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How to Choose Between the US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands for Your Vacation

April 7, 2023 | The Aerial, BVI

People are often curious about the differences between the US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands, especially when it comes to deciding on a vacation spot. At The Aerial, BVI, we settled on the British Virgin Islands for their natural beauty, serenity, and seclusion—which make them ideal for a luxury wellness retreat. However, the US Virgin Islands have plenty of points of attraction, too.

If you’re considering a trip to the Virgin Islands and can’t decide between the two sides, it can help to know what each offers and the main ways in which they differ. Ultimately, both the USVI and BVI offer sun, sand, snorkeling, beautiful beaches, and lush tropical hiking trails, so whichever you choose, you really can’t go wrong!

The US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands Are Territories of Different Nations

The difference—politically—between the USVI and BVI is that the United States Virgin Islands are a United States Territory whereas the British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory.

While this might not seem like a big deal, it has implications as far as entry requirements and driver’s licenses. For some people, this difference alone might make one of the island groups more of a practical choice.

Entry Requirements

United States Virgin Islands

  • Citizens of the United States can enter with a driver’s license or government-issued photo ID.
  • Citizens of other countries can enter with a valid passport.
  • A visa isn’t required for citizens of Canada and the United States or another country in the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program for tourism or business stays up to 90 days. A U.S. visa is required for citizens of other nations.

British Virgin Islands

  • Everyone needs a passport to enter the British Virgin Islands, including British citizens. Some cruise lines may accept alternative travel documents.
  • Citizens of certain countries need a tourist visa in order to enter the BVI. You can find a complete list of the countries that require a visa on the British Virgin Islands London Office website.
  • Cruise ship passengers who will be in the BVI for 24 hours or less don’t need a visa to enter, even if they normally would.

Driver’s Licenses

United States Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

  • You can drive in the BVI with a valid overseas driver’s license for up to one month.
  • Temporary driver’s licenses can be purchased for $10. These are valid for three months.

Important note: In both the USVI and BVI, cars drive on the left side of the road.

International Influences in the US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands 

The differing political histories of the two island groups have led to the creation of distinct languages, cultures, settlement patterns, and commercialization. Even though these Caribbean islands are geographically close, these differences are very real and might make one of the two more appealing, especially if you have a defined purpose for your trip such as family fun or luxury wellness travel.


The official language of both the USVI and BVI is English: American English in the USVI and British English in the BVI. Additionally, there are large populations of Spanish speakers in both island groups and locals who speak Virgin Islands Creole. If you speak English, you will be just fine no matter which of the island groups you visit.

Cultural Influences

The Virgin Islands are a melting pot of cultures and people.

  • Arawak Indians from South America came to the Virgin Islands sometime around 100 BCE.
  • West Africans were brought to the islands as part of the slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries.
  • Dutch, French, and Danish influences can be felt from the era of European exploration.
  • Immigrants from the Middle East and India have left their cultural mark.
  • Immigrants from nearby countries have increased the amount of Spanish and French creoles spoken on the islands.
  • Oversight by the United States and Britain, respectively, has established the dominance of the English language and a preference for English-language culture and music.


If you’ve visited both the USVI and BVI, it’s impossible to ignore the differences as far as the range of goods and services and the presence (or absence) of commercial chains.

  • The USVI, as a reflection of U.S. preferences and easier access for U.S. companies, is filled with high-rise hotels, chain restaurants, bars, and entertainment and activity providers for families.
  • The BVI, on the other hand, better reflects the culture of small towns in the British countryside: quaint architecture, private villas, boutique shops, a smaller number (yet still many great options) of luxury resorts, restaurants, beach bars, and undeveloped wilderness areas.


Colorful annual events are celebrated in both the USVI and BVI. 

In the USVI, the main annual events are:

  • Valentine’s Day Jump Up in St. Croix
  • St. Thomas International Rolex Regatta
  • Transfer Day on March 31
  • A Taste of St. Croix every April
  • Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival in St. Croix
  • St. John Festival leading up to July and Independence Day on the 4th of July
  • U.S. Virgin Islands Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament in August
  • St. Croix Blue Bay Jazz Festival every November

The BVI also hosts several vibrant festivals and events throughout the year:

  • The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival in March
  • Spanish Town Fisherman’s Jamboree at the same time as the annual Easter festival
  • BVI Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend in May
  • Wreck Week, which takes place between May and June
  • HiHo Windsurfing Competition
  • BVI Emancipation Festival
  • Elevate Summits held at The Aerial, BVI throughout the year.

