Plans to Expand Reykjanesbraut

Keflavík airport

The Road Administration is preparing to expand Reykjanesbraut (Route 41), the road which connects Keflavík International Airport and the capital area.

The Road Administration has submitted an assessment plan to the National Planning Agency for an environmental impact assessment for doubling lanes on Reykjanesbraut between Hafnavegur and Garðskagabraut. The construction section in question is approximately 4.7 kilometers long, extending from the roundabout at Fitjar to Rósaselstorg, where two lane highway currently ends to the roundabout where Reykjanesbraut, Sandgerðisvegur, and Garðskagavegur meet. The road will become a four-lane road, with two lanes in each direction, and the traffic directions will be separated by a barrier.

Work on expanding Reykjanesbraut began in 2003. The coming development will be the final section of this expansion work.

Read the plans here.

Do I need to get a SIM card when I travel to Iceland?

síminn iceland

For a long time, purchasing an Icelandic SIM card was recommended for visitors to Iceland, even if it required buying a new unlocked phone. Though it can still be a great idea (especially for the less tech-savvy), it’s not exactly the must it once was thanks to a few changes in recent years:

  • eSIMs are now a great option if you have an unlocked phone, allowing for virtual SIM installation.
  • Physical SIM card slots are being phased out. The iPhone 14 sold in US markets, for example, lacks a SIM card slot.
  • Major US carriers now offer increasingly reasonable international service options, though this will of course depend on your individual plan and carrier.

This guide is primarily for US residents, with similar options for Canadians and specific advice for EU residents under the “Roam like Home” law. UK residents, post-Brexit, are experiencing new roaming charges, which may necessitate exploring other options depending on the rates.

How can I use my phone in Iceland?

If you have a cellphone from North America, here are your main options for using your phone in Iceland. Each method will of course have its pros and cons, balancing cost, convenience, and compatibility.

Buy an international data plan from your carrier. Without a plan, roaming data charges are very high, up to 2$ per megabyte at some major carriers. Some carriers also offer free, but slow, international data plans.

Stick to Wifi. Not the most convenient option for those on the go, but you can of course just limit your data usage to your hotel, restaurants, cafés, visitor centres, and so on. The obvious drawback is that you will be limited while travelling, such as using navigation in your car, though some apps such as Google Maps do allow you to download and save maps for use off of data. Be sure to disable roaming and use your phone only with Wifi to avoid charges.

Rent a Wifi hotspot. Another option is to rent a hotspot, which could potentially save you money if you’re travelling in a group or intend on using several devices. This way, there’s no need to unlock phones or swap SIM cards. It’s also not as expensive as you might think, with good services beginning around $10 per day.

Use an eSIM. This relatively new technology allows you to essentially download a new SIM card into your phone – no new hardware required! This method does require an unlocked phone. Services begin around $15 for 5GB over the course of 30 days, which will be enough for most travellers. This can be a very convenient method for North American travellers, though it might be for the slightly more tech savvy out there. Icelandair even offers an eSIM to travellers.

Buy an Icelandic SIM card. Purchasing a SIM card from an Icelandic provider can also be a cost-effective way to get high-speed data. This option requires an unlocked phone and will assign you an Icelandic phone number. It is not suitable for phones without physical SIM card slots, such as the iPhone 14. However, most modern phones are compatible with Iceland’s GSM network.

Where to buy a SIM card in Iceland?

Many gas stations and convenience stores throughout Iceland sell prepaid SIM cards for travellers. When exiting the baggage claim into Iceland, there is also a convenience store within Keflavík Internation Airport where you should also be able to acquire a SIM card.

Many tourist shops and retailers with heavy tourist traffic, such as museum gift stores, bookshops, and outdoor stores may also sell SIM cards.

Tourist information centres generally carry SIM cards.

Finally, you can also buy a SIM card at any of the major Icelandic service providers, such as Vodafone, Síminn, or Nova.

