A Local's Guide to St. Thomas: Know Before You Go
Visiting a new destination naturally comes with questions of the unfamiliar, and I know the feeling of searching the web to better understand a destination, especially one that is outside of the continental U.S. To help with with your searching, I’ve put together a “know before you go” guide to St. Thomas addressing everything from passport questions to packing tips to make planning your St. Thomas vacation as smooth as possible.
Passports- U.S. Citizens do not need a passport to come to the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix). Flights to St. Thomas are much like any other U.S. domestic flight and require the same documentation. It is important to note that the U.S. Virgin Islands are near the British Virgin Islands (Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada), and many Boating & Sailing Excursions are available to travel to our neighboring islands. A valid U.S. passport is required to enter any of the British Virgin Islands, so keep that in mind when booking excursions.
KNOW- A passport is not required to come to St. Thomas but is required for excursions going to any of the British Virgin Islands.
Currency & Gratuity- The official currency in the USVI is the U.S. dollar. No other currency is in circulation and therefore would need to be converted to USD for your visit to St. Thomas. While many places on island accept major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express), there are many venues which will only accept cash (taxis, ferry terminals, customs docks, and some vendors and restaurants). Plan to carry cash accordingly, and remember to inform your credit card provider that you will be in the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Islands are duty free; no tax is added on any goods or food. Resorts and excursions in St. Thomas may have resort tax and fees added on, but when it comes to Shopping, the price you see is the price you will pay. Customary gratuity rates when dining in the USVI are the same as the States, 15-20% on food tabs. Review your bill carefully as some popular Restaurants will automatically charge gratuity.
KNOW- In St. Thomas, The U.S. dollar is the only currency accepted. Credit cards are not accepted at all venues, so plan to carry cash. Tax is not added to any retail or dining purchases in St. Thomas, but fees or auto-grat may be charged.
Airport & Transportation- The airport you will be arriving at in St. Thomas is Cyril E. King, and the airport code is STT. The “other” St. Thomas airports are the seaplane terminal which only hosts flights to and from St. Croix and the Private Jet Center. As you are arriving to St. Thomas, keep in mind that local etiquette is to first greet people as you are addressing them with a “Good Morning/Afternoon/Night.” If you are unsure of the time, “Good Day” is always acceptable. When you land at the airport in St. Thomas, you will be greeted with a free shot of local Cruzan rum. A restaurant and facilities are available near baggage claim. From there, you’ll have a few options for transportation. There is only one taxi company that operates from the airport, so you can be sure the taxis are safe and are regulated. However the wait time between getting your bags and reaching your destination can be daunting and exhausting as you find a driver, wait for the taxi to fill up with other travellers and their luggage, and make multiple stops throughout the island for those passengers to be dropped off. Taxis also charge per person and per bag with average taxi fare from the airport at $7-$15 per person plus $4 for large bags and $2 for small bags. By far the most convenient options is private airport transportation that will save you the hassle and the wasted time with a friendly personal driver who is ready and waiting the moment you get off the plane to get you straight to your island home. Car rental services (Avis, Budget, and Hertz) are also available at the airport in St. Thomas and should be arranged well in advance to ensure availability. If you opt to rent a car, note that we drive American vehicles on the LEFT side of the road. Be sure to ask the rental company to provide you with a map of the island as GPS services do not typically work on St. Thomas because we lack a standard address system. For those not renting a car, St. Thomas taxi service is available 24 hours throughout the island. Be careful to use taxis with a taxi service light and USVI taxi license plate; these are usually large vans. Accepting rides from non-licensed taxi drivers, or “gypsy taxis”, is not regulated and at your own risk. Public transportation services are available in St. Thomas through the bus system and safari bus routes. The fares are $1 per person but routes are limited. This form of transportation is not recommended as you will likely have to taxi to or from a pickup location.