Activities in the US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands

Each island in the USVI and BVI has a unique character and range of activities on offer. In general, people find that there are more things for families and young people to do in the USVI. In contrast, the quiet, secluded nature of the BVI makes these islands ideal for honeymoons, retreats, and getting some R&R

If you’re looking for the perfect spot for a destination wedding or corporate retreat, booking a private island in either of the two island groups provides the most flexibility for creating a bespoke experience.

USVI Islands

The USVI has three main islands: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, as well as several smaller islands and cays.

St. Thomas 

St. Thomas is the most popular destination in the USVI because it’s close to St. John and the British Virgin Islands and has the most options as far as dining and entertainment.

St. John 

St. John is the USVI’s nature playground and a popular destination for honeymooners and couples thanks to the picturesque surroundings, scenic bays, and quieter atmosphere (compared to St. Thomas). The U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, with its hiking trails, rock carvings, historic sugar mills, and underwater sea gardens is St. John’s main attraction.

St. Croix

St. Croix is the largest island and the historical and culinary capital of the USVI. Here, you’ll find sugar mills, rum distilleries, plantation houses, and golf courses, and can join in with the many arts and crafts events and music festivals that are held in St. Croix throughout the year.

BVI Islands

The BVI has four main islands: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with around 50 smaller islands, islets, and cays.

BVI Islands


Tortola is the largest island in the BVI and the island where Road Town, the nation’s capital, is located. Here, you’ll find craft shops, gift stores, and boutiques along with botanic gardens and surfing at Cane Garden Bay.

Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda is known for its luxury resorts, yacht clubs, secluded coves, and eye-catching natural features—including the Gorda Peak National Park and The Baths, which consists of a series of towering granite formations with hidden sea-edge bathing pools—known by many as the 8th wonder of the world. The quiet exclusivity of Virgin Gorda, along with comfortable amenities, make this island popular for honeymoons and romantic getaways.


Anegada is made of coral and limestone and is one of the most beautiful spots for snorkeling in the world. The BVI equivalent of St. John, only flatter, Anegada has spectacular reefs and an abundance of wildlife. Be on the lookout for flamingos and rock iguanas when walking around this beautiful island.

Jost Van Dyke

This tiny island is the nightlife hub of the British Virgin Islands. While there are only around 300 people living permanently in Jost Van Dyke, Great Harbor has become a hotspot for fun-loving tourists with its waterfront restaurants and bars. If you want to try some amazing rum cocktails, try Foxy’s in Great Harbor or the Soggy Dollar Bar in White Bay.

In addition to the main islands, there are several smaller privately owned islands—including our own Buck Island—that can be rented for weddings, private events, and day use. Renting an entire island is a great idea for conferences and corporate retreats for which you need a tailored program with all the amenities. If you prefer to get the private island experience for your vacation, look at booking The Aerial, BVI for a Deep Wellness Stay.

Flights to the USVI vs BVI

The USVI has previously been more accessible than the BVI as far as flights go. However, accessibility to the islands will soon be changing as American Airlines will be offering daily direct flights between Miami and BVI starting June 1, 2023.

There are two airports in the USVI—located in St. Thomas and St. Croix. Flights depart regularly from San Juan (Puerto Rico), Miami (Florida), New York (New York), Houston (Texas), and San Francisco (California).

Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS)—located on Beef Island—is the main airport serving the BVI. From there, you can take a ferry or charter boat to any of the other British Virgin Islands.

If you’d like to see several Caribbean islands or simply enjoy spending time on the water, an alternative to air travel is to travel to the USVI or the BVI by cruise ship or boat. Cruise ships regularly dock in St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Norman Island.

Aerial BVI Island from above

Final Thoughts about USVI vs BVI

Both the USVI and BVI offer stunning beaches, pristine rainforests, warm tropical weather, and a vibrant local culture. Cruise ships stop at both groups of islands and both are also accessible by air.

If you’re looking for an active vacation with lots of people around and all the conveniences of home, you’re probably best going to the USVI—St. Thomas or St. Croix. For a romantic getaway or quiet respite, the British Virgin Islands are most likely your ideal destination.

For anyone who’s looking for a great mix of excitement and relaxation, try island hopping among the islands, islets, and cays of both the USVI and BVI. As long as you have a passport, these beautiful islands are all ready to welcome you ashore!