U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Cayman Islands, May 1996
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Cayman Islands
Area: 259 sq. km. (100 sq. mi.) on three islands: Grand Cayman (76 sq.
mi.), Cayman Brac (14 sq. mi.), and Little Cayman (10 sq. mi.).
Capital: George Town (pop. 12,900).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Caymanian(s).
Annual growth rate: 4.3%.
Ethnic groups: Afro-European 40%, African 20%, European 20%,
Religions: United Church, Anglican, other Protestant, Roman Catholic.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. Literacy (age 15 and over)--
Health: Infant mortality rate--8.4/1,000. Life expectancy--77 yrs.
Work force: 17,000.
Type: British Crown colony.
Constitution: 1972; called the Cayman Islands Order.
Branches: Executive--governor (representing British monarch),
Executive Council. Legislative--unicameral Legislative Assembly (12
elected, three appointed members). Judicial--Summary Court, Grand
Court, Cayman Islands Court of Appeal, Her Majesty's Privy Council.
Subdivisions: Six electoral districts.
Political parties: No formal political parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $700 million.
Growth rate: 1.4%.
Per capita income: $23,000.
Natural resources: Scenic beaches and underwater attractions,
Agriculture: Minor production of vegetables and livestock, turtle
Industry: Types--tourism, banking, insurance and finance, construction.
Trade: Exports--$10 million: turtle products, manufactured consumer
goods. Major market--United States. Imports--$312 million:
machinery, manufactures, food, fuels, chemicals. Major suppliers--
U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, U.K., Netherlands Antilles, Japan.
Official exchange rate (1995): CI $0.83=U.S. $1.
Although the United Kingdom is responsible for the Cayman Islands'
defense and foreign affairs, important bilateral issues are often
resolved by negotiations between the Cayman Government and foreign
governments, including the United States. Despite close historic and
political links to the United Kingdom and Jamaica, geography and the
rise of tourism and international finance in the Cayman Islands'
economy has made the U.S. its most important foreign economic
partner. In 1994, about 250,000 U.S. citizens traveled to the Cayman
Islands; some 1,000 Americans are resident there.
For U.S. and other foreign investors and businesses, the Cayman
Islands' main appeal as a financial center is the absence of all major
direct taxes. There are no income, corporate, capital gains,
inheritance, gift, or property taxes. Free capital movement, a minimum
of government regulations, and a well-developed financial
infrastructure, including a pool of professional service providers, all
contribute to the islands' attractiveness.
With the rise in international narcotics trafficking, the Cayman
Government entered into the Narcotics Agreement of 1984 and the
Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty of 1986 with the United States in order
to reduce the use of its facilities for money laundering operations.
The United States does not maintain diplomatic offices in the Cayman
Islands. Diplomatic relations are conducted through the U.S. embassy
in London and the British embassy in Washington, DC.
The Cayman Islands are, however, part of the consular district
administered by the U.S. embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. Inquiries
regarding visa applications to the U.S. or other consular matters should
be directed to the consular section of the United States embassy, 2
Oxford Road, Kingston 5, Jamaica; tel: 809-929-4850; fax: 809-926-
There also is a U.S. consular agent, John Foster, in the Cayman Islands
to assist in providing services for American citizens; tel: 809-949-
7955; fax: 809-949-6080.
The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th
century. A variety of people settled on the islands: pirates, refugees
from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, deserters from
Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica, and slaves. The majority of
Caymanians are of African and British descent, with considerable
interracial mixing. The most important religious denomination is the
"United Church," a local combination of the Presbyterian and
Congregational churches. Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Church
of God, and other Protestant denominations are also present.
Great Britain took formal control of the Caymans, along with Jamaica,
under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Following several unsuccessful
attempts, permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730s. The
Cayman Islands historically have been popular as a tax haven. Legend
has it that Caymanians in 1788 rescued the crews of a Jamaican
merchant ship convoy which had struck a reef at Gun Bay and that the
Caymanians were rewarded with King George III's promise to never
again impose any tax.
The Cayman Islands, initially administered as a dependency of
Jamaica, became an independent colony in 1959; they now are a self-
governing British Crown colony.
Although Caymanians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in
the world, about 90% of the islands' food and consumer goods must be
From the earliest settlement of the Cayman Islands, economic activity
was hindered by isolation and a limited natural resource base. The
harvesting of sea turtles to resupply passing sailing ships was the
first major economic activity on the islands, but local stocks were
depleted by the 1790s. Agriculture, while sufficient to support the
small early settler population, has always been limited by the scarcity
of available land.
