Turks & Caicos

Geography.  A BritishOverseasTerritory, the Turks & Caicos Islands comprise an archipelago of eight main islands in two groups, the Turks to the east and the Caicos to the west, and a number of smaller cays (pronounced ‘keys’). Physically forming the south end of  the Bahamas chain, they are located between latitudes 21° and 22° north and longitudes 71° and 72° west, just under 600 miles south-east of Miami, Florida, and about 100 miles north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The total land area is approximately 166 square miles.  TCI's main natural assets are its 230 miles of white sand beaches, and its coral reefs and ocean walls which are often hailed as offering some of the best diving in the world.

The capital is CockburnTown in Grand Turk, and it is here among the main Government offices and public registries are based.  Grand Turk and Salt Cay are the two inhabited islands of the Turks group.

One of the larger and the most thriving of the islands is Providenciales in the Caicos group, where steady development is taking place in the form of hotels, condominiums and other tourist-related projects as well as office and commercial complexes.  The other main inhabited islands in the Caicos group are North Caicos, Middle Caicos and South Caicos, West Caicos is being developed into an upscale resort managed by Ritz-Carlton, while East Caicos remains uninhabited.  In addition there is a chain of cays running between Providenciales and North Caicos, some of which are privately owned.  These include Pine Cay, which has an exclusive hotel, airstrip and a number of large holiday homes, and Parrot Cay, where a first class hotel and resort has recently opened.  Ambergris Cay, near South Caicos, has also been developed as a private residential community and has its own airstrip.

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Climate.  Turks & Caicos enjoys year-round sunshine as well as a prevailing easterly breeze provided by the Atlantic tradewinds which keeps temperatures from becoming excessively hot. The most popular time to visit the Islands is over the winter months when the sun continues to shine but the nights are cool.  Temperatures in summer (April to September) average 87°F (31°C) and in winter (October to March) 77° F (25°C).  Rainfall averages 26 inches per annum in the Turks and 40 inches in the Caicos Islands.  The average humidity is a low 60%.

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Currency.  The unit of currency is the United States dollar (US$).  A little Turks & Caicos currency is also minted, the quarter-crown (= US25¢) and to a much lesser extent the crown (= US$1) being used in addition to United States currency.  Other coins have been minted for commemorative and numismatic purposes.

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History.  There is strong evidence that Grand Turk was the place of Christopher Columbus's first landfall after crossing the Atlantic in search of the New World.  This honour has been traditionally bestowed on Watling's Island in the Bahamas, now San Salvador, the name given by Columbus to the island where he landed and called Guanahani by its indian inhabitants.  Study of Columbus's journals and various other sources show that his descriptions of Guanahani more closely fit Grand Turk than they do San Salvador.

It is known that the Spanish explorer Ponce de León came to the Islands in 1512, when they were inhabited by Arawak indians.  The Spanish took away the Arawaks to use for slave labour and left the islands uninhabited.  Bermudians came to the islands in the 17th century and established what was to become TCI's principal industry for the next 300 years – the production of salt from brine.  The islands came under British rule in 1766.

The salt industry was based in Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos, where large inland ponds, called salinas, were converted into a system of salt pans where salt water was evaporated and the remaining crystals raked up. Now defunct, TCI's salt industry once supplied much of the demand of the western world.  A legacy of the Bermudian settlement is the architecture of the old buildings still remaining in the "salt islands".

Large tracts of land in the lower Bahamas and the Caicos Islands were granted by Britain to American Loyalists after the War of Independence by way of recognition of their services to the Crown.  These tracts were farmed as cotton and sisal plantations, but after emancipation many of the planters left the land to their erstwhile African slaves. Thus today many of families of the islands are those who through the generations have inherited large parcels of land from their predecessors.

The origin of the name "Turks" has two possible explanations.  Usually the name is said to come from the Turk's Head Cactus which grows in the island group, a squat cactus with a red fez-shaped flower-head.  Another theory is that the name originates from the French and Spanish use of the word to describe the buccaneers who in the 16th and 17th centuries used the Islands to hide out.  The word "Caicos" comes from the French "caiques" perhaps influenced by the Spanish "cayos"; both mean "cays", and both appear on various ancient charts.  On a 1794 English chart, the names "The Corcos" and "Les Caquis" are given.

Language and population.  The official and national language is English. The total population of Turks & Caicos is approximately 31,500, of which Grand Turk has about 5,000 and Providenciales 24,000. The indigenous population is of African origin. The expatriate population includes nationals of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Philippines, countries of the Caribbean and the British Commonwealth, North America, France, Italy and Switzerland.

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Time zone.  Turks & Caicos officially on Atlantic Time, which is the equivalent of U.S. Eastern Daylight-Saving Time year-round.  There is no need to change clocks, and residents and visitors can enjoy an extra hour of sunshine over the winter season.  

