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Virgin Islands of the United States
Flag of Virgin Islands of the United States
Official seal of Virgin Islands of the United States
"United in Pride and Hope"
Anthem: "Virgin Islands March"
Location of the United States Virgin Islands
Location of the United States Virgin Islands
Sovereign state  United States
Before purchase Danish West Indies
Transfer from Denmark March 31, 1917
and largest city
Charlotte Amalie
18°21′N 64°56′W / 18.350°N 64.933°W / 18.350; -64.933
Official languages English
Recognised regional languages Virgin Islands Creole English
Ethnic groups
By race
By ethnicity
Demonym(s) Virgin Islander
Government Devolved presidential constitutional dependency
Albert Bryan (D)
• Lieutenant Governor
Tregenza Roach (D)
Legislature Legislature of the Virgin Islands
• Total
346.4 km2 (133.7 sq mi) (168th)
• Water (%)
Highest elevation
474 m (1,555 ft)
• 2020 census
• Density
653.6/sq mi (252.4/km2)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
US$4.068 billion
HDI (2008) Increase 0.894
very high · 59th
Currency United States dollar (US$) (USD)
Time zone UTC−4:00 (AST)
Date format mm/dd/yyyy
Driving side left
Calling code +1–340
USPS abbreviation
Trad. abbreviation
ISO 3166 code
Internet TLD .vi

The United States Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands of the United States, are a group of Caribbean islands and an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles to the east of Puerto Rico and west of the British Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas and 50 other surrounding minor islands and cays. The total land area of the territory is 133.73 square miles (346.36 km2). The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas.

Previously known as the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway (from 1754 to 1814) and the independent Kingdom of Denmark (from 1814 to 1917), they were sold to the United States by Denmark for $25,000,000 in the 1917 Treaty of the Danish West Indies and have since been an organized, unincorporated United States territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands are organized under the 1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and have since held five constitutional conventions.

Tourism and related categories are the primary economic activities.


The U.S. Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next two hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.

The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, settled on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, named the Danish West Indian Islands (Danish: De dansk-vestindiske øer). Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848.

The Danish West India and Guinea Company are also credited with naming the island St. John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of Saint John in 1754 along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. Sugarcane plantations such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation were established in great numbers on St. John because of the intense heat and fertile terrain that provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugarcane plantations also led to the buying of more slaves from Africa. In 1733 St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World when Akwamu slaves from the Gold Coast took over the island for six months.

The Danish were able to defeat the enslaved Africans with help from the French in Martinique. Instead of allowing themselves to be recaptured more than a dozen of the ringleaders shot themselves before the French forces could capture them and call them to account for their activities during the period of rebel control. It is estimated that by 1775, slaves outnumbered the Danish settlers by a ratio of 5:1. The indigenous Caribs and Arawaks were also used as slave labor to the point of the entire native population being absorbed into the larger groups. Slavery was abolished in the Virgin Islands on July 3, 1848.

Although some plantation owners refused to accept the abolition, some 5,000 blacks were freed while another 17,000 remained enslaved. In that era, slaves labored mainly on sugar plantations. Other crops included cotton and indigo. Over the following years, strict labor laws were implemented several times, leading planters to abandon their estates, causing a significant drop in population and the overall economy. In the late 1800s, numerous natural disasters added to worsen the situation. For the remainder of the period of Danish rule the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected. A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was defeated in the upper house of the Danish parliament in a balanced ballot (because the opposition carried a 97-year-old life member into the chamber).

FEMA - 3094 - Photograph by FEMA News Photo taken on 09-25-1995 in US Virgin Islands
The aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn on the island of St. Thomas, 1995.

The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark about buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million in United States gold coin was agreed (this is equivalent to $622.55 million in 2023 dollars). At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a consensus in favor of selling emerged in the Danish parliament.

The Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed in August 1916, with a Danish referendum held in December 1916 to confirm the decision. The deal was finalized on January 17, 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The United States took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States. Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday, to commemorate the acquisition of the islands by the United States. U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927. The U.S. dollar was adopted in the territory in 1934 and from 1935 to 1939 the islands were a part of the United States customs area.

Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (81 ha) of the island were purchased from the U.S. Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction that marked the official change in jurisdiction.

Hurricane Hugo struck the U.S Virgin Islands in 1989, causing catastrophic physical and economic damage. The territory was again struck by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, killing eight people and causing more than $2 billion in damage. The islands were again struck by Hurricanes Bertha, Georges, Lenny, and Omar in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2008, respectively, but damage was not as severe in those storms.


Virgin islands sm02
A map of the United States Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles (60 km) east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Puerto Rican Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra, (administered by Puerto Rico) and the British Virgin Islands.

The territory consists of three main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas) and "Love City" (St. John). The combined land area of the islands is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (1,555 ft or 474 m).

