How can you find a job in Iceland? What are Iceland’s most significant employment sectors, and what is the unemployment rate? Must you speak Icelandic to work here, and what are the working conditions actually like? All will be revealed as we share the ins-and-outs of finding and securing a job in Iceland.
Unless you happen to be a trophy wife, a trust fund baby, or a highly successful con-artist, the chances are that you will have to find a job at some point or another in your life.
Regardless of the Confucian wisdom that you should 'choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,' finding just any old work can be one of life’s toughest challenges, even in your own country of residence. Those who have suffered bouts of unemployment will know just how real that struggle is.
With that in mind, seeking employment abroad often feels like too much of an obstacle from the get-go. Despite the consideration that many are not just seeking a new job but an entirely new way of life. After all, what else breaks up the monotony of daily routine like throwing yourself into an entirely new and challenging situation?
In that respect, seeking work overseas takes courage, determination, and a willingness to encounter and overcome numerous obstacles. It requires patience, pain, and the aid of others when times look bleak. More than anything else, perhaps, it takes persistence and the unshakable belief that you can make the seemingly impossible a reality. As Mark Twain once wrote, “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.”
By and large, most work you can find in Iceland is in the capital city, Reykjavík. Approximately two-thirds of Iceland's entire population lives in or around the capital region, making it the central pillar of the country's economic and cultural activity. Unless you are planning on taking a job in agriculture, fisheries, or, potentially, as a tour guide, Reykjavík is where you should focus all of your attention.
At first glance, Iceland might not seem like the obvious choice for prospective job hunters. After all, it’s an isolated island with a small population and few urban areas.
While the summer is bright and seemingly everlasting, the winter months are dark, freezing, and embittered with cruel winds. These are aspects to keep in mind for those who work in outdoor pursuits like construction, tour guiding, agriculture, forestry, or transportation.
As previously stated, working in Iceland takes courage, but thankfully, fortune readily favors the brave in the land of the Vikings.
Many foreign workers who arrive in Iceland on temporary contracts will quickly extend their employment upon discovering the magical qualities of working and living here. These qualities are not easy to put down in words, but they work themselves subtly into the patchwork quilt of daily life.
Just a small glance over this website, for instance, will quickly demonstrate what Iceland has to offer, not only for the tourist but for those who choose to call the island their home.
Nature in Iceland is stunning, the people are kind, and the culture is rich with history. And as salaries begin to equate with the relatively expensive living-costs, “New Icelanders” will quickly discover that living and working here can be as cheap or pricey as one makes it.
99% of Icelanders speak the English language, making moving to and living in Iceland a far easier ambition than, let’s say, moving to the depths of the Amazon Rainforest.
With that being said, Icelandic is, without a doubt, the first language of this country. It is the language used between countrymen, by the media, by artists, tradespeople, and municipal governments. English is spoken to tourists and by the larger corporations who use English as their business language.
Icelandic is widely perceived as one of the more difficult languages to pick up for native English speakers.
Experts believe this North Germanic language is a dialect of Old Norse or at least a descendant, and it has remained relatively unchanged since the Medieval era. The diction is heavily reliant on tone, with many sounds that are foreign to an English speaker.
One particular point should be made clear before arriving: Icelanders are proud of their language and proactive in preserving it.
That means that learning the language should be a priority if you are looking to stay long-term in Iceland. Speaking Icelandic not only demonstrates one’s commitment to Iceland and its future, but it also makes living and working in the country a far more inclusive and enriching experience.
The reluctance to step up and engage with learning a new language is only the first hurdle to jump. Such hesitation is also quite unlike that of the Icelandic mindset.
Given that only 0.005% of the world’s population speaks Icelandic, the Icelandic people are poignantly aware of how useful a multi-language discipline is. This attitude has opened them up for opportunities to shed their island’s historical isolation and bring it fully onto the global stage.
English and a Scandinavian language (usually Danish) are both compulsory subjects at school.
