In 2016, 11000 people from around the world decided to make the move to Iceland. Learn about the immigration process, cultural habits, the benefits and the challenges that come with global relocation in this comprehensive guide on how to move to Iceland.
It should come as no surprise that Iceland is often pegged as one of the planet's most desirable places to live. Nature here is majestic, dramatic and sublime, a plethora of untouched wilderness and geological marvel.
The locals are friendly, welcoming and open, speak fluent English and, seemingly, enjoy the company of their foreign guests, however long their stay. On top of that, Reykjavík as a capital city is quintessential and charming, a bustling urban centre that easily maintains its small town feel, gentle pace of life and devotion toward social progress and culture.
And the cherry on the cake? Since the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland’s economy has not only repaired itself but boomed in a way that no one expected. Unlike the rest of the world, Iceland went against expectations and chose to let its three largest banks - and the bankers that came with them - fail and be jailed, instead choosing to impose strict capital controls, austerity measures and financial reforms.
Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city! Mount Esja stands proudly in the background.
This dire economic situation actually allowed for Iceland's financial sector to start anew, laying the groundwork for a national economy that not only saved the country but thrust it into a bright and prosperous future.
And what does this future look like? Well, every year, more and more visitors are arriving to see it for themselves; the small island nation making a big international impression.
With that being said, it is clear that nearly ten years on from the financial crisis, Iceland has become a European hub for culture, travel and adventure. With such an enormous influx of visitors, it seems only natural that many are so taken with the country that they consider moving here themselves.
Having moved to Reykjavík from the United Kingdom myself, I can state confidently a year on that I have no regrets about the decision. Personally, I have found life in Iceland to be open, accepting and varied, playing out at a gentler pace that leaves more room for reflection, observance and self-development.
I also find the island's small population - approx. 333,000 people - a surprising bonus; Iceland's fairly diminutive size acts as a foundation for community living, naturally enforcing fairness and acceptance with those around you.
That’s not to say living here doesn’t come with its own difficulties; for one, I find a fish-heavy diet a little unappealing, the brand choice often unsatisfactory and the winter months to be long, cold and dark (I'm speaking psychologically here).
For the most part, however, the good heavily outweighs the bad, and day by day Iceland and Reykjavík feel more like home.
For anyone interested in making the leap themselves, I have attempted to compile the most accessible and comprehensive guide to moving and living in Iceland available, including aspects of life here that are less widely regarded by other such expatriate guides.
So it's time to pack your suitcase; a whole new world and a whole new life awaits!
First Steps: Work and Residency Permits
EU & EEA Countries. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Júlio Reis
So you've decided to make the jump, now it's time to see how the immigration process begins.
The above map shows countries that belong to the European Union (in blue) and those that belong to the European Economic Area (in green). Whether or not your home country belongs to one of these institutions is a highly important factor when it comes to moving to Iceland.
Thankfully, EU, EEA or EFTA (European Free Trade Association) citizens who intend to live and work in Iceland can enter the country without requiring special permits, and can work in the country legally for up to three months before needing to register legal domicile - the perfect excuse to have an extended trip beforehand, if only to scope the place out! For those people seeking employment after they arrive, this initial stay can be extended to six months.
After a period of three working months, however, one must apply for a tax card. Those intending on long-term residency in Iceland are required to complete the form ‘Registration of an EEA or EFTA foreign national.’ This form serves as both an application for an ID number and to register legal domicile in the country.
For those who are unable to provide the appropriate certificates, help can be directly sought from EURES (European Job Mobility Portal) or Multicultural and Information Centre. One registers legal domicile with the National Registry and must be able to demonstrate as part of their application that they can support themselves financially.
Icelandair Boeing 757-200. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Milan Nykodym
If a non-EEA or EFTA citizen wishes to apply for long-term residency in Iceland, the process is notoriously more difficult, but not impossible. There are three main lifelines:
First, said citizen could marry an Icelandic person, therefore securing the right to live on their spouse's home turf. Granted, this option does require a fairly pragmatic view on love, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility.
