Svalbard & Jan Mayen

Svalbard & Jan Mayen

Use Normal Level of Caution

Svalbard and Jan Mayen are islands located in the Arctic Ocean, north of Norway. Svalbard is an island archipelago composed of 9 main islands, while Jan Mayen is a volcanic island. Many legends and theories exist as to who discovered the islands of Svalbard and Jan Mayen and as to when they were discovered. Svalbard is believed to have been discovered in the 12th century by Norse explorers; and in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was used as a whaling base. Svalbard was also used for coal mining in the 20th century, and a small coal mining industry continues to this day. The first verified discovery of Jan Mayen was in 1614 by Dutch whalers; and from 1615-1638, it was used as a Dutch whaling base. In 1920, Norway was given administration of Svalbard by the United Nations. In 1930, Jan Mayen became part of the Kingdom of Norway.

Although both Svalbard and Jan Mayen belong to the Kingdom of Norway, they are under separate administrative jurisdictions. Svalbard is a non-self governing territory of Norway, administered by the Polar Department of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice. The chief of state is the King of Norway while the head of government is a governor who lives on the island of Spitsbergen. In contrast, Jan Mayen is administered by the governor of the county of Nordland on mainland Norway, the county closest to Jan Mayen.

The population of Svalbard was estimated to be approximately 2,500 people in 2017. The inhabitants are largely of Norwegian descent and are those who live and work on the islands as researchers, miners or meteorologists, primarily. The island of Jan Mayen is uninhabited and only those working at the Norwegian meteorological station, radio communications station or are part of the Norwegian military spend short stays on the island.

Due to their location, both Svalbard and Jan Mayen have arctic climates and ecosystems. Winters are cold, summers are cool and there is a relatively small temperature difference between seasons. The islands also experience high winds. As a result of the islands’ latitudes, in the summer the sun does not set for 4 months and in the winter, the islands experience complete darkness for several months. To protect the delicate and unique arctic ecosystem, there are several national parks on Svalbard and Jan Mayen is designated as a nature reserve. Jan Mayen and Svalbard are important breeding grounds for many species of sea birds.

Today the important industries of Svalbard include coal mining, research and tourism. The tourism industry has developed around giving people the ‘Arctic experience’: the untouched glaciers, the rugged mountains and the sighting of polar bears, among other arctic animals. It has also recently become a docking location for cruise ships.

Currency NOK: Norwegian krone
Language Norwegian
Capital Longyearbyen
Recent Alerts None
Latest Alert Not Available

Diseases To Be Aware Of

The diseases listed below are those which occur most often in Svalbard & Jan Mayen. Other, less frequently encountered diseases might be displayed within the Travel Alerts section if they have occurred recently.


Rabies has only been reported in wild animals on these islands, therefore, most travellers are considered to be at low risk for rabies. Bats may also carry rabies-like viruses in this country.

Vaccinations to Consider

The following is a list of recommended vaccinations for travelling to Svalbard & Jan Mayen.

Rabies Vaccine

Vaccination against rabies is recommended for travellers involved in outdoor activities (e.g., adventure travellers, and cavers) who may have direct contact with rabid dogs, bats, and other mammals. Those with occupational risks (such as veterinarians, wildlife professionals, researchers) and long-term travellers and expatriates are at higher risk and should be vaccinated.

Medications to Consider

The following is a list of recommended medications for travelling to Svalbard & Jan Mayen.

None required.

Safety and Security in Svalbard & Jan Mayen

Emergency Numbers


Personal Safety

It is strongly advised to only travel to Svalbard as part of a scientific research expedition or with a reliable tour group. Travellers should note that there is no commercial air travel to Jan Mayen, and there are strict regulations to stay on the island.

Svalbard and Jan Mayen are extreme environments. Always prepare for poor weather and be aware that travel may be delayed or cancelled because of rapidly changing weather conditions. Always wear proper clothing and footwear for the harsh outdoor conditions. Always keep your valuables in a sealable, dry bag. Come prepared with the equipment and clothing you will need to be self-sufficient during your visit.
Do not interfere with wildlife, vegetation or research while visiting Svalbard. Keep at a safe distance from wildlife and do not attempt to approach or feed them. Be cautious of polar bears. If travelling outside the main villages, it is strongly advised to carry a rifle (which you can rent) with you to protect yourself. Walk only on designated tracks to reduce vegetation damage. Do not interfere with scientific research. Leave no trace of your visit.

If planning on taking a longer excursion outside the main villages, you must register your travel plans with the governor.

Ensure travel insurance is purchased before departing as there are no emergency medical facilities on the continent. In the case of a medical emergency, evacuation will likely be required.

There are strict traffic restrictions on the Svalbard islands. Motorized vehicles on bare ground will damage the ground cover and are therefore prohibited. Although snowmobiles are the main form of transportation outside the villages because roads are unpaved and covered by glaciers and snow, snowmobile use is restricted in some areas. Traffic is heavily regulated in the bird sanctuaries and other protected areas.

As in Norway, same-sex sexual activity and same-sex marriage are both legal, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. Norway is a world leader in LGBTI rights.

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