Guide for Overseas Investors Purchasing Property in the British Virgin Islands

The Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence

For the most part, purchasing property in the British Virgin Islands follows a pattern which is common to other English Common Law jurisdictions. The main feature of the process that will be unfamiliar to most purchasers from overseas is the Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence.

All overseas investors (including citizens of the United Kingdom) require a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence to purchase property in the British Virgin Islands. Agreements for the purchase of property are therefore made contingent upon the purchaser securing this licence. A licence entitles the purchaser to own a specific property and is non-transferable.

Application for the Non Belonger Land Holding Licence

Application for a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence is made to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Government of the Virgin Islands and must be supported by two character references, a financial reference, a police certificate of good standing plus other supporting documentation. The purchase of a property by a Non-Belonger must be advertised locally for four consecutive weeks in a local paper prior to submission of the Licence Application to Government.

The purchaser’s attorney will normally assist the purchaser with the preparation and submission of the licence application to Government. There is a Licence filing fee of $200 for each person named in the application and $500 for companies. The fee for the grant of the Licence is $600 for each person named in the Licence or $1,000 for a company plus $600 for each director and shareholder of a company.

Development Commitment

Where a Licence application is made to buy a parcel of undeveloped land, the applicant will be required to make a commitment to spend a specific sum on development (normally not less than $250,000) within a specified period (normally not more than three years). The development commitment will vary depending on the size of the property, environmental and other planning considerations. The sub-division of land by Non-Belongers is not encouraged except as a part of a comprehensive development scheme.

Re-sale of Property subject to a Development Commitment

Undeveloped land cannot be resold until any development commitment has been fulfilled. Penalties will apply in cases where the property is sold without fulfilling the development commitment. The objective of the licensing regulations is to prevent speculation on undeveloped property.

Procedure

The normal sequence for purchasing property in the British Virgin Islands is as follows:

  • Earnest Deposit: A prospective purchaser will usually pay a 10% earnest deposit to the vendor’s agent which will be held in escrow prior to signing of a purchase and sale agreement. This ‘good faith’ deposit confirms the intent to proceed with a purchase but is made ‘subject to contract’. Therefore it does not create a legal obligation on either party and is fully refundable until a purchase and sale agreement is signed.
  • Purchase and Sale Agreement: Once agreement in principle has been reached and a deposit has been paid the vendor will normally engage their attorney to prepare a legally binding purchase and sale agreement to be signed by the parties. Typically this will contain a condition that completion of the purchase is contingent upon the purchaser obtaining a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence.
  • Application for a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence: Under the purchase and sale agreement the purchaser will agree to submit their Licence application to the BVI Government within a specified number of days following signing of the purchase and sale agreement.
  • Completion of the Sale: Completion will take place shortly after the purchaser receives the Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence. The vendor signs a Deed of Transfer and this document is counter-signed by the purchaser. Payment of the balance of the purchase price is due at this stage.
  • Payment of Stamp Duty: Following completion of the sale and prior to registering the title at Land Registry, the purchaser must pay stamp duty to the Inland Revenue Department. For overseas purchasers, Stamp Duty is levied at the rate of 12% of the price or appraised value is payable by the purchaser.
  • Registration of Title: Following completion the purchaser’s attorney will normally register the title with the Registrar of Lands. The Land Register provides definitive evidence of title.

Neither purchaser nor vendor need be present in the BVI at any stage of the transaction.

Financing a Purchase

The following banks in the BVI offer retail banking services to overseas purchasers:

  • Banco Popular de Puerto Rico www.popular.com
  • CIBC First Caribbean (formerly Barclays Bank plc) www.cibcfcib.com
  • First Bank www.firstbankbvi.com
  • Scotiabank (BVI) Limited www.scotiabank.com
  • VP Bank (BVI) Ltd www.vpbank.vg

Mortgage finance will usually be available to overseas investors subject to status. Construction finance may also be available for new construction. Mortgages are granted for terms of up to twenty years. Interest rates are generally pegged to LIBOR or New York Prime rate. Banks will consider financing the purchase of land.

Building a House

Several first class architects and contractors are based in the BVI and good skilled labour is available. Architects fees will vary according to their level of involvement, responsibility and the complexity of the work.

Most building materials are imported through local merchants. Materials may be imported directly and will be liable to import duty levied at rates of between 5% and 20%. From the planning stage, a house may take 9 to 18 months to complete. There are no restrictions against an owner building a house using their own labour.

Planning and Building Control

Development in the BVI is governed by Development Guidelines which determine general policy. Development plans must be approved by the Land Development Control Authority, responsible for compliance with Development Guidelines and by the Building Authority who are responsible for ensuring that building conforms with the building code guidelines.

Property Taxes

An annual Property Tax is payable to the Government comprising Land Tax, which is levied at the rate of $150 for the first half an acre to one acre and $50 for any additional acreage thereafter and House Tax, levied at the rate of 1½% of the assessed annual rental value. In practice, annual property taxes for an average two or three bedroom house will generally be less than $1,000.

Utilities and Services

  • Electricity: A reliable 110V, 60 cycle mains supply is available on Tortola, Beef Island, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Great Camanoe and Anegada.
  • Water: Although mains water is available in most parts of Tortola and some areas of Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. However most domestic water requirements can be provided by roof catchment of rainwater is stored in cisterns, which are integrated into the foundation design of each building. Fresh drinking water can also be purchased.
  • Sewerage: There is a main sewerage system in Road Town. Elsewhere private septic tanks are normal.
  • Gas: Propane gas, supplied in cylinders, is commonly used for cooking. Arrangements can be made for regular delivery.
  • Telephone: Three companies provide modern telephone, facsimile and internet service throughout the Territory.
  • Cable TV: BVI Cable TV provides service to the majority of residential areas in Tortola and Virgin Gorda.
  • Postal Services: Postal delivery is provided by a system of Post Office boxes situated in Road Town, East End, West End and on Virgin Gorda.

Work Permits and Trade Licences

A Work Permit is required by any expatriate wishing to engage in full time or temporary employment in the BVI. Permits will only be granted where it is demonstrated that the position cannot be filled from the local labour force.

A Trade Licence is required to operate a business in the BVI. A work permit will also be required in conjunction with the Trade Licence if the owner of the business also works in the business. Full details of the work permit regulations can be obtained from the Labour Department. The Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs can provide further information on the Trade Licence requirements.

Immigration

Purchase of a property in the BVI does not in itself establish resident status. However an identification card is available to a person who holds a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence which will allow the holder to be granted leave to stay in the BVI for a period of up to six months.

A certificate of residence, entitling the holder to land or embark in the Territory for an indefinite period, may be granted to a person who intends to reside permanently in the BVI.