While Nunavut is accessible and very much a part of Canada, there are some unique differences you might want to consider before you embark on your Nunavut journey. It is worthwhile contacting local sources prior to the trip to determine the specific requirements based on season and your itinerary.
In general, the infrastructure in Nunavut is quite good. You will find safe and comfortable (but often not luxurious) hotels. You will have access to healthy food. You will be able to function quite well in English, though a majority of people speak Inuktitut as well, especially in smaller communities. Some planning based on dietary or health requirements is important, as it can be difficult to obtain certain items in some communities.
Internet is widely available in Nunavut but is provided via satellite, so you can expect lower speeds than you may be used to. Your mobile phone will usually work in larger communities – such as Iqaluit. Most hotels will offer Internet service including Wi-Fi.
There are two primary Internet providers in Nunavut: Northwestel and Qiniq. Northwestel is primarily DSL service that is hardwired into a home or business. Qiniq provides wireless access with the purchase of a modem. One Qiniq account will work in all Nunavut communities. Bandwidth can be expensive and the speeds often do not allow for streaming services.
All communities are well served with modern (land line) phone lines. This is provided through Northwestel.
The territorial capital, Iqaluit, has a major hospital and there are established Air Ambulance capacities and protocols to Iqaluit and/or on to large health centres in the closest major Canadian cities - Ottawa, Edmonton or Winnipeg - as needed.
In small communities, health care is usually provided at a Nursing Station. The care that Northern Nurses provide is excellent but you will need to consider your health situation and bring appropriate medications with you.
If your situation cannot be handled locally, there is an excellent Air Ambulance system in Nunavut, which will transport you to either a regional centre or southern hospitals in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife.
If you are a Canadian citizen, you will need to show your Provincial or Territorial Health Care Card. Most services in Nunavut will be covered by your provincial or territorial health plan. You may want to obtain additional health insurance that will cover all of your costs, especially as some costs associated with Air Ambulance may not be covered.
If you are not a Canadian citizen, it is recommended that you explore what your existing health coverage will provide in Nunavut prior to your departure and obtain additional insurance if required.
Weather and Clothing
From May to October, you can expect a fairly wide range of temperatures and will need to plan accordingly. In the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions, you can also encounter temperatures of up to +30C ( 86F). Snow in any month of the year, including the summer, is possible. Most locals will have a range of layers in this season, with a good, windproof outer layer being key. A warm sweater, vest and /or jacket can be worn underneath this layer. Good hiking boots are always a good idea in the summer, even if you are not planning on any activities on the land, as most communities do not have paved roads or sidewalks.
In the summertime, especially in June and July, you would be advised to have a mosquito jacket and gloves.
In winter, Nunavut can be extremely cold. This makes travel in the winter months relatively simple: prepare for temperatures of up to -40C (-40F) with extensive winds. Locally made parkas, snowpants, mitts and hats will provide you with the best protection from the cold. There are several major companies also make appropriate parks and outerwear. Warm boots are vital. If you are on a trip with a local outfitter or guide, they will usually provide you with appropriate clothing and footwear, but confirm this prior to your departure.
Smaller communities have a limited numbers of restaurants. Sometimes, the only restaurant in town will be at your hotel, while some “fast food” is usually available at local grocery stores. These restaurants are known for offering hearty fare, as most often the guests are visiting construction workers or government employees. For example, in many restaurants in Nunavut, providing service to people who are vegetarian or vegan can be a challenge without notice in advance, as food as to be ordered weeks in advance. Savvy Nunavut travellers often arrive with a box of fresh fruits and vegetables.
There are significant cultural sensitivities surrounding alcohol consumption because of prior negative experiences. Communities are grappling with how best to deal with this serious issue, and visitors are asked to respect the methods by which communities have chosen to deal with alcohol.
All communities control access to alcohol. No community at this time sells alcohol of any kind, but it may be available at your restaurant. Many communities prohibit the importation of alcohol.
Some communities require permission from a local Alcohol Committee prior to importing alcohol. For visitors, this means that it is difficult to bring alcohol into these communities. Communities that require permission and have controls over importation of alcohol include:
- Arctic Bay
- Baker Lake
- Cape Dorset
- Chesterfield Inlet
- Clyde River
- Hall Beach
- Pond Inlet
- Whale Cove
Other communities have absolute prohibition related to alcohol. These communities include:
- Coral Harbour
- Gjoa Haven
The remaining communities do not have prohibitions beyond the territorial import requirements.
