FAQs

You were wondering about…….

The United States Virgin Islands are an “Unincorporated Territory” with one of the most stable governments in the Caribbean, and with a non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives. The USVI Government is made up of three branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Governor is elected every four years, and Senators elected every two years. Judicial power is vested in local courts and U.S. District courts. All persons born here are citizens of the United States. Federal laws apply here along with local laws.


The government requires no fees, licenses or work permits for US film/TV production companies coming to the US Virgin Islands. Foreign companies and crew are subject to same immigration laws of the U.S. mainland.


As on the mainland, English is the official language, with Spanish being the second language of many, particular in St. Croix. Early Danish landowners rented their estates to English planters from Tortola and Barbados; and Great Britain occupied St. Thomas from 1807 to 1815, leading to the continued use of English. The Island Creole dialect is English with an overlay of Spanish, French, Danish and African syntax.


The US Virgin Islands have been important trading centers in the Caribbean for more than 300 years. Christopher Columbus explored and named the islands in 1493, and they quickly became a haven for pirates intercepting traffic between Spain and the New World. Rumors of buried treasures remain on Thatch Island and Rendezvous Bay, where pirates gathered to assault rich ships on their way to the busy mercantile port at St. Thomas. With increasing prosperity, merchants forced the pirates out of business, or into more acceptable forms of enterprise. Claimed alternatively by the English, Dutch, French, Spanish and the Knights of Malta, the islands have varying histories. The Danes colonized St. Thomas in 1672 and St. John later in 1718, and bought St. Croix from the French in 1733. Throughout most of the 18th Century, the Virgin Islands thrived on their plantation economy, exporting great quantities of muscavado sugar, rum and cotton. The United States bought the islands in 1917 for $25 million in gold, as part of its military defense strategy. During World War II, the Navy maintained a submarine base in St. Thomas. It was not until well after the war that everyone started to realize the true appeal of the islands. In 1955, there were 5,000 visitors to the US Virgin Islands. Today, that number is more than two million per year.


The chain of steep-sided islands clearly reflects their volcanic origin, with large islands and small cays jutting abruptly from the sea. Rocky cliffs alternate along the shoreline with fine coral sand beaches and the occasional mangrove lagoon. Many of the islands are ringed with magnificent reefs of brain and elkhorn coral. The offshore islands and cays are largely uninhabited. Some are protected as bird sanctuaries and turtle nesting sites.


European colonizers were responsible for most of the early building in the islands in the 1800s. This gave the main towns of Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie a Mediterranean flavor. Construction materials were yellow Danish brick and pieces of coral, topped by red roofs and punctuated with tall arches to admit the sea breeze. The best of the newer architectural styles have retained this West Indian feeling. Old residential areas in town have small clapboard, shingled and shuttered houses squeezed together on the narrow streets. In the hills above the towns or overlooking beaches and majestic shorelines, large modern homes and vacation villas with dramatic pools offer a variety of location sites with spectacular vistas of the Caribbean and offshore cays.


Location fees for private property, estates and villas may run from modest to “exclusive” end of scale. Federal National Parks and locally operated/managed beaches, parks and buildings ask for modest fees applications are subject to advance lead time.


Some of the largest natural resources of the US Virgin Islands are its beaches. There are over a hundred widely varied types, a beach for every motif, taste and need. Some at no fee. Government-run beaches may charge modest permit fees.


Warning: Driving is not usual here. We drive on the left hand side of the road with conventional right-hand drive cars meaning the steering wheel is on the left. US driver’s licenses are valid for 90 days. The main roads are paved in all three districts. Most roads are narrow and wind through hills and around buildings. The Film Office recommends strongly that you leave all driving to local crew and drivers.


120 V., 60 cycle, with 220 V. power drops available.


Water is an Island commodity. Rainfall is collected in cisterns from the roofs. Potable water also is provided by desalinization plants, while most hotels have their own alternative sources of water, including wells. For rain and storm scenes, adequate supply of water is available from alternative sources, including water trucks.


