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.

What can you tell me about Icelandic cows?

icelandic cow

Icelandic cattle are a breed of cattle that have been in Iceland since the time of settlement. They are short-haired with highly variable colors and color patterns. Icelandic cattle have mostly remained pure since settlement, but they are most closely related to the Sidet Trønder and Nordland cattle in Trøndelag, Norway. Importing cattle to Iceland is prohibited, and the import of embryos, eggs, and semen is subject to restrictions. There have, however, been recent debates around importing Swedish cattle, as they produce more milk. Opponents say that the Icelandic cattle, though it may produce less milk than its Scandinavian relatives, is nonetheless a part of the national heritage.

Icelandic cattle are a small-sized dairy breed. Most are now polled (about 95%), but there are still some horned ones, though horned cattle were more common in the past. The average cow produces about 6000 kg of milk per year, but the best dairy cows produce about 11000 kg per year. They are kept indoors for eight months a year and are mostly fed hay with added feed mixtures. They graze outside in fields during the summer, and to increase production, green fodder (rapeseed, kale, oats, and barley) is often cultivated as well. There are about 71,000 Icelandic cattle in the country (as of 2019), of which 25,000 are dairy cows. It has been found that the protein composition of Icelandic dairy cow milk is somewhat different from that of Central European cattle breeds. This affects processing properties, such as cheese making, and flavor.

Iceland is of course famous for its sheep, but visitors to Iceland who want to see Icelandic cattle have several options. The South Coast is a large agricultural area and you will like see many cattle simply driving through the area. Beint frá býli (Directly from the farm) also has a curated list of farm-to-table cattle ranches in Iceland, where you are able to purchase beef. For those looking for a sweeter, and more innocent, dairy treat, the farm at Erpsstaðir also has an ice cream creamery, which can be booked for tours and visits.

Is the Blue Lagoon Open in June 2024?

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

Update: As of June 14, the Blue Lagoon is open.

The most recent eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula began on May 29 and continues to be active as of the time of writing. Following advisory warnings from authorities, the Blue Lagoon was closed in the days following the eruption. After the eruption site stabilized, the Blue Lagoon reopened its doors to visitors. However, soon after, lava ran over Route 43, the road to the Blue Lagoon, forcing its temporary closure again from June 8 to 10. There was another brief closure due to air quality, but as of June 14, the Blue Lagoon is currently open.

Note that Grindavíkurvegur, the road which normally services the Blue Lagoon, is currently closed. Travellers headed to the Blue Lagoon will need to instead take route 425 west along the Reykjanes peninsula, and then head north on route 426. There are currently security checkpoints in place, and you will need to present a booking at the Blue Lagoon in order to pass. This may also slow things down, so add a little more time to your itinerary just in case.

Useful resources

Apart from news updates that we provide, below are some links you may find useful as you stay apprised of the situation or your visit to Iceland nears:

The Icelandic Met Office, which provides updates on earthquake and volcano activity.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which provides detailed updates on road conditions all over the country.

Safe Travel, which provides continuously updated information relevant to traveling to and within Iceland.

Isavia, which operates Keflavík International Airport.

Read our latest In Focus on tourist safety and the Reykjanes eruptions. This In Focus has been opened to all readers, so no need to subscribe.

How to visit the Blue Lagoon

If you’re considering a visit to the Blue Lagoon, there are several ways to do so. One popular option is a premium admission pass with bus transfer from Reykjavík or Keflavík airport. Alternatively, you can combine a trip to the Blue Lagoon with a Golden Circle tour, or if you’re driving yourself, you can book a basic admission ticket.

The Blue Lagoon is situated about 20 kilometers (13 miles) from Keflavík International Airport and approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Reykjavík. You can reach it by car, taxi, or shuttle bus. Since it is a very popular destination, booking in advance is recommended to ensure a spot in the lagoon.

By booking travel services through Iceland Review, you support independent coverage and travel information in Iceland. For more information on tours and trips to lagoons and hot springs in Iceland, or to access practical travel information, visit our travel section.

Finally, although the eruption site is closed to the public, it is still possible to see it from the air with a helicopter tour. 

Who is Iceland’s New President, Halla Tómasdóttir?

Halla Tómasdottir President

Halla Tómasdóttir won Iceland’s presidential election on June 1 with 34.1% of the vote, beating out a record number of candidates. Halla was polling at around 5% at the start of the election campaign but her support rose steadily leading up to the election. Her final share of the votes proved to be even higher than polls predicted only days before the election.