What else do I need to know?

To use an Icelandic SIM card in your unlocked phone, you need to know how to remove and reinsert a SIM card, typically requiring a paperclip or a SIM card removal tool. It’s advisable to buy a SIM card storage pouch, which often includes a removal tool so you don’t lose your old card. Remember – they’re very small!

All SIM card kits in Iceland are adjustable to fit different phone sizes, with perforations to punch out the required size.

The Revolution Never Happened (In Iceland)

slayer lawsuit secret solstice iceland

A common attitude among the many Facebook groups devoted to expats (read: middle-class immigrants) in Iceland is a certain bitterness directed towards Icelandic society. It’s expensive, it’s corrupt, it’s more xenophobic than most let on. As a small community speaking a rather archaic language, it’s understandable that there are difficulties to integration. And as with any other small community, it’s rather nice to be part of the in-group, and rather hard to be part of the out-group. But without disregarding any of these very real issues, I’d like to bracket them and consider something deeper.

Indeed, if you find yourself alienated from Icelandic society, I’d like to contend that there is no such thing as Icelandic society. (At least from one very narrow and pedantic point of view).

To clarify this, we need to briefly consider the Industrial Revolution, and why it’s important that Iceland never truly went through it.

One of the most fundamental social transformations brought about by the Industrial Revolution was described by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies as the change from Gemeinschaft (community) to Gesellschaft (society). Gemeinschaft included rural communities defined by familial bonds and traditional values, where Gesellschaft described mass, urban societies that developed norms like laws and justice in order to create social cohesion at scale. This change, from a world where people knew each other by name to life in the modern, industrialised city, didn’t just have revolutionary effects on demographics, economics, and politics. It also necessitated a radical transformation in individual outlook and worldview.

We catch glimpses of some of these transformations in Laxness, who was keenly aware that he was living through a historically significant moment (indeed, his canonical work Independent People could be interpreted as a rather pessimistic take on this revolution; the protagonist Bjartur begins the story scraping a meagre living off of a traditional Icelandic farmstead, and ends the story with an empty, half-built concrete house that leaves him heavily in debt). The fact is, however, that these changes are not just history in Iceland. They’re still happening, and even today, members of the oldest generation alive in Iceland may even have been born in a turf farmhouse.

Just like on the continent, these changes took generations to take effect, and for many Icelanders, the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is only two generations deep or so.

This isn’t to excuse the numerous and well-documented cases of nepotism, corruption, and wage-theft that run through Icelandic society at all levels, from government ministries to the service industry. It is simply to say that we live in a community that is still figuring out how to become a society. It’s hard to imagine how different the world of a pre-modern farming community is from our largely urban society, but its shadow is still there, affecting us in curious ways (By way of example, I once heard an Icelander say in all earnestness ‘It’s not nepotism – it’s just that he’s my brother after all’).

If we keep in mind the background to this moment, the gravity of the change Iceland is still going through, we may see that there is still room to act, and perhaps even influence things for the better. We can help to change this community into something better – a society.

Case of Alþingi Protestor Referred to District Prosecutor

alþingi protestor

According to Morgunblaðið, the case concerning an asylum seeker who protested this past spring at Alþingi has been referred to the district prosecutor.

Highly-Criticised Immigration Bill Passed in Iceland

The incident occurred on March 4 while Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, was at the podium presenting presenting proposed changes to the controversial immigration bill. The man, an asylum seeker from Iraq, shouted “you don’t have a heart” and climbed over a handrail in the upper gallery of the Alþingi hall. The man was removed by security guards.

Investigation concluded

According to Morgunblaðið, the investigation into the case has been concluded, and it was referred to the district prosecutor.

The prosecutor’s office has not yet taken up the case, and no further information is available.

Read more about the immigration bill that provoked the protest.