Danish because of Iceland’s historical ties to Denmark and English because it is considered the most international. Students are also presented with the chance to learn a third language (French, German, or Spanish), instilling this need for linguistic prowess even further.
Regarding who can and cannot work in Iceland, there are several regulations to consider before taking any further steps toward emigration.
Citizens of full member countries to the EFTA and EEA can live and work in Iceland for three months without the need for a visa or work permit.
After three months, an individual must register their legal domicile and apply for a tax card. They are also required to fill out the form ‘Registration of an EEA or EFTA foreign national,’ which serves as an application for an ID and a domicile registration.
New residents are issued a "Kennitala," a unique ID number they will use for almost every public service in the country. This includes healthcare, borrowing library books, or even joining a gym.
This entire process is all managed through one body, The National Registry, which must also assess an individual’s ability to support themselves financially during their stay in the country.
Those who lack the necessary paperwork or have outstanding queries should appeal directly to EURES (European Job Mobility Portal) or the Multicultural and Information Centre.
See also: The Ultimate Guide to Flights to Iceland
Like the European Union, members of Schengen countries also practice free movement.
For a quick look at whether you meet this criterion individually, the Schengen countries are as follows:
Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Those who are not members of the EU, EEA, or EFTA have a much harder time and must apply for a work permit or a working holiday visa to live and work in Iceland. Those applying for a residence card, permit, or ID should contact the Directorate of Immigration.
However, do note that the prospective applicant can begin work only once a different government body, the Directorate of Labor, has issued them with an approved permit.
It is also important to know that non-EU, EEA, and EFTA immigrants can only apply for work and residency permits before arriving in Iceland.
When both permits have been assessed and approved, the individual is free to enter Iceland to begin their employment and new life.
As previously stated, acquiring a work permit in Iceland is a complicated process.
Legislation exists that prioritizes both Icelanders and EEA citizens above their international counterparts (exceptions to this are people coming to the country with specialized skills).
The three types of work permits available to non-EEA/EFTA individuals are listed below:
Qualified Professionals: Requires vocational training at a University level or to an approved technical standard. The training must rectify what is lacking in Icelandic labor; applicants must prove that they alone can do their job better than an Icelander or EEA citizen.
Athletes: Iceland grants visas to athletes and coaches belonging to National Olympic teams or clubs under the Sporting Association of Iceland.
Temporary Shortage of Laborers: A field lacking in Icelandic or EEA employment can open up the possibility of temporary work permits, though applicants can only renew these once.
When preparing for a job hunt, the first thing to do is consider your skills, experience, and passions. What type of employment would best suit you? What kind of positions have you held in the past? Are you looking for a new career direction or simply hoping to work part-time? What type of role is most abundant in Iceland?
These questions are important to clarify. They can shed light on the next steps of the job hunting process and simplify your path to a residence application.
When you’ve enlightened yourself about precisely what you’re looking for, the next step is to seek out where companies and organizations list their vacancies.
As with most countries, job applicants will have to prepare a flawless Curriculum Vitae (or CV) and a personalized cover letter, both of which should outline the applicant’s most redeeming and competent qualities.
You should send potential employers an email with a small introductory message and your application documents attached.
If there has been no confirmation after a few days that the employer has received your application, it is more than acceptable to send a follow-up email or phone them.
It is important to consider the employer’s position while job-hunting; in today’s saturated job market, competition for open positions is often fierce.
This type of environment means that your CV and cover letter must stand out from the crowd. After all, it takes only a few seconds for someone to get the wrong impression and hastily dismiss an application altogether.
Because of this apparent danger, CV and cover letter writing should be to the point.
No prospective employer wants to read pages upon pages of your high school achievements, nor will they trust an applicant who cannot get across their best features concisely.
In Iceland, a one page CV and a one-page cover letter is the expected length.
It is also wise to consider the individual qualities that an employer is looking for in a job applicant and to make sure you have conveyed these characteristics in your application.
A quick search on Google will reveal these attributes are: honesty, communication skills, flexibility, determination, and a willingness to learn, engage, and work in harmony with other team members.
