With a high concentration of expatriate residents, as well as potential overseas buyers seeking to acquire luxury homes and investors in search of next big opportunity in the property market, the British Virgin Islands, Nature’s Little Secrets, represents the ideal environment for property buyers to capture a bit of paradise by owning a piece of land. However, non-nationals seeking to acquire property in the BVI confront special requirements in order to do so.
It is a prerequisite that Non-Belongers and Non-Belonger Companies receive a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence (NBLHL), in order to own land in the British Virgin Islands. What are the requirements for obtaining a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence? What are the processes and steps involved? This article seeks to outline the requirements, procedures and steps involved in obtaining a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence.
Who is a Non-Belonger?
The Non-Belongers Land Holding Regulation Act (the Act) defines a Non-Belonger by reference to persons excluded from the category of persons defined as a Belonger under section 2(2) of the Virgin Islands Constitution and section 3 of the Immigration and Passport Ordinance (Cap. 130). Belongers include, inter alia, anyone born within or outside the BVI of a mother or father born within the BVI or a naturalized person.
Similarly, a Non-Belonger Company is defined as any company incorporated outside the BVI or any company incorporated in the BVI in which any one of the directors is a Non-Belonger or where anyone of its shareholders, being a Non-Belonger, holds more than one-third of its shares. Section 6 of the Act sets out the criteria used to determine companies under the control of Non-Belongers and thus requiring a Licence to hold land.
Any individual other than a person falling within the ambit of section 2(2) of the Constitution or section 3 of the Immigration and Passport Ordinance is categorized as a Non-Belonger and would therefore be required to obtain a Licence in order to hold land in the BVI. Conversely, a Non-Belonger Company would be any company which meets any of one of the conditions prescribed by section 6 of the Non-Belongers Land Holding Regulation Act.
Applying for a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence
A buyer, having identified a parcel of land that he or she is desirous of purchasing, and having determined the need to obtain a Licence, must now consider the process involved in obtaining a Licence, the prerequisites and the procedures involved.
Firstly, individuals who intend to apply for a Licence, having identified the property, must enter into an agreement for sale with the land owner. It should be noted however, that the property must be advertised for four (4) consecutive weeks in a local newspaper. This is required in order to give Belongers ample notice of the sale of the property and a first opportunity to negotiate a purchase.
Proof of advertisement is required as part of the application process and the onus is on the seller of the property to provide such. Additionally, applicants must submit a completed application form together with the following supporting documents:
- • Two personal references, for each individual or each shareholder and director. In the case of individual applicants, one reference must support the applicant’s ability to purchase and develop the property
- • Two character references for each individual or each shareholder and director
- • In the case of individuals, a financial report/statement from a financial institution evidencing a banking relationship for no less than one consecutive year is required
- • A recent police certificate for each individual applicant or each shareholder and director
- • One passport size photograph (coloured) of each applicant or shareholder and director
- • A copy of the applicant’s Trade Licence (if self-employed) or a copy of the company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association, Certificate of Incorporation, current Certificate of Good Standing and Annual Summary of Members or a Certificate of Incumbency from a Registered Agent
- • A recent valuation report of the property
- • A non-refundable application fee of Two Hundred Dollars ($200) per person for individuals and Five Hundred Dollars ($500) in the case of a company
- • A copy of the Agreement for Sale
- • A copy of the record(s) reflecting existing ownership of the land
- • A letter sized copy of the Cadastral Survey Plan
The application is submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour. Provided the application is in order, it will be processed by the Ministry and submitted to Cabinet for determination. The applicant will be informed by the Ministry whether or not approval has been granted. This will take anywhere from twelve (12) to fifteen (15) weeks.
Post Approval Requirements
Provided an approval has been given for the grant of a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence by Cabinet, the Ministry will request that the applicant submit four copies of an engrossed Licence for signing by the Governor.
In order to collect the signed Licence, a fee separate and apart from the application fee, will be required. The applicable fee is Six Hundred Dollars ($600) for each individual, One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) for a company plus Six Hundred Dollars ($600) for each shareholder and director.
The applicant will be required to register the Licence at the Land Registry Department and provide the Ministry with a registered copy of the document and the registered Instrument of Transfers within three (3) months of the date of the Licence, for record keeping purposes.
Licences may be granted with conditions for development within a specified period of time. A breach of these conditions may result in a restriction being registered against the property by the Government or a penalty on the sale of un-developed property. However, an extension of time may be granted to fulfill development commitments, upon application to the Ministry and the fulfillment of the necessary requirements.
The pride, pleasure and excitement associated with acquiring a piece of paradise in the BVI by a Non-Belonger, whether as a first or second home or an investment, can be frustrated unless prospective purchasers acquaint themselves with the requirements and processes involved. The process can be complex and takes time, which may result in delays or a rejected application if not accurately done in the first instance. It is prudent that potential applicants seek the advice and guidance of a competent legal professional regarding obtaining a Non-Belonger Land Holding Licence as well as other aspects of purchasing or selling property in the British Virgin Islands.