Second, it is possible to utilise the student visa process and attend University in Iceland. This is a popular method amongst younger people, and also provides the benefit of study, purpose and new friends upon first arrival in the country. Saying that, hopping on to an Anthropology Masters just because you want to move to Iceland doesn't sound like the wisest of decisions. Then again, tertiary education is excellent in Iceland, so why not continue to better yourself?
The third method of obtaining residency is by securing a work permit. Naturally, this is easier said than done; in reality, the process appears to be ostensibly bureaucratic, a series of jumps and hurdles intertwined helplessly with Article 12 of the Act on Foreigners.
The Directorate of Immigration handles all applications for residence cards and residence permits in Iceland, as well as any ID requests relating to it. The applicant can begin work, however, once the Directorate of Labour has issued them with an approved work permit.
Note that applications for the work permits can only be made before the individual has travelled to Iceland. When both the work and residency permits have been approved, the individual is free to enter the country.
The Rainbow at Keflavik Airport, by Icelandic artist Rúrí. Flickr. Creative Commons. Credit: Lonnie
Obtaining a work permit is difficult; there are laws in place that prioritise Icelanders and EEA citizens above all. One way an applicant can try to nullify this is by coming to the country with specialised skills. Below are the three types of work permit available to non-EEA/EFTA citizens:
Qualified Professionals: Applicants should be expected to have vocational training to University level, or to a technical standard approved of by Icelandic bodies. The work must be relevant to a permanent field lacking in Icelandic labour, and the applicant must prove that they can do the job better than an Icelander or EEA citizen.
Athletes: Coaches and athletes belonging to sports club within the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland may be permitted work permits.
Temporary Shortage of Labourers: Permits may be issued to labourers in fields found to be lacking in Icelandic workers or EEA workers. These permits are only temporary and therefore can only be renewed once. A list of temporary work agencies is provided by the Directorate of Labour.
The kennitala is an Icelandic personal identification number - very much the same as a social security number - that is required for almost everything you do in the country! If you would like to: rent property, receive a tax card, borrow books from the library, register with a doctor, open a bank account, buy a telephone, connect to the internet... you will need a kennitala!
The kennitala is 10 digits long, made up of your date of birth DDMMYY and four randomised digits at the end.
The kennitala system is used by many other countries across Europe, but few utilise it in such an extensive manner, incorporating businesses and public institutions within it. For example, the University of Iceland chooses to use the national identification system as a means of distinguishing their students, rather than an internal system. The kennitala is also essential to banking transactions in Iceland and serves as an alternative to the government census.
Kennitalas are administered by Registers Iceland, the official civil registry of the country. As stated previously, it is possible to live in Iceland for three months without the kennitala, but it will be needed to access certain services.
An application can be made individually or can be applied for on the applicant's behalf by the employer. Note that obtaining a kennitala is not the same thing as registering legal domicile, but both can be achieved, usually at the same time, with Registers Iceland.
Non-EEA or EFTA citizens cannot apply for an ID themselves. For instance, if an ID is needed for health insurance in Iceland, then it is the insurance company who applies on behalf of the individual. A form is sent with a copy of the individual's’ passport to the national registry.
Those same citizens who have obtained a national ID before entering Iceland are still not permitted any rights in the country until they have been issued a residence permit have registered their address as their legal domicile.
A Roof Over Your Head
If you’re planning on moving to Iceland, Reykjavík seems the logical choice. Two-thirds of the country's’ population live in the city, making it the urban and economic centre of the island. Akureyri is the second biggest town, far to the north of the Island, but opportunities for jobs and accommodation obviously lessen the smaller the town gets.
To make things clear, if you want to move to Reykjavík, you’re in for a better shot at finding a job and a flat then if you decide to move to, say, the sleepy fishing village of Dalvík (unless, of course, you happen to work in fisheries.)
Still, let’s not be naive; there is a lot of competition for accommodation in Reykjavík. It is a small city that, in many ways, has been taken aback by the intense international interest Iceland has enjoyed over the last fifteen years. Housing is one such area where this shock is clearly visible. If time and finance allow, it is always a wise idea for ex-pats to find a place to live before they move. Nowhere is this more important than Reykjavík.
