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BES islands

For all of the Caribbean entities with constitutional links with the Netherlands, see Dutch Caribbean.
Caribbean Netherlands
Overseas region of the Netherlands
Coat of arms

Location of the Caribbean Netherlands (green and circled)

in the Caribbean. From left to right: Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius.

Coordinates: 12°11′N 68°14′W / 12.183°N 68.233°W / 12.183; -68.233

Country Netherlands
Consists of
Incorporated into the Netherlands 10 October 2010 (dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles)
Government (see Politics of the Netherlands)
 • National Rep. Wilbert Stolte
 • Lt. Governors
 • Total 328 km2 (127 sq mi)
  (0.8% of the Netherlands)
Highest elevation
(Mount Scenery)
887 m (2,910 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Total 21,133
 • Density 64/km2 (170/sq mi)
  (0.1% of the Netherlands)
 • Official Dutch
 • Recognised regional
Time zone AST (UTC−4)
Calling code +599
Currency US dollar (USD)
Internet TLD .nl, .an,a .bq b
a. Probably to be discontinued.
b. Assigned but not used.[1]

The Caribbean Netherlands (Dutch: Caribisch Nederland) refers to a group of three special municipalities of the Netherlands (officially public bodies) that are located in the Caribbean Sea: the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba,[a 1] which are also known as the BES islands.

Although they are part of the Netherlands, these special municipalities will remain overseas territories[2] of the European Union at least until 2015.[3]

Bonaire (including the islet of Klein Bonaire) is located east of Aruba and Curaçao, close to the coast of Venezuela. Sint Eustatius and Saba are located south of Sint Maarten and northwest of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The three islands gained their current status following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010,[4] while at the same time the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten became autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.[5] Distinctly, the Caribbean Netherlands does not include these autonomous countries (nor Aruba) as it refers only to those Caribbean islands that are administrative divisions of the country of the Netherlands, as opposed to the complete Dutch Caribbean which includes all the Caribbean islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The BES islands have a collective population of 21,000 and a total area of 328 square kilometres (127 sq mi).


The special municipalities (Dutch: bijzondere gemeenten) carry many of the functions normally performed by Dutch municipalities. The executive power rests with the Governing Council headed by a Lieutenant governor. The main democratic body is the island council. Residents of these three islands are entitled to vote in Dutch national and (as all Dutch nationals) in European elections.

Officially the islands are classed in Dutch law as being openbare lichamen (literally translated as "public bodies") and not gemeenten (municipalities). Unlike normal municipalities, they do not form part of a Dutch province[6] and the powers normally exercised by provincial councils within municipalities are divided between the island governments themselves and the central government by means of the National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands. For this reason, they are called "special" municipalities.

For many Dutch laws there is a special BES version.[7] For example, social security is not on the same level as it is in the European Netherlands.

The islands do not form part of the European Union and instead constitute "overseas countries and territories" of the Union to which special provisions apply.[a 2] The Lisbon Treaty introduced a procedure where the European Council may change the status of an extra-European territory of Denmark, France, or the Netherlands regarding the application of the EU treaties to that territory.[a 3] It is intended to review the position of the islands after a five-year transitional period which began with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in October 2010.

Special municipalities of the Netherlands
Flag Name Capital
(and largest city)
(per km²)
Bonaire Bonaire Kralendijk 294 15,666 53
Sint Eustatius Sint Eustatius Oranjestad 21 3,543 169
Saba Saba The Bottom 13 1,824 140
Total 328 21,133 64

National Office

The National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands (Dutch: Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland) has assumed responsibility for taxation, policing, immigration, transport infrastructure, health, education, and social security in the islands and provides these services on behalf of the Government of the Netherlands.[10] This agency was established as the Regional Service Center in 2008 and became the National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands on 1 September 2010.[11][12] The current director is Sybren van Dam.[13] The Representative for the public bodies of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba represents the Government of the Netherlands on the islands and also performs tasks similar to a King's Commissioner. The current representative is Wilbert Stolte.[14]


The Caribbean Netherlands form part of the Lesser Antilles. Within this island group,


The islands of the Caribbean Netherlands enjoy a tropical climate with warm weather all year round. The Leeward Islands are warmer and drier than the Windward islands. In summer, the Windward Islands can be subject to hurricanes.


Until 1 January 2011, the three islands used the Netherlands Antillean guilder and after that all three switched to the US dollar, rather than the euro which is used in the European Netherlands or the Caribbean guilder which is being adopted by the other two former Antillean islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten.[15][16] The decision to introduce the US dollar on the three islands was taken in November 2008.[15]


The telephone country code remains 599, that of the former Netherlands Antilles, and is shared with Curaçao. The ISO has assigned the two-letter country code BQ for these islands.[17] The IANA has not established a root zone for the .bq Internet ccTLD and whether it will be used is unknown.

See also

Geography portal
North America portal
Caribbean portal
Netherlands portal



External links

  • Official website of the National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands
  • Official website of the government of Bonaire
  • Official website of the government of Saba
  • Official website of the government of St. Eustatius

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