New Kilometre Tax Proposed for Petrol and Diesel Vehicles

A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs has announced plans to introduce a kilometre tax for gasoline and diesel vehicles. This tax was applied to electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles at the beginning of the year. The kilometre tax is intended to replace the current taxes on oil and gasoline, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels. The planned tax would eliminate current oil and gasoline taxes. Read the proposed legislation here.

Adjusted by weight

The bill is planned to be presented before Alþingi this coming fall. Should it pass, it would take effect January 1, 2025. The bill proposes a kilometre tax based on the number of kilometres driven, adjusted for vehicle weight, regardless of the vehicle category.

Key points of the proposal include a fixed rate per kilometre for vehicles with a permitted total weight of 3,500 kg or less, as these vehicles generally cause similar road wear. For vehicles exceeding 3,500 kg, the tax amount will be based on total weight using a specific weight factor calculation. The tax will increase with the vehicle’s weight, reflecting the greater impact heavy vehicles have on road wear compared to lighter ones. This weight-based kilometre tax is intended to reflect the actual road use and weight of the vehicle.

Incentive to transition to renewable energy

The kilometre  tax will replace the current petrol and diesel taxes, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels.

The tax will be paid based on an estimate of average monthly mileage and settled when the new odometer reading is recorded by an accredited inspection agency. The collection method will be similar to how utility companies bill for energy use.

If passed, the new system claims to ensure a continued financial incentive for the transition to renewable energy, as the new tax schedule would mean that the energy and maintenance costs for electric vehicles will remain significantly lower than those for fossil fuel-powered vehicles.


NASA Research Balloon Seen Over Iceland

nasa air balloon east iceland

The NASA research balloon SUNRISE-III recently passed over Iceland. Launched in Kiruna, Sweden, on July 10, the balloon is en route to Canada.

Solar observatory

The balloon is part of the 2024 Sweden Long-Duration Scientific Balloon Campaign. Four large scientific balloons will be launched from Esrange Space Center in Sweden, north of the Arctic Circle. On July 10, 2024, the SUNRISE-III mission successfully launched at 6:22 a.m. CEST from Esrange. The balloon is now floating at nearly 123,000 feet, heading towards Canada.

The balloon, named SUNRISE-III, is a solar observatory that takes high-resolution imaging and spectro-polarimetry of layers of the Sun called the solar photosphere and chromosphere, and active regions to measure magnetic field, temperature, and velocities.

Seen over Iceland

The balloon could be seen over parts of Iceland last night. At the time of writing, the balloon is headed out to sea, south of the Westfjords. You can track its progress here.

Cold and Damp in Southwest, Sunny and Warm in East

Rain in Reykjavík

The weather in the capital region will be damp and cool in the coming days, with a sunnier and warmer forecast in East Iceland.

Today, southwest winds will range from 8 to 15 m/s, occasionally reaching 10 to 18 m/s from the northwest. Winds will ease gradually by afternoon. Expect intermittent showers or drizzle across western regions with temperatures between 9 to 15 degrees Celsius. In the east, it will be mostly sunny with temperatures ranging from 15 to 22 degrees Celsius.

Tomorrow, southerly winds will prevail at 5 to 13 m/s. There will be occasional precipitation in the west, but otherwise, conditions will be fair. Winds will strengthen later in the day with rain spreading across the western areas by evening. Temperatures are expected to remain steady.

OECD Survey Shows Decreasing Trust in Public Institutions

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

According to a recent OECD Trust Survey, in 2023, 36% of Icelanders reported high or moderately high trust in their national government, which is below the OECD average of 39%. This figure marks a 14 percentage point drop since 2021, the third largest decrease among OECD countries with available data.

Initiated in 2021, the OECD Survey on Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions explores the public perception of institutions and government across 30 OECD nations. The survey takes into account both day-to-day interactions with administrative systems, in addition to trust in government to make complex policy decisions. Read the full report here.