Icelanders tend to have a preference to own their house or flat. 80% of house stock is in fact privately owned, which makes the rental market pretty small for those coming from the outside. Still, depending on your own lifestyle preferences, there are numerous neighbourhoods around Reykjavík to choose from. All it takes is time, patience and a bit of determination and you'll find a roof over your head in no time.
As an example, below you will find four examples of neighbourhoods in the capital, plus the average rental cost for a two-bedroom flat.
- Miðbær -Downtown 101: This is the most highly sought after neighbourhood in the city; here you’ll find the restaurants, bars, shops and clubs that make up Laugavegur strip. As can be expected given the history of the area and the proliferation of amenities, this is where the rental prices are at their highest. Monthly rent here, on average, for a 900 square foot flat will put you back 210,000 ISK a month.
Vesturbær: West Town is generally quieter than the downtown area, but is still within easy walking distance to the centre of the city. There are also excellent bus routes that stop every fifteen minutes or so, making downtown easily accessible. This area is less expensive than 101, meaning that rent prices, on average, for a 900 square foot flat will be around 190,000 ISK a month.
Austurborg: Found to the east of downtown, this area is within easy walking distance to local amenities. However, it is noticeably quieter, with no bars or restaurants to speak of. As with before, this area is less expensive, but one should still expect costs of around 190,000 ISK a month.
Laugardalur: This district, to the northeast of downtown, is a hub of activity for Reykjavik residents. It is home to some incredible sports facilities, swimming pools and commercial businesses, as well as Reykjavík campsite. Two/three bedroom flats here range from around 160,000 ISK to 190,000 ISK a month.
Though at first glance rental costs appear to be quite high, there is a noticeable difference in the monthly price of utilities. Given that Iceland's primary source of energy is geothermal, electricity, heating and water costs are significantly less, making the overall sum of a month's rent far more manageable. It should also be reiterated here that national salaries do reflect the cost of living, bringing the rental market somewhat into balance.
To make the competition fiercer (and the housing situation all the more complicated) many landlords are able to increase their profit margins by turning their flats into pop-up AirBnBs. It is difficult to critique the ambition of doing so - the gold rush that coincides with the tourism boom is truly sizeable, so it is no wonder that resourceful Icelanders are trying to make a pretty penny for themselves.
That being said, there have been many known cases of landlords evicting their tenants in order to pursue the AirBnB market. This type of behaviour has done much in the way of giving a negative impression of the housing market and has made tenants noticeably cautious when choosing a place to live.
Though it goes without saying, getting a contract signed and sealed is an incredibly important step when long-term renting in Iceland. Given the Icelanders' tendency to be lackadaisical about such things, this might be harder than you think.
Whatever the case, this sudden sprawl of AirBnBs has been one of the primary factors in enflaming housing competition in Reykjavik. Within a year of January 2014, the amount of AirBnBs in the city increased by a whopping 137%. In June 2015, 1800 apartments were being used as AirBnBs. There has been some recent legislation in order to peel back this trend, but as of yet, the situation continues to worsen.
Below, I have included a number of property websites that could help movers in their search:
Finding a Job in Iceland
Iceland has a 99% employment rate, a statistic that is easy to be proud of. Thanks in many respects to the country's small population, prospering economy and high level of education, job opportunities in Iceland have quickly moved away from the fishing and farming of yesteryear to encompass all the positions worthy of any modern democracy. This is a country of financiers, tour guides, gourmet chefs, scientists, artists, teachers, construction workers, researchers, craftsmen and academics.
That being said, it is always easier to find work whilst a resident of the country you wish to work in. Thus, the need to find employment beforehand will require a high amount of patience, time and an acuteness towards any opportunities that might arise. This is the 1% you really don't want to be in.
Finding work in any foreign country comes with its difficulties, especially if the job seeker lacks basic foreign language skills. That's not to say it can't be done, however. I'm living proof of that fact, having first come here to work as an English speaking guide, whilst nowadays I enjoy the luxuries of an open plan office. With that, I for one have come to realise that Iceland has opened its doors to the world and, without a doubt, will need both locals and foreigners alike to actively participate in the workforce.
Without relying too heavily on the old idiom "It's not what you know, it's who you know", networking in Iceland is an incredibly important job-seeking tool. To reiterate, Iceland is a small country, thus finding work outside of cafes, bars and hotels can heavily rely on your people skills.
