On Rainbows and Relocating to Greenland

For those looking for new opportunities in job and life, is Greenland the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

The first time I flew to Greenland, I read a (business) magazine which made it sound like Greenland was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You just had to get to the other side to hit it rich; or dig deep enough, to put it in a mineral context.

‘The country’s hot now because the Arctic is one of the last unexploited regions in the world, so why not try to strike it rich here?’, I read between the lines of this magazine.

It makes sense then that businesses and individuals are asking about business and professional opportunities in Greenland.

Job Opportunities

You may be surprised to know that random people have written to ask how easy it would be to move to Greenland, or how difficult it would be to find a job here. I admit that I didn’t think too hard about the decision since J got a job. I did as much prepatory research as I could though. It was hard trying to find information about the job market or the expat community; the one ‘job help website’ I did find initially gave me high hopes but quickly let me down and disappointed.

To the people who asked, my standard reply was that I could not give a simple yes or no answer, because I didn’t know the person or their situation. ‘Success’ really depended on a number of factors, including the individual.

BUT….(and now I jump to the pretending I know something bit)…this is the jist of what I said…

If there is a need for your specific profession (e.g. doctors, nurses, economists, lawyers, skilled labour workers, etc), then yes, it’s highly possible. Setting immigration and language issues aside, of course. It’s linguistically and legally easier for Scandinavians because of Greenland’s Nordic ties, but it’s not completely impossible for the non-Scandinavian speaking citizens of the world. In some jobs it’s possible to work in English (luckily).

While the country has many opportunities, your skills need to be required or you just have to be very good at your job.

On the personal level, you should consider how you deal with living in a small society, a fishbowl lifestyle in a place where nature rules. Even in big cities, sometimes people live in fish bowls…

One of the first things a friend of ours told us was that educated people have a good shot at creating an opportunity or name for themselves.

Greenland can be very quick to adapt a job opportunity to a person. There is much need for educated people here, that sometimes people even create jobs for you. For example, an architect (or something similar) moved to one of the smaller cities in Greenland. The kommune had no position available but they saw that they could use him, so they created one for him, easy as that.

In that sense Greenland can be agile and responsive. However, I also know of an incredibly talented person who found it hard to be recognised and get paid for the quality work that was delivered.

Getting a Residence Permit

The first thing that non-Nordic citizens have to deal with is residency. This is probably the hardest step. If you are a Nordic citizen, you’ve got it easy and can just move here no problem. The Greenlandic immigration system is a huge mammoth with seemingly fragile frameworks, rules, or service timelines. It is actually under the Danish jurisdiction, but somewhere along the lines the Danish and the Greenlandic systems have to communicate and something gets lost in transition.

I hear that things are slowly improving, though. For example, I think they have now implemented a service timeline for when you would receive a response when submitting an application for residency. It’s three months for people who have applied for a residence visa. When I applied just last year, there was no service goal. I don’t want to think about those who applied a decade ago!

I’ve never heard of anyone who has just moved to Greenland in the hope of finding a job; but many come as partners of people who have accepted a job. Others come as semester exchange students, others come because they have family here (note the Filipinos and Thais).

TIP: For those who are looking to move here for a job, being a student or family reunification you should check nyidanmark.dk. If you or your spouse are looking to come on the basis of family reunification and one of you is a Danish citizen, you need to be able to document that you’ve lived together for a decent period of time.

Moving without a Job

If you have moved here without a job, it may take time, but that’s normal anywhere. Time to create your network, time to become familiar with the job market, time to see where you can adapt your skills to what is needed here. Coming from a big city, I was so surprised at how easily accessible people are, and how much time individuals have for you. The awesome and scary thing about this town is that it’s so small that you will eventually meet everyone.

So really, think about life as your network.

I would suggest that you just try to make as many friends as possible. Join events that you’re interested in, join activity clubs, create a project, try to have coffee with people who you think have similar interests to you and could be fun to hang out with. When I look back now to what I did in my first month here, I’m glad I was brave enough to try things, and also that some lovely friends took me under their wing. I also need to keep that spirit up.

TIP: The main job website is job.sermitsiaq.ag/. Greenlanders also use LinkedIn and for the white-collar professions it’s a good place to do some homework.

TIP: Here are some tips for moving to a new place.

Some Practical Challenges

Housing

There are also many structural challenges of moving to Greenland and getting a job. For one, it is pretty difficult to find housing in the private market. Not impossible, but the system now means that most companies offer housing when they recruit new employees. It is a way which makes a job more lucrative, or another job less desirable. It is an understatement to say that the housing system in Greenland is rigid and inflexible. It may even make you stay at your current job for longer, because moving jobs may also mean losing your accommodation.

Finances and Isolation

Moving to Greenland can also be financially challenging compared to other places because of its high prices. It’s all relative though. It can be isolating because it separates you physically from other countries, and it’s not that cheap to fly in and out.

Language

In Greenland, people speak Greenlandic and/or Danish. Almost anyone who is not Greenlandic will probably end up in a social situation where you don’t understand everything. When I was living in Denmark (just for one year) I sometimes got so bored and uncomfortable at parties because I was the only non-Dane there. If you move to Greenland, you’ll just have to get used to it if you can’t speak either.

TIP: Luckily there are a few places that teach Danish and Greenlandic now – Bente Meilvang and Per Langgård and the language school in Sisimiut.

Just Do It!

Well, there are many other things to consider but that’s all for now. I should note that there are many people who have taken the plunge to move here (albeit it’s usually with a job or a partner with a job) and it’s been a piece of cake. There’s much love in Greenland once you’re ‘in a circle’. When you have a little network, word can also get around and chances which you would not have dreamed of before will drop in your lap. From what I’ve been told, Greenland can be an amazing place for people who show initiative and have energy – so maybe there is that pot of gold!

POSTSCRIPT: I have thought long and hard about these topics above, because I am still dealing with some of these issues in my everyday life. So please note, these are only my reflections of living in Greenland, and someone else may have had a completely different experience. You should not use this as professional advice – get a lawyer…

If you have any tips, opinions, or questions, or if you think what I say is completely bollocks, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

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