Other people trusted most, political parties trusted least

Similar to most OECD countries, Icelanders trust other people (82%) and the police (73%) more than their national government (36%). Over half of the population has high or moderately high trust in the national civil service (64%) and news media (62%). The national parliament (36%) and political parties (20%) are the least trusted institutions in Iceland.

The survey also revealed that in Iceland, people who feel excluded from the political system trust the national government 42 percentage points less than those who feel included, a smaller gap than the OECD average of 47 points. Notably, Iceland is one of three countries where women (37%) trust the national government slightly more than men (36%), unlike the OECD average where women’s trust is 7 points lower than men’s. Trust in the national government is equal among younger and older Icelanders, while across the OECD, older people’s trust is 7 points higher. Trust gaps related to education and financial concerns in Iceland mirror the OECD average.

Large gap between day-to-day institutions and government

The survey showed further that Icelanders, for the most part, trust the institutions they interact with daily, such as the civil service. For most day-to-day interactions with administration, Icelanders showed satisfaction generally higher than OECD averages. A large majority of people in Iceland (66%) with recent experience with the education system are satisfied with it, compared to 57% on average across the OECD. Additionally, 66% are satisfied with the administrative services they used, which is equal to OECD averages.

However, the general satisfaction with daily administration contrasted sharply with larger questions of policy and accountability. Indeed, the survey indicated that Iceland scores below the OECD average on nearly all indicators related to decision-making on intricate policy matters. A third of people in Iceland (34%) expect that government balances interests of current and future generations, a share that is 3 percentage points lower than the average across OECD countries (37%). Strikingly, only 20% of those surveyed found that parliament held government accountable. This is significantly lower than the OECD average of 38%.


June Sees 9% Decrease in Tourists from Last Year

A couple at geysir geothermal area

The latest report from the Icelandic Tourist Board shows that some 212,000 foreign tourists visited Iceland in June of this year. This represents 21,000 fewer than June of 2023, or a 9% decrease.

Nearly two of every five travellers American

The Icelandic Tourist Board report also showed that approximately two of every five travellers were Americans. In total, the top ten nations constituted 73% of all visitors to Iceland.

Following Americans (38% of travellers) were Germans (7.6%), Brits (4.6%), Poles (4.4%), Canadians (4.2%), French (3.6%), Chinese (3.3%), Dutch (2.8%), Italians (2.6%), and Spaniards (2.4%).

Annual total shows slight increase to date

Despite the lower June numbers, the annual to-date total shows a slight increase from last year. Since the turn of the year, about 963,000 foreign passengers have departed from Iceland, compared to about 953,000 during the same period last year. This represents a 1% increase year-on-year.

Icelanders travelling more

Departures of Icelanders were around 65,000 in June of this year, which is 9,600 more than in June 2023, or a 17.3% increase. So far this year, about 298 thousand Icelanders have traveled abroad, compared to about 293 thousand during the same period last year. This represents a 1.6% increase year-on-year.


Considerable Disruptions to Reykjavík Traffic Next Week

driving in reykjavík

Next week, construction is planned to begin on a pedestrian crossing where Reykjastræti intersects with Geirsgata. The construction is scheduled to start on July 15 and will be completed before the Merchants’ Day Weekend, which is in the first week of August.

New crosswalk, heated sidewalks

The construction will involve removing the current asphalt, installing curbs on either side to raise the pedestrian surface 6 cm above the current road level, installing a heated sidewalk for snow removal, adding a zebra strip crosswalk, and repaving.

The contractor for the project is Lóðaþjónustan.

Significant impact on traffic

The work is expected to have a significant impact on traffic in downtown Reykjavík. Two lanes on Geirsgata will be closed eastbound, but traffic will continue westbound. Traffic will be shifted westward between lanes, and all eastbound traffic on Geirsgata will be redirected to Hringbraut.

Access to the underground parking at Hafnartorg will be from the north on Geirsgata, and it will be necessary to cross the street in order to walk towards Grandi. The parking garage will remain open at all times.

Read more at the City of Reykjavík website (in Icelandic).