Reaching out directly to English-speaking companies is always a positive step, as it shows interest in the organisation and actively gets you involved with talking to managers and employees. Chances are, even if that particular company isn't hiring, they'll know somewhere that is.
It's also important for individuals seeking work that they should continue to build upon their relevant skills. This shows commitment to your vocation, as well as an attractive mindset, open to further development and self-education.
Whether that be practising at home, undertaking a related study course, shadowing potential employers, one-on-one coaching or creating an action plan - all are greatly beneficial whilst on the road to finding employment.
Volunteering is also extremely useful, despite the fact that no job-seeker likes to admit it to themselves. The fact is, volunteering is an excellent opportunity to meet new people, build upon existing skills and to give back to society. Employers will also be impressed that the applicant's time has been put to good to use.
Below are a number of job sites that might come in handy for job seekers:
Money in Iceland
Icelandic Krona coins. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Thorsten Schmidt
In the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland was hit far harder than most other countries. Immediately, the government put in high austerity measures, forbade international transactions and set about implementing financial reforms.
Protests were contiguous; thousands of people assembled outside of parliament, demanding answers, demanding justice. Many government ministers would eventually resign given the pressure of the country's dreadful economic situation.
The main difference in response to the crash was how Iceland dealt with its banks. Iceland's banks became fully privatised in the early half of this century and thus began an aggressive strategy toward economic growth, largely by purchasing stock and property outside of Iceland.
Unfortunately, their strategy was highly flawed, with many international economists declaring it 'suicidal'. The bankers were overly reliant on borrowed funding, fantastical interest rates and appetite for rapid expansion. As 2008 neared, international markets became ever more wary of Iceland's runaway economy.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: OddurBen.
Whereas most other countries chose to bail out the bankers, Iceland did the honourable thing and took them to court, jailing many of the worst offenders. In many ways, this was the government's only choice; the banking system's overall worth was twenty times that of the national budget and ten times that of the country's GDP. To make matters worse, 97% of the banking system collapsed within three days. Unlike elsewhere, simply bailing out the banks was not a viable option.
Since the crash, Iceland's economy has steadily improved. By 2012, Iceland was regarded as one of the success stories to come out of the financial crash, having had two full years of economic growth, This was due to a number of reasons, most important of which were the emergency measures put in place in 2008 in order to help alleviate the initial crash. As of 2017, Iceland continues to strengthen its economy and has recently pulled back on capital controls, making the transfer of money internationally far more accessible.
Icelandic Krona is the national currency of Iceland. Bank notes come in 500ISK, 1000ISK, 5000ISK and 10,000ISK. Coins come in 1 (an extremely useless piece of metal), 5, 10, 50 and 100. With a little bit of saving, it's easy to become a millionaire in Iceland (it doesn't have the same gravitas as elsewhere, however.) Like other Nordic countries, Icelanders will usually make all of their purchases by debit card.
One of the first things that visitor’s note about Iceland is how expensive the cost of living really is. Unfortunately, this is simply the reality when living on a fairly isolated North Atlantic island. Importing items is expensive and, when they do finally arrive, there is an exceptionally little amount of brand choice. This might be quite a shock to the system for British or American visitors who are used to a wide selection of brand options.
The truth of the matter is the cost of living in Iceland is 55% higher than that of the United States. On average, renting a flat in Iceland is 26% higher. In fact, to avoid ruminating any further, Iceland is the fourth most expensive country to live in worldwide. That can be a difficult pill to swallow. The minimum financial support for a single person to survive in Reykjavik is estimated to be 180,000 ISK a month.
The Icelandic Nature
Geologically, Iceland - "The Land of Ice and Fire" - is one of the youngest countries on the planet. Rich with both active and dormant volcanoes, strikingly beautiful glaciers and a wide array of cascading waterfalls and rivers, people are often struck by how fantastical the landscapes in Iceland truly appears, as though it was straight out of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Where else, after all, can such open wilderness hide the geological marvels, dramatic mountain ranges and eclectic hills and valleys that are so prolific in Iceland?
