British Overseas Territories

The British Overseas Territories, also known as United Kingdom Overseas Territories, are fourteen territories all with a constitutional link with – but not forming part of – the United Kingdom. They are remnants of the British Empire. Most of the permanently inhabited territories are internally self-governing, with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign relations. Three are inhabited only by a transitory population of military or scientific personnel. They all have the British monarch as head of state.
, three Territories are the responsibility of the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas; the Minister responsible for the remaining Territories is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development.

Current overseas territories

The fourteen British Overseas Territories are:
FlagArmsNameLocationMottoAreaGDP GDP Per Capita PopulationCapital
AnguillaCaribbean, North Atlantic Ocean"Unity, Strength and Endurance"£141.62 million£9,850 The Valley
BermudaNorth Atlantic Ocean between the Azores, the Caribbean, Cape Sable Island and Canada"Quo fata ferunt" £4.5 billion£69,240 Hamilton
British Antarctic TerritoryAntarctica"Research and discovery"
50 non-permanent in winter, over 400 in summer
British Indian Ocean TerritoryIndian Ocean"In tutela nostra Limuria"
3,000 non-permanent
Diego Garcia
British Virgin IslandsCaribbean, North Atlantic Ocean"Vigilate" £870 million£28,040 Road Town
Cayman IslandsCaribbean"He hath founded it upon the seas"£4.15 billion£146,250 George Town
Falkland Islands"Desire the right"£132.82 million£57,170
1,350 non-permanent
GibraltarIberian Peninsula, Continental Europe"Nulli expugnabilis hosti" £1.89 billion£74,960
1,250 non-permanent
MontserratCaribbean, North Atlantic Ocean"A people of excellence, moulded by nature, nurtured by God"£130.72 million£25,060 Plymouth
Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno IslandsPacific Ocean£84,870£1,700
6 non-permanent
£18.65 million£4,570 Jamestown
"Loyal and Unshakeable"

1,000 non-permanent
"Our faith is our strength"
9 non-permanent
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands"Leo terram propriam protegat"
99 non-permanent
King Edward Point
Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and DhekeliaCyprus, Mediterranean Sea
8,000 non-permanent
Episkopi Cantonment
Turks and Caicos IslandsLucayan Archipelago, North Atlantic Ocean£830 million£21,920 Cockburn Town
Overall 1,727,415 km2£12.66 billion£54,291 272,256


Collective titles

The term "British Overseas Territory" was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, replacing the term British Dependent Territory, introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Prior to 1 January 1983, the territories were officially referred to as British Crown Colonies.
Although the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are also under the sovereignty of the British monarch, they are in a different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. The British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are themselves distinct from the Commonwealth realms, a group of 16 independent countries each having Elizabeth II as their reigning monarch, and from the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 53 countries mostly with historic links to the British Empire.


With the exceptions of the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Territories retain permanent civilian populations. Permanent residency for the approximately 7,000 civilians living in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia is limited to citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.
Collectively, the Territories encompass a population of about 250,000 people and a land area of about. The vast majority of this land area constitutes the almost uninhabited British Antarctic Territory, while the two largest territories by population, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, account for about half of the total BOT population. At the other end of the scale, three territories have no civilian population; the Antarctic territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory and South Georgia. Pitcairn Islands, settled by the survivors of the Mutiny on the Bounty, is the smallest settled territory with 49 inhabitants, while the smallest by land area is Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The United Kingdom participates in the Antarctic Treaty System and, as part of a mutual agreement, the British Antarctic Territory is recognised by four of the six other sovereign nations making claims to Antarctic territory.