Saint Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies to the south and has a flatter terrain. The National Park Service owns more than half of Saint John, nearly all of Hassel Island, and many acres of coral reef. (See also Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.)

The U.S. Virgin Islands lie on the boundary of the North American plate and the Caribbean Plate. Natural hazards include earthquakes and hurricanes.


The United States Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical climate, with little seasonal change throughout the year. Rainfall is concentrated in the high sun period (May thorough October), while in the winter the northeast trade winds prevail. Summer and winter high temperatures differ by 5 °F or less on average.

Climate data for Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 93
Average high °F (°C) 85
Average low °F (°C) 72
Record low °F (°C) 63
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.38


Historical population
Census Pop.
1970 62,468
1980 96,569 54.6%
1990 101,809 5.4%
2000 108,612 6.7%
2010 106,405 −2.0%
2020 87,146 −18.1%

In 2020, the census put the population of the U.S. Virgin Islands at 87,146, a decline of 18,989 (-18.1%) from 2010.

In 2010, there were 40,648 households, out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.2% were married couples living together, 24.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.34.

In the territory, the population in 2010 was distributed with 31.6% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 8.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and up, there were 87.7 males. The annual population growth is −0.12%.

The literacy rate for the adult population was 94.9% in 2010.

Ethnic groups

The racial makeup of the U.S. Virgin Islands was:

Many residents can trace their ancestry to other Caribbean islands, especially Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles. The territory is largely Afro-Caribbean in origin.


USVI St. Thomas Charlotte Amalie Danish streetname
A Danish street name in Charlotte-Amalie

English is the dominant language. Spanish is spoken by about 17% of the population, and other languages by 11%. English has been the predominant language since 1917, when the islands were transferred from Denmark to the United States. Under Danish rule, the official language was Danish, but it was solely the language of administration and spoken by Danes, a tiny minority of the overall population that primarily occupied administrative roles in colonial Danish West Indian society. Place names and surnames of Denmark–Norway origin are still common.

Although the U.S. Virgin Islands was a Danish possession during most of its colonial history, Danish never was a spoken language among the populace, black or non-Danish white, as the majority of plantation and slave owners were of Dutch, English, Scottish, Irish, or Spanish descent. Even during Danish ownership, Dutch, another Germanic language like Danish, was more common, at least during some of those 245 years, specifically on St. Thomas and St. John, where the majority of the European settlers are Dutch. In St. Croix, English was the dominant language. St. Croix was owned by the French until 1733 when the island was sold to the Danish West Indian and Guinea Company. By 1741, there were five times as many English on the island as Danes. English Creole emerged on St. Croix more so than Dutch Creole, which was more popular on St. Thomas and St. John. Other languages spoken in the Danish West Indies included Irish, Scots, Spanish, and French, as well as Virgin Islands English Creole.

Virgin Islands Creole English, an English-based creole locally known as "dialect", is spoken in informal situations. The form of Virgin Islands Creole spoken on St. Croix, known as Crucian, is slightly different from that spoken on St. Thomas and St. John. Because the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to thousands of immigrants from across the Caribbean, Spanish and various French creole languages are also widely spoken. Spanish is mostly spoken by Puerto Ricans; Puerto Rican migration was prevalent in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, when many Puerto Ricans relocated to Saint Croix for work after the collapse of the sugar industry. In addition, the U.S. Navy purchase of two-thirds of the nearby Puerto Rican island of Vieques during World War II resulted in the displacement of thousands of Viequenses, many of whom relocated to Saint Croix because of its similar size and geography. Puerto Ricans in Saint Croix, most of whom have lived on the island for more than a generation, have kept their culture alive while integrating it into the native Crucian culture and society. For example, in informal situations, many Puerto Ricans in Saint Croix speak a unique Spanglish-like combination of Puerto Rican Spanish and the local Crucian dialect of creole English.

As of the 2000 census, 25.3% of persons over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. Spanish is spoken by 16.8% of the population and French is spoken by 6.6%.


Circle frame-1.svg

Religion in the United States Virgin Islands (2010)      Protestant (65.5%)     Catholic (27.1%)     Other Christian (1.8%)     Unaffiliated (3.7%)     Other religion (1.9%)

Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to Pew Research Center, 94.8% of the population was Christian in 2010. The largest Christian denominations in the 2010 census were Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Episcopalian.

Owing to both their Danish past and American present, Protestantism on the islands has long been widespread. It was first introduced when Lutheranism was brought to the islands in the Danish colonization. The Danish crown also allowed other religious traditions on the islands including Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, the Moravian Church and other Protestant groups. Historically, St. Thomas and St. Croix are known for missionary efforts undertaken by the Moravian missionaries. They were allowed on the islands by the Danish royal court, but came under scrutiny when they denounced slavery. A number of neo-Protestant traditions including Pentecostalism, various evangelical Protestants and the Seventh-day Adventists arrived later with the switch of allegiance from Denmark to the United States.

