The Virgin Islands of the United States (commonly called the United States Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, or USVI) are a group of islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area of the United States.
The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas. The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas.
About St. Croix
Located 1,650 miles southeast of New York City, 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, and 40 miles south of St. Thomas and St. John, St. Croix is an island oasis with lush tropical hills, crystal clear turquoise water, pristine sandy white beaches and some of the greatest real estate opportunities under the American flag.
St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands and is customarily referred to as the "Big Island". St. Croix is 84 square miles and provides a city, town and country feel, more so than any of the other Virgin Islands. St. Croix has a rich multicultural history, friendly people, open spaces and the only Virgin island totally surrounded by the alluring, sparkle of the Caribbean Sea.
The island of St. Croix has two charming towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted and offers a variety of activities for residents and visitors alike to enjoy. Although St. Croix is a quiet island, it does have its fair share of entertainment in the form of music festivals, carnivals, dining and theatre productions. Fishing, golfing, scuba diving, sailing, kite-boarding, boating and outdoor water and land sports in general are popular activities. The only casino in the Virgin Islands is on St. Croix. The U.S. Virgin Islands, which includes St Croix, operate under U.S. law which is important in both business and personal matters.
St. Croix offers an inventory of properties that range from land, condominiums, residential, and commercial. You can have a home on the golf course, hill, or waterfront or buy an already established business.
About St. Thomas
St. Thomas is home to the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charlotte Amalie. It has been the heart of St. Thomas’ activities from colonial times to present. Historic buildings found throughout downtown Charlotte Amalie take visitors back to the Danish era when the town was a bustling port of trade; while modern additions of taxis, shops, souvenir vendors and cruise ships in the harbor remind that it is tourism that currently drives the economy.
Charlotte Amalie, the main area and the sub district, is home to almost half of the islands 51,000+ residents. Other residents live on the East End, West End and North Side. These references might seem quite broad however on an island just 32 square miles they work well. If you ask for directions you are likely to hear them.
St. Thomas is largely mountainous. Many roads around the island offer terrific panoramic views of the island and ocean. Amongst the hills on St. Thomas and along the beaches you will find an assortment of accommodations; resorts, historic inns, guest houses, vacation homes, villas and condos.
About St. John
An island unlike any other, St John stands out even amongst its neighbors in this special corner of the Caribbean. For starters, the island is home to several of the world's most beautiful, famous and photogenic beaches including Trunk, Cinnamon, Hawksnest, Maho and Francis Bay. From these brilliant white sand beaches, one can directly access either thousands of acres of underwater wonder in the Virgin Islands Coral Reef Monument or head upland on foot to miles upon miles of interconnected hiking trails throughout the island's roughly 39 square miles of verdant hillsides. As the sun sets, diners have a surprisingly varied array of options in the quaint postcard villages of Cruz and Coral Bays.
Perhaps most appealing however, nearly two thirds of the island is under the permanent protection of the US National Park Service safeguarding the natural beauty of the island for generations to come while also ensuring any real estate purchase as a solid long term investment.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE US VIRGIN ISLANDS AND ITS GOVERNMENT
The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) is one of only five U.S. flagged unincorporated territories. As a territory, the islands have no separate sovereignty from that of the United States and there is no independence movement of any size; as a result, the U.S. Virgin Islands has unquestioned political stability – a unique advantage in the region.
The U.S. Constitution applies to the jurisdiction only to the extent that the U.S. Congress has so legislated. The US Congress has dictated nearly all of the Constitutional provisions apply, including the Bill of Rights and the Commerce Clause; however, because the territory is not a state, its residents can not vote for president, it has no U.S. Senators, and its single Delegate to the House of Representatives may not vote on the floor, although he/she can vote in House committee sessions.
The territory is governed by a Governor and Lieutenant Governor who are elected every four years. The Governor appoints a cabinet to administer the approximately twenty departments and agencies of the executive branch.
The Legislature is a 15-member unicameral body elected every two years. Seven of the members of the Legislature, known as Senators, are elected at large from each of two districts: St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John. The fifteenth Senator is elected at large by voters in both districts but must be a resident of St. John.
The judicial branch consists of two separate courts, the local Territorial Court, and the federal District Court. Subsequent to the expansion of its jurisdiction in 1994, the Territorial Court is now a court of general jurisdiction for both civil and criminal matters. It has a Presiding Judge and eight other judges, with a majority sitting on St. Thomas. The federal District Court has two permanent judges, one in St. Thomas and one in St. Croix, who are occasionally supplemented by visiting federal judges from the mainland. On the trial level, the jurisdiction of the District Court is similar to that of U.S. District Courts in the United States (i.e., it hears matters concerning questions of federal law as well as cases where there is "diversity of citizenship"), except that it also has jurisdiction over all matters concerning the territorial income tax. The District Court also has an appellate division, which hears all appeals from decisions of the Territorial Court. Appeals from the District Court go the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, based in Philadelphia, and from there to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As a territory of the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands may not conduct its own foreign policy; rather, with the important exception of tax treaties, it is included under most other international treaties and agreements to which the United States is a party. Importantly, this includes all of the United States' bi-lateral investment treaties and treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation, which are in force with nearly all Western European countries. In total, the United States has nearly one hundred such treaties in effect with countries around the world. The applicability of these treaties to U.S. Virgin Islands companies adds to their attractiveness, especially to non-U.S. persons who seek an enhanced degree of political stability for their enterprises.