The advent of modern transportation and telecommunications in the
1950s led to the emergence of what are now considered the Cayman
Islands' "twin pillars" of economic development: international finance
and tourism. At the end of 1993, there were 29,298 companies--
including 534 banks and 378 insurance companies--licensed in the
islands. Tourism has grown to represent about 70% of gross domestic
product and 75% of total export earnings. Unspoiled beaches, duty-free
shopping, scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing drew more than 850,000
visitors to the islands in 1992.
The Cayman Islands' population has tripled in the past 25 years. Its
annual growth rate (more than 4%) is largely attributable to
immigration; of the 1992 population, only 64% had been born on the
islands. Few Caymanians emigrate permanently, although historically
many left for extended periods to work as seamen, and today many
leave for education or training unavailable on the islands.
Education is compulsory to the age of 16 and is free to all Caymanian
children. Schools follow the British educational system. Ten primary,
one special education, and three high schools are operated by the
government. In addition, there is a technical school, a law school, and
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Cayman Islands' physical isolation under early British colonial rule
allowed the development of an indigenous set of administrative and
legal traditions which were codified into a constitution in 1959.
Although still a British Crown colony, the islands toady are self-
governed in nearly all respects. The constitution, or Cayman Islands
Order, that now governs the islands came into effect in 1972 and was
amended in 1984.
The Cayman Islands' political system is very stable, bolstered by a
tradition of restrained civil governance, sustained economic prosperity,
and its relative isolation from foreign policy concerns by virtue of its
colonial relationship with the United Kingdom. Public discussion
revolves around public sector expenditure and social services, the pace
of additional economic development, and the status of the large foreign
national community on the islands.
The British crown appoints a governor of the Cayman Islands, who is
recruited from the government service of the U.K. and serves as the
U.K.'s representative. Daily administration of the islands is conducted
by the seven-member Executive Council, whose members are drawn
from the Caymans' Legislative Assembly.
The chief secretary, financial secretary, and attorney general are
appointed by the governor. As noted, responsibility for the Cayman
Islands' defense and foreign affairs resides with the United Kingdom;
however, the chief secretary has the portfolio for External Affairs, and
the Cayman Government may negotiate certain bilateral matters
directly with foreign governments. The remaining four members of the
Executive Council are elected by the Assembly and divide the
remaining administrative portfolios.
The 15-seat unicameral Legislative Assembly is composed of 12
members elected by universal suffrage from the Caymans' six electoral
districts and the three appointed members of the Executive Council; the
Assembly is presided over by an independent speaker. Elections are
held at the discretion of the governor at least every four years.
Members of the assembly may introduce bills which, if passed, are then
approved, returned, or disallowed by the governor. The U.K.
Government also reserves the right to disallow bills approved by the
governor but has done so only once.
The four-tiered judicial system is based on English common law and
colonial and local statutes. The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal is the
highest court on the islands, but a final appeal may be heard by Her
Majesty's Privy Council sitting in London.
Political parties have operated infrequently in the past, and all public
officeholders currently are independents. Since the 1970s, groups of
candidates have organized themselves into ad hoc coalitions called
teams and run on platforms of shared concerns. From 1976 to 1984, the
Legislative Assembly was dominated by the Team for National Unity,
with a platform of free enterprise and private sector development. The
Progress with Dignity Team took control of the Assembly in 1984,
emphasizing greater government control of spending and development
and a social welfare approach to economic growth. The most recent of
these political groupings, the National Team, captured nine of the 12
seats in the 1992 election, stressing the containment of government
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Chief Secretary, Executive Council--James M. Ryan
The Cayman Islands are represented in the United States by the United
Kingdom, whose embassy is at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue,
Washington DC 20008; tel: 202-462-1340; fax: 202-898-4255.
The offices of Cayman Airways, located in Miami, Houston, Atlanta,
and Tampa, also may provide travel information.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans
avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for
all countries and include information on immigration practices,
currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at (202) 647-
5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs
Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with
standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may
be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking
water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health
Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-
95-8280, price $14.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see "U.S. Representation" listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the
CABB provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and
helpful information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of
charge to anyone with a personal computer, modem,
telecommunications software, and a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the
Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S.
foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes
Background Notes; Dispatch, the official weekly magazine of U.S.
foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of
foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly
basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on
the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an
array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present.
Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs
(MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800
or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S.
Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387.
For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department
of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related
information, including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on
the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB
Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department
of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication
-- Washington, DC -- Series Editor: Marilyn J. Bremner
Cayman Islands -- Department of State Publication 10352 -- May 1996
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402.
Return to Western Hemisphere Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage