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British Virgin Islands (BVI) Report (October 2010)

Thursday 03 March 2011 by Gina Le Prevost

As thoughts of depressing UK economy seem to move further away, I still find myself being approached by more professionals in the UK and further afield looking to move to sunnier climes that offer more relaxed way of life whilst also looking for that ‘international exposure and experience’ for their CV and in their career.

A contact of mine who I recently placed in the BVI, had returned from a previous stint over there, tells me he couldn’t be happier and whilst economy has been slow in the previous years, businesses are keeping their heads above water.

So, you may ask yourself, why the British Virgin Islands? As well as offering an outstanding quality of life, exceptional sailing conditions and favourable tax rates, we are starting to see excellent job opportunities surfacing again in the international finance sector.  We are seeing a high demand for qualified professionals to work in the Legal, Accountancy or in the Trust and Fiduciary field, and in excess of over 50% of AP Executive placements in the BVI last year were within the island’s Trust industry.

The BVI economy is now one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean. Legislation was enacted in 1984 to facilitate the administration of companies for use in international business and, as a result, the IBC (International Business Company) came into its own in the 1990s and to date well over 500,000 companies have been registered.

The Financial Services Commission was set up in 1993 to regulate the quickly growing offshore business sector and the FSC has separate departments supervising the banks, trust companies, insurance entities and mutual funds. In common with other jurisdictions, the BVI has extensive Anti-Money Laundering legislation in place and every trust company must have a compliance officer to ensure that statutory and regulatory requirements are fully met.

Last year, after the controversial reveal of ‘blacklisted’ offshore jurisdictions, BVI signed 12th Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) and were moved to the ‘white list’ in August 2009. Despite the recession at its peak and bad publicity, the island’s status has maintained as one of the leading finance centres and has steadily started to move towards the recovery in 2010.

The largest island, Tortola (meaning “Land of Turtle Doves”) is where most of the financial institutions are based and is situated 60 miles east off Puerto Rico. The main point of entry is the airport, which is linked to the capital of Road Town. It provides a scenic setting with a yacht-filled harbour and a laid-back lifestyle evolved over four centuries by English, Dutch, French and Spanish adventurers.

To maintain a balance between expatriates and locals or ‘Belongers’, as they are also known on this small island, being able to work in the BVI is subject to restrictions on work permits to prevent the island becoming overcrowded.  Currently, with a population of 23,098, 50% of this number is accounted as expatriates who include workers from UK, Canada, South Africa and the United States. The BVI Government need to remain strict on how many people come to the BVI from off island meaning your prospective employer will have to prove that no one suitable can be found on island and then prior to your arrival in the BVI, must apply to the government for a work permit on your behalf. The majority of these permits are valid for one year and can be re-applied for on an annual basis.

With UK Tax laws and VAT increase next year BVI is more attractive to British professionals than ever. This will mean increasing competition between jobseekers and possible tougher regulation on working visas.

A quote from the BVI STEP Chairman explains “Professionals here can expect challenging work, because BVI truly is globally connected.  Our clients are everywhere and we serve professionals and HNWIs from the world’s top tier financial centres, every day.  Opportunities for intellectual as well as professional development are myriad all in an environment as far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life as we are from Mars! As a bonus, the BVI offers a safe and healthy life style choice with pristine beaches, unbelievable beautiful vistas from every vantage point; sailing, biking, diving and other outdoor activities relieve the demands of a busy work schedule. The hospitality industry has evolved to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated clientele, providing accommodation, dining and entertainment choices that balance the simplicity of island life with an appropriate measure of metropolitan influences.”

So, as a general rule you will find that the working environment and dress codes in the BVI are fairly relaxed, but that doesn’t mean that expectations of output and professionalism are any lower.  Most of the people who relocate to work in the BVI do it for two reasons - firstly, professional development and, secondly, a lifestyle change. They work hard and play hard, which is a small price to pay in order to be able to take up sanctuary in this small, quaint and unspoilt paradise.

This article was written by Claire Hopkinson, Former Manager for AP Executive, a specialist global private wealth management consultancy.

Article first published in Private Client Practitioner magazine, October 2010