St Thomas Population: 42,261
St John Population: 3,881
St Croix: 41,004
Total USVI Population: 87,146
Currency: US Dollar
Area: 133.73 square miles
Time Zone: AST (UTC-4)
GDP: $3.778 billion USD
Average annual rainfall: 39.39 inches
Average high temperature summer: 32 degrees Celsius
Average low temperature summer: 26 degrees Celsius
Average water temperature summer: 28 degrees Celsius
Average high temperature winter: 29 degrees Celsius
Average low temperature winter: 22 degrees Celsius
Average water temperature winter: 26 degrees Celsius
What other countries are in the region?
Neighboring countries of the USVI include Puerto Rico (another unincorporated Territory of the United States) located roughly 90 km to the east, the British Virgin Islands located roughly 2 km to the northeast and Anguilla located roughly 162 km to the east. These countries, along with the United States, represent the USVI’s largest trading partners. Given however the USVI’s primary private sector economy is tourism, these trade arrangements have very little impact on day-to-day life for most Virgin Islanders.
How is title to real estate held in the Virgin Islands?
With only rare exceptions, the vast majority of real estate conveyances in the Virgin Islands occur in fee simple with absolute ownership transferred to the new owner with the drafting, execution and recording of a deed at the Recorder of Deeds within the Office of the Lt. Governor of the US Virgin Islands.
What types of encumbrances are typically placed upon the title of real estate in the US Virgin Islands?
Common encumbrances on properties are mortgages, liens and/or deed restrictions. These documents are available online through the Lt. Governor’s office and are reviewed thoroughly by title insurance agents prior to closings of real property transactions.
What types of fees, taxes and other expenses are common when purchasing real estate in the USVI?
Closing costs associated with property acquisition in the Virgin Islands include: title insurance fees, attorneys fees, real estate commissions (usually paid by the Seller), survey fees and a transfer tax. Transfer taxes in the USVI exist on a sliding scale starting at 2% of the purchase price ranging up to 3.5% for properties sold in excess of $5 million USD.
Are there any special fess levied against foreign purchasers of real estate in the USVI?
Closing costs in the USVI are the same regardless of ones residency and/or citizenship status.
What types of property taxes are collected in the USVI?
The only regularly assessed taxes on real estate in the USVI are property taxes. These taxes are billed annually and currently assessed at a rate of 1.25% of 60% of the properties assessed value – or roughly $750 per $100,000 of assessed value. There are no sales taxes in the USVI.
What other types of fees are common for property owners in the USVI?
The only other common fees levied against property owners in the USVI are homeowner and condominium association fees. There is no sales tax in the USVI, however articles imported into the U.S. Virgin Islands for use or resale in a trade or business are subject to an excise tax. Because the territory is outside the U.S. customs zone, foreign (non-U.S.) made goods are also subject to a customs duty, which is separate from the U.S. customs duty.
The rate of excise tax on most goods is 4%, while the rate on certain products, such as cigarettes, is higher. Alcoholic beverages are subject to a flat rate based on volume. Certain other goods are subject to a lower rate of excise tax, and most tourist items, such as jewelry, watches, crystal, artwork, electronic goods, and leather goods, are exempt entirely. Tourist items are also exempt from the 6% U.S. Virgin Islands customs duty. The rate of customs duty is also lowered where an item imported to the U.S. Virgin Islands has already been subject to a duty upon import to the United States. In that case the duty is equal to the difference between 6% and the duty paid to the United States; where the U.S. duty paid was greater than or equal to 6%, the item enters the U.S. Virgin Islands free of further duty. A few items are subject to a rate of duty that is less than 6%
What are some of the types of expenses related to improved properties in the USVI?
Monthly running costs associated with real property in the USVI are: liability insurance, windstorm insurance (when required), electricity, telephone, broadband data service, private mail service, satellite television service, landscaping, and property management services.
What is the cost of living in the USVI?
Cost of living expenses can vary greatly among residents of the USVI, but are generally comparable with those found in major metropolitan American cities such as New York, Washington DC and San Francisco.
Which airports service the USVI?
The Cyril E. King Airport on St Thomas services all air traffic to/from St Thomas and St John. The airport is capable of accommodating jets of any size and receives regularly scheduled nonstop airlift from San Juan, Miami, New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Charlotte, Houston and Atlanta.
Commercial flights to the USVI from Europe require a single connection in New York, Atlanta or Miami. Commercial flight time from New York to the USVI is roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes. Nonstop travel between St Thomas and most points in North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa is possible via long range private jet service. Most flights originating in Asia, Oceana and/or the Indian subcontinent require a single refueling stop whether traveling east or westbound.
How do visitors travel within the USVI?
