Greenland (Greenlandic: Kalaallit Nunaat; Danish: Grønland) is the world's largest non-continental island, in the far northeast of North America, largely within the Arctic. Although it is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it was granted self-government effective in 1979, more recently it voted for more autonomy, in effect making it a separate country with formal ties to Denmark. Some inhabitants are now projecting the eventual road to full independence. Copenhagen remains responsible for its foreign affairs and, of course, is a source of investment.
Although some maps with flat projections of the globe tend to make Greenland look the size of Africa, it is actually "only" about the size of Mexico. Greenland has the world's lowest population density.
It represents some 97% of the area of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Danish territorial claim is rooted in the 10th-century explorations of the Vikings, though administrative power has changed hands several times over the centuries due to developments in Europe. The native Greenlanders, or Kalaallit, are Inuit descendants of nomads from northern Canada. ("Eskimo" is offensive in Canada, Greenland, and in USA.)
According to the Icelandic Sagas, Erik the Red chose the name "Greenland" to entice settlers from Iceland. In fact, Greenland has far more ice cover (about 84% of its surface area) than Iceland does, but the southern coasts the Vikings settled are green in summer, and were likely more so during the Medieval Warm Period.
Be careful with maps of Greenland, as many Greenlandic names simply reference a particular geographical feature. For example, "Kangerlussuaq" means "Big Fjord" and so is not only the Greenlandic name for Søndre Strømfjord.
When visiting a city or village don't be afraid to ask for directions of shops, places to eat or somewhere to sleep, even if you think there might not be any. Most places (even Nuuk) are small enough for everyone to know where everything is, and therefore no one bothered to put up a sign. Don't be surprised to find a fully equipped supermarket inside a grey factory-like building in the middle of nowhere.
Greenlandic places generally have two names: the (traditional and now official) Greenlandic, or Kalaallisut, and the (once but no longer official) Danish. Greenlandic is abbreviated 'kl;' Danish is 'da.'
Passports and Visas
Although Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, due to its near-independent autonomy it is not a member of the European Union, European Economic Area or Schengen Area. As such, with a couple of exceptions, immigration restrictions are applied to all non-Nordic (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic) nationals, including citizens of other EU member states.
Almost all visitors need a passport to enter. National identity cards are accepted for Nordic citizens, and de facto for other EU/EEA citizens (no border control takes place in Greenland, and Air Greenland and Air Iceland accept all EU/EEA ID cards) The following persons have unlimited access to Greenland and do not require a visa for any length of stay:
The following groups of persons can visit Greenland for up to 90 days in a half year without a visa or any additional permissions:
All others will require a visa. Keep in mind that Schengen area visas issued for visits to mainland Denmark are not valid for Greenland or the Faroe Islands. You will need a separate visa, which can be applied for at any Danish diplomatic post or embassy along with your Schengen visa for Denmark or Iceland if you are transiting through one of those countries. If you are flying through Nunavut, you would need a Canadian temporary resident or transit visa.
Employees and students
If you're planning work or study in Greenland, you'll need an appropriate permit, although some types of work (teaching, consulting, artists, installation technicians, and a few others) as well as short term research are exempt from needing a work/ study permit if the time spent in Greenland is less than 90 days. For more information see .
Border formalities in Greenland are minimal - unless there's a serious issue you won't even see an immigration officer on arrival or have your passport stamped. Customs screenings are usually "behind the scenes", so if you have anything to declare or need your passport stamped (eg for a residence permit) you will likely need to seek out border staff yourself.
If you stay on the typical tourist paths you do not need any permissions, but any expeditions (including any trips to the national park, which by definition are expeditions) need a special permit from the Danish polar centre. If travelling with an agency they will usually take care of the paperwork for you. If you are entering or travelling through Thule Air Base, you also need a permission from the Danish department of foreign affairs, since it is a US military area (except for children under 15, Danish police and military, US military or US diplomats). See Qaanaaq for details.
Trans-oceanic service to Greenland either lands at Kangerlussuaq (IATA: SFJ) (Danish: Søndre Strømfjord, English: Sondrestrom), or Narsarsuaq (IATA: UAK) the only airports in the country which can accept anything larger than a turboprop. The capital Nuuk (IATA: GOH) is also seeing an increasing amount of international traffic from Iceland and Canada in the summer.
SAS ceased its operations to Greenland in 2009 and Atlantic Airways sometime before that. Except on the Reykjavik-Nuuk route, where there is some competition, getting to Greenland is expensive, although sometimes travel agents are able to get discounts through agreements with Greenland Tourism.
Two airlines currently provide scheduled service to the country:
There are also numerous charter outfits serving Greenland from Europe and North America, and frequently if you're on a package tour to Greenland from North America a chartered flight is included. Scientific and technical personnel travelling from North America for research purposes typically fly into Kangerlussuaq aboard New York Air National Guard C-130s.
Greenland's airports are very private aviation friendly if the weather is right, the name of Greenland's airport service is Mittarfeqarfiit.
Realistically, there is no ferry service from Europe or North America.
There are cruise ships from both continents that visit Greenland:
There is no road or rail system. The easiest way to get around Greenland is by plane, particularly Air Greenland. In the summer, Arctic Umiaq Line passenger ships provide service to destinations between Narsarsuaq and Uummannaq along the west coast.
