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Greenland is a huge island and autonomous Danish territory that can be found sitting to the north-west of Canada. Despite attempts from the United States of America in 1946 to purchase Greenland, the giant land mass is currently owned by its sparse inhabitants. However, due to the country’s relationship and historical European ties, in 1953 the decision was made for Greenland to join the Kingdom of Denmark and adopt their constitution. They have their own Parliament and handle a number of internal affairs, similar to the agreement between Scotland and the United Kingdom.
With a relatively small population, Greenland only has 56,000 people inhabiting the island, this can be attributed to the country’s environment. Don’t let its name fool you, Greenland is actually home to a very hostile climate. Cold winds and stacks of ice are more than enough to dissuade many people from settling in the region but, those that do find a culturally rich and beautiful land to call home.
Many people have heard the school yard tale about the Viking explorers that deliberately mis-named Greenland and Iceland to protect against strangers or enemies stealing their territories. While this story is not completely accurate, like many folk tales, it does hold an element of truth.
Whilst more than 80% of Greenland is coated in ice, over a thousand years ago it probably was a relatively ‘green land’. The first Viking explorers who made the treacherous journey across from Scandinavia weren’t playing the biggest prank of the 10th century with the countries name, when they jumped off of their ships it was more than likely to the sight of a land just as fertile, if not more so, than their home. Data taken by ice core scientists confirm this.
The confusion comes in when two separate Viking explorers both arrived in Iceland to heavy snow and a bitter climate. One of these pioneers hit a number of ice/snow related misfortunes following his arrival and promptly gained a personal hatred for the land. The name stuck amongst his companions back at home and became commonly known as Iceland. Despite this the reality that Iceland was actually rich with fertile land soon became apparent and it saw a rapid increase in migration.
In an attempt to persuade more people to move to Greenland instead of the ever-popular Iceland, Erik the Red, one of the original Greenland explorers, placed further emphasis on its name in some sort of ancient marketing scheme.
Fast forward to the present day and despite its naturally cold climate, Greenland is slowly warming up. While this change is unfortunately attributed to global warming and the ever-apparent melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the result is that as the ice melts it is causing a temperature drop and slowing of the Gulf Stream. The result of this is that as Greenland gets warmer, Iceland will ironically see a drop-in temperature.
Even in the warmest summer months, the average temperature in Greenland doesn’t exceed 10°C, so it’s probably a good idea to pack a hot water bottle. Despite the average temperature being low, on the occasions when the temperature does rise the clear air and low moisture means that you can see spectacular views for miles.
Greenland is also host to a very low humidity, while this means the air is drier, so you’ll have to drink a lot more, it does have the advantage of meaning that you won’t feel quite as cold as you might expect.
Greenland Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainfall
Greenland is a fairly unique country in today’s modern age in that it has managed to maintain a culture that orientates around its sophisticated climate and landscape. While many 21st century countries cultures are made up of a dense combination of various religious and economic norms and value, Greenland remains very much in touch with its historical traditions.
Probably not the ideal location for vegetarians, the majority of Greenland meals revolve around a diet with large amounts of meats, most of which are sourced locally. It’s no surprised that Greenlands largest national export in 2016 was Non-fillet Frozen Fish ($305m).
These meals, like much of Greenland’s culture, is tied to its Inuit history and past of hunting to survive in social solidarity. Even until the middle of the 1950’s there is strong evidence to suggest that Inuit’s still lived in Greenland, surviving in primitive communities and make shift dwellings.
The Inuit past for Greenland soaks into everything from Fashion to its festivals and architecture. While there are some remains of its Viking history, such as the countries proud proclamation of how Erik the Red first inhabited the island, much of it seems to have been overrun just as the Norse settlers were hundreds of years ago.
While historical documents are inconclusive, evidence suggests that between the years 1100 AD and 1400 AD, the Thule travelled from Serbia through North America and (the first Inuits) raided the Viking settlements wiping them out. The Viking communities who had a long time previously abandoned their savage militaristic ways and converted to Christianity slowly disappeared. However, they have left behind a number of legacies, such as the ruins of a cathedral that can be found at Igaliku, the home of Greenland’s first Bishop in 1124.
Greenland has four different dialects, South, East, Thule and West Greenlandic. West Greenlandic is the official language and dialect of the country, however, children are also required to learn Danish and English.
The language of Greenland is unsurprisingly part of the Eskimo family. A single word in Greenlandic can be used to the same effect as an entire sentence in English. One advantage for English speakers is that Greenlandic has a number of ‘loan words’.
