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Get to know Svalbard, a unique archipelago in the Arctic Circle, where there's really no concept of borders and part of the year the sun shines 24/7. With no visa restrictions, this Norwegian territory has become a cultural mix, with people from over 50 countries living here. Learn how you can easily live and work here, too!
As your plane descends into this icy paradise, you will be greeted by majestic snow-capped peaks (that is, of course, if you arrive during the months when the sun shines almost 24 hours a day). Meanwhile, the winter months offer the heavenly spectacle of the northern lights illuminating the eternal night...
Located 500 miles north of mainland Norway and surrounded by the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, Svalbard is a land of extremes. It is the northernmost area inhabited year-round, boasting the northernmost university, church, and even a brewery.
Longyearbyen, the capital, is a cosmopolitan city where almost a third of the approximately 2,400 inhabitants are immigrants from various countries. Reason? Anyone can live here without a visa, provided they secure employment and housing.
The archipelago has a rich history; it is believed to have been first discovered by the Vikings around 1200. Documented exploration began in 1596 by Dutch adventurers seeking the Northeast Passage to China. For centuries, the islands attracted hunters and explorers from various European countries.
The 20th century saw the emergence of coal mining as a major industry, initiated by American entrepreneur John Munro Longyear in 1906. Today, tourism and scientific research in the field of ecology and environmental protection are the basis of the local economy.
The situation of Svalbard remained unsettled until 1920 when a treaty concluded after World War I confirmed the territory's affiliation to Norway. Currently endorsed by 46 countries, the treaty also mandates that the islands must remain demilitarized and that Norway is responsible for protecting their natural environment. Interestingly, the treaty emphasizes equal treatment for both Norwegians and non-Norwegians.
Life in Longyearbyen is unlike anywhere else. The archipelago has only 25 miles of roads, and all settlements are isolated, accessible only by boat in summer or snowmobile in winter. The presence of approximately 3,000 polar bears—outnumbering the human population, makes carrying a rifle outside city limits a common precaution.
Although Svalbard is open to everyone, it is not an ideal place for major "life events" such as birth or death. There are no maternity hospitals there, and deceased persons must be transported to mainland Norway for burial. Since the 1950s, permafrost in the archipelago has made burials impractical, as frozen ground can sometimes force buried bodies to return to the surface...
The permafrost also serves as the basis for the Global Seed Vault, located just 2 miles from the Longyearbyen central road. Established in 2008, the vault safeguards more than 980,000 varieties of seeds from around the world in the event of a global agricultural collapse.
However, even this Arctic sanctuary faces challenges from climate change. In 2017, the entrance to the Seed Vault flooded due to the melting permafrost. Longyearbyen itself struggles with mudslides because it was not built to handle rainwater. Surprisingly, the average temperature on Svalbard has increased by 39°F since 1971, making it the fastest-warming place on Earth.
So if you're intrigued by the idea of a life less ordinary, Svalbard offers a unique combination of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and scientific significance—all without requiring a visa.