The official language - Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) - is actually that of the more populated western coast. The eastern dialect is slightly different. Both are highly challenging languages to learn, as words are very long and often feature "swallowed" consonants. Try uteqqipugut or Ittoqqortoormiit on for size.
The good news is that almost all Greenlanders are bilingual Danish speakers, and many will even have a functional command of English. Greenlandic words may come in handy for travellers wanting to experience the "real Greenland", though.
Greenlandic is different enough from Inuktitut, the language of the Canadian Inuit who share similar historical roots to the Greenlanders, that the two peoples have difficulty understanding each other. However, attempts are being made to unify the Inuit language, and Greenlandic - with its existing libraries of translated Shakespeare and Pushkin - seems like the most natural option.
Like the rest of the Kingdom of Denmark, the official currency is the Danish krone (DKK). In tourist heavy areas, other currencies such as Icelandic króna, euros, pounds sterling and US dollars may also be accepted (but always ask first).
Greenland is still largely a cash economy. With improvements to the infrastructure over the past few decades, the number of merchants accepting credit or debit cards are steadily growing, although many still do not. As a general rule, unless you're dealing with hotels or mainland chains with a presence on the island (e.g. supermarkets), don't automatically expect that credit cards are accepted - carry some cash as a backup. Every settlement has at least one ATM and if all else fails banks may be able to give you a cash advance from your credit card.
Tourists to Greenland sometimes buy:
These are the names to look for, if you need to buy groceries:
Food in Greenland is generally not that different from American or continental European tastes. Restaurants carry typical European fare. Local food can be purchased at local markets in each town. Many Greenlandic restaurants combine traditional foods (locally-caught fish, shrimp and whales; also muskox and reindeer) with more familiar dishes. Expect to find whale meat at a Thai restaurant and caribou in a Chinese joint. Nuuk also has several burger bars and a couple of very high-end restaurants, most notably Nipisa, which specializes in (very expensive) local delicacies. Prices are high everywhere, but servings are generally large, especially with fries.
A local speciality is Greenlandic coffee. Its creation in some places is pure performance and it hits hard: its coffee laced with liberal amounts of kahlua, whisky and Grand Marnier. One of the best places to buy is at the Sukhumvit Thai Restaurant, for about CAD22.
Accommodation in Greenland tend to be pricey. World class hotels exist in all of the more visited areas (Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk, Hotel Arctic - with its igloo rooms - and Hotel Hvide Falke in Ilulissat), but cheaper options exist. Try for the Seaman's Home hotel in Maniitsoq, Nuuk, Qaqortoq, Sisimiut and Aasiaat.
For less expensive options, you can check with the Nuuk Tourism office for its hostel program, where locals have rooms they will rent out for a third the price of the town's hotels. It's a great way to experience the real Greenland, although knowing a few words of Danish or Greenlandic is very helpful as your hosts may or may not understand English. Additionally, since there is no private property ownership in Greenland you can also camp in any field or plain for free if you're equipped to handle the elements.
Skilled workers (K-12 teachers and doctors in particular) are always needed, knowledge of Danish or Greenlandic (preferably both) are necessary, although the University of Greenland in Nuuk does offer some programs in English. Foreigners, including most EU/EEA nationals (Greenland is not part of the EU/EEA) require a work permit in advance, which needs to be vetted and approved both by the Danish immigration authorities and the Government of Greenland. Danish citizens and other nationals of the Nordic Passport Area (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland) are exempt. Certain types of short-term work (teaching, performing, installation technicians, construction, among others) for less than 90 days does not require a work permit, nor does short-term research. See
If you have residency (permanent or temporary) in Denmark, you do not have any automatic immigration privileges in Greenland, although you can visit for up to 90 days without a visa even if you are a citizen of a country that would normally require one. Keep in mind that under Danish immigration law, time spent in Greenland is considered time outside of Denmark for residence permit purposes, and a long visit or work assignment in Greenland (eg 6 months or more) could cause your permit to lapse. Contact the immigration department if this may apply to you. (Note that for purposes of applying for Danish citizenship, time spent in Greenland fully counts as it is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.)
Crime, and ill-will toward foreigners in general, is virtually unknown in Greenland. Even in the towns, there are no "rough areas." So long as the visitor uses basic common sense and etiquette, he or she should be fine.
See also travelling in cold weather.
During the northern summer, the days in Greenland are very long. Always make sure that you get as much sleep as you're used to, as sleep deprivation can lead to all manner of health problems.
During the summer, also watch out for the Nordic mosquitoes. Although they are not dangerous as they do not transmit any diseases, they can be irritating.
Tele Greenland is the only telephone and internet provider. Mobile phones have coverage in all larger villages, including 3G internet access. Note that roaming charges are international (as Greenland is outside the EU), and much higher than someone from EU would pay inside EU.
Thanks to undersea fibre optic cable links to Europe and broadband satellite, Greenland is well connected with 93% of the population having internet access. Your hotel or hosts (if staying in a guesthouse or private home) will likely have Wi-Fi or an internet connected PC, and all settlements have an internet cafe or some location with public Wi-Fi. Ask around if you need help finding it.
The word "Eskimo" is considered pejorative by many Arctic peoples, especially in Canada. While you may hear the word used by Greenland natives, its use should be avoided by foreigners. Use the correct term "Inuit" and when specifically referring to people in Greenland, Kalaaleq, "a Greenlander."