Welcome to the town of Longyearbyen, located at 78N on the island of Spitsbergen which is the largest island in the archipelago of Svalbard. Svalbard is a special territory of Norway, which has sovereignty over the archipelago as granted by the Svalbard Treaty. If you plan to live on Svalbard reading the treaty is a good idea. Useful links are included at the end of each topic section.
At the top of Svalbard’s political hierarchy is sysselmester, also known as the governor of Svalbard. Sysselmester is the Norwegian government’s representative on Svalbard. Sysselmester is in charge of the police as well as functioning as the primary government representative responsible for the archipelago including environmental welfare and emergency operations. Detailed information about the sysselmester’s office and duties is available on their website.
Longyearbyen lokalstyre is the elected local government of Longyearbyen. The local government’s responsibilities are limited to the area in and around Longyearbyen. The local government manages activities that are roughly the same as those of a mainland commune such as schools from primary through high schooled education, cultural school and after school, the library, sports and cultural buildings and activities, town infrastructure including trash pick up, and energy production which includes heat, water, sewage, and electricity. However, Longyearbyen is not the same as a mainland municipality due to Svalbard's status as a special territory of Norway. Their website gives a good overview of the local government’s activities, and on the front page there is a function who Google translates the text.
While many mainland Norway rules apply to Svalbard, because this is a special territory of Norway there are also things that are different. Here are a few of the most important for you to know before deciding to move to Longyearbyen.
- Living on Svalbard does not qualify you for residence or citizenship in Norway.
- Non-Norwegians do not have the right to vote in local elections in Longyearbyen unless you have previously lived for three years on the mainland and have been a legal resident of Norway.
- You must be able to financially support yourself and your family for the length of your stay. There are no social services on Svalbard.
- You must have a place to live.
- There are no services for disabled or special needs adults or children.
- There is no elder care.
- Svalbard is outside the Schengen Area. If you come from a country outside the Schengen area that is required to have a visa to enter the Schengen Area you will need a visa every time you enter Norway to travel to or from Svalbard.
To become a resident of Longyearbyen you must plan to live in the town for a minimum of six months. To establish residency make an appointment with the tax office (Skatteetaten Svalbard) to apply for a D number within eight days of your arrival. You will need to bring your passport to the meeting. D numbers are the Norwegian identification number for foreigners residing in Norway.
For many years Longyearbyen was a mining company town and it still has many of the characteristics of a company town. Most housing is provided by your employer, and residents must have an alcohol card in order to purchase hard liquor and beer. You do not need an alcohol card for wine. You apply for an alcohol card from Sysselmester and will need your passport, D number, and proof of address.
Telenor is the local internet provider if you want to install a broad band internet connection in your home. When you go to their office to purchase internet service for your home you will need your passport, D number and home address. You can reach Telenor Svalbard by phone: + 47 79 02 27 00.
To travel outside the limits of town you must carry protection against polar bears. This includes a rifle (Win 308 calibre or higher) and a flare gun. A pistol is not considered adequate for polar bear protection. To apply for a gun license from Sysselmester you need to present proof of residency (D number), and a valid gun license from your home country.
Maps of Longyearbyen are available at Visit Svalbard’s office. Google Earth now covers Longyearbyen. TopoSvalbard is a topographic map of the archipelago and is available on the Norsk Polar Institute’s website. It’s a great resource.
Most streets in Longyearbyen are numbered, not named, and signs are rare. The common naming convention is street number, house number, apartment number. So for example, a common address might be Vei 505.7.305. Which is street 505, building number 7, apartment 305. Here you have map from Longyearbyen lokalstyre
There is one full service grocery store, Svalbard Butikken/Coop. You can find days of operation and opening hours on their Facebook page. There are two convenience stores The Mix and the Circle K (world’s northernmost gas station), as well as a small Thai grocery shop.
The Svalbard Church is a member of the Church of Norway, part of the Tromsø arch-deanery in the Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland. Svalbard Church has Sunday services, sponsors many activities in town, and also brings in visiting Catholic priests to minister to the town’s Roman Catholic population. The most up to date information can be found on the church’s Facebook page under Svalbard Church.
The local newspaper Svalbard Posten (not to be confused with the post office which is posten) is in Norwegian and available by subscription. There is a printed copy and an internet version. Most immediate local news is accessed through Facebook on the Ros & Info Longyearbyen group. There is also a local for sale group Kjop/salg/bytte/gi bort Longyearbyen and a lost and found group Tapt/Funnet Longyearbyen.
Bruktikken is a thrift shop run by UNIS students where you can bring items you no longer want and look for things that you need. Everything is free. Opening hours and location are listed on their Facebook page Bruktikken.