Iqaluit is the only community in Nunavut that has bars and licenced restaurants. In Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay, there are semi-regular events where alcohol is served.
Money and Banking
The Canadian dollar is the currency of Nunavut. There are banks in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. Most communities have ATMs available in either the local Co-op or Northern Store. Credit cards are widely accepted, as are debit cards. Money can be sent from community to community through the stores. However, please note that it is difficult in most communities to exchange currencies, so it is highly recommended to bring the Canadian cash.
Prices in Nunavut are high. Many remote communities rely on all but perishable goods being shipped in by sealift. The shipping season for sealift is very short. Delivery by airplane raises the costs significantly. You can plan for most items being twice as expensive as Southern Canada or the United States, and in many cases more.
The Government of Nunavut contracts the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to provide policing services in the territory. There is an RCMP detachment in each Nunavut community. For emergencies, there is no 911 service, but you can call an RCMP dispatch service that is available 24/7. This can be reached by calling 1-867 (local prefix)-1111.
Permits and Access
If you are planning an extended trip on the land, you are required to check in with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police prior to departure with a detailed itinerary. This is for your safety and to allow for a search operation to take place if you are overdue. Once you return from your trip, you will also be required to notify the RCMP.
If you are on a trip with a guide or outfitter, they will usually look after the permits and registrations necessary. This must be confirmed prior to your departure.
Unless you are very experienced in Arctic or remote camping, it is highly recommended that trips into the wilderness only be done with consultations with local outfitters. Regionally specific information and advice can also be gained from the many visitors’ centres in Nunavut. Discussing your plan with a visitor’s centre will give you helpful local knowledge and advice.
Careful attention always needs to be paid to litter, as it may attract wildlife such as Polar Bears, Grizzly Bears or Wolves. If you are not in a campsite where garbage disposal is provided, you should pack your garbage and bring it back to the community. This will help keep the land pristine and you and your party safe.
Access to Inuit Owned Lands and National Parks
Permissions may be required prior to entering Inuit Owned Lands in Nunavut. There is a significant amount of land that is Inuit owned, and there are very few markers. You can contact the appropriate Regional Inuit Association if you have questions about access or permissions. Your guide will ensure that these permissions are received prior to your trip if you are on an organized adventure.
- Qikiqtani (Baffin) Region: www.qia.ca
- Kivalliq Region: www.kivalliqinuit.ca
- Kitikmeot Region: www.kitia.ca
Prior to entering National Parks, you will be required to check in with appropriate park authorities that can be found in adjacent communities. For further questions about National Parks in Nunavut, you can contact Parks Canada in Iqaluit, through their website at http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/voyage-travel/promotion/nunavut.aspx
One of the biggest attractions that Nunavut offers is the ready access to wildlife. This provides you with amazing opportunities to view wildlife but this also requires caution and care. Polar Bears and Grizzlies will be attracted to garbage so a clean campsite is a must. Wildlife viewing is always best with a local guide. At the very least, it is highly recommended that you speak with local guides or visitor’s centres about the specific wildlife risks, and risk mitigation prior to a trip out on the land.
Wildlife Export Permits
Many visitors would like to bring back some of the delicious wild Nunavut food that can be found in our communities, or souvenirs that are related to wildlife. If you are bringing back local meat, untanned furs, hides, skins or bones you will need to obtain an export permit. This can be obtained at local wildlife offices that are in most communities, free of charge.
It is also good to be mindful that many of the beautiful pieces of Nunavut art are made from species such as marine mammals, that may be subject to regulations in your home country. Some countries have severe restrictions on the import of walrus ivory and sealskins, including the USA.
Search and Rescue
It is important to remember that if you are on the land, there are considerations for Search and Rescue to take into account. While most communities have local volunteer search and rescue groups who are qualified and experienced, there are no Military Search and Rescue bases in Nunavut. This means that even if you were to call in for help, aircraft are often six to twelve hours away, leading to periods of up to 24 hours before you can be transported to a hospital of health centre. You will need to be self sufficient and prepared to handle most emergency situations.
Customs and Passports
Canadian citizens can travel within Canada without a passport as long as they have with them the valid photo identification required by the airline that they are travelling with.
US Visitors to Nunavut
All US citizens travelling by air between the United States and Canada are required to present a valid passport according to an American law, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Please visit the US Department of State or the Canadian Border Services Agency for more information.
All Other Visitors
Citizens of other countries, except Greenland and residents of St-Pierre and Miquelon, must have a valid passport. Visitors from some countries also require a visitor’s visa. Visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for a complete list of countries whose citizens require a visa to enter Canada.