you may want to add extra if the service was good. Otherwise tip waitstaff 15 to 20 percent of the check. In bars and nightclubs, tip bartenders 15 to 20 percent of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip taxi drivers 15 percent of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15 to 20 percent. It’s always a good idea to tip tour guides or charter captains at the end of an excursion, generally 15 to 20 percent of the cost.
Toilets -- You won’t find public toilets or restrooms on the streets, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels are often the best bet for clean facilities.
Visas -- Non–U.S. visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands should have a U.S. visa; those visitors may also be asked to produce an onward ticket. In the British Virgin Islands, visitors who stay for less than 6 months don’t need a visa if they possess a return or onward ticket.
For information about U.S. Visas, go to http://travel.state.gov and click on “Visas.” Or go to one of the following websites:
Australian citizens can obtain up-to-date visa information from the U.S. Embassy Canberra, Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT 2600 (tel 02/6214-5600), or by checking the U.S. Diplomatic Mission’s website at http://canberra.usembassy.gov/visas.html.
British subjects can obtain visa appointments the U.S. Embassy Visa Appointment Line (tel 020-3608-6998 from within the U.K., or tel 703/439-2367 from within the U.S.; https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-gb). Irish citizens can obtain up-to-date visa information through the U.S. Embassy Dublin, 42 Elgin Rd., Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (tel 01 903-6255 from within the Republic of Ireland; http://dublin.usembassy.gov.visas.html).
Citizens of New Zealand can obtain up-to-date visa information by contacting the U.S. Embassy New Zealand, 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington (tel 04 462 6000 from within New Zealand; http://newzealand.usembassy.gov/visas.html).
Visitor Information -- Go to the U.S.V.I. Division of Tourism’s website at www.visitusvi.com. The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board can be found at www.bvitourism.com.
Water -- Many visitors to both the U.S. and British Virgins drink the local tap water with no harmful effects. To be prudent, especially if you have a delicate stomach, stick to bottled water. Many hotels and resorts have their own desalination plant, making delicious and highly potable water out of seawater.
Women Travelers -- St. John and the British Virgin Islands have a low crime rate, while St. Thomas and St. Croix have the highest crime rate against women in the archipelago. To put that into context, however, you are far safer in the Virgin Islands than you would be walking the streets of any major U.S. city. Follow the usual precautions that you’d follow in any major U.S. city.