How does the Icelandic healthcare system work?

Icelandic healthcare system

Iceland has a publicly funded healthcare system, which means that everyone in the country, resident or not, is entitled to emergency healthcare. However, there are some considerations for foreign travellers – depending on your own insurance, you may be required to foot a part, or even all of, the bill.

Iceland is divided into seven healthcare districts, which offer basic medical services provided by nurses, general practitioners, specialist doctors, and other healthcare professionals. Immigrants to Iceland obtain public health insurance after six months of legal residency. Generally, Iceland uses a co-payment system, so healthcare is largely paid for by taxes (84%), with the patient responsible for the remaining cost (16%).

Healthcare fees in Iceland

The fee for a visit to a general practitioner during working hours is ISK 500 [$3.66, €3.36]. Some medical treatments, such as laboratory analysis or allergy tests, do cost extra, but the total cost cannot exceed ISK 34,950 [$256, €234] for adults each month. Children, elderly and disabled people have a lower maximum monthly fee. If you frequently need medical assistance and have exceeded the maximum, the monthly fee goes down to ISK 5,825 [$42, €39]. Dentistry and psychological services such as therapy are not included in public healthcare coverage for adults in Iceland.

Holders (EU and EEA nationals) of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) who are staying temporarily in Iceland are entitled to the same fees as locals for healthcare in Iceland. Make sure to bring your EHIC card and your passport in case you seek treatment. 

Presidential Race Heats Up

Halla Tómasdóttir, candidate for president of Iceland

A new contender has entered the race for president of Iceland. Halla Tómasdóttir, a business person, CEO of B Team and a previous candidate for the office, announced her candidacy at a press conference yesterday, Heimildin reports.

On New Year’s Day, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson announced his decision not to run again in the election, set for June 1. He was elected in 2016 with 39% of the vote. Halla also ran in 2016, coming in second with 28% of the vote.

Ready to make a difference

“If you want a president who is ready to go to work and believes that by harnessing our creativity in the fields of culture, arts, and business we can accomplish anything, then I’m ready to commit myself to make a difference,” Halla said at the well attended press conference in Reykjavík. “If you want a president who wants to build bridges, has empathy and joy, and believes that equality is the key to an even stronger society, then I am sincerely ready, along with my husband, to serve the interests of Icelanders with all my heart.”

Multiple candidates in the running

The president is head of state in Iceland and the role is mostly ceremonial, although it comes with limited political powers according to the constitution. A number of people have signed up online to collect the 1,500 necessary signatures of supporters to be allowed to run for the office, with the deadline set at April 26, but only a handful of candidates have formally announced that they’re running.  They include Agnieszka Sokolowska, Arnar Þór Jónsson, Axel Pétur Axelsson, Ástþór Magnússon, Húni Húnfjörð, Sigríður Hrund Pétursdóttir and Tómas Logi Hallgrímsson.

A recent poll conducted by a publicist showed 35% approval for Halla’s candidacy. Baldur Þórhallsson, a professor of political science who is considering a run, had 53% approval in the same poll. Many other names have been rumoured as possible candidates.

Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station Evacuated Due to Air Pollution

grindavík evacuation svartsengi power plant

The Svartsengi geothermal power station was evacuated this morning due to sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the ongoing Reykjanes eruption. Five employees were reported to be in the area when the decision to evacuate was made. RÚV reported first.

Svartsengi can operate remotely

The Svartsengi geothermal power station is a major provider of electricity and hot and cold water for the Reykjanes peninsula. After the first Reykjanes eruption in 2021, steps were taken to ensure the continued operation of the station, even during an eruption. It is capable of operating nearly autonomously for shorter periods of time, and during such eruptions, it operates with a skeleton crew. It has been operated almost entirely remotely for the past month.

reykjanes eruption march 19
Meteorological Office of Iceland

Not advisable to remain in area

Birna Lárusdóttir, a spokesperson for HS Orka, the operator of Svartsengi, stated to Morgunblaðið that “SO2 levels had reached a point where it was no longer advisable to be in the area.” She noted that they had prepared for this eventuality and that as wind patterns change later in the day, it may be possible for employees to return today. She emphasised that such decision are made in cooperation with Civil Protection and the Met Office.

Power production not at risk

Birna continued: “However, this is certainly not a completely unmanned power plant. We need to attend to various tools and equipment that are part of the daily operations of the power station. We need to take care of buildings, equipment, and machinery when we deem it necessary, as we did this morning.”

According to Birna, power production at Svartsengi is not currently at risk.