Iceland is made up of a number of different regions: East Iceland, West Iceland, South Iceland, North Iceland, the Westfjords, the Reykjanes Peninsula, and the Highlands. All are fantastic for scenery, with each offering their own unique spectacles. The black sand beaches to the south, for instance, greatly contrast with the white ridged ice caps of Vatnajökull National Park, even more so than the black desert of Hólasandur. In terms of natural variety, there is enough here for a lifetime.
One of the surprising things about Iceland is its relatively temperate climate. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a greater deal of warm and sunny days than most people expect, especially from May to September. The weather is renowned for its volatility, however. One might leave the house to a crisp and shiny morning, only to return later that night in the face of blizzards and horizontal winds. Icelanders often say "If you don't like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes." Never has a truer word been spoken.
In general, Icelanders don't tend to recognise Autumn or Spring, simplifying their seasons to a long Summer and a long Winter. This makes a lot of sense, given the intensity of the dark winter months in contrast to the waking life that comes with an ever present midnight sun. The average temperature for January is -0.5°C /31°F, whilst June sees average temperatures of 8.9°C/48.02°F.
The length and vigour of these seasons take a fair amount of getting used to and is bound to wreck havoc on a person's normal sleeping pattern. Throughout the summer, many Icelanders choose to black out their windows, for instance. In the winter months, many people will take a daily dose of Vitamin B, just to keep their chemical balance normalised after a lack of sun.
Icelanders are rightfully proud of their beautiful environment and boast a strong connection to the natural world. There are three national parks in Iceland: Snæfellsjökull National Park, Vatnajökull National Park and Þingvellir National Park. The first two centre around two of Iceland's most prominent and majestic glaciers, whilst Þingvellir is the only park that is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The reasons for this UNESCO label are twofold; first, Þingvellir is where the historical parliament was formed and held in 930AD, and second, it is where guests can see both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates exposed from the ground. This is just another example of the incredible geology so abundant across the island.
Iceland is also at the forefront of renewable energy, with almost all homes and buildings in the country heated geothermally. The Icelandic government is also acutely aware of fishing management protocols and has created a sustainable system to keep fishing grounds prosperous.
The Icelandic Language
The Icelandic language can seem fairly inaccessible to the outsider. It is spoken quickly, with enunciation on the first syllable of each word, a speech pattern fairly uncommon around the world. This is because it is a Nordic branch of the Germanic language, different from that of its Scandinavian cousins, Denmark, Norway and Sweden in so much that it more closely resembles Old Norse, with a decidedly Celtic influence. The oldest preserved texts in Icelandic date back to 1100AD.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Max Naylor
It is a widespread misconception, however, that Icelandic is the same language spoken by early Viking settlers; this assumption is only partly true. As with every language, Icelandic has seen many changes throughout history. The language has adopted many words from French, Latin, Danish and Norwegian, in part due to the Christianisation of Iceland and thus the need to understand and communicate new religious concepts.
There have also been many changes to the inflexion of speaking, enunciation and written grammar. That being said, it is true that Icelandic is more archaic than other Germanic languages. Written Icelandic has not changed so dramatically that ancient 11th Century sagas are unreadable to many Icelanders.
Newcomers to Iceland should understand that Icelandic has retained two letters from Old Norse, letters that are no longer in the English alphabet; the characters Þ, þ (þorn, modern English "thorn") and Ð, ð (eð, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"). Both of these characters will likely cause a world of trouble for the non-native speaker. There are, however, many classes that teach Icelandic, often for free.
Icelandic is still very much the language spoken at home and between countrymen, only put aside for English out of politeness and, quite often, the perplexed expression non-speakers often sport. This has always been the case; the Danish had little effect on the lexicon throughout their rule, as did the British and Americans during the invasions of the Second World War.
The good news is that if you can speak English, you will be understood. Icelanders speak perfectly fluent English and are a taught it as a second language at school. That’s not to suggest it should be relied upon, however. The Icelanders are a proud people; proud of their history and proud of their language. Many in Iceland fear that Icelandic could become a dying language, which is all the more reason to learn. Icelanders themselves will be grateful for the effort.
Healthcare in Iceland
Photo from MaxPixel. Creative Commons.
