The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a British overseas territory located in the Eastern Caribbean. Road Town, the BVI’s capital, is situated on the largest island, Tortola. The BVI legal system is based upon English common law, and it is part of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) region. A specialist Commercial Court was established in 2009 to hear commercial and finance matters from the BVI. Appeals are to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, with a further right of appeal to the Privy Council in England.
English is the official language, and the official currency is the US dollar. There are no exchange controls. The BVI has no capital gains or capital transfer tax, no inheritance tax, and no sales tax or VAT. There are stamp duties on certain transactions, and property taxes. Personal and corporate income tax was abolished in 2004. A payroll tax is now levied on local employees. There are no withholding taxes in the BVI.
BVI became the market leader for corporate services following the introduction of the International Business Companies Act in 1984, which created the International Business Company (IBC). This became the industry’s preferred ‘offshore’ vehicle and was particularly popular in the Far East. The BVI Business Companies Act 2004 superseded the IBC Act and the IBC has now been replaced by the BC (Business Company). The BVI is home to over 450,000 active business companies.
There is a good commercial and professional infrastructure, and the government actively promotes the development of the finance services sector. In addition to being the world’s pre-eminent corporate domicile, the BVI is the second largest hedge fund domicile in the world and the fourth largest captive domicile for insurance products and services.
The BVI is a well-regulated jurisdiction within the international financial services community. It commenced automatic exchange of financial information with other jurisdictions on an annual basis under the OECD/G20 Common Reporting Standard (CRS) in 2018. It is also rated ‘Largely Compliant’ by the OECD Global Forum for Exchange of Information on Request.
A member of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) since 2017, the BVI has also signed the signed the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters and the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (MCAA).
In February 2020, the BVI was removed from European Union’s ‘grey list’ (Annex II) of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions that have made a high-level commitment to comply with the required criteria within an agreed timeframe. A country is removed from this list when it has addressed the issues of concern for the EU and brought its tax system fully into line with the required good governance criteria.
The Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System Act 2017 requires registered agents in the BVI to create a database of beneficial ownership information relating to in-scope companies and limited partnerships for which they act. The databases are private but may be searched upon request from certain authorities via the beneficial ownership secure search (BOSS) system.
The Mutual Legal Assistance (Tax Matters) (Amendment) Act 2018 provides for country-by-country reporting of profit or losses of
entities incorporated or resident within the BVI that are a part of a multinational group with consolidated group revenue of €750 million or more during the previous fiscal year.
The Economic Substance (Companies and Limited Partnerships) Act, 2018 imposes economic substance tests on all companies and limited partnerships registered in the BVI (or foreign companies and limited partnerships doing business in the territory) that are ‘resident in the BVI if they carry on ‘relevant activities’ – banking, insurance, fund management, financing and leasing, headquarters, shipping, holding, intellectual property and distribution and service centre business.
The BVI Financial Services Commission (FSC) is an autonomous regulatory authority responsible for the regulation, supervision and inspection of all financial services in and from within the BVI, including insurance, banking, fiduciary services, trustee business, company management, investment business, and insolvency services, as well as the registration of companies, limited partnerships and intellectual property.
The Registry of Corporate Affairs primarily administers the BVI Business Companies Act and is responsible for ensuring that entities doing business in and from within the BVI are duly registered, and that the Register of Companies is properly maintained.
The Intellectual Property Unit within the Registry of Corporate Affairs is responsible for administering all laws relating to intellectual property in the BVI. Responsibilities currently include the registration and post registration filings under the Trade Marks Act, the Registration of UK Trade Marks Act and The Registration of UK Patents Act.