The Arctic Fox, Iceland’s Only Native Mammal

The tiny Arctic fox is the only land mammal in Iceland that is truly native to the country and predates the first humans that ever arrived here. Every other mammal in the Icelandic fauna, from sheep to reindeer to mink, was imported from Norway by the first settlers. The Icelandic Arctic fox is a subspecies of the common Arctic fox and is believed to have arrived in Iceland around 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age. The Arctic fox is a hardy little creature whose defining feature is its light, bushy winter fur that makes it almost look like snowballs with feet. In the summer that winter coat is shedded and replaced by darker, shorter fur that blends in with the environment. Currently, there are around 10,000 foxes in Iceland, and due to conservation efforts, the population is holding steady.

Photo: Golli. An Arctic fox in summer in Iceland

The Arctic Fox Centre in Iceland

The Arctic fox is quite an elusive animal and quick on its feet so it can be hard to spot in its natural habitat. In Reykjavík, the best place to see foxes is in Húsdýragarðurinn Zoo, a small petting zoo close to the city center that houses up to four foxes that can be seen up close both in their outdoor enclosure and in an indoors den. The largest population of Arctic foxes in Iceland can be found in the Westfjords and in the small town of Súðavík is a special facility called Melrakkasetrið, or the Arctic Fox Centre. The Centre is open during the summer season from May 1st to October and during the season hosts a number of events dedicated to the Arctic fox. The main focus of the Centre is to be an information and education centre about all things related to the Arctic fox. On site is a museum that displays, among other things, the different types of colour variations the foxes can have. However, one of the biggest draws of the Centre is a fenced area near the house where little fox cubs are kept during the summer and visitors can get close enough to pet.

Photo: Signe. The Arctic fox comes in a few colour variations

For a more adventurous journey to see the Arctic fox we recommend a hike in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of the few places in the world where the fox is protected from hunters by law. As a result, the foxes in Hornstrandir are less wary of humans and a couple of them have even made a den close to Kvíar, a lodge and adventure base in the heart of the Reserve. Hornstrandir gives visitors a unique experience in a mostly untouched nature with the added bonus of seeing Icelandic wildlife at its best.        

Bird Watching in Iceland – Where to go?

Birds are everywhere in Iceland and when you know where to look, there’s a chance to spot some really interesting species. In downtown Reykjavík, on Tjörnin pond, there are numerous waterfowl year round like geese, swans and ducks that stake it out through cold winters with the help of locals and visitors who bring them bread and other nibbles. Ravens also make their presence known in Reykjavík with their deep, gurgling croaks and mythical disposition. In total there are about 75 species of birds that nest in Iceland and most of them only stop over during nesting and live their lives elsewhere the rest of the year. Spring is a lively time to see birds in Iceland, when most of the migrating species come over to nest and Icelanders are especially excited to see when lóan, or the Golden plover arrives since it has long been a sign that spring has finally come after the long winter.

Photo Golli. Swans, ducks and geese during winter on the Tjörnin pond

The Top Bird Watching Spots in Iceland

The best places to go bird watching within Reykjavík are down by the shoreline where, along with gulls and various duck species, there’s a chance to spot the Great cormorant. In gardens and trees all over the city there are little Redwings and Starlings and tiny little White wagtails in the summer. Also during summer, it’s possible to go on special Puffin tours that sail around Reykjavík to find Puffins in cliffs just outside the city. Simply going on a hike right outside Reykjavík or stopping on the side of the road anywhere in the country will reveal countless birds just waiting to be discovered. But for a real bird watching mission, some places are better than others so here are the top five locations to go to for bird watching in Iceland: 

Reykjanes peninsula

The Reykjanes peninsula is a rugged stretch of land with wide fields of mossy lava covering most of the surface. But Vatnsleysuströnd beach in Reykjanesbær is a rich vegetative area where many species of waterfowl come to nest and rear their young. Interestingly, Iceland is one of the few places where Harlequin ducks come to breed and they can sometimes be spotted in the town of Vogar on Vatnsleysuströnd or at Ósar bay in the village of Hafnir. Also along the Reykjanes peninsula, it’s possible to spot Gyrfalcons, Razorbills, Merlins and American purple gallinule to name a few. Despite the harsh landscape, Reykjanes is brimming with bird life and is sure to deliver a great experience for bird lovers. 

