Driving in the US Virgin Islands in 2023 (Ultimate Guide)
Driving in the US Virgin Islands is an intimidating venture for one main reason: driving on the left. But trust me, as someone who was a first-time driver in the US Virgin Islands not too long ago, it’s much easier than you think.
This handy guide will help you navigate the most challenging aspects of driving in the US Virgin Islands!
Table of Contents
- Driving Laws and Rules in the US Virgin Islands
- USVI License Requirements
- Where to Rent a Car in the US Virgin Islands
- US Virgin Islands Car Insurance Rules
- Driving on the Left Side in US Virgin Islands
- 5 Tips for Driving in US Virgin Islands
- FAQ for Driving in the US Virgin Islands
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Driving Laws and Rules in the US Virgin Islands
Driving in the continental United States and driving in the US Virgin Islands are entirely different. For starters, we drive on the left. And that’s not to mention all the other nuances that come with driving on these tiny rocks.
🛣️ Although two lanes, most roads are narrow as they wind through mountainous sections of the islands.
👋🏻 Drivers are generally defensive yet friendly. It’s customary to stop and allow other drivers to enter traffic.
🚦 With such narrow, curved roads, the speed limit rarely exceeds 35 mph anywhere in the USVI. And in many places, a speed limit won’t even be posted as the curves in the road won’t allow excessive speeds.
🚗 All other standard driving laws found in mainland USA apply.
⛰️ Backroads, particularly driveways to hotels or condos, can be extremely steep.
🚧 Potholes are common causing drivers to suddenly veer. Don’t worry, the driver typically corrects quickly.
🚙 You must be an extremely active driver in the US Virgin Islands – so rarely will you see anyone on their phone.
🙋♂️ It’s not uncommon for locals to stop for some social time with people they see along the road.
🍺 Having an alcoholic drink while driving is permitted as long as you don’t exceed a .08 BAC. So don’t be surprised when you see someone tipping back a Heineken at a stop light.
USVI License Requirements
With its status as a US Territory, visitors with a valid US driver’s license can easily and legally drive in the US Virgin Islands.
International Visitors will need an International Driver’s Permit before being able to drive in the Virgin Islands.
🗺️ Planning Your Trip: St. Thomas is the perfect starting point for most things to do. But don’t forget about St. John and St. Croix and all the other amazing places to visit in the Virgin Islands!
Where to Rent a Car in the US Virgin Islands
Most major American rental car agencies are based in the airports on St. Thomas and St. Croix with smaller, locally owned Jeep Rentals stationed upon arrival on St. John in Cruz Bay.
🏝️ St. John: 4×4 Jeep Rentals in Cruz Bay are commonly used to explore the island and its secluded beaches.
🇻🇮 St. Croix: Kayak lets you search for St. Croix car rentals at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX).
🌴 St. Thomas: You can search rates for most car rental companies in Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on RentalCars.com
👉 Pro Tip: The easiest way to see the USVIs during your Caribbean vacation is to stay in St. Thomas, rent a car (particularly with 4WD) and take one of the car barges to St. John for a day or two into the Virgin Islands National Park.
US Virgin Islands Car Insurance Rules
Most forms of car insurance in the United States cover the US Virgin Islands but it’s important to double-check. Under your policy, you’ll find either an inclusion or exclusion of US Territories. It’s typically worded as, “Covered in all of the United States and its territories” or vice versa.
If your car insurance policy does not cover, you can always purchase car insurance through the rental agency but it is not required.
⛱️ Exploring the Islands: Public transportation is sparse in the islands so the best way to explore during your visit is by renting a car. That way you can find secluded beaches on St. Thomas, drive the entire length of St. Croix, and reach distant trailheads on St. John.
Driving on the Left Side in US Virgin Islands
The largest hurdle to overcome for visitors to the USVI is driving on the left side of the road, particularly in a car with the driver’s seat on the left side of the vehicle (a result of being manufactured in southeastern United States). However, once you get on the road, you’ll find your brain adjusting easier than you would imagine.
But I get it, that doesn’t make the endeavor any less intimidating. So my top tip would be, as you depart the car rental company, constantly and periodically tell yourself, “left, left, left, left”. And once you’re with the flow of the traffic, things get MUCH easier.
Keep in mind, what would be a right turn at home is now a left turn. And vice versa. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your brain will adapt. You can do it!
