Why you might want to live in Shetland

A vibrant community in a pristine, thrillingly natural environment. A thriving economy. Great educational, cultural and leisure facilities. Space to live and breathe with your family among friendly, welcoming folk.

Would you like to join us in Shetland?

Many people from every background have settled happily in Shetland, some attracted by the islands’ exceptional scenery and wildlife, and safe environment. Others came because taking a job here for two or three years was a logical career move. And 10, 20, 40 years later, they’re still here, having found a settled home in what can be a truly magical place, as members of a real, supportive community.

Like the idea? The decision to relocate is one of the biggest of life’s choices and you’ll want to ask many questions. On this page, we’ve tried to answer some of them and offer a broad view of the pros and cons of joining us in Shetland. There’s more detailed information elsewhere on the website.

If you think Shetland might be the place for you, we recommend that you try to visit before you make the move. If you're considering moving to take up a new job your prospective employer may be able to help you identify places to visit and people to speak to to help make the move as smooth as possible.

If you do decide to join us, we'll be genuinely delighted to meet you and share Shetland.

It is the most wonderful place on earth and if I could, I would move there in a heartbeat :-)

Why might I want to move to Shetland?

What’s the appeal? Firstly, there’s the opportunity to live and work in extraordinary surroundings. We have impressive landscapes, wildlife, light and weather, right on the doorstep. If you’re interested in natural history, this is one of the best places to live in northern Europe. There’s a fascinating human heritage to explore, whether your interests lie in archaeology, history or folklore. If you’re creatively inclined, you’ll find yourself in the good company of artists, writers, poets, photographers, musicians, architects, textile designers and a whole range of craftspeople.

Then there’s the strength and warmth of the community. Shetland has been welcoming people for centuries and may feel much more cosmopolitan than you imagined. We might be a little more reserved than you’re used to, but we’re not known for being narrow-minded. While we don’t claim to be free of social problems – and despite Ann Cleeves’ murder mysteries and the TV series based on them – this is a place where a damaged wing mirror will be reported on local radio and the police occasionally have to remind people going on holiday that they really ought to lock their houses. It has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

We’d greatly value whatever contribution you can make to building an island life that’s even more vibrant, creative, caring and prosperous.

What sorts of services can I expect?

Our public services are of a high standard. If you have children, they’ll receive excellent education in some of the best-equipped, state-of-the-art schools you’ll find anywhere, including our brand new Anderson High School in Lerwick. Our local NHS reaches every corner of the islands. We have excellent roads and convenient internal ferries and bus services.

We’re sometimes asked if we have television, broadband and cinemas. Yes, we do, and ‘superfast’ broadband is available in much of the isles, with good connections nearly everywhere capable of handling Netflix and other online streaming services. Our network of 4G mobile phone coverage is improving all the time across the range of providers. All the usual broadcast channels are available from either terrestrial or satellite transmissions. You can watch current releases and classic films in our stunning waterfront arts centre, Mareel, with far better seats and sightlines than in many UK mainland cinemas. And Mareel offers regular musical performances by international acts.

Our other sport and leisure facilities are just as remarkable: we have eight, yes eight, modern swimming pools – for just 23,000 people – and every sort of sports and exercise facility. There are enthusiastic leagues in many team sports at all levels.

We don’t have vast shopping malls – just one small one – However, our local shops do offer a surprising variety of goods and, if you can’t find what you want locally, you can very easily buy online from major stores. Food shopping is a pleasure: we have local bakers, butchers, grocers and fishmongers as well as three supermarkets - two in Lerwick and one in Brae.

I was impressed by the welcome and friendliness of people and their desire that we should enjoy our stay. If I didn't live in Cumbria I would probably move to Shetland!

Isn’t it a bit more expensive to live in Shetland?

It can be, but comparisons aren’t always straightforward, because your new lifestyle in Shetland may be very different from what you’re used to.

Take travel: if you wanted to make frequent visits to friends and relatives on the UK mainland, the fares would certainly mount up; but if you’re currently spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on an annual season ticket for commuting, that saving needs to be factored in. Local residents do benefit from substantial discounts on air and ferry services. If you’re driving, petrol and diesel fuel are a little more expensive than the cheapest city or supermarket prices, typically by around 3p to 7p per litre, but they’re comparable with most other rural areas.

