Feb 16, 2011


Svalbard is a place that's interested me a lot recently. It's an archipelago (this is a group of islands) that lies far north of Norway, about halfway to the North Pole.

Quick History:

One note is that most houses are company owned
It is generally said to be first discovered in the 1500's however some say Vikings discovered it as early as the 12th century. It wasn't until 1619; when the Dutch settlement of Smeerenburg, that more activity started occurring however. Over the next 200 years, Russians, Norwegians, French, British, Danish and Dutch explorers, fisherman and whalers all came and left, drawn generally by the seasonal fishing and whaling.

It wasn't until the late 1800's and early 1900's that a permanent, year round source of work arose, which was because of the discovery of coal reserves. Since by this time no country had actually claimed full sovereignty over this cluster of islands, Svalbard remained contested over, which resolved over the end of the first World War, resulting in the signing of the Spitsbergen Treaty in 1920. 

The Treaty:

This treaty granted full sovereignty to Norway, thus making the Islands a 'part' of Norway, however what is interesting is that the signers of this treaty grant the citizens of this country the same rights to land, living and work as a citizen of Norway. In other words, anyone whose home country has signed the treaty can go to live and work in Svalbard without any of the usual documentation you would require.

The population is only about 3000 people in the whole area, so despite anyone being able to live there, seems not many are drawn to the cold, harsh winters (-16 degrees, not including the wind chill!). The good thing about Svalbard is that it doesn't pay the same taxes as Norway does (since even Norway doesn't really have full control over the area) but the pay rates are about the same, meaning you can earn a lot of money there if you found a job.

While before, most employment was from Coal mining, this has dropped off in recent times, with the economy relying also on tourism, fishing, research (marine biology, arctic biology etc.). The average income is said to be about 20% higher than the average on mainland Norway (and considering Norway already has one of the highest average incomes in the world, this is fairly considerable).

The relationship between Svalbard, Spitsbergen and Longyearbyen:

Despite being so north, Svalbard has a fairly mild climate
This confuses some since the names are all long, and Norwegian. Svalbard is generally referring to the entire cluster of islands. Spitsbergen is the largest of all the islands, and Longyearbyen in the largest town, which resides on the largest island, Spitsbergen.

Some other interesting facts:

-The most common languages are Norwegian and Russian, however since anyone can move there, the area has many other smaller language groups as well.
-Svalbard is home to the Global Seed Vault
-Unlike on mainland Norway, where snowmobiles can only be ridden on marked tracks, in Svalbard snowmobiles can be ridden anywhere, and are considered the main way of transport during winter.
-It is illegal to leave the home without a rifle
-On that note, it is estimated there is as many as 6000 polar bears on the Islands (almost 3 times the population of humans) though others have estimated less, at 3000 bears.
-Longyearbyen is considered the worlds northernmost town. 

I recently read of someone who was applying for a work visa in Norway, but it was declined, and to reapply you cannot be in the EU/EEA area for 3 months, so he considered staying in Svalbard for the three months. Some would find this difficult, do you think you could live in a place like Svalbard?