5 Tips for Driving in US Virgin Islands
Tip #1 – Use a Quick Honk or Two to Say Thanks
As you drive around, you’ll hear many quick honks – this is how Virgin Islanders say thank you or you’re welcome to other drivers!
Tip #2 – Stay in Your Lane When Approaching a Corner
The narrow mountain roads in the USVI take sharp turns at unexpected times. Oftentimes, you’ll come around the corner and it’ll feel like other cars are entirely in the wrong lane. It’s a scary experience at first but it always seems to work out, just be sure to stay in your lane!
Tip #3 – Avoid Driving the Backstreets of Downtown Charlotte Amalie, if Possible
Downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is a labyrinth of one-way streets, insanely narrow roads, and tight corners. Let’s just say, there’s a reason nearly every vehicle on the side of the road has multiple scratches and dents. So stick to the Waterfront and Main Street in Charlotte Amalie!
Tip #4 – Ditch the Car for a Golf Cart on Water Island
Effectively the 4th US Virgin Island, Water Island is a wonderful day trip from St. Thomas where you leave your car behind before hopping aboard one of the passenger ferries to the small islet. Upon arrival, you’ll rent a golf cart for the day directly at the docks.
See my guide to things to do in Water Island for more info.
Tip #5 – Watch Out for Animals
At times, in the Virgin Islands, it may feel like the entire barn has been let loose. Chickens everywhere. Goats unexpectedly grazing the road’s shoulder. Deer darting across the street. And even donkeys trotting up the mountains on St. John.
For more practical tips, see my list of 21 things to know before visiting the US Virgin Islands.
FAQ for Driving in the US Virgin Islands
Is it easy to drive in US Virgin Islands?
It’s easy to drive in the US Virgin Islands once you get on the road. It takes a few minutes of maneuvering around the islands to get used to it, but once you enter the flow of traffic, it’s as easy as driving anywhere else.
Why do you drive on the left in US Virgin Islands?
You drive on the left in the US Virgin Islands because donkeys, the original mode of transportation, were trained to pass other donkeys on the left. When cars were introduced to the islands, many people still utilized donkeys on the same roadways. You simply couldn’t retrain the donkeys so the rules of the road stuck.
How do you feel? Are you ready to drive on the left? I promise, it’s easier than you think! Be sure to come back here and let us know how it went. Or check out all my USVI travel guides.
I hope I’ve helped you feel more comfortable about driving in the US Virgin Islands!
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In the states there’s right hand turning on red. In the V.I. is there left hand turning on red?
That’s an excellent question! YES! In most cases, you can make a left-hand turn on red (similar to your right-hand turn on red back in the US) while at a stoplight.
What should you do for cell phone service? Which service works there? Is there wifi?
Good afternoon Cindy,
Your cell phone carrier from the United States will work everywhere in the US Virgin Islands! I’ve found that Google Maps works best to navigate the island with a GPS. However, your cell phone service will not work if you plan to visit the British Virgin Islands.
Most hotels, resorts, private rentals, bars, coffee shops, and restaurants have (typically) fast Wi-Fi. Connecting with loved ones back home in the US won’t be an issue!
It seems I can’t get a straight answer about renting a car on St. Thomas and bringing it over on a ferry to St. Croix. I know there is a ferry between the two islands but it is just for passengers, not vehicles and I haven’t found a car ferry service except the one between St. Thomas and St. John. No website I’ve found will give an answer to that question so I am left to assume that it is not available. If anyone has any info on this, please post here.
Good afternoon Keith,
That is a great question, and I’d be happy to answer. You’re exactly right about your analysis:
1. There is a passenger ferry between St. Croix and St. Thomas. I’ve written about it here.
2. The only routine car barge service available is between St. Thomas and St. John. There is no car barge bringing vehicles from St. Thomas to St. Croix. You can find information on that trip here.
You must remember St. Croix is 45 miles south of St. Thomas and St. John over rough seas. A car barge isn’t exactly feasible, unfortunately.
That means if you want to visit St. Croix from St. Thomas, you must leave your car rental behind (or turn it in) and rent another vehicle on St. Croix. I’ve written about renting a car on St. Croix recently. Obviously, this depends on how long you want to stay on St. Croix. It’s a big island and taxis can get expensive.
I recently visited St. Croix for three days and rented a car during my stay. I would recommend a similar trip to anyone who’s considering it.
Best of luck to you!