Health insurance in Iceland is covered by the state, with individuals paying their contribution through taxes and service fees. A significant portion of the state budget is also focused on healthcare, a worthy feat given that Iceland has the highest life expectancy in Europe at 83 years.
There are 6 regional hospitals in Iceland, and 16 health institutions (these may be clinics or teaching hospitals.) Privatised health insurance is a very rare occurrence, and there are no private hospitals on the island.
112 is the number to dial for anyone seeking emergency medical services. If there is no emergency, but medical assistance is still required within the city limits, people should call 544-4114 during normal opening hours.
If outside of those hours, people should dial 1700, where an English speaking nurse will offer medical advice, direct towards night-clinics or send staff for a house call. After hours, dental care can be reached by dialling 575-0505.
An Icelandic air ambulance. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Andrew W. Lusi
Given the vast stretches of wilderness so prevalent in Iceland, air ambulances are an essential part of the overall health care and emergency response for the country. Aircraft and helicopters are split between hospitals in Akureyri, Reykjavik and the Coast Guard, who will supply their own helicopters should no others be available.
EEA and EFTA citizens will find they are covered by Icelandic health insurance if they are European Health Insurance Card holders.
Education in Iceland
The university of Iceland. Flickr. Photo by: Guðmundur D. Haraldsson
For many years, Icelanders have been blessed with an excellent education system, holding true to the island's strong reputation for learning and academia. To keep it short, it is the government's attitude that everyone should be entitled to the same education, regardless of sex, residential location, handicap, financial status or religion.
Education in Iceland is split into four separate stages; playschool (aged 1-6), compulsory (aged 6-16), upper secondary (aged 16-20) and tertiary. Education focuses on promoting academic learning and is mandatory for everyone aged 6 to 16. The vast majority of schools in Iceland are state run, organised by the Ministry of Education, and there are very few private schools on the island. Thankfully for newcomers, Icelanders learn English as a second language throughout their schooling.
Throughout compulsory schooling, pupils learn a wide variety of subjects, including foreign languages (Danish, English and other Nordic languages), ethics, mathematics, art, physical education, geography, history, social sciences and affairs relating to equal rights.
Photo from MaxPixel. Creative Commons.
The International School of Iceland can also be found in Greater Reykjavik. International schools are often the choice for expatriates looking to easily habituate their children to a new environment. The International School of Iceland follows the British curriculum.
There are seven higher education institutions in Iceland, the principle being the University of Iceland, founded in 1911. Below is a list of the countries' universities.
|University of Iceland||Located at Reykjavik||Founded in 1911|
|Bifröst University||Located at Bifröst||Founded in 1918|
|University of Akureyri||Located at Akureyri||Founded in 1987|
|Iceland Academy of the Arts||Located at Reykjavik||Founded in 1988|
|Reykjavik University||Located at Reykjavik||Founded in 1998|
|Agricultural University of Iceland||Located at Hvanneyri||Founded in 2005|
|Hólar University College||Located at Hólar||Founded in 2007|
The vast majority of higher education institutions are state-run, which means that prospective students need only pay registration fees in order to begin their studies. The private institutions do require tuition fees. International students will find that many courses are taught in English (though an English exam may be required prior to attending.)
Crime and Safety in Iceland
Photo from Logrelan Instagram.
Iceland has an excellent reputation for safety. Violent crime is an incredibly rare occurrence and when it does happen, it normally materialises as tourists smacking one another after one too many pints. To put it another way, from the years 2000 to 2009, events of violent crime never rose more than 1.8 per 100000 people. In stark contrast, consider the United States, who over the same period of time see-sawed between 5 to 5.8 per 100,000 people. Statistically, Iceland is the third country you are least likely to be murdered in, a comfortable fact if ever there was one.
Somewhat surprisingly, when violent crime does occur in Iceland, it rarely involves a gun. It is surprising only given the high percentage of gun owners in Iceland: roughly 90,000 people. Unlike elsewhere, however, actually acquiring a gun is a pretty difficult process and includes both a medical and written examination.
Pickpocketing has been reported around popular tourist attractions but does not appear to be a significant problem. With more and more visitors arriving every year, however, it is advised to keep a close eye on your valuables whilst walking around town or visiting some of Iceland's natural highlights. Be wary that pickpockets tend to work in groups.