Another means of conveying an applicant’s qualities that coincide with a CV and a cover letter is a valuable reference from a previous employer.
Using a referee shows the prospective employer that you are confident in yourself and what you have previously achieved. It also demonstrates that you have nothing to hide and are willing to have another person vouch for your work ethic.
Of course, you must feel self-assured that your referee will provide positive feedback (otherwise, you can guarantee your potential employer has found the Achilles heel of your application). It is best to give your possible employer your referee’s Skype, email, or telephone details.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that they, as your reference, are relatively close to the industry in which you are applying.
Alternatively, you could use a letter of reference that your previous employer has already provided you. This way, you can be sure of the information you’re putting across in your application.
You’ve done it. After hours of toiling over the font of your CV header, waiting by the phone, counting those pennies in the bottom drawer... the moment has finally arrived: the job interview!
In Iceland, interviews are regularly taken in person, though those applying from abroad will likely use the telephone or Skype.
Quite often, job interviews will take a more informal approach in Iceland (for example, your potential employer might hold them in a local cafe). However, one should always treat the situation with the respect it deserves.
Iceland is a small community, so employers want to make sure that they're hiring someone who is not only qualified for the position but is also a pleasure to have around the office.
Wherever they occur across the world, a job interview is a job interview. It’s a formal consultation where one individual will assess another person's qualities and character through a series of insightful questions, allowing both parties to find out if it’s a good fit.
As with any modern European nation, the range of employment sectors across Iceland is staggering. A prospective employee has any number of different job sectors in which to explore and apply.
These sectors include, but are not limited to, finance, business management, creative arts and design, energy and utilities, engineering, law, and the media.
With such a wealth of options, applicants will most often keep their doors open, applying for a range of positions that suit their qualities.
After all, the more applications out there, the more likely an interview opportunity is to arrive. Sometimes, a less desirable position is necessary until a more fulfilling opening becomes available.
The largest sectors in Iceland are, by far, manufacturing, fishing, and tourism, all three of which are vital contributors to the Icelandic economy.
Without these industries, Iceland’s economy would likely crumble; it is why Icelanders direct so much thought and attention toward sustainability in these three areas.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Ásgeir Eggertsson. No edits made.
You will find the largest manufacturing sectors in Iceland are the aluminum smelters. These are three different sites (Reyðarfjörður, Grundartangi, Straumsvík) that produce purely for the export market.
Aluminum smelting is an energy-intensive process. Smelters extract aluminum from its oxide, alumina, using copious amounts of electricity and producing a high level of fluoride waste.
Iceland is the 11th most aluminum-producing nation in the world.
Given Iceland’s abundance of geothermal energy, it is easy to see why the industry exists here. It is also just as easy to picture the bigwigs at Rio Tinto Alcan, Century Aluminum Company, and Alcoa enjoying the prospect of plentiful and cheap power, with little consideration for the impact their industry has on a natural ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, resistance at home has been fierce, with great swathes of the population unified under the banner of environmental protection.
As with almost all island populations, Icelanders have long maintained a strong connection to the sea.
The harsh, Atlantic waters have, in many ways, defined the country entirely, sculpting its weather patterns, its cragged shoreline, its vexing isolation. So too has it shaped Icelanders’ identity as a seafaring people who are quick to brave the ocean for its bounty and promise.
The fishing industry accounts for approximately 40% of Iceland’s exports and 11% of its annual GDP, making it essential to the country’s livelihood today as it was throughout ancient times.
With 200 nautical square miles of fertile fishing grounds, Iceland has managed to create one of the most modern and sustainable seafood industries on the planet.
In the 1950s and 1970s, Iceland and the United Kingdom became caught up in a series of territorial disputes regarding who had rights over certain fishing grounds.
Iceland had extended its fishing borders into what was perceived to be international waters. This trend coincided with the mechanized fishing trawler's invention, a ship that could travel much further from the mainland.
The United Kingdom took this as a threat to their fishing industry and quickly retaliated by sending military vessels to intercept and disrupt the Icelandic trawlers.
