BVI roads have been described as fun, intimidating, bumpy, thrilling and dangerous. Sometimes they are all those things. When in doubt, drive cautiously because you never know when something is going to stop in front of you—another car dropping someone off, a cow or goat, a tourist thinking Main Street is a pedestrian thoroughfare, a chicken, a taxibus filled with photo-snapping cruise ship passengers or a neighbour pulling over to throw trash in the dumpster. There are also plenty of speed bumps, often in unexpected places, as well as dips, potholes and blind turns.
Ticket violations run from reckless driving to stopping a vehicle to talk to another person in their motor; however, the most common offences, tend to be driving while using a cell phone, expired registration and failure to use a seatbelt – much of the information below has been adopted from the BVI driver’s manual which you will become acquainted with if you are to drive here.
If you are simply visiting the BVI, a valid overseas license permits driving for up to a month. As long as you have this license, you can also legally drive in the BVI for no more than three months via a temporary license for a fee of $10.00. It is not required for the applicant of a temporary license to take a written or road skills test.
If you are establishing permanent residency in the BVI, you must obtain a Virgin Islands Driver’s license, to which there is a procedure depending on your status as an overseas driver or non-driver.
If you already have a valid foreign license, you have to take the BVI written test but not the driving tests. If you have reached the age of 70 years, in addition to the written test, you must provide a medical report no more than six months old from a licensed practitioner stating your fitness to operate a motor vehicle. This medical must include an eye examination. The eye examination can also be taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) located at R&R Malone Complex in Pockwood Pond.
If you do not have a valid foreign license, you must take the practical and written tests and also acquire a Learner’s Permit from the DMV for $20.00.
Visit the DMV for a copy of the Road Rules booklet, and study it. Many of the BVI rules differ from driving rules in other countries, especially with the use of hand signals, so learn the correct answers before you take the test. Do not attempt the test without studying the book. Once you have memorised the BVI driving rules, you can take the written test at the DMV.
To take the written test you must provide a picture ID with your date of birth or your Learner’s Permit.
The Written Test has sixty questions and you must score fifty correct answers for a passing mark. The time allotted to take this test is 60 Minutes. You must also correctly answer the two mandatory questions about speed limits, or you will not pass.
The Written Test is FREE and it’s administered at the DMV to sixteen individuals per day. It can be taken Monday thru Friday from 9:00am to 2:00pm. To ensure you will be able to take the test, arrive early and wait in line outside the door then put your name on a list when the office opens. The test can be taken electronically, written or orally (by appointments only).
A certificate is issued upon successful completion of the written test. This must be presented to the Accounts Officer at time of payment – for overseas licensed drivers, this concludes the test period, but for new drivers, this certificate will grant permission to take the Cone Test – Instructions regarding the Cone Test can be found in the BVI Driver’s Handbook which you will have in your possession by this point.
*** It should be noted that the rules do change for Overseas Licensed drivers regarding the acquisition of a driver’s license. Sometimes, they will have to take the Cone Test and Road Test as well. It has also been rumoured and frequently said that taking the test(s) in Virgin Gorda as opposed to Tortola is a more relaxing experience. It will be for the examinee to decide and compare should they be repeating the test(s) more than once…
After passing the written test, take the following to the DMV at the Pockwood Pond facility on Tortola or in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda to obtain your license:
*** For completely new drivers from the UK, there is the added bonus that you can convert the Virgin Islands Driver’s License into a British Full Driver’s License should you decide to return to the UK. This can save a few pounds in driving lessons.
Due to the many speed-bumps, potholes and switchbacks, this is not the place to choose a low-ride sports car though you will see them from time to time. Power and 4WD should be your mantra, especially if you want to explore some of the islands’ secrets that are only accessible by dirt roads.
Like most imported products on the islands, cars are more expensive in the BVI than other countries due to shipping duty and import costs.
You basically have three choices in the BVI for types of cars that you can purchase—a brand new vehicle, a gently used vehicle or an island car. Brand new, imported cars are available at several dealerships on Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Gently used cars are often available for really good deals if someone is leaving the island and needs to sell in a hurry. Check the local papers and online classifieds for up-to-date deals. Also, many residents have successfully imported certified used cars from other countries.
The last option is an island car. An island car usually has at least one window that doesn’t go down, a little bit of rust, sand permanently embedded in the carpet and a leak or two, but it will get you over the hill, and it usually costs less than $3000.
The first step in legally getting your car on the road is the transfer of ownership. You can transfer a car into your name even if you only have a foreign license, although a BVI one is preferred. Both buyer and seller need to be present at the DMV to complete the paperwork so they can see that the signatures are valid. When purchasing a car from someone that has already left the island, that person’s signature must be on an original, notarised form before being sent back for you to complete in the BVI.
Once the car has been transferred to your name, you will need to insure it before licensing it. There are many reputable insurance companies on island. Depending on the age of the car, you may or may not be able to comprehensively insure it. Many insurance agencies will only insure the car third party if it is over eight years old.
You can license the car once you have your insurance documents. The cost of licensing depends on the size/weight of the car. You first need to have the car inspected by one of the officers in the lot behind the licensing office. Following, you go inside with your insurance documents and certificate of inspection to pay your licensing fee. Then once you have the receipt, take it back outside so that the officer can apply your sticker.
You might think that almost anything that has wheels and potters along the road in the BVI seems to pass as a vehicle, but think again. While many prefer an old-beater over a shiny new wagon because of the wear and tear vehicles endure on our rough and wild roadways, you’ll need to ensure your road warrior passes inspection through the DMV. If it can’t pass yearly inspection, and doesn’t bear the appropriate year’s registration sticker on the inside of the front windshield, you could be looking at a hefty fine – the authorities often organise road stops to specifically check for proof of current registration.
This is what you need before inspection:
Listed below are the items on the DMV inspector’s checklist:
Most rental companies do not rent to drivers under 25, but some don’t ask. Always get the optional insurance, or you might end up paying $800 for a broken taillight and a gouged bumper. Some rental companies offer off-season deals that are less expensive than a one-way taxi ride from the airport, so car rental is a great option in the BVI.
The best thing about the proliferation of taxis in the BVI is that you will never get stranded. Taxi drivers are usually on-call, so if you give them a ring, they are generally happy to take you to your destination. If you establish a good relationship with a regular taxi driver, your life will be easier. Taxis are great for more than just rides to the airport. You can hire a taxi bus for a big night out, like a limo, in order to keep anyone from drink-driving.
Scooting around the island is another option. Scooters are great because you can pull up to the front of the line at traffic lights and you barely have to spend any money on fuel. If you are considering this method of transportation, rent a scooter first and zip around the islands for the day. As with all vehicles, be certain to ride with caution. Once you purchase a scooter, be sure to keep all weather gear in the storage compartment just in the case of a sudden rainstorm which can occur sporadically.
If you find yourself without a vehicle for a few days (or years), another possibility is to hitch rides. The BVI is one of the few remaining places in the world where you can safely get into a stranger’s car. Most drivers will stop and pick you up. Obviously, common sense is a must.
Photo credit: Karyn and Ron