Because Iceland is an island, drug use and the availability of said drugs are more limited than in the rest of the Europe. Still, drugs are fairly prevalent on the island, though hard substances such as heroin and cocaine are difficult, if not impossible, to come by. It is illegal to own, use and carry drugs and those who break that law can often face strict penalties; anyone caught in possession of less than 1 gram of any substance can face fines of 30,000 ISK. Drug-related crime in Iceland is a very rare occurrence, excluding drink/drunk driving charges.
An example of street art in downtown Reykjavik. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Rob Young
The terrorism threat rating in Iceland is low. Whilst there has been some concern over terrorist attacks across Europe in 2015 and 2016, there has so far proven to be no threat to American interests in the country. With that being said, Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which facilitates the free movement between member countries. This has caused some alarm amongst locals, given that terrorists are able to easily cross international borders under the agreement.
Sex crime in Iceland is surprisingly higher than in other Nordic countries, but still maintains a low-risk level in comparison to other major nations across Europe. Regardless, rape in Iceland met an all-time high in 2016, a truly tragic record.
Equal rights and the empowerment of women are important cultural pillars in Iceland. For instance, prostitution, strip clubs and businesses profiting off the nudity of their employees are all illegal on feminist grounds, rather than religious ones. The Facebook group Beauty Tips is just one way in which Icelandic women have chosen to vocalise their frustration at the lack of progress in dealing with sexual and domestic violence. For example, the activism movement ARC (Activism against Rape Culture) directly came out of the Beauty Tips Facebook group.
The Icelandic Police - referred to as the Logrelan in Icelandic - is made up of both the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police and the National Commission of Police. The force is highly equipped with the latest in technology and training in order to prevent, disrupt and investigate crime throughout Iceland. Many observers have in fact claimed that Iceland has such low crime rates because its police force is not only expertly trained but also well educated. Over 95% of the police in Iceland are unarmed.
- See also: Gender Equality in Iceland
Religion, Spirituality and Atheism in Iceland
Statistically, Iceland appears to be a pretty religious country, all things considered. There are 41 registered religious groups, the biggest of which is the National Church of Iceland, an organisation boasting 250,000 members (Icelanders are registered at birth, hence the large figure). The National Church is organised under one diocese, administered by the Bishop of Iceland, Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, the first woman to hold the position.
Take a quick look online and you'll see that today, approximately 80% of Icelanders are Lutheran whilst the majority of the rest are of other Christian denominations, namely Roman Catholic. Iceland's historical commitment to Christianity is clearly demonstrated by the sheer number of churches dotted around the countryside.
The Christianisation of Iceland occurred in the year 1000 AD, dramatically reshaping the culture and future of the small island nation. Under the Danish crown, Icelandic Christians were originally followers of Roman Catholicism, before turning to Lutheranism (one of the main branches of Protestantism) at the end of the Icelandic Reformation in 1550.
Before this spiritual shift toward monotheism, Icelanders held a belief in multiple deities: the Norse Gods. Like their Scandinavian cousins, it was the mythological figures Odin, Loki and Thor who captured the religious fervour of Iceland's pre-modern population.
Since the first day of Summer 1972, Ásatrúarfélagið has also made a name for itself as a religious throwback to Icelandic/Nordic folklore. The organisation was founded and led by the poet-farmer Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, a man instrumental in gaining government recognition for the religion. Ásatrúarfélagið has no dogma and no creed, instead relying on a pantheistic worldview based on an individual's connection to nature. As of 2016, the religion has approximately 3200 members, a third of which are women.
Islam and Judaism both boast fairly small membership numbers. Iceland saw an increase in its Muslim population in the 1970s, and today has around 900 people registered with either the Muslim Association of Iceland or the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland. In 2002, the Reykjavík Mosque was opened to practising Sunnis.
There are approximately 90 members of the Jewish community, but their numbers are so small that Judaism is not officially recognised as a religious body by the Icelandic government. As of today, there is no prayer house in Iceland catering to the Jewish people. The former first lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, was herself a practising Jew and did much to positively introduce the faith to the Icelandic people.
