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:
- Morgunblaðið real estate listings
- Vísir real estate listings
- Information on housing benefits and rent subsidies
- Leiga Reykjavík, a Facebook group for finding rentals
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:
- Alfred.is, a popular job board
- Jobs at Reykjavík city
- Störf.is, another popular job board
- Employment through the government, including work in healthcare and other fields