These disputes have since become known as "The Cod Wars" and were only resolved in 1975 after the Icelandic government threatened to close down the NATO base at Keflavik.
Under pressure from the United States, the United Kingdom agreed to Iceland's demands.
Thankfully, though there were a significant number of deliberate collisions that occurred between British and Icelandic ships, there were no fatalities.
Cod is the backbone of the economy, making up 31% of all exported fish stock, of whom the UK is Iceland’s most important buyer.
Over recent years, this industry has become known locally as “The Ocean Cluster.”
Tourism in Iceland is now responsible for an incredible 31% of its annual GDP, making it a new but critical foundational pillar in the country’s economy.
It also means that tourism will be one of the biggest employment sectors in Iceland. The industry regularly hires drivers, tour guides, marketers, accountants, social media managers, and writers, to name only a handful.
Over the last decade, tourism has worked itself into almost every corner of life in Iceland. Downtown Reykjavik is often jam-packed with international visitors, while tour companies are forever growing in prominence. At the same time, new shops, restaurants, and exhibitions are continually opening to meet tourists' growing needs.
But why did this all begin? Well, Iceland first made international attention in 2008 following the country's rapid financial collapse.
The Icelandic government, struggling to keep hold of a runaway economy, was met with further problems as the mighty volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, suddenly erupted in 2010, effectively shutting down air travel across Europe.
Suddenly, international travelers began fixing their gaze on this once overlooked island in the Mid-Atlantic.
Collectively, the Icelandic government, its tourist board, and travel agencies came together to turn what could have been their downfall into a swift economic victory.
Since then, Iceland has seen an exponential rise in its visitor numbers each year, with an estimated total of 1.7 million arriving in 2016 alone.
Over the last five years, the tourism industry is estimated to have created up to a third of new jobs in Iceland. This trend matches the rapid influx of visitors’ arriving on the island over the last decade.
Icelanders work, on average, forty-hour weeks, with a minimum wage for all those above age 18 at 335,000 ISK per month.
Temporary work agencies grant employees the same basic rights as if they were employed directly by the company.
Workers are entitled to an 11-hour rest period for every 24 hours. Shop assistants, tradespeople, and workers are also entitled to a 35-minute refreshment break every eight hours.
In addition to this, all office workers are given a paid 15-minute coffee break.
Wage-earners must ensure their membership to a pension fund from 16 to 70 years of age, contributing a salary minimum of 12%. Of this, 4% is taken directly from the employee's wages, while the employer provides the other 8%.
Workers can contribute a further 2% to a supplementary public or private pension fund, with an additional 2% matched by the employer.
One of the primary methods for seeking a job in the modern world is by looking at designated websites that regularly post new vacancies.
A list of such websites is included below, though you should be aware that there are always more organic ways of securing work in Iceland, such as word of mouth or adverts in the local newspaper.
These two latter options are particularly well suited to a country like Iceland, with its small population and relatively high competition level for certain roles.
As the old saying goes, "It's not what you know; it's who you know.”
Taking an internship in Iceland is one sure-fire way of getting a taste of the country, though it does require some means of supporting yourself financially throughout the placement.
See also: Volunteer in Iceland
Iceland is notoriously expensive, and living here without paid employment is not just difficult, but seemingly impossible, especially for foreigners who lack contacts and a basic understanding of the local economy.
Below are some websites that post available internships overseas:
Below, you will also find a list of job sites that list vacancies in various fields across Iceland.
Save for Capacent, the rest of the websites are available in English, thus simplifying the process even further.
Have you tried to find a job in Iceland, and if so, were you successful? How did you find the job-seeking process, and what advice would you give for prospective job hunters? How have you found your time working in Iceland? Please make sure to leave your comments and questions below.
If you feel you would be a perfect fit for Guide To Iceland, why not check out our Work at Guide To Iceland page. Thanks to our rapid growth, we are always looking for committed and intelligent applicants to join our multicultural team.