Loan words are used to describe those moments or objects that Greenland previously hadn’t needed. A good example is that hello in Greenlandic is “aluu” and goodbye is “baaj”, it’s thought that these words were introduced to the language during world war two by American soldiers.
Greenland doesn’t currently have any railway systems or inland waterways. It is also lacking in roads but in typical Greenland fashion visitors or expats might find it an exciting novelty to know the main forms of transport consist of dog sleds and boats.
The lack of roads isn’t a reflection on the state of Greenland’s economic state, more over it is due to the vast amounts of ice and harsh terrain that make them too dangerous to invest in. Larger cities such as Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, do have enough infrastructure to offer small taxi and bus services but, this is certainly not on the same scale as Western Europe’s intricate travel systems.
Greenland’s boat and ferry service is otherwise known as water taxis and are very popular. While the routes often shift due to the constantly changing environment Norway’s well known Hurtigruten cruise liner offers services to a number of communities only accessible by sea.
Unsurprisingly to compensate Greenland has a large number of airports and helipads available. While there are a total of 14 different airstrips for planes to land on, the major commercial one used by the majority of passengers is in the capital, Nuuk Airport.
Greenland has a reasonably high standard of healthcare but despite this have had to face numerous challenges. They took over the responsibility of supplying healthcare from Denmark in 1992 and ever since then have been fighting an uphill battle.
Despite the constant evolution and adaptation of the Greenland state to combat numerous problems brought on by the country’s vast landscape, sparse population, shifting economic values and social norms have been difficult to manage.
Greenland currently has a lower life expectancy; higher death rates; higher infant mortality rates and higher unnatural deaths than Denmark and other Nordic countries. However, this is not necessarily a reflection of the Greenland healthcare system, rather it serves to further evidence the dangerous environment that many of its citizens inhabit.
While the Capital Nuuk has both a primary and a secondary health care system, providing a national hospital with a complete range of modern facilities, it is the only area in the country that does. The thinly spread population means that trained medical professionals have to be painfully distributed to cover each of the small areas. The lack of modern transport also makes it harder for patients to transfer between these areas and receive more urgent medical attention.
The majority of villages have a daily health service in which a health worker with some basic medical training is available. The larger the village or settlement, the more likely they are to have better facilities and better trained staff. Expats should certainly take note of this and invest in comprehensive medical insurance. It is also important to be well aware of the different medical facilities available when you travel across Greenland and think about they relate to your own personal needs.
As a way to help combat this problem, the state has implemented a system in which all villages are regularly visited by doctors, midwives and other health care professionals. It should be noted though that this is not a service that is always accessible, more niche medical needs cannot always be met. Therefore, expats who have continuous or serious ongoing medical issues should try to stay near to the capital of Nuuk.
The Danish krone is the official currency of Greenland. Each Krone or kr for short is made up of 100 öre.
While many of the bigger communities and towns have ATM machines and banks that accept foreign currency, not all of them do. Credit and debit cards are also available for use at most locations for services such as restaurants, shops and hotels, however, it’s always a good idea to carry cash when traveling especially at weekends when some ATMs might not function.
The two largest and most prominent banks in Greenland are:
Expats will, however, want to open an account with the Bank of Greenland as it is the only major commercial bank in the country. Bank Nordic is typically only available for financial products, mortgages and insurance services. The Bank of Greenland is most prominent in Nuuk but has various branches distributed all over the country.
The Bank of Greenland has a website available in English and a range of other languages making it easy to open an account prior to arrival. It also makes it easy for expats to discover their individual banking needs.
Always remember to take all available paperwork and documents that might be needed to open a bank account in Greenland. This could include:
Greenland currently has 24 town schools, three secondary/high schools and approximately 65 village schools. These educational establishments consist of around 8,500 students all administered by the Greenlandic state.
Children in Greenland have to attend ten years of compulsory schooling from the age of six to sixteen. After this, they have the opportunity to attend a seminary and the University of Greenland. All of the schools mentioned are free of charge, there is only one private school in the entire country, Nuuk Internationale Friskole.
The aim of the Greenland education process is to train and equip its students with the skills they will need to live an independent life. This method of schooling is known as ‘Good Schooling’ and is a relatively new concept in Greenland.
Greenland also allows for children to be pulled out of school after nine years with their parent’s request however, this is very rare, and the vast majority of students complete the full ten years. This time is split into three-years for primary education, four-years for middle school and then a final three-years for senior school.
Expats should be aware that there are currently no international schools in Greenland, as a result, many people make the decision to send their children to school in nearby countries like Denmark.