There are no Norwegian language classes on Svalbard. But there is a language café, arranged by Norsk folkehjelp once a week, where foreigners meet at speak norwegian.
There are also a variety of language apps and online private tutors you can contact.
Legal drinking age in Norway up to 22% alcohol is 18 years, products with more than 22% alcohol the legal drinking age is 20 years.
The only bank on Svalbard, Sparebank Nord Norge, closed December 31, 2020 and the bank machine/ATM was removed soon after. This makes setting up a new Norwegian bank account a little complicated. Sparebank Nord Norge continues to service the town with periodic bank visits to help residents with their banking needs. You must arrange an appointment in advance with the bank representative. These visits are usually posted on Facebook in Ros & Info. Otherwise, you will need to make an appointment to visit a mainland bank in person.
In order to open a bank account as a foreigner you will need the following documents.
- Valid passport
- D number which will be given to you when you register with the tax office as a resident
- Proof of address
- Proof of employment
Companies in Longyearbyen only accept credit cards or other forms of electronic payment on phones. The Coop will accept Norwegian kroner for cash payments. No other form of currency is accepted.
VIPPS, which is a common payment method between individuals in Norway, is available only with Bank ID which is not generally given to foreigners living on Svalbard. If you are a foreigner with a D number and a mainland Norway address you can get Bank ID from some banks in Norway, and that will allow you to also get the VIPPS app. The convenience of VIPPS cannot be overstated. It is worth checking with different banks to try to get Bank ID. Some Nordic Alliance citizens living on Svalbard have been able to get bank ID with less traditional banks.
Most insurance can be purchased through your bank. This includes renters insurance, car insurance, and snowmobile insurance. You can choose to use other insurance companies. The bank insurance is simply easiest.
If you live and work on Svalbard for 12 months you must file a tax return with Norway. Some people who live and work on Svalbard for 6 months must file a tax return if they have income over a certain amount. If you own a Norwegian business or real property on Svalbard you must file a tax return to Norway.
Income tax in Norway is approximately 8%, depending on your level of income. If you work full time for a Norwegian company your Norwegian health plan payments come from your pay. There are two accounting firms in Longyearbyen if you have difficulty understanding your obligations with regards to taxation.
To download your tax returns and many other Norwegian state documents you will need access to Altinn. Altinn is a portal to most government information including taxes, health care, and other government messaging. There are several ways to access Altinn without Bank ID. One of them is to purchase a BuyPass. Other ways are listed on the Altinn website to help you access this very important website.
You can start your own Norwegian company on Svalbard. The two most commonly used structures are the Norwegian AS and the ENK.
A Norwegian AS is a private limited liability company. It must follow specific Norwegian rules for organization and income reporting.
A Norwegian ENK is a sole proprietorship and the owner has unlimited liability for the debts of the company.
There is more information on how to start a Norwegian company and the regulations surrounding having a business on the Brønnøysund Registry Center website. Using an accountant is highly recommended if you want to start a Norwegian company for your business.
Longyearbyen is not a big town. There are only 42 kms of road and many people manage without a car. Bicycles are common, and are ridden year round with special tires for snow. There are two taxi companies, and a shuttle bus to the airport.
However, depending on your situation in Longyearbyen a car may be a necessity. While there aren’t many kilometers of roads to drive, sometimes in -30C it’s nice to drive somewhere instead of walk. And for some jobs a car is necessary to do your job.
There is no sales tax on cars in Longyearbyen, so if you buy a car here it’s best to sell it before leaving the island as you will have to pay tax as well as pay for shipping before entering Norway. There is one car dealership in Longyearbyen selling new cars. There is a car rental company as well for short term driving needs. But most people buy second hand cars from residents who are moving back to their home country. These sales are listed in the Facebook Kjøp/salg Longyearbyen group. Second hand bicycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles are also sold here.
All vehicles must be registered through States Vegvesen, and your car must be insured. Insurance can be bought through your bank or separately. Cars are sold with engine heating blocks and most buildings have plugs outside so that you can plug your engine in to stay warm in the winter. Depending on your vehicle you may want to plug it in when temperatures are -10C.
Norwegian rules of the road apply, and while there are no stoplights in town, there are a few road signs and it is always a good idea to become familiar with the rules of the road of the country you are living in.
2021 gave rise to issues with foreign drivers licenses on Svalbard. Sysselmester eventually decided that countries which are parties to either the Geneva Convention of 1949 or the Vienna Convention of 1968 on Road Traffic can drive on Svalbard. It is important before coming to Svalbard to check if your country is a party to one of these two agreements. Otherwise you may not be allowed to drive. This may change in 2023. These rules do not apply to mainland Norway, only Svalbard. International Drivers Permits do not apply on Svalbard.
