How to Move to Iceland: A Complete Guide

All You Need to Know About Moving to Iceland

Joe Tobin

|September 19, 2019

Joe is a proud Michigander that finds himself in unusual, beautiful, and faraway places. He enjoys getting lost, drinking with strangers, and worshipping at the church of rock ‘n’ roll.


Can’t get Iceland off your mind? We get it. Why not move to Iceland? It's gorgeous, the people are warm, and the lifestyle is one of the most easygoing in the world.


You’ve visited, maybe more than once, and you’ve finally decided that the land of fire and ice is the place for you. It’s time to move to Iceland!

Stop Dreaming and Start Moving to Iceland

Know before you go!

But just one sec - getting yourself a slice of Icelandic happiness pie is a bit more difficult than you’d think.

Not impossible but not entirely easy, moving to the Arctic island takes serious work and patience.

Thankfully, Icelanders have a saying: "Þetta reddast!" Or, "it will all work out in the end." You just need some careful planning and a whole lot of time. 

 

So Why Would You Move to Iceland?

There are tons of good reasons to move to Iceland. Maybe you have an addiction to hot tubs, maybe you hate wearing shorts, or maybe it's one of the reasons below:

 

  • The nation is the 4th happiest country in the world. Smiles everywhere!
  • Icelanders write, read and sell more books per capita than any other country
  • Over 97% of locals have access to broadband internet.
  • People live in an average of 83 years.
  • Iceland’s nature is insane!
  • Crime rates are ridiculously low and police rarely carry weapons.
  • No mosquitoes. Seriously,  no mosquitoes.
  • The Icelandic Phallological Museum is quite the experience.

Oh, and Icelandic style is fabulous!

What Iceland’s All About

The land of fire and ice has a lot going for it: interesting people, phenomenal nature, a language all its own. Here’s the skinny on Iceland, what to expect, and what to look forward too.

Location and Weather

Iceland is a small island in the North Atlantic Ocean, set right on the border of the Arctic Circle. It’s cold, wet, and windy. That being said, temperatures here are milder than in most other Arctic countries. 

Be prepared for weather that changes on a whim. One minute it will be warm and sunny, and the next minute you’ll be pelted by freezing rain.

The country has cool summers and cool winters. The temperatures don’t vary too much over the year thanks to the Gulf Stream. 

Daylight hours shift drastically throughout the year and the weather is always changing. Basically, you’re going to have to layer a lot. Layers are your friends!

Iceland's odd weather

Language

Luckily, almost all natives speak near-perfect English and some speak a few other languages on top of that.

The national language is, of course, Icelandic. Icelandic is famously difficult for foreigners to pick up quickly, but can be done if you throw yourself into it.

Expect to sound pretty silly at first! The language has changed very little since the island was first inhabited. Be ready to see old letters and accents on street signs and billboards. 

If you really want to fit in and get to know the local culture more personally, many schools offer classes in Icelandic to take your language skills to the next level.

Just sound it out

Icelandic Culture

Stuck between the new and old world, Icelandic culture is a mish-mash of Western Europe and Scandinavian mixed with a few North American influences.

Think hot dogs and burgers across the street from cafes and creperies. 

The nation's tiny population spends a lot of their time doing outdoor activities, reading, attending cultural events and museums, and soaking in geothermal pools. The pace of life is pretty slow and tends to follow an even rhythm. 

Icelanders are welcoming of foreigners and often curious about what brings you to their frigid home. Almost everyone is well-educated and keeps up to date with trends. Icelanders are very aware of global events but also work hard to keep their old traditions alive. 

Sun Voyager Sculpture In Iceland

Cool, calm, and curious

The Reykjavik Expat Community

Reykjavik has a thriving expatriate community. More and more international visitors are visiting each year and many of them are deciding to stay or come back to build a life for themselves. Visiting local shops and bars in Reykjavik, you’re sure to find some expats here and there. Conversations come easy in Reykjavik and you’ll find yourself a group in no time.

The expat community is very social and you can find scheduled events on expat facebook groups, like Foreigners in Iceland, The Expats’ Lounge Iceland, or Away From Home - Living in Iceland.

Moving to Iceland

Visiting Iceland is a breeze for anyone from a Schengen country. Just show up and enjoy your 90 days visa free! If that’s not long enough for you, it might be time to think about moving. But be warned, anyone settling in long-term will need to do a little paperwork. 

 

Moving to Iceland from the US or Canada

Iceland immigration for citizens of countries outside of the European Economic Area can take some time and work. There are three main ways to get a residence permit: 

1. Study

One of the easier but slightly less long-term ways to get a residence permit is to apply for a Student Residency Permit. This permit applies to anyone who has been accepted to a university in Iceland.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes residency

2. Love 

Do you really want to stay in Iceland? It’s as easy as falling in love! Marry an Icelander or find yourself a long-term live-in partner. Marriage isn’t the easiest route, but it’s probably one of the more fool-proof ways to build a life in the North. You may file for Family Reunification to live and work in your loved one’s homeland.