There is also a strong Roman Catholic presence. Rastafari is also prevalent. St. Thomas is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere, as Sephardi Jews began to settle the island in the 18th century as traders and merchants. The St. Thomas Synagogue in Charlotte Amalie is the second-oldest synagogue on American soil, and oldest in terms of continuous usage.


The United States Virgin Islands Department of Education serves as the territory's education agency, and has two school districts: St. Thomas-St. John School District and St. Croix School District.

The University of the Virgin Islands provides higher education leading to associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees, with campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix.


The culture of the Virgin Islands reflects the various people that have inhabited the present-day U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, both despite their political separation having kept close cultural ties. The culture derives chiefly from West African, European and American cultures, in addition to the influences from the immigrants from the Arab world, India and other Caribbean islands. The island was also strongly influenced by the Dutch, French and Danish during the periods of control the island were under these powers.




The islands have a number of AM and FM radio stations (mostly on St. Thomas and St. Croix) broadcasting music, religious, and news programming. (See List of radio stations in U.S. Territories.) Full and low-power television stations are split between St. Thomas and St. Croix. (See List of television stations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.) Newspapers include:

  • The Avis, printed daily on St. Croix.
  • The Virgin Islands Daily News, printed daily on St. Thomas.
  • St. John Tradewinds, distributed weekly on St. John.
  • St. Thomas – St. John This Week, online only.
  • St. Thomas Source, online only.
  • St. Croix Source, online only.
  • St. John On Island Times, news and information on St John, USVI.

Public holidays

  • January 1: New Years Day
  • January 6: Three Kings Day
  • January (third Monday): Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February (third Monday): President's Day
  • March 31: Transfer Day (celebrates the transfer of the islands from Denmark to the U.S.)
  • April: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday
  • May: Memorial Day
  • July 3: Emancipation Day
  • July 4: U.S. Independence Day
  • September (first Monday): Labor Day
  • October (second Monday): Virgin Islands Puerto Rico Friendship Day/Columbus Day
  • November 1: D. Hamilton Jackson Day (also known as "Liberty Day", or "Bull and Bread Day")
  • November 11: Veteran's Day
  • November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
  • December 25: Christmas
  • December 26: Christmas Second Day (also known as "Boxing Day")

Virgin Islands government employees are also given administrative leave for St. Croix carnival events in January and St. Thomas carnival events in April/May.


Tourism is the Islands' biggest industry; with 2.5–3 million annual visitors, the sector is responsible for about 60% of the GDP. Other major sectors are the public sector, some limited agriculture, and small scale manufacturing, most notably rum production.

A 2012 economic report from the U.S. Census Bureau indicated a total of 2,414 business establishments generating $6.8 billion in sales, employing 32,465 people and paying $1.1 billion in payroll per year. Between 2007 and 2012, sales declined by $12.6 billion, or 64.9 percent. (In 2007, total sales were $19.5 billion and the number employed was 35,300.)

According to a report on the first half of 2016 by the VI Bureau of Economic Research, the unemployment rate was 11.5 percent. In May 2016 the islands' Bureau of Economic Research indicated that there were 37,613 non-agricultural wage and salary jobs in the islands. This report states that the "leisure and hospitality sector" employed an average of 7,333 people. The retail trade sector, which also serves many tourists, averaged another 5,913 jobs. Other categories which also include some tourism jobs include arts and entertainment (792 jobs), accommodation and food (6,541 jobs), accommodation (3,755 jobs), and food services and drink (2,766 jobs). A large percentage of the 37,613 non-farm workers are employed in dealing with tourists. Serving the local population is also part of the role of these sectors.

In a May 2016 report, some 11,000 people were categorized as being involved in some aspect of agriculture in the first half of 2016, but this category makes up a small part of the total economy. At that time, there were approximately 607 manufacturing jobs and 1,487 natural resource and construction jobs. The single largest employer was the government. In mid-February 2017, the USVI was facing a financial crisis due to a very high debt level of $2 billion and a structural budget deficit of $110 million. Since January 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands government has been unable to raise financing from the bond market at favorable interest rates, and as of June 2019 have not issued any new bonds since then.

Personal income

The median income for a household in the territory was $24,704, and the median income for a family was $28,553 according to the 2010 census. Males had a median income of $28,309 versus $22,601 for females. The per capita income for the territory was $13,139. The average private sector salary was $34,088 and the average public sector salary was $52,572. About 28.7% of families and 32.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.7% of those less than 18 years old and 29.8% of those 65 or more years old. Nearly 70% of adults had at least a high school diploma and 19.2% had a bachelor's degree or higher.