If you are a citizen of a Nordic Alliance country, or an EEA country, you can exchange your drivers license for a Norwegian license with an address on Svalbard. If you are not a citizen of those member countries you cannot exchange your drivers license for a Norwegian drivers license without a mainland Norway address. Therefore, it is recommended that you maintain an address in your home country so that you can continue to renew your drivers license.
Drivers licenses must be class B, which allows the driving of regular passenger vehicles, and also snowmobiles and ATVs.
Svalbard is not covered by the Norwegian National Insurance plan and there is no regular healthcare available. There is no psychiatric or psychological assistance on Svalbard.
At Longyearbyen sykehus, the hospital you can book appointement for doctor, pphysical therapy and dentist.
If you are employed full-time by a Norwegian company you are covered under the Norwegian National Plan. Check with your employer to understand what benefits you do and do not receive on Svalbard. If you are legally married, your spouse and children can be covered also. Coverage is not extended to cohabitation. If you are a part-time employee of a Norwegian company check with your employer as to your coverage.
If you are a citizen of a Nordic Alliance country your national healthcare converts to the Norwegian National Plan on Svalbard. If you are an EU or EEA citizen you must check your country’s healthcare system to see if it will cover you on Svalbard. This varies by country.
If you are from any other country, and you are not employed full time by a Norwegian company, then you are responsible for paying for you own healthcare. There are many options for international healthcare insurance, and it is highly recommended that you purchase a healthcare plan.
The hospital in Longyearbyen, Longyearbyen sykehus, functions as an urgent care facility. There is no long term care, surgery, obstetric or gynecological care available. Doctors serve rotations and are not family doctors. Any complex illness or serious accident will be sent to Tromsø.
Depending on the nature of your illness either you will have a flight and hotel stay scheduled for you, or in an emergency, a helicopter will be sent from Tromsø. If you have a chronic illness you will need to be treated on the mainland, or return to your home country. No chronic conditions are treated on Svalbard.
There is a private dentist in Longyearbyen who provides regular dental care.
An optician visits approximately every three months. Visits are announced on the Ros & Info Facebook page.
There is no treatment for mental disorders or any therapists in Longyearbyen.
Medical prescriptions from a Norwegian doctor can be filled at the pharmacy (apotek) in town. Foreign prescriptions cannot be filled in Longyearbyen.
As Svalbard is a special territory of Norway some labor laws apply and some do not. Your rights to a minimum wage, health care, sick leave, holiday time, parental leave and unemployment (NAV) can depend on the policy of the company you work for and whether or not you are a full time employee.
There are many different kinds and sizes of companies on Svalbard. It is strongly recommended that you research and understand your company’s employee benefits before moving to Svalbard so you know you rights.
Most full time jobs require the employee to be fluent in Norwegian. Work in the service industry or in seasonal tourist jobs can be found by inquiring at the various companies to ask if they are hiring. These jobs often do not require Norwegian language.
For many years Longyearbyen was a company town and it still has many of the characteristics of a company town. Most housing on Svalbard is provided by your employer. The two largest property owners, Statsbygg and Store Norske, are both owned by the Norwegian government and rent almost exclusively to large Norwegian companies, which then provide living quarters to their employees, usually at a subsidized rate.
If your employer does not provide housing then you must look for housing within the small private market. Apartment rentals and sublets are often listed on the Facebook page Kjøp/salg Longyearbyen. Housing is very tight in Longyearbyen. There is a limit on new construction, most housing is controlled by the Norwegian government, and the private sector is small.
Once you are a registered resident on Svalbard you are eligible to purchase an apartment or cabin. If you choose to do this it is recommended that you research the rules around buying property on Svalbard. It can be a time consuming process, and Norway reserves the right to block sales made to foreigners.
It is important to know that if you lose or change your job you also lose your employer-provided housing. You will need a new housing assignment from your new employer, or you must find housing yourself in the private sector.
The school in Longyearbyen are part of the Norwegian education system and classes are in Norwegian. Assistance in learning Norwegian is provided to children in the school system.
There is limited provision for special needs children on Svalbard according to the Kindergarten Act from 01.08.2022. If your child has special needs it is strongly recommended that you find out whether your child’s needs would be provided for on Svalbard well before you move. If your child’s needs do not fall within the narrow accommodations on Svalbard they cannot attend school in Longyearbyen.
Only children of permanent residents are allowed to attend school in Longyearbyen. A permanent resident is someone who is registered with the tax office and has lived here for a minimum of six months.
Kindergarden/Nurcery enrollment ends March 15. Applications must be made electronically. Kindergarden/Nurcery is available for children ages 1 - 6 years. Children can attend from two to five days a week.