 

3. Work

Iceland does occasionally have vacancies that need to be filled if you fall under the class of: 

  • Qualified Professionals — Special positions like a professor or doctor. 
  • Shortage of Laborers — Work that can’t be filled by native Icelanders. 
  • Au-pairs — Au-pairs can stay in Iceland for the duration of their contract.
  • Olympic Athletes — If you play for one of your nation’s Olympic teams, you may come to train.
  • Missionaries — Missionaries can stay for business. 

Go and fill that labor shortage!

Moving to Iceland from the EU

Immigrants from EEA/EFTA countries are allowed to stay in Iceland without registering for residency for up to three months, or up to six months if actively seeking employment.

If you're looking to stay longer, you'll need a 10-digit personal identification number, or kennitala. Apply for one at Þjóðskrá Íslands (Registrations Office), the process can take up to 9 weeks. It’s best to apply for your kennitala as soon as you arrive in Iceland.

A cold slice of European heaven

The Kennitala

All citizens and foreign residents in Iceland receive a kennitala, a national ID number used to keep track of your taxes, healthcare, social benefits, and much more. 

Think of the kennitala as an all-powerful social security number. The assigned number is the key to all of life’s doors in Iceland. You need one to get a job, open a bank account, or rent a place to live.

Now EEA/EFTA citizens (aka Europeans) can register for a short term stay right after arriving. Just go to the nearest bank with a valid ID and pay the required fee to get a short-term Kennitala valid for 3 months. With this, you can begin legally looking for a job and a flat. Once you're settled, you'll need to get a permanent kennitala.

And for everybody else? Non-EEA/EFTA citizens (aka the rest of us) wanting to stay longer than 3 months will have to obtain a residence permit before arriving in Iceland. Only when your permit is approved can you get a kennitala. You have to prove you have enough cash to support yourself (if you don’t have a work contract) for the duration of your stay.

Get with the picture!

Living in Iceland

You’ve managed to get a permit to stay in Iceland! Now what? 

Cost of Living

The Icelandic currency is called Króna (plural Krónur) or ISK. At the moment of writing this, 1  ISK (króna) equals a little less than a penny and $1 USD will get you around 127 ISK. You likely won’t see a lot of the paper currency floating around since everyone pays for almost everything by card.

Don’t let the exchange rate fool you into thinking Iceland is a cheap destination. Iceland can be pricey, mostly due to the island's remote location since many store items need to be shipped long distances.

Supermarkets are reasonable enough. You can find frozen pizzas for about 650 ISK ($5) and bread goes for around 375 ISK ($3). A typical beer goes for roughly 1,200 ISK ($10)! Going out for food and drinks can get pricey, though there are a few places for cheap eats.

Who wouldn't pay extra to live here

Transportation

Getting around Reykjavik is easy due to the city’s small size and solid public transportation system. Most residents of the capital walk or bike in the warmer months. Buses are clean, run on time, and can take you anywhere you need to go inside the city.

Outside of the capital city is another story. Buses and planes will take you to different towns and villages all over the island. In order to explore all of Iceland's amazing nature, you’re going to need a car (or find a friend with one and carpool). Be prepared for much slower travel in the winter.

Can you spot the house available for rent?

Housing

Finding affordable rent is a challenge in Iceland. The island is small and vacant housing is scarce. With more and more foreigners coming every year, many residents have decided to forgo renting their properties and instead rent them short term through services like Airbnb.

Signing a place is possible, but be aware you may have to settle for something farther away from Reykjavik's city center or even outside of town. Having a job already and making a few local contacts will help a lot. 

To get an idea of what things cost in Iceland, you can expect to pay around 130,000 ISK ($990) a month for a 1 bedroom apartment in Reykjavik.

Don't worry, he's covered

Health Insurance

In order to get Iceland’s state healthcare, you must be a legal resident for at least six months. Something to look forward to!

As an EU citizen you should be covered by your nation’s insurance, but once you receive your kennitala you can then apply for health insurance. 

Everybody else should come prepared with travel insurance that includes healthcare. Make sure your local insurance provider covers health expenses abroad.

It’ll All Work Out in the End

Approved!

While moving to Iceland isn’t easy, most find it worthwhile. Iceland is a gorgeous country, with friendly locals and a lifestyle that prioritizes wellbeing and relationships. 

So what are you waiting for? A life in Iceland is possible! Stop dreaming and start living your best Icelandic life. 

And remember, þetta reddast!

 

Take a trial run and join a multi-day trip to Iceland! Once you try it, you’re totally going to buy it.