Or consider housing: our northern latitude means that heating costs are likely to be higher, but most other costs, including purchase price, home insurance and council tax, are lower than in many areas, especially if you’re moving from, say, Edinburgh or London and the south-east. And many of our modern houses are built to Scandinavian standards of insulation and feature incredibly efficient heating systems.

Food prices in Shetland’s remoter rural shops can be higher, but Tesco in Lerwick or the Co-ops in Brae and Lerwick charge much the same as similar supermarkets elsewhere. If you’ve tended to shop in, say, Aldi or Lidl, which don’t yet have branches in Shetland, you’d probably notice a difference. Some things – fish and meat, especially – may well be cheaper than elsewhere. Those first-class cinema, performance and sports facilities are very affordable, too.

Could I cope with the weather – and will I be cut off?

We’re in the path of Atlantic storms and they can be truly spectacular; we also have magical summer days (and even the odd winter day) when the sea’s like a mirror. But this is Britain, and the very north of Britain at that, so the weather can occasionally be extreme. That said, if you take the view that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, you’ll be absolutely fine! And many absolutely love the excitement of a flying gale, the socialising so common in our dark winters, the challenge of weather which is never boring.

You will notice the stronger winds and, for some of the time, lower temperatures. There’s usually at least a light breeze and wind speeds of 60-70 miles an hour are not uncommon during winter gales. A few times each winter, we may experience gusts of 100mph or more, though the drama is usually short-lived. The sight of huge waves crashing on cliffs, spray rising a hundred feet in the air and the taste of salt on your lips – even when you’re well inland – are part of the Shetland winter experience.

Winter temperatures, on the other hand, may be milder than you’re used to. Frost is much less common than farther south and heavy snow is rare. Annual rainfall is around 1220mm, not very different from much of western Britain; sunshine averages 1036 hours. In July and August, temperatures average between 14°C and 18°C, but on some days, or in sheltered spots, it may climb into the low to mid 20s. Sea fog can drift in after a spell of warm weather but it’s often confined to the windward side of the islands.

The worst winter gales can result in ferry delays or, less commonly, cancellations. Summer fog can interfere with flights, but it’s often possible to transfer from, say, a cancelled flight to the ferry. It’s very rare for the islands to be completely cut off; and if it did happen, it would probably be for just a few hours at the height of a storm.

What about language? Gaelic, as spoken in parts of the Western Isles and West Highlands of Scotland, has never been part of Shetland culture. A few people who’ve moved here from other parts of Scotland can speak it, but you’re much more likely to hear Polish or Urdu. Shetland does have its own dialect, though: it’s a blend of Old Scots and Old Norse; words like peerie (small) are used all the time.

Is the nearest railway station really in Bergen, Norway? It’s a lovely idea, but a modern myth. Our nearest stations are at Thurso and Wick in northern Scotland. However, Bergen isn’t that much farther away if you’re in the north of Shetland and it does have our nearest full branch of IKEA – the next closest (at the moment) is in Edinburgh, though there’s a small delivery branch in Aberdeen.

Are there really no trees? It can seem like that, especially if you arrive at Sumburgh Airport and drive north. But there are respectable numbers of trees in places such as Lerwick, Scalloway and Voe, plus several plantations in Weisdale and a few elsewhere. Shetland’s once-widespread cover of hazel, downy birch, aspen and willow disappeared because of grazing sheep and not, as is often assumed, the wind. The increased number of trees and shrubs is actually one of the most notable changes in Shetland over the past thirty years.

Can you really play golf at midnight in summer? Yes. With the sun above the horizon for nearly 19 hours in June, our light midsummer nights are one of the islands’ most appealing features. It doesn’t get completely dark between mid-May and early August. Instead, we have a kind of unfinished northern sunset, producing the twilight that we call the ‘simmer dim’.

What about those dark winters? At our latitude, the days are particularly short in December and January, with the sun very low in the sky and appearing for less than six hours around the winter solstice. But, to compensate, we quite often have the thrill of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Most people would probably say that the amazing summer nights more than make up for slightly longer winter ones. And of course, there are the famous Up Helly Aa fire festivals and many other social events to ‘lighten the year’ - one of the meanings of ‘Up Helly Aa’.

Come and see for yourself.

You’re always welcome.

Shetland is heaven on earth and one day not to far away I would love to move there to live and work.
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