Early colonies, in the sense of English subjects residing in lands hitherto outside the control of the English government, were generally known as "Plantations".
The first, unofficial, colony was Newfoundland, where English fishermen routinely set up seasonal camps in the 16th century. It is now a province of Canada known as Newfoundland and Labrador. It retains strong cultural ties with Britain.
English colonisation of North America began officially in 1607 with the settlement of Jamestown, the first successful permanent colony in Virginia. Its offshoot, Bermuda, was settled inadvertently after the wrecking of the Virginia company's flagship there in 1609, with the Virginia Company's charter extended to officially include the archipelago in 1612. St. George's town, founded in Bermuda in that year, remains the oldest continuously inhabited British settlement in the New World. Bermuda and Bermudians have played important, sometimes pivotal, but generally underestimated or unacknowledged roles in the shaping of the English and British trans-Atlantic Empires. These include maritime commerce, settlement of the continent and of the West Indies, and the projection of naval power via the colony's privateers, among other areas.
The growth of the British Empire in the 19th century, to its territorial peak in the 1920s, saw Britain acquire nearly one quarter of the world's land mass, including territories with large indigenous populations in Asia and Africa. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the larger settler colonies – in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – first became self-governing colonies and then achieved independence in all matters except foreign policy, defence and trade. Separate self-governing colonies federated to become Canada, Australia, South Africa, and Rhodesia. These and other large self-governing colonies had become known as Dominions by the 1920s. The Dominions achieved almost full independence with the Statute of Westminster.Through a process of decolonisation following the Second World War, most of the British colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean gained independence. Some colonies became Commonwealth realms, retaining the British monarch as their own head of state. Most former colonies and protectorates became member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, a non-political, voluntary association of equal members, comprising a population of around 2.2 billion people.
After the independence of Southern Rhodesia in Africa in 1980 and British Honduras in Central America in 1981, the last major colony that remained was Hong Kong, with a population of over 5 million. With 1997 approaching, the United Kingdom and China negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which led to the whole of Hong Kong becoming a "special administrative region" of China in 1997, subject to various conditions intended to guarantee the preservation of Hong Kong's capitalist economy and its way of life under British rule for at least 50 years after the handover. George Town in the Cayman Islands has consequently become the largest city in the Overseas Territories.
In 2002, the British Parliament passed the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. This reclassified the UK's dependent territories as overseas territories and, with the exception of those people solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, restored full British citizenship to their inhabitants.
During the European Union membership of the UK the main body of EU law did not apply and, although certain slices of EU law were applied to the overseas territories as part of the EU's Association of Overseas Countries and Territories, they were not commonly enforceable in local courts. The OCT Association also provided overseas territories with structural funding for regeneration projects. Gibraltar was the only overseas territory that was part of the EU, although it was not part of the European Customs Union, the European Tax Policy, the European Statistics Zone or the Common Agriculture Policy. Gibraltar was not a member of the European Union in its own right, having had its representation in the European Parliament through its Members from South West England. Overseas citizens held concurrent European Union citizenship, having given them rights of free movement across all EU member states.
The Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus were never part of the European Union, but they are the only British overseas territory to use the euro as official currency.


Head of state

The head of state in the overseas territories is the British monarch, Elizabeth II. The Queen's role in the territories is in her role as Queen of the United Kingdom, and not in right of each territory.The Queen appoints a representative in each territory to exercise her executive power. In territories with a permanent population, a Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Currently all but two Governors are either career diplomats or have worked in other Civil Service departments. The remaining two Governors are former members of the British armed forces. In territories without a permanent population, a Commissioner is usually appointed to represent the Queen. Exceptionally, in the oversea territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, an Administrator is appointed to be the Governor's representative in each of the two distant parts of the territory, namely Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.
The role of the Governor is to act as the de facto head of state, and they are usually responsible for appointing the head of government, and senior political positions in the territory. The Governor is also responsible for liaising with the UK Government, and carrying out any ceremonial duties. A Commissioner has the same powers as a Governor, but also acts as the head of government.

Local government

All the overseas territories have their own system of government, and localised laws. The structure of the government appears to be closely correlated to the size and political development of the territory.