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Economy and taxes. The mainstays of TCI's economy are tourism and development, the financial services sector and the fishing industry. There is no income taxation in Turks & Caicos, and the chief sources of Government revenue are customs duty and stamp duty, the bulk of the latter coming from real estate transactions. Virtually everything is imported and on most items import duty is collected at 33% ad valorem plus a 6% ad valorem customs clearance charge  Stamp duty on land purchases is at the rate of 4% on transactions up to US$500k, 6% between $500k and $1m, 8% from $1m up to $3m, and 10% over $3m.  Stamp duty can be paid in equal instalments over four years, or, if paid immediately, a 10% applies.  Revenues also derive from other indirect taxes such as accommodation tax payable on hotel rooms, work permit fees, and the fees generated by the finance services sector.

A National Insurance Scheme (providing for loss of income and pensions) and National Health Insurance Scheme are in place, which involve contributions from both employers and employees.  For National Insurance, the contributions are 4.6% and 3.4% respectively on remuneration up to $2,600 per month), and for National Health Insurance, they are 5% for both employer and employee on remuneration up to $7,800 a month.

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Political environment.  Turks & Caicos has a written Constitution which provides for a Westminster style of democracy and guarantees fundamental human rights.  It has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean.  The British Government is represented through a Governor, Attorney General and a number of other expatriate officers, but otherwise the country is to a large degree self-governing through a form of ministerial government elected at general elections held every four years.

The two main political parties are the People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Progressive National Party (PNP).

The legislature, the House of Assembly, consists of fifteen elected members, four appointed members, the Speaker, and the Attorney General (who doesn’t vote).  A Premier and five other Ministers are appointed from among the elected members of the Legislative Council.

The executive arm of Government is the Cabinet, which has nine members, being the Premier and six other Ministers, and three ex officio members, the Governor, Deputy Governor, and the Attorney-General.

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Legal system.  The Turks & Caicos legal system is based on the English model, but unlike England has a written Constitution which includes provisions for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. Most of the law derives from Ordinances passed in Legislative Council and to a much lesser extent from legislation specially extended to Turks & Caicos by Britain.  To the extent statutory law does not apply or requires interpretation, the common law of England applies.

The Torrens system of land registration developed in Australia and New Zealand has been in place since 1971.  The system provides for an efficient method of ascertaining both title and boundaries, and any person incurring damage as the result of an error in the register is indemnified by Government.

The court system comprises the Magistrate's Court, Supreme Court, Court of Appeal (all of which sit in Turks & Caicos), and the Privy Council in England as the final appellate body.  The Supreme Court is vested with the same jurisdiction and powers as the High Court of England.

The legal profession is represented by a statutorily constituted Bar Association.

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Communications and broadcasting.   The main telecommunications provider is LIME, a division of the UK-based Cable & Wireless group. All modern telecommunications services are provided on a fully digital national network, including cellular service, internet, telefax, dedicated lines, state-of-the-art telephone systems, worldwide direct-dialing, call recording, call waiting, and call forwarding.  There are two other providers of cellular service, Digicel and Islandcom, and a second internet service provider, Express High Speed Internet, a subsidiary of the cable TV company WIV.

Television is provided by WIV via a satellite and cable system offering more than 100 channels from the USA and elsewhere, including all of the U.S. networks, the four main movie channels, two sports channels, a music channel and a comedy channel.  Another provider, PTV, provides programming using microvae transmission.  WIV and PTV provide daily news programmes.

There are several channels of FM radio, including local stations and channels received via satellite from the USA.

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Weights and measures.   Turks & Caicos uses the same measures as in the USA: avoirdupois weights, feet and inches, US gallons.

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Electrical system.   Turks & Caicos uses the same electrical system as the USA: 110 volts, 60 cycles. Sockets and plugs are as in the USA.

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Water.   Many residences use rainwater catchment as their source of water, although mains supply (at 5¢ per gallon) of desalinated water is available to most properties in Providenciales.  Desalinated water can also be purchased at a cost of approximately US$150 per load of 2,000 US gallons.

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Driving.   The traffic system is as in the UK, with driving on the left side of the road.  However most vehicles are imported from the USA, and therefore have the steering wheel on the left side.  There are no traffic lights.  The top speed allowed is 40 m.p.h.  Foreign driving licences are legitimate for a period of 30 days, and are accepted as the basis of issue of a Turks & Caicos licence.

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Transport.   Public transport is provided by a number of taxis, small buses and jitneys.  Cars are usually imported from Florida or purchased locally.  For a car in good condition 5 to 6 years old, the cost in Turks & Caicos is approximately US$6,000.

Customs duty on cars varies according to engine capacity from 35% up to 60% of the landed cost, although for hybrids the rate is 10%.  Duty is levied on the assessed value of the vehicle and the costs of shipping and handling.  Motorcycles, scooters and recreational vehicles are generally not recommended as an only means of transport.

Recreation.  All forms of water-sports are available (but note that spearguns and Hawaiian slings are prohibited).  There are several tennis courts and an 18-hole championship golf course on Providenciales.  Membership of the Provo Golf Club costs US$2,200 per annum, plus cart fees of US$15 per round.  Soccer, touch rugby, softball and cricket are played.  There are several bars and nightclubs, and there is a cinema in Providenciales.

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Shopping.  Providenciales is well-served with a number of supermarkets, including some that are of a high international standard. There are also a good variety of clothing, souvenir, jewellery and gift stores, several of which are duty-free.  Shopping is more limited on the other Islands. Grand Turk has a cruise-ship centre that has several good-quality gift shops.

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Dining.   Providenciales has many and diverse excellent restaurants, and the quality of food in all eateries is of a high standard.  Local cuisine is similar to that of the Bahamas and includes conch (pronounced conk) cooked in various ways, local lobster and fresh fish, pork souse, chicken souse, fried chicken, peas and rice, okra soup, cactus soup, ribs and ox-tail.

Cost of living.  Because of the necessity to import practically all goods, the cost of living in Turks & Caicos is comparatively high. A single person might expect to pay approximately US$100 per week for groceries and other supplies. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment starts at about $750 and for a self-contained house at about $1,500. Most landlords require the equivalent of three months' rent in advance, though this can sometimes be negotiated to two. Gasoline prices follow and are higher than US prices. Electricity is charged at 28¢ per kilowatt-hour (approximately $75 per month for a single person), with an initial connection charge of US$350.

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Banking.  Retail banking services are provided by FirstCaribbean International Bank (owned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), Scotiabank, and Royal Bank of Canada.  Private banking and asset management services are provided by several investment banks and trust companies.

The opening of a new account at one of the retail banks requires evidence of the identity of each signatory, which will usually be in the form of a copy of the relevant pages of his or her passport, as well as a suitable reference from another bank.

There is no restriction on the movement of funds into or out of Turks & Caicos, and the fact that the official currency is the US dollar further facilitates money transfers.  Foreign cheques and bank drafts may be deposited at banks in Turks & Caicos, although clearance takes from three to six weeks.

As a matter of policy instituted in 1979 and aimed at minimising the risk of money laundering, the major banks will not accept large cash deposits and will not pay cash on large withdrawals.

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Travel.  Travel to and from Turks & Caicos is principally by air.  There are three international airports (Grand Turk, Providenciales and South Caicos) and domestic airports on each of the inhabited islands.  The principal gateway to Turks & Caicos is Miami, with regular 90-minute jet service to Providenciales. (American Airlines flies to Providenciales twice daily, at 1:15 pm and 5:15 pm, and TWA weekly from New York.)  In addition, charter flights from New York and Canada cater to the Club Mediterranée and other hotels on Providenciales.  A national airline offers scheduled services to the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico.  Several air charter companies also provide both international and domestic services.  Regular air and sea freight services operate out of south Florida.

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Nationality and immigration.  Turks & Caicos is officially a British Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.  The UK British Nationality Act provides for a separate category of British citizenship, the British Overseas Territories Citizen, and a person who has BOTC status by connection with Turks & Caicos is entitled to a BOTC passport issued under the British Nationality Act.

Turks & Caicos citizenship, on the other hand, is determined by the Constitution, which contains a definition of the status of ‘Turks and Caicos Islander’.  Under the current definition, only persons born in the Islands or have a parent born in the Islands automatically have Turks and Caicos Islander status. A person who has been the spouse of a Turks and Caicos Islander for at least 10 years can apply for the status.

Immigration control is administered under the Immigration Ordinance.  All persons who are Turks and Caicos Islanders or who hold a BOTC passport are entitled to live and work in the Islands without restriction. The Ordinance also provides for "Permanent Resident" status, and renewable residence permits for periods up to 10 years. The status of Permanent Resident may be granted to persons who have held a residence permit or work permit (otherwise than as an unskilled) worker for more than 10 years. A person with Permanent Resident status is entitled to apply for BOTC status under the British Nationality Act.

All other persons wishing to reside in Turks & Caicos must hold some form of work permit or residence permit.

Visitors receive a 90-day permit, which can be extended. Unless from a country designated as a non-visa country (see www.immigrationboard.tc/go/en/Visa-Requirements–page.html), visitors must first obtain a visa before entering Turks & Caicos.

Application for a work or residence permit is made to an Immigration Board. Work permits may be issued for any period up to five years. A work permit application for an employee must include a certificate from the Labour Office that no Turks & Caicos Islander is available to do the work.

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Customs duty exemption.  Persons first entering Turks & Caicos for the purpose of taking up residence are entitled to an exemption from duty on their unaccompanied goods (except vehicles and boats) provided they have been owned for at least twelve months.  Accompanied goods (baggage brought on the same flight as the passenger) are exempted from the requirement for previous ownership.  It is therefore advisable that persons moving to TCI purchase items of value (particularly electrical appliances) in Miami and bring them as accompanied baggage (paying excess if necessary).  Residents are entitled to a $400 exemption.

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