How does one go about finding a job in Iceland? What are the island’s biggest employment sectors and what is the unemployment rate like? Must you be able to speak Icelandic to work here and what are the working conditions actually like? All will be revealed as we explore 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, chances are that, at some point or another in life, you will have to find a job.
Now, regardless of the Confucian wisdom that one 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 one’s own country of residence. Those who have suffered bouts of unemployment will know just how real that struggle is.
With that in mind, the idea of seeking employment abroad often feels like too much of an obstacle from the get-go; this is despite the consideration that many are not just seeking a new job, but an entirely new way of life. After all, what 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 the seemingly impossible will be made 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, the most work in Iceland to be found is centred in the capital city, Reykjavík. It is estimated that almost two-thirds of Iceland's entire population live 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 one should focus all of their attention.
3.1 - CVs and Cover Letters
3.2 - References and Referees
3.3 - The Interview Stage
4.1 - Manufacturing in Iceland
4.3 - Tourism in Iceland
At first glance, Iceland might not seem like the first choice for prospective job hunters; after all, the island is isolated and harsh with a small population and only a few urban centres.
While the summer is radiant and seemingly everlasting, the winter months are dark, freezing and embittered with cruel winds, something 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, in the land of the Vikings, fortune readily favours the brave. Many foreign workers who arrive in Iceland on temporary contracts will quickly extend their employment upon discovering the many, magical qualities that working and living here brings; qualities that are easy to put down in words, but work themselves subtly into the patchwork quilt of daily life.
Just a small glance over this website, for instance, will quickly demonstrate just what Iceland has to offer, not just for the tourist, but for those who choose to call the island their home. Nature in Iceland is stunning, the people are fascinating and kind and the culture is rich with history. And as salaries begin to equate with the rather expensive living-costs, “New Icelanders” will quickly discover that living and working here can be as cheap or pricey as one makes it.
Concerns in Iceland today relate to a shortage of workers rather than looming unemployment. The country has long managed to keep its unemployment figures below 3% (with the odd peak following the 2008 recession), but growing pressure on the country’s infrastructure and utilities mean that there’s just too much to be done, and not enough people here to do it.
Looking only a few years into the future, it is now highly conceivable that an influx of foreign workers will be necessary to keep the country afloat. Estimates suggest that between 2017 to 2030, the country will need 30,000 new workers. Quite soon, it would seem, the Icelandic government will have to ready itself for attracting new residents rather than more tourists.
Credit: Reykjavik Food Walk
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 doubt, the first language of this country and is the language used between countrymen, by the media, by artists, tradesmen and by the municipal governments. English is spoken, predictably, to tourists and by the larger corporations who use English as their business language.
Icelandic is widely perceived to be one of the more difficult languages to pick up for native English speakers. This North Germanic language is thought to be a dialect of Old Norse, or at least a descendant, staying 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 when it comes to preserving it. That means that if you are looking to stay long-term in Iceland, then learning the language should be a priority. Speaking Icelandic not only demonstrates one’s commitment to Iceland and its future, 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 not only the first hurdle to jump, it is also quite unlike that of the Icelandic mindset. Given the fact 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, opening up for them 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.
In regards to who can and cannot work in Iceland, there are a number of regulations that first must be considered before taking any further steps toward emigration. Citizens of full member countries to the EFTA and EEA are able to live and work in Iceland without the need for a visa or work permit for three months.
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 both as an application for an ID and as a domicile registration. New residents will be issued with a "Kennitala," a unique ID number that is used for almost every public service in the country, including health care, borrowing library books or even joining a gym.
This entire process is all managed through one body, The National Registry, who must also assess that an individual is able to financially support themselves 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.
Like the European Union, members of Schengen countries also practise free movement. For a quick glance 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. Do note, however, that the prospective applicant can begin work only once the Directorate of Labour has issued them with an approved permit.
It should also be made clear that applications for the work and residency permits can only be made before one has travelled to 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 difficult process; legislation exists that prioritises both Icelanders and EEA citizens above their international counterparts (an exception to this is those coming to the country with a specialised skill). The three types of work permit available to non-EEA/EFTA individuals have been listed below:
Qualified Professionals: Requires vocational training to University level, or to an approved technical standard. The training must rectify what is lacking in Icelandic labour, and the applicant must prove that they alone are able to do their job better than an Icelander or EEA citizen.
Athletes: Athletes and coaches belonging to National Olympic teams or a club under the Sporting Association of Iceland may also be granted visas.
Temporary Shortage of Labourers: Whichever field is currently lacking in Icelandic or EEA employment can open up the possibility of temporary work permits, though these can only be renewed once.
When preparing for a job hunt, the first thing to do is to sit back and consider your skills, experience and passions. What type of employment would best suit you? What type 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?
Questions such as these are important to clarify, shedding light on the next steps of the job hunting process and thus, simplifying your means to an application. When you’ve enlightened yourself as to what exactly you’re looking for, the next step is to seek out where companies and organisations list their vacancies.