  • British Antarctic Territory
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
There is no native or permanent population; therefore there is no elected government. The Commissioner, supported by an Administrator, runs the affairs of the territory.
  • British Indian Ocean Territory
  • There is no elected government, as there is no native settled population. The Chagos Islanders – who were forcibly evicted from the territory in 1971 – won a High Court Judgement allowing them to return, but this was then overridden by an Order in Council preventing them from returning. The final appeal to the House of Lords was decided in the government's favour, exhausting the islanders' legal options in the United Kingdom at present.
  • Akrotiri and Dhekelia
  • There is no elected government. The Commander British Forces Cyprus acts as the territory's Administrator, with a Chief Officer responsible for day-to-day running of the civil government. As far as possible, there is convergence of laws with those of the Republic of Cyprus.
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • There are an elected Mayor and Island Council, who have the power to propose and administer local legislation. However, their decisions are subject to approval by the Governor, who retains near-unlimited powers of plenary legislation on behalf of the United Kingdom Government.
  • Falkland Islands
  • The Government consists of an elected Legislative Assembly, with the Chief Executive and the Director of Corporate Resources as ex officio members.
  • Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
  • The Government consists of an elected Legislative Council. The Governor is the head of government and leads the Executive Council, consisting of appointed members made up from the Legislative Council and two ex-officio members. Governance on Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha is led by Administrators who are advised by elected Island Councils.
  • Anguilla
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Montserrat
  • These territories have a House of Assembly, Legislative Assembly, with political parties. The Executive Council is usually called a cabinet and is led by a Premier, who is the leader of the majority party in parliament. The Governor exercises less power over local affairs and deals mostly with foreign affairs and economic issues, while the elected government controls most "domestic" concerns.
  • Gibraltar
  • Under the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006 which was approved in Gibraltar by a referendum, Gibraltar now has a Parliament. The Government of Gibraltar, headed by the Chief Minister, is elected. Defence, external affairs and internal security vest in the Governor.
  • Bermuda
  • Bermuda, settled in 1609, and self-governed since 1620, is the oldest of the Overseas Territories. The bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Assembly, and most executive powers have been devolved to the head of government, known as the Premier.
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • The Turks and Caicos Islands adopted a new constitution effective 9 August 2006; their head of government now also has the title Premier, their legislature is called the House of Assembly, and their autonomy has been greatly increased.

    Legal system

    Each overseas territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own attorney general, and court system. For the smaller territories, the UK may appoint a UK-based lawyer or judge to work on legal cases. This is particularly important for cases involving serious crimes and where it is impossible to find a jury who will not know the defendant in a small population island.
    The Pitcairn sexual assault trial of 2004 is an example of how the UK may choose to provide the legal framework for particular cases where the territory cannot do so alone.

    Police and Enforcement

    The British Overseas Territories generally look after their own policing matters and have their own police forces. In smaller territories, the senior officer may be recruited or seconded from a UK police force, and specialist staff and equipment may be sent to assist the local force.
    Some territories may have other forces beyond the main territorial police, for instance an airport police, such as Airport Security Police, or a defence police force, such as the Gibraltar Defence Police. In addition, most territories have customs, immigration, border, and coastguard agencies.
    Territories with military bases or responsibilities may also have "Overseas Service Police", members of the British or Commonwealth Armed Forces.

    Joint Ministerial Council

    A joint ministerial council of UK ministers, and the leaders of the Overseas Territories has been held annually since 2012 to provide representation between UK Government departments and Overseas Territory Governments.

    Disputed sovereignty

    The British Indian Ocean Territory is the subject of a territorial dispute with Mauritius, whose government claim that the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from the rest of British Mauritius in 1965, three years before Mauritius was granted independence from the United Kingdom, was not lawful. The long-running dispute was referred in 2017 to the International Court of Justice, which issued an advisory opinion on 25 February 2019 which supported the position of the Government of Mauritius.
    The British Antarctic Territory has some overlap with territorial claims by both Argentina and Chile. However, territorial claims on the continent may not currently be advanced, under the holding measures of the Antarctic Treaty System.