KNOW- The airport code for St. Thomas is STT. Taxi service from the airport is safe and regulated, but the most convenient option is to arrange private airport transfers. Car rental services are available at the airport but should be prearranged. If you rent a car, remember that we drive on the left and keep a map of the island handy. Taxi service is the best alternative option for getting around the island, and always use a taxi with a taxi light and USVI taxi license plate.
Cell Phone Service- Each cell phone provider has their own policy for service in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You should always verify your plan with your provider before leaving the continental U.S. Sprint and AT&T are stationed on the island and are treated the same as your domestic service. T-Mobile does not implement roaming charges for calls from the USVI. Verizon charges roaming fees for calls from the USVI but does not for text messages. With any of these providers, be careful when visiting St. John as parts of the island will pick up towers stationed in the British Virgin Islands, resulting in international charges. If your provider charges roaming fees, a smartphone can be rented in St. Thomas from Choice Wireless for $5 a day. Many resorts, restaurants, and stores offer free wifi. Look into wifi calling and messaging services before your visit to St. Thomas to take advantage of this free alternative.
KNOW- Verify your cell phone provider’s policy before your visit to St. Thomas to avoid roaming fees. A smartphone can be rented in St. Thomas for $5/day as an alternative. Many places on island offer free wifi for you to take advantage of.
Island Excursions- Peak season for St. Thomas is November-May, so availability for excursions during these months may be limited. In the off season, especially August-October, tour schedules will usually change to go out less frequently. In any case, it is best to use a booking service like CaribbaConnect to book early and guarantee your excursions, and with CaribbaConnect, we advertise the lowest price online with no hidden fees, taxes, or service charge add-ons for Day Sails, Boat Rentals, Eco Tours, Island Tours, Private Tours, and mroe. Always double check what is required before going on the excursion as some tours may take cash only or require a passport. Because St. Thomas is such a popular cruise port, it is always wise to plan around the cruise ship schedule. Excursions are regulated and will usually not be affected by an influx of cruise ships, but popular spots such as Magen’s Bay, Coki Beach and Lindbergh Bay, Downtown Charlotte Amalie, Lookout Points, and even St. John beaches like Trunk Bay will see crowd increase from cruisers. Avoid these areas on days with multiple cruise ships. Note that some stores and areas are only open on cruise ship days and plan to visit them when one or two ships are in port. You can check the St. Thomas cruise ship schedule HERE.
KNOW- Regardless of when you are visiting St. Thomas, book excursions early, check for requirements, and avoid service fees. Monitor the cruise ship schedule when planning to visit popular spots or vendors only open on ship days.
Island Wear & Packing Tips- Island casual is the norm in St. Thomas. While a swimsuit and cover is appropriate for going from your resort to the beach, it would not be appropriate for walking downtown or eating in a restaurant that isn’t beachside. The basic rule is have real clothes on when not at the beach. For fine dining restaurants, dressing up is not required. For men, shorts or pants and a polo are always appropriate, and for women, anything from shorts or pants and a blouse to a dress is perfect for a nice dinner. Unless you are going for a run or a walking tour, tennis shoes are not necessary, and sandals and flip-flops are the ideal island footwear. Plugs in the USVI are standard U.S. plugs, so you do not need any converters for chargers. Sunscreen is usually cheaper in the states, so it would be wise to pack if you are checking luggage. You may consider packing or purchasing insect repellant as the island is prone to mosquitoes and sandflies. Consider bringing snorkeling gear if you have it to avoid rental equipment. And of course, don’t forget your camera!
KNOW- Island casual and sandals are always appropriate. Swimsuits and covers are only appropriate for the beach. Plugs are the same as the U.S., and consider packing sunscreen and insect repellent.
From driving on the left to boating excursions to another country, St. Thomas has its fair share of island quirks, but with a little bit of research and following my “know before you go” tips, you’ll find planning your St. Thomas vacation to be smooth sailing.
Be sure to check out our Excursions page to book the best excursions on St. Thomas! If you have any questions about your arrival in St. Thomas or any inquiries about the island, call or e-mail us for authentic local insight!
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