Bermuda is a colony consisting of some 300 coral islands (20 of them inhabited), situated in the Atlantic Ocean, 933 km (580 mi) east of Cape Hatteras (US) at 32° 19′ N and 64° 35′ W . Their total area is about 54 sq km (21 sq mi). The US leases a 5.8-sq-km (2.2-sq-mi) area of land reclaimed from the sea for military purposes. The largest island, Bermuda (sometimes called Main) Island, is about 23 km (14 mi) long and has an average width of 1.6 km (1 mi). The islands are mostly flat and rocky, with luxuriant semitropical vegetation. Because Bermuda lies in the Gulf Stream, the climate is generally mild and humid, with a mean annual temperature of 21° C (70° F ) and average rainfall of 147 cm (48 in). The resident civilian population in mid-2002 was 63,960 of which about 58% was black and 36% white (mainly of English or Portuguese descent), and 6% other.
Almost all of the 450 km (281 mi) of roads are surfaced. Public transportation is largely by bus. Hamilton, the capital, has a deepwater harbor. Kindley Field, near St. George, the former capital, is Bermuda's international airport.
The oldest British colony, the islands were uninhabited when discovered in 1503 by the Spaniard Juan de Bermúdez. Bermuda was first settled by a group of British colonists under Sir George Somers, who were wrecked there while en route to Virginia in 1609. Bermuda was acquired from a chartered company by the crown in 1684. Under the 1968 constitution, the governor, representing the sovereign, is advised by a cabinet of legislators appointed at the recommendation of the prime minister. The bicameral legislature consists of an appointed Senate of 11 members and a 40-member House of Assembly (elected by universal suffrage from 20 electoral districts). The Bermuda dollar of 100 cents is equal in value to the US dollar, which circulates freely.
Tourism is the islands' largest employer, providing about half the total national income and two-thirds of foreign exchange. Bermuda does not impose income or corporate taxes which has led to a substantial offshore financial sector. By the end of 1994, 8,200 international companies were registered in Bermuda, contributing $500 million to the economy and employing 2,214 people. A failed referendum on independence in late 1995 was partially attributed to concerns that independence would drive away foreign firms. Also important to the economy are goods and services supplied to the UK and US armed forces stationed in Bermuda. Light industries produce pharmaceuticals and essences, brass electrical contacts, and cut flowers for export. Per capita GDP in 2001 was $34,800, among the highest in the world. In August 1995, Hurricane Felix inflicted $2.5 million in damages to Bermuda.
The chief imports are food, textiles, furniture, motor vehicles, and fuel. In 1999, import partners were the EU (excluding the UK) (35.4%); the US (17.8%); the UK (15.4%), and Russia (14.6%); export partners were EU (excluding the UK) (77%); the US (9.8%), and the UK (6.9%). Visible trade balances are unfavorable, although trade in invisibles, primarily tourism and international business, more than offsets the commodity trade deficit. Exports in 2000 were estimated at $51 million; imports, $719 million. There is a free port at Ireland Island.
Medical services are private. King Edward VII Hospital receives government support. Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. There are 18 primary and 14 secondary schools, 12 government preschools, and 5 private schools. A major education program between 1996 and 2002 added five middle schools and two high schools. Bermuda College provides post-secondary vocational courses and an associate degree program.
In 1997 there were 53,000 mail telephone lines and nearly 8,000 mobile cellular phones in use on the island. The Bermuda Broadcasting Co., Ltd., runs the three commercial television stations. There were five AM and three FM radio stations in 1998. There is one daily newspaper, the Royal Gazette .