Financial challenges

Analysts reviewing the economy often point to the closure of the HOVENSA oil refinery, the islands' largest private sector employer, in early 2012 as having a major negative impact on the territory's economy. In late 2013, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Research and Statistics Group pointed out that manufacturing employment dropped by 50% in May 2012 and by another 4% by November 2012, and that the GDP fell by 13%, "mainly due to an 80% drop-off in exports (mostly refined petroleum)". On the other hand, tourism and some other service industries were growing. As well, the 2010 census indicated that a relatively high share of the adult population is in the labor force: 66%, versus 65% on the mainland and well below 50% in Puerto Rico.

A May 2016 report by Bloomberg expressed concern about the islands' tax-supported debt load. By January 23, 2017, this had increased to $2 billion. That translated to a per capita debt of $19,000, which was higher than the per capita debt in Puerto Rico which was undergoing a severe financial crisis at the time. A Debtwire analyst writing in Forbes indicated that nothing short of a miracle would prevent a financial collapse. Another area of concern was the structural budget deficit which was at $110 million in mid February 2017. The government instituted a new law in March 2017 with new or increased taxes on rum, beer, tobacco products and sugary drinks, as well as internet purchases and timeshare unit owners.


Tourism, trade, and other service-oriented industries are the primary economic activities, accounting for nearly 60% of the GDP. Approximately 2.5 million tourists per year visit, most arriving on cruise ships. Such visitors do not spend large amounts of money ($146.70 each on average) but as a group, they contributed $339.8 million to the economy in 2012. Euromonitor indicates that over 50% of the workforce is employed in some tourism-related work.

Additionally, the islands frequently are a starting point for private yacht charters to the neighboring British Virgin Islands.

Other sectors

The manufacturing sector consists of mainly rum distilling. The agricultural sector is small, with most food being imported. International business and financial services are a small but growing component of the economy. Most energy is also generated from imported oil, leading to electricity costs four to five times higher than the U.S. mainland. The Virgin Islands were the highest oil consumers per capita in the world in 2007. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority also uses imported energy to operate its desalination facilities to provide fresh water.

Tax and trade

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an independent customs territory from the mainland United States and operate largely as a free port. U.S. citizens thus do not have to clear customs when arriving in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but do when traveling to the mainland. Local residents are not subject to US federal income taxes on U.S. Virgin Islands source income; they pay taxes to the territory equal to what their federal taxes would be if they lived in a state.


Basketball is one of the popular sports in the Virgin Islands. There is currently one player in the NBA from the Virgin Islands, 2019 NBA Draft pick Nicolas Claxton, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets. Retired five-time NBA champion Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs also is a native of the Virgin Islands.

In cricket, Virgin Islanders are eligible to compete internationally as part of the West Indies. The most recent Virgin Islander to be named to the West Indies squad is Hayden Walsh Jr., who was born in St. Croix. In regional Caribbean competitions, Virgin Islanders compete in List A and first-class cricket as part of the Leeward Islands cricket team. Currently, the Virgin Islands are not represented in Caribbean Twenty20 leagues.

There are also a men's and women's national soccer teams.

Transport and communications

Cyril E. King Airport (terminal)
Cyril E. King Airport on St Thomas

The Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport serves St. Croix and the Cyril E. King Airport serves St. Thomas and St. John.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is the only U.S. jurisdiction that drives on the left. This was inherited from what was then-current practice on the islands at the time of the 1917 transfer of the territory to the United States from Denmark. However, because most cars in the territory are imported from the mainland United States, the cars in the territory are left-hand drive. However, not all U.S. vehicle regulations are in force, and there are vehicles on the road that cannot be sold in the mainland U.S. Additionally, headlights use the U.S. pattern which casts light to the right, tending to blind oncoming drivers. Traffic signals are located on the opposite side of the road than they are in the U.S. mainland, and many standard road signs have been altered to fit the left-side driving.

Mail service is handled by the United States Postal Service, using the two-character state code "VI" for domestic mail delivery. ZIP codes are in the 008xx range. As of January 2010, specifically assigned codes include 00801–00805 (St Thomas), 00820–00824 (Christiansted), 00830–00831 (St. John), 00840–00841 (Frederiksted), and 00850–00851 (Kingshill). The islands are part of the North American Numbering Plan, using area code 340, and island residents and visitors are able to call most toll-free U.S. numbers.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Atlantic Standard Time zone and do not participate in daylight saving time. When the mainland United States is on standard time, the U.S. Virgin Islands are one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When the mainland United States is on daylight saving time, Eastern Daylight Time is the same as Atlantic Standard Time.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Islas Vírgenes de los Estados Unidos para niños

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