The preferred method of transportation within the Virgin Islands is via taxi or private hire boat charter. Rental cars are also widely available throughout the USVI. Non-residents may rent and purchase vehicles in the USVI without limitation or extra charges. As a reminder, driving is done on the left side of the road here.
Are their any nuanced local laws that effect daily living?
Daily living within the USVI is generally unencumbered by legal provisions and regulations. However, there are ordinances in place regulating most issues of public safety including: water quality, wastewater treatment, building construction, planning, environmental protection and noise pollution.
What types of visas are available to foreign nationals wishing to reside in the USVI?
Foreign nationals owning property in the USVI can apply for both Immigrant and Non-immigrant visas to the US. Among the most popular are EB-5, also know as immigrant investor visas.
More information on the EB-5 program can be found here
Are there any proposed legal changes likely to impact the ability of foreign nationals to purchase property in the USVI?
No, while comprehensive immigration reform is a hot topic in the United States on a national level; it is very unlikely any reform will have any significant effect on those seeking to make real estate purchases in the USVI for investment or recreational purposes.
What is the process for purchasing real estate in the USVI?
The documentation processed for a sale of real property in the USVI begins with an offer to purchase followed by an executed sales contract, a surveyors report, a title insurance binder, deed creation, deed attestation and finally deed recordation. The entire process can be completed in as few as 30 day, however usually occurs between 60-90 days.
Offers to Purchase real property are usually made with a customary $1,000 refundable “good faith” deposit. Upon execution of a sales contract by both parties, a non-refundable deposit between 6-10% of the sales price is made subject only to agreed upon contingencies specified in the contract. The balance of the transaction is paid at closing.
What is the general outlook for real estate in the USVI?
The general real estate market in the USVI can best be described as recovering. Driven by the frenzied American market, the USVI real estate market experienced it’s peak years for volume between 2003-2006. During this time, the buyers quickly ran inventory levels down to historic lows on fears they would be priced out of the Virgin Islands market permanently. As this drove the cost of homes up past the point many of the buyers could afford, many turned to unimproved land as a means to secure their entry to the market without the upkeep and carrying costs associated with home ownership in the islands.
From 2008 to 2012 sales volume on all three islands slowed significantly across all market segments. As this occurred, so did the larger US domestic recession. This caused many of the buyers from the prior peak years to place their properties on the market to protect equity in their primary homes in the US. The net result from this bulk listing of properties during this period resulted in the historically large inventory of properties for sale we see today.
What are the going rates for commercial real estate in the USVI?
Commercial rent rates in the USVI range from $10 per square foot for unfinished warehouse space up to $200 per square foot for prime retail on St Thomas’ Main Street. Class A office space in the Territory ranges from $35 to $55 per square foot on a triple net basis.
Due to the scarcity of developable property in the USVI, capitalization rates in Territory are nominal with most real estate investors looking to capture gains through steady appreciation. Cap rates below 2% are very common for residential rental properties and can often reach below 5% for fully occupied commercial properties.
What are the primary drivers of value of real estate in the USVI?
The two most significant drivers of improved residential real property in the USVI is views and location. Among the three major islands, St John is generally thought to have the most retained value followed by St Thomas and then St Croix.
Is financing available for foreign nationals seeking to purchase real estate in the USVI?
The three primary banks in the USVI are Firstbank, Banco Popular and Scotiabank. Federal law requires all financial institutions to obtain, verify, and record information that identifies each person who opens an account. As a result, non-residents wishing to open a local bank account must hand deliver certain key documents.
More about this process can be found here
What are the requirements for wiring funds directly into the USVI?
Non-residents seeking to wire funds into the USVI must provide one or more of the following: a taxpayer identification number; passport number and country of issuance; alien identification card number; or number and country of issuance of any other government-issued document evidencing nationality or residence and bearing a photograph or similar safeguard.
How do the real estate offerings of the USVI compare to those in other luxury markets in the US Mainland?
As a real estate market that serves American buyers, luxury real estate in the USVI contains all those amenities commonly found in luxury markets throughout the US. Those amenities include custom designed architecture, professional interior design, high end detailing, sophisticated audio/video systems, professional landscaping, swimming pools, enclosed garages, thoughtful landscapes and media rooms. As a severely underexposed market, luxury properties in the USVI represent a significant value against those in competing markets on the mainland US.
What are the emerging trends in design in the USVI?
The single most apparent trend in Caribbean design is the general expansion of exterior spaces and an associated reduction in interior spaces. This trend relates to the use of outdoor spaces in the USVI as the primary living space within an island residence. It is not uncommon for a home in the USVI to have an equal ratio of interior to exterior spaces.
What is the regulatory review process for private islands in the USVI?
Generally speaking, residential development is a "matter of right" for private island properties in the USVI. In fact, there are homes on many of the islands and permits to build single family homes are issued regularly without any abnormal scrutiny whatsoever.
That said, the process becomes much more cumbersome, time consuming and expensive when applications are submitted for either subdivisions, marine improvements such as docks or any commercial/resort development. These types of projects are subject to the Major Permitting process and involve many additional layers of required regulatory approvals. For this reason, islands with existing marine improvements demand significantly higher prices than those without.