Lake Mývatn

In Mývatnssveit in the north of Iceland is Lake Mývatn, the fourth largest lake in Iceland and a must visit for bird watching. The lake is packed with waterfowl and waders and it’s home to more duck species than any other place in the world. While there it’s also good to keep an eye out for Gyrfalcons flying about. A special bird to look out for in Mývatn is the Horned grebe or Slavonian grebe, the only species of grebes that nests in Iceland. Its numbers are declining worldwide so it’s worth a trip to see it in the peaceful environment of Lake Mývatn.

Photo: Erik. A Red-necked phalarope is a common wading bird in Iceland

The Westfjords

The Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords are the largest sea cliffs in Iceland and the largest bird cliffs in Europe, where millions of birds come to nest every year. It’s a dizzying area of birdlife, with puffins, gulls, razorbills and northern gannet flying in and out of the cliffs. For birdwatchers, it’s a magnificent place to visit since it’s possible to get really close to the cliffs to see the birds going about their busy lives. Also in the Westfjords is Breiðafjörður, a large fjord that is home to 60% of eagles in Iceland, and while visitors are advised not to go searching for eagle nests in order to disturb them as little as possible, there’s still a chance to see these graceful birds soaring above in the sky.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A perfect day trip to take from Reykjavík is visiting the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It’s only about a two hour trip from the city and offers some great bird watching spots along with stunning views of the surrounding nature and beyond. On Svörtuloft cliffs, above the golden beach of Skarðsvík, is a lighthouse that has been fitted with a viewing panel that gives visitors the chance to watch birds in the cliffs from a safe distance. Aside from sea birds like Brünnich’s guillemot, the Common guillemont, Razoerbills and the European shag, the area is also the home of Rock ptarmigans, Kittiwakes, gulls, Arctic terns and Snow buntings.

Photo: Golli. A Glaucous gull with its hatchling in Snæfellsnes, Iceland

The Westman Islands

In the Westman Islands, birdlife is intertwined with the local culture, as the largest population of puffins in Iceland nest in the cliffs surrounding Heimaey, the biggest of the islands. Puffins are the main attraction of visitors but there are multiple other species that make the Westman Islands their home, including the Northerm fulmar, the European storm petrel, Leach’s storm petrel, the Northern gannet and the Common murre. The environment of the Westman Islands is awe inspiring, with its dramatic cliffs that seem to come alive with the movement of millions of birds, and it perfectly displays the perseverance of life in the rough terrain of Iceland.

Photo: Golli. Puffins are the most common bird in Iceland during summer

RIFF – Reykjavík International Film Festival

Swim-in screening of The Truman Show.

The Reykjavík International Film Festival, or RIFF for short, is an 11-day annual film festival that has been running since 2004. It was founded by a mixed group of film professionals and enthusiasts who wanted to present fresh and progressive cinematic experiences to the Icelandic cultural scene. Each year, they offer a wide range of international and independent films as well as highly unique screenings and special events. Taking place all over Reykjavík, with an occasional event even happening out in nature, RIFF might just be the perfect way for film lovers to get to know Iceland. 

When and where does RIFF take place?

The festival takes place in the fall, but the dates vary somewhat between years. This year, 2024, it takes off on 26 September and ends on 6 October. The main venues will be Háskólabíó cinema and The Nordic House, both located within walking distance from Reykjavík city centre. However, other festival venues are usually spread out across the city, with past locations including the Reykjavík City Hall, Bíó Paradís cinema, city libraries, nursing homes and prisons. The festival is also known for screenings in curious and unexpected locations, offering a completely new view of the films being shown. At previous festivals, guests could, for example, enjoy Life of Pi in a swimming pool, horror movies in a cave, and a documentary about Greenland’s melting ice sheet inside Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull.

Films and other events

During the festival, you’ll be able to see a diverse collection of international dramas and non-fiction films, where independent and up-and-coming filmmakers take centre stage. The films are divided into several categories, including New Visions, Documentaries, and A Different Tomorrow. The screenings are often followed by a director Q&A where festival guests get a chance to chat with directors about the film and gain a unique insight into their work. 

The festival also offers special events, such as the aforementioned swimming pool and cave screenings, virtual reality experiences, cinematic culinary experiences, pub quizzes, and scavenger hunts. Additionally, guests can attend panels, lectures, and workshops, concerts, and exhibitions. Programme brochures for upcoming festivals can be accessed here when they have been made available.

How to get tickets for RIFF

Tickets to individual screenings, special events, and other events usually go on sale a week or two before the festival starts, but 8 ticket clip cards and full festival passes can be bought in advance online. These are valid for all films shown at the festival but not special events. Up-to-date information about ticket sales and prices can be found on the official RIFF website.