Another belief system that has gained prominence in Iceland is Zuism, a neopagan religion registered in 2013 (but existing for many years prior). In that same year, the religion was mobilised by many new converts, largely in protest to the "Parish Tax," religious taxation imposed upon those with a spiritual inclination. As one of the group's key pledges, any money earned from the parish tax was to be returned to the individual, thus making a mockery of the government's "God Tax" policy.
Members of Ásatrúarfélagið congregating at Þingvellir National Park. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Photo by Lenka Kovářová.
In reality, however, Iceland is a staunchly secular nation. According to polls compiled in 2014, less than half of Icelanders considered themselves to be religious, whilst 40% of the Icelandic youth declared themselves to be atheists. At last check, less than 10% of Icelanders attend church once a month, while half of the population chooses to miss it altogether. But perhaps the most progressive statistic of all; as of January 2016, a local survey found that 0.0% of young Icelanders believed the world to be created by an ethereal craftsman.
That's not to undermine the Icelandic people's intrinsic connection to spirituality and the metaphysical, however, with many people spouting a belief in their own personalised concept of God or naturally determining forces. Yoga, meditation and Buddhist practises are common amongst the population, be it in nature, the water or at a pop-up event in downtown Reykjavík. Due in large part to the Icelanders' deep reverence for the natural world, spiritual practices originating from the far east have become a defining part of the national character.
For those who wish to do away with the supernatural entirely, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association is the primary organisation representing and supporting humanists in Iceland. The organisation is registered with the Icelandic government as a life-stance group and is thus able to accept state funding in much the same way as religious organisations do. As of 2017, the group has approximately 1800 members.
Iceland is a big country; the open and wild terrain, be it mountainous, dried lava or rocky shingle, demands its visitors take their journey seriously. The year round, one can avoid ground travel altogether with one of the country's many domestic flights, but aside from that, a car is going to be a necessary purchase.
For those living in Reykjavík, a car is not absolutely essential. However, if you're going to be living out of the city, or have a strong desire to explore the country, a vehicle will be necessary at some point. It's important when purchasing a car to get four by four drive, as many of the roads around Iceland are gravel, or otherwise treacherous. Four by four is also unspeakably helpful during the winter when roads are often icy.
Iceland has a pretty perfect transport system. The buses are clean and well maintained, and stick to a constant schedule, meaning you will be waiting at the bus stop for a maximum of fifteen minutes at peak times in the capital. Navigating Reykjavik by bus is an incredibly easy affair, and is often a good method for exploring the cities' less frequented corners.
There are no trains in Iceland, though there has been much talk over recent years about constructing a rail line between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavík. As of this moment, however, plans for the building are still very much in the air.
Hlemmur Bus Stop, the main terminal. Flickr. Creative Commons, Credit: Bill Ward.
See also: The Ultimate Guide to Driving in Iceland
Iceland has numerous public holidays throughout the year to mark national celebrations. You can read them below:
|1st January||New Year's Day|
|13th April||Maundy Thursday|
|14th April||Good Friday|
|16th April||Easter Sunday|
|17th April||Easter Monday|
|20th April||First Day of Summer|
|1st May||Labour Day|
|25th May||Ascension Day|
|4th June||White Sunday|
|5th June||White Monday|
|17th June||Independence Day|
|7th August||Commerce Day|
|24th December||Chrsitmas Eve|
|25th December||Christmas Day|
|26th December||Boxing Day|
|31st December||New Year's Eve|
It goes without saying that relocating country takes an enormous amount of consideration and preparation. Even after organising the visas, a place to live, a company to work for... the mental hurdle of avoiding self-doubt must still be overcome, the darker realities of life elsewhere still faced.
Seeing extended family will, undoubtedly, prove to be more difficult, as will visiting old friends, undertaking routine activities and habits. One could easily feel isolated by the native tongue, or lonely and confused on a cold and never ending Winters night. Perhaps initially, the food is not to your taste, or the humour a little inaccessible. These thoughts and feelings are all too real for the global relocator.
Or, alternatively, one could grab life by the bullhorns and embrace the old saying "life is not a dress rehearsal". Nothing can quite shake up the mundanity of everyday living like moving country, and Iceland particularly is nothing short of thrilling