Svalbard: Where Dying Is Frowned Upon, And Cats Are Forbidden

Welcome To Svalbard

Polar bear warning sign. Credit Sprok/Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The Svalbard archipelago, a distant European haven that has become (in)famous for some of its more unusual laws.

Located approximately 1,040 kilometres from the North Pole and 800 kilometres from mainland Norway, Svalbard has been under Norwegian sovereignty since 1920, writes Metro.

Unique Laws And Customs

Svalbard is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost settlement, which boasts some peculiar regulations. Visitors can freely migrate there without a visa, yet they must comply with several distinctive local laws.

Nearly 60 per cent of the island is peppered by glaciers, and the mercury seldom rises above zero. Despite this, Longyearbyen is home to a few thousand people and sits amidst one of the largest untouched wildernesses on the globe, teeming with polar bears, reindeer, and a diverse collection of birds. This is also the reason that cat lovers might be disappointed as these pets are banned so as to safeguard the various species of birds.

Maternity And Medical Arrangements

The lack of a maternity ward requires that expectant mothers have to depart for Norway at least one month before they are due to give birth. Those with severe illnesses must relocate to the mainland due to Longyearbyen’s limited healthcare facilities.

While it’s a myth that it’s illegal to die in Longyearbyen, the harsh truth is the deceased cannot be interred there because the permafrost prevents decomposition.

Safety Measures

Anyone wishing to venture a little further from the town are also subject to another mandate. The law states that anyone who travels outside of the main settlement must carry a firearm for potential defence against polar bear encounters. Although it must be said such incidents are rare, there have been at least five incidents since 1970.

Still eager to go? While Longyearbyen is a part of Norway, the 1925 Treaty of Svalbard stipulates that it is a visa-free zone, meaning that  anyone is free to settle there. Yet, long-term residence does not however confer Norwegian citizenship rights.

The island experiences polar night from October to February, and the midnight sun from April to August, making it an ideal spot for witnessing the mesmerising Northern Lights, sometimes visible even during daylight in winter.

For those eager to journey to this Arctic destination, please note that direct flights are unavailable. Travellers must first get to Oslo or Tromso, where airlines such as SAS and Norwegian offer flights to the island.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.