Telephone

The USVI are connected by one major local phone company. There are no fees to make local calls within the USVI (island to island). Long distance is the same as state-to-state rates. You may want to check with your long distance provider.

Cellular Service

We advise you consult your existing wireless provider prior to traveling the production. AT&T Wireless and Sprint are the predominant cellular service providers with networks and offices in the USVI. In addition, there are two locally-based mobile phone brands: Innovative and Choice. Many other cellular companies may have roaming agreements with these companies.NOTE: Verizon, T-Mobile and other mobile services may roam here but are not as reliable as the aforementioned. Reasonably priced no-contract cell phones and service are available locally. ANOTHER NOTE: Given the geographic proximity to the BVI, certain areas on St. Thomas and St. John may cause you to in advertently roam internationally. It is safe to say that your cell phone will likely work fine as you step off the plane.

Two-way radios/Walkie Talkies

Island-wide two-way radios remain the most reliable means of communication, on and off set. There are location production services who can provide repeater-based radios with 100-mile plus range. These radios are licensed exclusively to the entertainment industry and are available for any size – even to keep production crews connected.


While hotels provide usual internet connections and wifi services, there are also several local providers of broadband service. You may expect average speeds of 10mbps which are ever changing. Direct lines and higher speeds are available upon request from local Internet service providers. Wireless cards and personal cellular-based wifi device from your mobile company also may operate locally subject roaming. (The same information in the section above on cell service applies.) Your production services provider can procure necessary services.


There are several experienced firms that offer IT support, networking and equipment rental for your production office. Your production services provider can procure necessary services.

Equipment and accessories to be used for limited term production purposes may enter the US Virgin Islands free of excise tax, duty, bonds or carnets. Ask your location production coordinator or the Film Office for critical help in filing a Temporary Important Bond (TIB). A list itemizing equipment and country of manufacture must accompany the shipment. (Bring extra copies of this list.) The equipment must be registered with the US Customs prior to shipment (this indicates that the equipment is entering the Territory from an overseas destination rather than being purchased in the USI). Unaccompanied shipments by air and sea freight must have a Shipper’s Export Declaration and the above documentation to clear Customs on both arrival and departure. Note: Non-compliance will subject all imported materials to a 6% duty and excise tax.


Equipment and accessories to be used for limited term production purposes may enter the US Virgin Islands free of excise tax, duty, bonds or carnets. Ask your location production coordinator or the Film Office for critical help in filing a Temporary Important (TI). A list itemizing equipment and country of manufacture must accompany the shipment. (Bring extra copies of this list.) The equipment must be registered with the US Customs prior to shipment (this indicates that the equipment is entering the Territory from an overseas destination rather than being purchased in the USVI). Unaccompanied shipments by air and sea freight must have a Shipper’s Export Declaration and the above documentation to clear Customs on both arrival and departure. Note: Non-compliance will subject all imported materials to a duty and excise tax.

US Customs for passengers not traveling with equipment: No customs clearance is required for passengers and baggage traveling to the USVI. However, in returning to the US mainland, you must pre-clear US Customs and Border Protection in St. Thomas or St. Croix airport.

Border Protection/Immigration Travel Identification: As a US Territory under a separate Customs zone, the USVI is subject to US immigration laws. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean (except Puerto Rico) no passport is required for US citizens, BUT it is always a good idea to carry one when traveling. You should have an accepted form of proof of citizenship such as such as a raised-seal birth certificate and government-issued photo ID. For more information contact the U.S Customs & Border Protection agency at www.cbp.gov


NOTE: Given our unique status within US Customs, shipping to and from the USVI may require Customs declaration and clearance. Your production service provider is best suited to handle such shipping. There are production services who specialize in this area of the business.

US Postal Service Mail

As a US territory we enjoy the convenience of the US Postal Service including Express and Priority Mail at the same rates as those on mainland. Outbound packages other than documents may require simple US Customs Declaration Forms.

