How can I move to Iceland?

Reykjavík pond downtown

Iceland is a beautiful country with much to recommend it: a generally progressive government, friendly locals, a photogenic landscape, and much more. We get a lot of questions at Iceland Review from people thinking about relocating here. We completely understand the impulse, but a word of fair warning: it’s not all the pretty pictures from Instagram! Of course, we’re still in love with Iceland, but for those planning immigrating to Iceland, be prepared for a language barrier, high cost of living, and dark winters.

With those words of warning out of the way, here are our tips on how to move to, and live in, Iceland.

Visas in Iceland

How easy it is to move to Iceland will depend where you come from. Citizens of European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations can enter Iceland without any special documentation. Citizens of these nations may work and live here for up to three months, after which they need to register at Registers Iceland.

For citizens outside these countries, notably including the US and UK, the process is admittedly more difficult. There are three major ways to secure a visa for this group: work, marriage, and education. Many younger people will find that attending university in Iceland is an exciting adventure. Education in Iceland is also free, except for a nominal registration fee. Upon graduating, they may choose to settle down in Iceland and find jobs, or else move on. Obtaining a work permit can be a tricky process, as the employer needs to prove, in theory, that the role could not be filled by a native. For most non-specialist roles, this is rather tricky, although Iceland has recently suffered from shortages in healthcare and education. Finding out what fields are in demand in Iceland may be a way of securing a work permit. Finally, the marriage option is not for everyone, and we are by no means suggesting a marriage of convenience! However, if you do happen to fall in love with an Icelander, then Iceland can be an excellent place to raise a family, with comparatively generous parental leave and socialized healthcare.

If you stay in Iceland for long enough, you will also need to register for a kennitala, or social security number. Your kennitala will be used in pretty much all aspects of life here, much more so than in some other countries. You may, for instance, be asked for your kennitala when making a purchase at the store, when registering for a library card, buying a bus pass, or getting a membership to the gym. Rules for registration break down residents into three major groups: citizens of other Nordic countries, EU/EEA/EFTA citizens, and citizens from outside EU/EEA/EFTA. See the Registers Iceland site here for more information on registering to live in Iceland.

If you are still curious about your status, the Directorate of Immigration has a site where you can check whether you will require a visa in Iceland.

If you are curious about work permits in Iceland, you may find the Directorate of Labour’s website helpful.

Housing in Iceland

The housing market can be difficult to break into for recent immigrants. Reykjavík has exploded in the last 15 years with international interest in hotels and development, driving the cost of real estate up. Iceland’s population has also grown rapidly in the last years, and housing development has not kept pace, leading to a housing shortage. Icelanders also generally tend to own their homes, meaning that relatively few houses on the market are for rent.

Rent will of course depend on location, but it generally makes sense for foreigners to move to the capital area due to transportation and job opportunities. As a rule of thumb, for a modest apartment, you can expect to spend around ISK 200,000-300,000 (around USD 1,380-2,070, or EUR 1,420-2,130 at the time of writing). It’s of course possible to find cheaper, but expect a less-than-ideal location, roommates, and the like.

These listings may be helpful for you in your search for housing in Iceland:

Job Hunting in Iceland

Iceland is a great place to work, with plenty of rights and benefits granted to employees. Icelandic unions have also earned Icelandic workers such benefits as stipends for continuing education, and even provide vacation homes to their workers. Some of Iceland’s biggest general trade unions are VR and Efling.

Some may have an image of Iceland as a largely agricultural society, still farming and fishing like in the past. Although these professions do indeed play an important role in the Icelandic economy, the job market in Iceland increasingly favors professions with advanced degrees. Some of Iceland’s largest industries are tourism, service and restaurants, fishing, and construction. Additionally, many in the capital area are also employed in tech, finance, government, media, and academia.

If you’re looking for a job in Iceland, you may find these links helpful:

Other Useful Links for Prospective Icelanders

Foreign Nationals to Receive Icelandic Citizenship after Controversial Withholding of Applications

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

RÚV reports that six foreign citizens are to be naturalised as Icelandic citizens following a delay that was caused by the Directorate of Immigration withholding their applications.

The six new Icelanders are respectively from Mongolia, Russia, South Africa, Kosovo, and Iran.

Read more: Directorate of Immigration Withholds Citizenship Applications

In addition to the normal process of receiving citizenship through residence and application, parliament can also grant citizenship through decree in Iceland. These special applications are generally for individuals in extenuating circumstances, though some critics such as Bjarni Benediktsson have stated that these special applications constitute too large a proportion of Icelandic naturalisations.

These citizenship applications through decree are still processed by the Directorate of Immigration, however, and there was controversy when earlier in the year, the Directorate refused to hand over the relevant application to parliament. Notably, this deliberate withholding was illegal, and caused outcry among politicians who insisted that legal process be followed.

Now, the relevant application have finally been submitted and the path has been cleared to Icelandic citizenship for the six.

Parliament generally naturalises Icelandic citizens twice a year: at the end of the year and before summer break.



Norwegian Crown Prince Visits Iceland

norway prince iceland

Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon is visiting Iceland for the Nordic Round Table conference.

On the docket are Nordic responses to climate change and the war in Ukraine.

Trying his hand at Icelandic, he briefly greet the assembly, but continued his talk in English. “We meet here in Reykjavík during difficult times. In these uncertain times, Norway emphasizes international law and continuing strong international cooperation. It has been going well for nearly thirty years and we must ensure that the Nordic Round Table remains the main forum for cooperation in the Nordics. Norwegians are looking forward to taking over the presidency next year,” he stated at a breakfast meeting this morning.

In addition to the conference, Prince Haakon also accompanied President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson on a hike to the eruption site at Fagradalsfjall. They were accompanied by both a ranger and geologist, who informed them about the geology of the Reykjanes region.

After the hike, the Crown Prince was invited to dinner at Bessastaðir, the presidential residence in Iceland.

Never Been More Difficult to Hire Staff: September Unemployment at 2.8%

Reykjavík pond downtown

Unemployment rates sat at 2.8% in September, creating tension in the labour market.

Although this may sound like a good development, according to the Federation of Trade and Services, hiring new staff has never been more difficult for Icelandic employers.

In a statement to RÚV, Landsbankinn economist Una Jónsdóttir said that instead of employees competing for jobs, it is now the case that employers are competing for staff.

In total, around 5,400 were unemployed in September, largely representing the retail, service, transportation, and restaurant industries.

Of these 5,400, 44% are reported to be foreign residents in Iceland. In comparison with the total unemployment rate for Iceland of 2.8%, the unemployment rate for foreigners is double, at 5.6%.

Iceland’s Suðurnes region is notable as having an especially high unemployment rate of 4.8%, with the capital region sitting around 3.2%. Icelandic unemployment is lowest in the Northwest, which has only 0.7%.

Economists have suggested that the increased demand for labour created by the low unemployment could affect the upcoming wage negotiations.

Love, Bríet

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