    Relations with the United Kingdom

    Historically the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Colonial Office were responsible for overseeing all British Colonies, but today the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the responsibility of looking after the interests of all overseas territories except the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence. Within the FCO, the general responsibility for the territories is handled by the Overseas Territories Directorate.
    In 2012, the FCO published The Overseas Territories: security, success and sustainability which set out Britain's policy for the Overseas Territories, covering six main areas:
    Britain and the overseas territories do not have diplomatic representations, although the governments of the overseas territories with indigenous populations all retain a representative office in London. The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association also represents the interests of the territories in London. The governments in both London and territories occasionally meet to mitigate or resolve disagreements over the process of governance in the territories and levels of autonomy.
    Britain provides financial assistance to the overseas territories via the Department for International Development. Currently only Montserrat and Saint Helena receive budgetary aid. Several specialist funds are made available by the UK, including:
    The territories have no official representation in the UK Parliament, but have informal representation through the All-Party Parliamentary Group, and can petition the UK Government through the Directgov e-Petitions website.
    Two national parties, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, have endorsed calls for direct representation of overseas territories in the UK Parliament, as well as backbench members of the Conservative Party and Labour Party.

    Foreign affairs

    Foreign affairs of the overseas territories are handled by the FCO in London. Some territories maintain diplomatic officers in nearby countries for trade and immigration purposes. Several of the territories in the Americas maintain membership within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community, the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and the Association of Caribbean States. The territories are members of the Commonwealth of Nations through the United Kingdom. The inhabited territories compete in their own right at the Commonwealth Games, and three of the territories sent teams to the 2016 Summer Olympics.
    Full British citizenship has been granted to most 'belongers' of overseas territories.
    Most countries do not recognise the sovereignty claims of any other country, including Britain's, to Antarctica and its off-shore islands. Five nations contest, with counter-claims, the UK's sovereignty in the following overseas territories:
    None of the overseas territories has its own nationality status, and most residents hold two forms of British nationality: British Overseas Territories citizenship and British citizenship. Only the latter grants the right of abode in a specific country or territory, namely, the United Kingdom proper which includes its three Crown Dependencies. Individual overseas territories have legislative independence over immigration, and consequently, BOTC status does not automatically grant the right of abode in any of the territories, as it depends on the territory's immigration laws. A territory may issue belonger status to allow a person to reside in the territory that they have close links with. The governors of the territories may also allow naturalization of non-BOTCs as BOTCs.
    celebrations. Gibraltarians were the only group of overseas territories residents who could apply for full British citizenship without restrictions before 2002.
    From 1949 to 1983, the nationality status of Citizenship of UK and Colonies was shared by residents of the UK proper and residents of overseas territories, although most residents of overseas territories lost their automatic right to live in the UK after the ratification of Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 that year unless they were born in the UK proper or had a parent or a grandparent born in the UK. In 1983, CUKC status of residents of overseas territories without the right of abode in the UK was replaced by British Dependent Territories citizenship in the newly minted British Nationality Act 1981, a status that does not come with it the right of abode in the UK or any overseas territory. For these residents, registration as full British citizens then required physical residence in the UK proper. There were only two exceptions: Falkland Islanders, who were automatically granted British citizenship and was treated as a part of the UK proper through the enactment of British Nationality Act 1983 due to the Falklands War with Argentina, and Gibraltarians who were given the special entitlement to be registered as British citizens upon request without further conditions because of its individual membership in the European Economic Area and the European Community.
    Five years after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the British government amended the 1981 Act to give British citizenship without restrictions to all BDTCs except for those solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia.. This restored the right of abode in the UK to residents of overseas territories after a 34-year hiatus from 1968 to 2002.