As you might expect Greenland’s environment plays a significant role in its culinary choices. The lack of greenery and vegetation means that a large amount of the countries signature dishes revolve around different variations of sea food. Many see this as a positive thing for Greenland’s culinary choices, chefs and cooks are forced to get more inventive with their ingredients resulting in some incredible meals.
Shrimp, halibut, fresh-water fish, whale, Reindeer, cod, mussels and even seal all find themselves on the menu in Greenland. Despite being endangered, polar bears that get marooned on floating ice packs without a food source are also eaten by some of the braver locals.
Seeing as green pastures make up less than 1% of the surface of the island, fruit and vegetables aren’t easy to find. While some relish the challenge, the majority try to avoid farming and as a result Greenland imports a lot of its vegetables with many arriving in tins. This means that it has become an important priority for Greenland citizens to help support the local fruit and vegetable growers by purchasing their stock.
The warming climate has made this easier with a wider variety of vegetables now being able to be grown than in previous years. Potatoes, red and white cabbages, lettuce and cucumbers are all becoming part of the Greenlandic agriculture. This has lead to the Governments creation of Upernaviarsuk experimental farm, created for the purpose of improving the countries agriculture. Here they do everything from testing livestock farming methods to attempting to grow different plants under various conditions.
The freezing cold temperatures do have some advantages though, other than being able to provide a natural refrigerator that keeps meat good for longer, it can also be melted for some of the highest quality drinking water in the world.
The ice caps that have been frozen for thousands of years are particularly pure and as a result, once melted this water is bottled and sold to high class restaurants around the world. But it isn’t just drinking water that it can be used for. This highly pure water is perfect for distilling alcohol.
The combination of high-quality alcohol and cold temperatures mean that the Greenlandic coffee has become one of the countries most popular beverages. A combination of hot coffee, whiskey, Kahlúa, Grand Marnier all set on fire, certainly makes for an impressive drink.
When you first arrive in Greenland it might not strike you as a, particularly dangerous place. In fact, the dazzling views and spectacularly beautiful landscape might even start to persuade you of the contrary. Expats should, however, be aware that Greenland does have a large number of ever-present dangers, getting a guide when you first arrive would certainly be advisable at least until you know your way around.
Your first thoughts might turn to polar bears, whales, foxes or even enraged walrus attacks, but you’d be wrong. The vast majority of wildlife is either safe, or you are just unlikely to encounter it. Polar bears encounters typically occur in the East of Greenland and attacks can normally be avoided by backing away slowly. Its estimated that only 20 people have died to polar bear attacks since 1870.
Exploring or traveling can both be dangerous decisions to make if you haven’t lived in Greenland for long or know the terrain. While dog sledding is an important mode of transport in Greenland it can be fatal for those who fall off in remote areas.
Due to the lack of moisture in the air things that are actually much further away seem close. Expats or tourists have been known to encounter problems after underestimating the amount of time it would take to reach a particular place. This dry atmosphere also means that dehydration can easily become a problem a lot faster than in European countries.
Finally, it’s important to be aware of the Greenlandic suicide rate. Not only is it currently the highest in the world but it was over double the size of second placed country Lithuania. In 2011, based on a per capita basis, 110 people a year were taking their own life per 100,000 citizens, with an overwhelming majority of them being young men. While this is not an imminent danger for expatriates, it is advised that those who have a history of struggling with mental health should confer with an expert or GP prior to making the move.
Whilst no study has provided conclusive evidence, there is reason to believe that the harsh climate is linked to the unusually high suicide numbers.
With its beautiful landscapes amassed over a huge land mass, there are plenty of different sites around Greenland that are worth visiting. Photographers come from all over the world to Greenland to capture its serenity and indigenous wildlife.
Based in the south of the country, Greenland’s capital Nuuk is the largest and most modern settlement the nation has to offer. With a profitable trade business, Nuuk is home to a large variety of businesses despite starting out as a fishing village in its early days.
If you love adventure, this is where you should be heading. Destination arctic Circle is where you will find the only available road to the Ice Cap. This road is actually a dog sledding route that connects the international airport at Kangerlussuaq to Greenland’s second largest town, Sisimiut. Here you can find a range of activities, from dog sledding to hunting and skiing.
With less than 50 permanent residents, Greenlands National Park is the largest in the world and is well worth a visit. With a huge landmass of 972,000 square kilometres, you can rest assured that there are a whole host of artic species living here for you to spot.
Maniitsoq has become known as the Venice of Greenland. Situated in an archipelago and covered in small natural canals it’s easy to see how it has got its name. Here you can find a number of different activities including whale watching and opportunities to take a deeper look at the country’s deeper history.
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