Driving in St. Thomas, USVI | Everything You Need to Know

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: December 17, 2020 | St. Thomas

So you’ve booked a trip and now realize that driving in St. Thomas seems a bit scary.  That’s completely understandable given the small mountainous roads and the driving on the left with left drive cars.  But, no worries, we will talk you through everything you need to know.  Plus, tons of people visit the Virgin Islands each year, and they’ve all managed to figure it out, so you can too(even my parents quickly mastered it!!)

If you’re questioning whether you really NEED to rent a car, our answer is YES.  St. Thomas is really an island that requires driving to explore all of the incredible sights.  It’s possible to go without, but getting around will be much more of a hassle- unless you’re able to hire a driver for several days.

Here are the top FAQs we get about driving on St. Thomas:  

We do regularly update this information, but laws can change at any time. Please confirm information with your rental car company BEFORE arrival.

Driving on the Left, is it Difficult?

The short answer is no.  It seems like it would be so incredibly confusing to all of us used to driving on the right, but once you get going, it just becomes second nature.  There’s not a huge amount of traffic even in Charlotte Amalie, so you have a bit of space to get used to the change.  The first day or so, just keep reminding yourself to stay left. 

Left Turn:  Hug the corner

Right Turn: Take it wide

Now, unlike driving in the UK or Australia- or honestly nearly every other left driving country- the driver sits on the left.  Normally, the driver, no matter which side of the road the country drives on, sits on the side of the car closest to the center lane.  Not in the US Virgin Islands!  The driver will sit on the left, just like in the US, and will be closest to the outside line.  

Should I rent a Car?

After all of that driving on the left bit, you may be wondering if you should even bother with renting a car on St. Thomas.  The quick answer is yes, you need a car.  With so many places to explore on the island, driving is truly the best and easiest way to get around.  You can take taxis, but it can often be a hassle to get a return ride.  

View of Magen's Bay from Drake's Seat

If you’re truly not comfortable with driving, I’d recommend staying on one of the best all around beaches like Sapphire Bay or Secret Harbor, and hire a driver to take you around the island for at least one day.

What are the Roads Like?

St. Thomas is mountainous, so the roads are generally somewhat steep and involve switchbacks.  If you get carsick, maybe make sure to bring some medicine on any road trip days.  

Most of the major roads are just big enough for two cars to pass each other, but relatively well maintained.  The biggest issue lies with the small side roads.  Many are really only big enough for one vehicle, so be prepared to stop and do some maneuvering if you meet a car.  

steep hill on the road to the Secret Harbor public parking lot

Now, most of the “scary” roads are found when trying to reach more remote cliffside villas.  All of the main island roads, and the roads to the main beaches and resorts are pretty easy to navigate.  So, don’t worry.  The side streets in Charlotte Amalie are another story though… read more about that a few questions down.

You will encounter many pedestrians walking along the side of the road.  There are rarely sidewalks, and sometimes there’s limited shoulder room, so be very aware of pedestrians, especially at night. 

A lack of street signs throughout most of the island makes navigating more complicated, so make sure to have a working GPS, offline map, or directions based on landmarks and mileage rather than street names.  

Do I need a special license to drive in the US Virgin Islands? 

A valid driver’s license issued from your country of residence should be acceptable.  However, if your license is written in a language other than English, an International Driver’s Permit may be needed.  If you’re not familiar with an International Driver’s Permit, they are simply a booklet to translate the information on your license, and must be used in conjunction with a valid license.   

If your license was issued anywhere other than the United States, you will be required to purchase a driver’s permit.  They can be purchased for $15 from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but most rental car agencies will have them available on site for a slightly higher fee(usually around $20).  

Are there any Rules of the Road that I need to know?

It is against the law to pass a school, handicap, or senior bus when it is stopped for loading or unloading passengers.  

This link includes various other rules, such as “stop on red”, and “do not enter an intersection if you cannot clear it”, but they are all pretty much what you find anywhere else in the world.

Can I take the Car to St. John?

This is all up to your specific rental car company, so make sure to check with the company that you have booked through.  However, most of the rental companies on St. Thomas will allow you to take the car on the ferry to St. John.  But, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.  

Read more about how to get to St. John here, including information about taking a car vs renting there.

Charlotte Amalie Roads and Parking- What to Expect?

Roads in Charlotte Amalie

Charlotte Amalie is the capital and the largest city in the US Virgin Islands.  It’s still a relatively small city, but the roads, aside from the few major ones, are small and steep and often with hairpin turns that can be, well, terrifying.  The biggest problem with driving on roads like these is that once you commit, there’s really no turning back with the majority of them being one way streets. 

Parking in Charlotte Amalie

There is very limited free 2 hour parking along the waterfront near the shops and sights in downtown Charlotte Amalie.  If nothing is available there, for a small fee(capped at $5 per day)you can park in the Fort Christian paid lot. It does fill up during busy times, but you can usually end up with a spot after circling the lot for a bit.   Don’t waste your time or stress trying to search through the labyrinth of side streets. 

What about pedestrian safety?

Even if you’ve decided not to drive on St. Thomas, you still need to be very aware and cautious of the traffic.  Many of the drivers are tourists that may not be familiar with left side driving yet.  It is common to see a driver turn into the wrong lane.  Be aware, even when you have the right of way.

Overall

St. Thomas is a laid back island that is easy to navigate.  Driving on the left will take a little getting used to before you feel completely comfortable.  But, by the end of the trip, it will feel like second nature.  Don’t miss out on all of the things that this amazing island has to offer out of fear.  

St. Thomas really is an island that needs to be discovered by car.  So, be brave, get a rental, and have an amazing time!

Need more help planning your trip to the Virgin Islands? Check out all of our USVI posts here!

Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!