Longyearbyen has combined primary and secondary school education with students from grade 1 to grade 10. After school care is available for children in grades 1 to 4 (SFO or Skolefritidsordningen) and is paid for monthly. There is also a cultural school available where the arts are taught. There is a separate tuition for this education.
For your child to enter high school (videregående skole) they must be proficient in Norwegian. They must take a Norwegian language test and pass with a minimum proficiency of level 3. Without this language level children will not be able to get the benefit of the education and will not be able to continue their education in the Norwegian school system.
There is a youth club for children and young people from grade 5 to 20 years of age. The younger children have a separate room from the young adults. There are games, social activities, and special events for children. This is a great place for kids to meet friends in a safe, welcoming environment.
Once you have a job and housing settled, what comes next? Friends! Longyearbyen is a complex society with a population that is 65% Norwegian and 35% foreign from over 50 countries. This makes for a diverse culture. Norwegian is the primary language, but English is common.
The first place to develop friendships is among your work colleagues, as are school events with other parents. Otherwise to meet more people it’s best to become involved in group social activities. Becoming a regular church member, volunteering at one of the many festivals that take place in Longyearbyen, and joining one of the many special interest and hobby clubs that exist in town. There are many different clubs including music, film, photography, knitting, and golf. These clubs are great places to meet people.
If you are interested in sports, then Svalbard Turn is for you. You will need a membership at Svalbardhallen which houses a training room, swimming pool, sauna, climbing wall, and courts for various sports, and a membership in Svalbard Turn. This gives you access to many sports teams and physical training groups.
Aktiv I Friluft Longyearbyen is a Facebook group for locals only that sponsors weekly hikes around town led by a local person. The hikes are of varying difficulty from one hiking shoe to five, so there is something for every level. You can find out more about them by joining their Facebook group.
Films are shown in the cinema at Nordover. These are announced HERE. There are three cafes in town which are popular meeting spots. Fruene, Tio Monchos, and Huskies Cafe.
Festival schedules, concerts, exhibitions, lectures, and other special events are all announced on the Ros & Info group. There is a lot to do in town. To find out what is happening it is vital to join the private Ros & Info Facebook group.
The Svalbardbutikken sells both groceries and things for the home. Bruktikken has discarded items of all sorts from clothes, books to furniture. For hours and location check their Facebook page. There is also the Facebook group Kjøp/salg Longyearbyen where locals advertise things for sale, and also when they are looking for specific items.
Not all stores on mainland or in Europe ship to Svalbard. Before ordering check with the store to make sure they will send it here.
A main reason people love Svalbard is for the nature. Svalbard is a place of extraordinary beauty, one of the last great wildernesses. As such it can be dangerous, and care must be taken both to protect yourself and to protect the animals and the environment here.
It is illegal to pick the wildflowers, feed the birds or foxes, or to grow plants outdoors. It is illegal to bring cats to the island. Pet dogs can come to Svalbard with their own “passport” and there are specific vaccination rules that must be followed. Rules for dogs are on Sysselmester’s website. It is also possible to adopt a retired sled dog from the various dog sledding companies. They make fantastic pets!
Hiking is a great outdoor activity, and there are many good hikes in Longyearbyen and the nearby areas. The book “Ut På Tur” lists the nearby hiking trails with useful information about them. You can look for a copy in the library, or buy one at Svalbard Museum. As soon as you travel past the polar bear warning signs you must have a weapon for your protection, and a flare gun is also recommended. Joining Activ i Friluft is a great way to become familiar with the hikes in the surrounding mountains. The difficulty of a hike is from one to five hiking boots. Trekking poles are a great addition to your hiking equipment.
There are many boat trips available in summer that will take you outside of town, and several tour companies offer special discounts for locals only with proof of residence. Longyearbyen sailing club members can rent kayaks, dry suits, and paddle boards for use in the fjord.
Snowmobile season starts in late January/early February depending on the snow. To drive a snowmobile you must have a valid class B drivers license, or pass the snowmobile driving course that is given every year to the high school students.
Snowmobiles can be purchased new through SSU (Svalbard Snøskuterutleie) or IGP, or rented through SSU or IGP. Used snowmobiles can be bought on the Kjøp/salg Facebook page. In addition to standard snowmobile gear you should also consider a Garmin GPS device and an InReach emergency satellite beacon. There are limitations on where you can travel by snowmobile at different times during the season. It is important to know where it is okay to travel, and when, and those maps can be found on Sysselmester’s website.
Snowmobiling on Svalbard can be dangerous. If you are new to snowmobiling be sure to go out with either a guide or with friends who have experience snowmobiling. It is important to know the local terrain and be familiar with dangers such as avalanches, how to travel safely on glaciers, and on sea ice.