Express Couriers

All overnight couriers provide service to and from the USVI. Fedex, UPS and DHL operate facilities here and are very reliable with the exception that delivery may take a day longer with varying times and days often associated with international delivery.

Air and Ocean Freight

Major airlines offer both counter-to-counter and air freight service. There are also film-friendly experienced independent and charter air cargo services with local representatives that provide expedient, reliable means of shipping.

Ocean freight companies operate direct routes out of Florida to the USVI. Tropical and Crowley Marine are the most reliable and frequent. You may also arrange shipping from points across the country to these carriers. NOTE: Avoid trans-shipping via San Juan.


Goes without saying that US currency is the medium of exchange. However, local establishments and vendors may be reluctant to accept state-side checks as it takes a long time to clear through the banks. Most credit cards, “p-cards” and travelers checks are commonly accepted. Not all take American Express and Discover. You will find several reputable regional banks with ATMs and branches conveniently located through-out the Islands. ATM’s accept all universal debit cards, including those from major mainland and international banks. NOTE: It is best practice to arrange local bank accounts and/or money transfers through your production services provider. Escrow accounts are strongly suggested to allow smooth business transactions and may be required for large, lengthy productions. Banks with offices in the US Virgin Islands include First Bank, ScotiaBank, Banco Popular, Merchants Commercial Bank and Bank of St. Croix.


Federal labor and minimum wage laws are the same as they are on the US mainland no labor. The USVI is a “right to work state” with no applicable unions.


Founded in 1963, the fully accredited University of the Virgin Islands was established to meet the need for higher education in the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. Its four-year curriculum provides students with a Bachelor of Arts degree in such fields as marine biology, marine science, education and business. There are also Masters degree programs. The 175-acre campus in St. Thomas includes a nursing education building, a science building, classrooms, dormitories, and a theater. Oh – and beach and dock! The 103-acre campus in St. Croix is located between Christiansted and Frederikisted. Throughout the year there are cultural events staged at the university. UVI is a source of interns in the film industry.


Dairy and beef cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs are raised on small farms. You’ll commonly see mongoose, iguanas, lizards, donkeys, indigenous parakeets (conyers) and occasionally deer and tree boas. Private owners raise parrots, macaws and cockatoos. In fact, several commercials have featured birds trained by our world-class bird trainers. From the beaches, you’ll commonly see brown pelicans, boobies and terns, frigate and tropical birds which nest on the offshore cays. And finally, there are several qualified experienced veterinarians, as well as blacksmiths, stables, horse trailers and feed supplies. The Humane Societies in each district operate shelters and kennels.


The US Department of Agriculture imposes quarantines on certain animals traveling between the USVI, Puerto Rico and the mainland. Terms for the quarantine can be minimized. Dogs, cats and other domestic animals are exempt from quarantine, but must have health certificates. Contact the Film Promotion Office for details and assistance with importing animals. We have unique experience in bringing in exotic animals such as dolphin, tigers, lions and bears!


The US Virgin Islands “have completely comfortable conditions at least 11% more often than other major destinations in the area,” according to a US Government study. In fact, we have one of the most favorable climates in the world with an average mean temperature of 77 degrees F in the winter, and 82 degrees F in the summer. Visibility is often fifty miles, and trade winds blow steadily at 10 to 15 knots, generally from the southeast in the summer and from the northeast in the winter.

Water temperature: That too is considered most favorable and has been the driving motivation for productions requiring underwater work to shoot here. In the winter, imagine average water temps of 77 degrees F!


Atlantic Standard Time (AST): The USVI remain on Atlantic Standard Time year round, meaning that we are one hour ahead of the East Coast, four hours of the West. During Daylight Savings Time, New York has the same time as the USVI, and Los Angeles goes from four hours to three behind.


The Film Office requires production companies to have at least $1 million liability insurance policy and submit a certificate of insurance, naming the Virgin Islands’ Government, its agents and the employees as coinsured. This information must be turned into the Film Office before filming begins.


The Film Office can negotiate lower rates, especially during the months of May to November which could represent substantial savings.


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