As with most countries, job applicants will have to prepare a flawless Curriculum Vitae and a personalised cover letter, both of which should elucidate the applicant’s most redeeming and competent qualities.
Applications should be sent by email with a small introductory message and your application documents attached. If after a few days there has been no confirmation that the application has been received, it is more than acceptable to send a follow-up email or phone call.
It is always advised to consider the employer’s position whilst job-hunting; in today’s saturated job market, competition for positions is often fierce. This means that it is imperative that your CV and cover letter stands 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 incredibly succinct. No prospective employer wants to read pages upon pages of your high school achievements, nor will they trust an applicant who is unable to 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 that such characteristics are conveyed concisely in your application. A quick search on google will reveal these attributes to be; honesty, communication skills, flexibility, determination, a willingness to learn and engage and to 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. By using a referee, it shows the prospective employer that you are confident in yourself and what you have previously achieved and also demonstrates that you have nothing to hide, but in fact are willing to have another vouch for your work ethic.
Of course, it goes without saying that you must feel self-assured that your referee will provide positive feedback (otherwise, you can guarantee the Achilles heel of your application has been found.) It is best to provide your possible employer with your referee’s Skype, email or telephone details, and to make sure that they as your choice are relatively close to the industry in which you are applying.
Alternatively, you could use a letter of reference that has already been provided to you. This way, you can be certain of the information being put 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—i.e. they might be held in a local cafe—though 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, a formal consultation where one individual will assess the qualities and character of another through a series of insightful questions.
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; finance, business management, creative arts and design, energy and utilities, engineering, law, the media, etc.
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, by far, are manufacturing, fishing and tourism, all three of which are vital contributors to the Icelandic economy. Without each share, Iceland’s economy would likely crumble; it is why so much thought and attention is directed toward sustainability in these three areas.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Gretar Ívarsson.
Aluminium smelting is an energy-intensive process; smelters extract aluminium from its oxide, alumina, using copious amounts of electricity and producing a high level of fluoride waste. Iceland is 11th place amongst aluminium-producing nations globally.
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 all rubbing their hands wolfishly at the prospect of such plentiful and cheap power, all without much consideration for the impact such industry brings to a natural ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, resistance at home has been fierce, with great swathes of the population unified under the banner 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 the identity of Icelanders, 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 the country’s annual GDP, making it is as important to the country’s livelihood today as it has been 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, a trend that coincided with the invention of the mechanised fishing trawler, a ship that could travel much further from the mainland.
The United Kingdom took this as a threat to their own 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, no one died during these disputes, though there were a great number of deliberate collisions that occurred between British and Icelandic ships.
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 the country’s annual GDP, making it a new but important foundational pillar in the country’s economy.
It also means that tourism is set to be on the biggest employment sectors in Iceland, hiring, amongst others: drivers, tour guides, marketers, accountants, social media managers, writers, to name only a handful.
Over the last decade, tourism has worked itself into the fabric of almost every corner of life in Iceland; downtown is often jam-packed with international visitors, tour companies are forever growing in prominence, and new shops, restaurants and exhibitions are always arising to meet the growing needs of tourists.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Bjarki Sigursveinsson
But why did this all begin? Well, Iceland first made international attention in 2008 following the country's rapid financial collapse. Struggling to keep hold of a runaway economy, the Icelandic government was met with further problems as the mighty volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, suddenly erupted in 2010, effectively shutting down air travel across Europe. Suddenly, this once overlooked island in the Mid-Atlantic was now fixed in the gaze of international travellers.
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. Ever since, 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, it is estimated that up to a third of new jobs in Iceland have been created within the tourist industry, a trend that matches the rapid influx of visitors’ arriving on the island over the last decade.
Icelander’s work, on average, forty hour weeks, with a minimum wage for all those above 18 at 280,000 ISK per month (if the employee has worked six months at the company). For tradesmen, such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters, the minimum wage is raised to 354,430 ISK per month.
Those working in food, such as chefs and waiters, will earn 346,974 ISK per month minimum. Employees of temporary work agencies should be granted these same basic rights as if they had been employed directly by the company themselves.
Workers are entitled to an 11-hour rest period for every 24 hours. Shop assistants, tradesmen and workers are also entitled to a 35-minute refreshment break every eight hours. The minimum statutory holiday entitlement is two days for every month worked—all full-time employees are granted an annual paid holiday a year.
Wage earners must ensure their membership to a pension fund from the age of 16 to 70 years old, contributing a salary minimum of 12%—4% is taken directly from the employee's wages, the other 8% is provided by the employer. A further 2% is contributed into a supplementary public or private pension fund, of which that 2% is 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 has been included below, though it must be stressed that there are always other more organic ways of securing work, such as word of mouth or in the local newspaper.
These two latter options are particularly well suited to a country like Iceland that has a small population and, thus, a relatively high level of competition 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.
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 a number of 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 Vinna, 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?
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