    Defence of the Overseas Territories is the responsibility of the UK. Many of the overseas territories are used as military bases by the UK and its allies.
    Most of the languages other than English spoken in the territories contain a large degree of English, either as a root language, or in codeswitching, e.g. Llanito. They include:
    Forms of English:
    The many British overseas territories use a varied assortment of currencies, including the euro, pound, US dollar, NZ dollar, or their own currencies, which may be pegged to one of these.
    LocationNative currencyIssuing authority

    • Akrotiri and Dhekelia
    European Central Bank

    • British Antarctic Territory
    • Tristan da Cunha
    • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
    Pound sterling
    Bank of England

    • Falkland Islands
    Falkland Islands pound

    Pound sterling


    United States dollar

    Government of the Falkland Islands

    • Gibraltar
    Gibraltar pound

    Pound sterling


    Government of Gibraltar

    • Saint Helena and Ascension Island
    Saint Helenian pound

    United States dollar

    Government of Saint Helena

    • British Virgin Islands
    • Turks and Caicos Islands
    United States dollar

    Bahamian dollar

    US Federal Reserve

    • Anguilla
    • Montserrat
    Eastern Caribbean dollar
    Eastern Caribbean Central Bank

    • Bermuda
    Bermudian dollar

    United States dollar

    Bermuda Monetary Authority

    • Cayman Islands
    Cayman Islands dollar
    Cayman Islands Monetary Authority

    • Pitcairn Islands
    New Zealand dollar

    United States dollar
    Pound sterling is also accepted.
    Pitcairn Islands dollar

    Reserve Bank of New Zealand

    • British Indian Ocean Territory
    United States dollar

    Pound sterling

    US Federal Reserve

    Bank of England

    Part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

    Symbols and insignia

    Each overseas territory has been granted its own flag and coat of arms by the British monarch. Traditionally, the flags follow the Blue Ensign design, with the Union Flag in the canton, and the territory's coat of arms in the fly. Exceptions to this are Bermuda which uses a Red Ensign; British Antarctic Territory which uses a White Ensign, but without the overall cross of St. George; British Indian Ocean Territory which uses a Blue Ensign with wavy lines to symbolise the sea; and Gibraltar which uses a banner of its coat of arms.
    Akrotiri and Dhekelia and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are the only British overseas territories without their own flag, though Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have their own individual flags. The Union Flag is used in these territories.


    , the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands are the only British Overseas Territories with recognised National Olympic Committees ; the British Olympic Association is recognised as the appropriate NOC for athletes from the other territories, and thus athletes who hold a British passport are eligible to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games.
    Shara Proctor from Anguilla, Delano Williams from the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jenaya Wade-Fray from Bermuda and Georgina Cassar from Gibraltar strived to represent Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics. Proctor, Wade-Fray and Cassar qualified for Team GB, with Williams missing the cut, however wishing to represent the UK in 2016.
    The Gibraltar national football team was accepted into UEFA in 2013 in time for the 2016 European Championships. It has been accepted by FIFA and went into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, where they achieved 0 points.


    The British Overseas Territories have more biodiversity than the entire UK mainland. There are at least 180 endemic plant species in the overseas territories as opposed to only 12 on the UK mainland. Responsibility for protection of biodiversity and meeting obligations under international environmental conventions is shared between the UK Government and the local governments of the territories.
    Two areas, Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Islands as well as the Gough and Inaccessible Islands of Tristan Da Cunha are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two other territories, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Saint Helena are on the United Kingdom's tentative list for future UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gibraltar's Gorham's Cave Complex is also found on the UK's tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
    The three regions of biodiversity hotspots situated in the British Overseas Territories are the Caribbean Islands, the Mediterranean Basin and the Oceania ecozone in the Pacific.
    The UK created the largest continuous marine protected areas in the world, the Chagos Marine Protected Area, and announced in 2015 funding to establish a new, larger, reserve around the Pitcairn Islands.
    In January 2016, the UK government announced the intention to create a marine protected area around Ascension Island. The protected area would be 234,291 square kilometers, half of which would be closed to fishing.