Halla is a businessperson and most recently CEO of The B Team, a global nonprofit initiative co-founded by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz. She took leave from the position to run for president. Halla ran for the presidency once before, in 2016, when she received 27.9% of the vote and ended as runner-up to Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who has been president since.

Halla has had a long career in business and founded the female-led investment firm Auður Capital as well as being an early member of the founding team of Reykjavík University. During her presidential campaign, Halla told Iceland Review she has “a vision of how to use the office to bring together different groups and generations to communicate and collaborate on the many issues we face.”

Presidential elections are held every four years in Iceland. While there is no term limit for the office, Halla has stated that she considers it acceptable for a president to sit two to three terms, like her predecessor Guðni. Halla is currently 55 years old. She is the second woman to be elected President of Iceland, after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who in 1980 became the first female democratically elected head of state in the world.

Halla takes office on August 1, 2024.

I like drinking Icelandic glacial water. Could volcanic activity affect its availability?

natural resource iceland

Short answer: no!

The internationally popular brand of bottled water, Icelandic Glacial, is bottled at the Ölfus spring near Þorlóakshöfn, a small town which straddles the South Coast and the Reykjanes peninsula.

The most recent geological activity on Reykjanes has taken place within the Eldvörp-Svartsengi system, which is indicated on the map below by zone 2.

volcanic systems on reykjanes
Wikimedia commons

You’ll notice that Þorlákshöfn has no active volcanic systems running through it. So even if the seismic situation on Reykjanes develops unpredictably, we suspect your bottled water is safe.

Read more about this valuable natural resource in Iceland.

And by the way – if you want our two cents, your water at home is probably fine. Just get a filter and a reusable bottle and ditch the plastic!

Are there truck driving jobs in Iceland?

The local milk truck drving across the winding roads of the Westfjords

Iceland does not have a particularly large market or demand for land transport. Simply put, it’s a small nation, and as an island, much of the important goods already arrive in Reykjavík, the largest urban centre in the nation.

These 2022 statistics show, for instance, that transportation and storage account for some 13,000 jobs in Iceland, or about 5.3% of overall jobs. Note that this will also include things like warehouse work, tour buses, city buses, and taxi drivers as well. Statistics Iceland breaks these categories down differently, and land transportation does not even register on their index of major national industries.

Driver’s license

Nevertheless, there is some trucking in Iceland, especially in agriculture and parcel delivery. You will, of course, need the relevant class of driver’s license in order to work as a truck driver. Below are listed the basic classes of driver’s licenses in Iceland. Note that each class has several additional subclasses, which are determined by the size of the engine, the overall weight of the vehicle, and whether it will tow a trailer.

  • Class A: Motorcycles.
  • Class B: Passenger vehicles.
  • Class C: Trucks and commercial vehicles.
  • Class D: Buses and other transit vehicles.

Due to the size of Iceland’s tourism industry, if you are on the job market and have a commercial driver’s license, working as a tour bus driver may also be a good fit for you. Note, however, that this will require a class D license, whereas trucking would require a class C license. Read more about the regulations here (in Icelandic).

Job hunting

Iceland’s not alone in the world in being a society where it often comes down to who you know. That being said, there’s always a demand for skilled and hard-working people, so here are some places to begin looking.

You can search the phonebook, Já, for businesses that specialize in transportation. It may be worth simply cold-calling many of them.

You may also find Alfreð helpful, a popular job board in Iceland. Try searching “bílstjóri óskast” (driver wanted).

Störf is also another job board that you may find useful.

 

How can I vote in the next Icelandic presidential election?

iceland election

With a presidential election coming up on June 1, it’s a great time to briefly brush up on who can vote in Iceland, where to vote, and how.

Who is eligible to vote?

Icelandic citizens who have reached the age of majority (18) by election day and are legally registered in Iceland are eligible to vote in the presidential elections.

Besides these conditions, there are some special cases to briefly consider.

An Icelandic citizen who has been legally registered in Iceland has voting rights for sixteen years from the time they move domicile from the country. After that period, they must apply to be re-registered to Registers Iceland.

A special consideration also exists for Danish citizens who resided in Iceland prior to its formal independence. So if you are a Danish citizen and were registered as living in Iceland March 6, 1946, or at any time during the last 10 years before that time, you are also eligible to vote for the next Icelandic president.

Read more on the official government website.

Note that these conditions are for parliamentary and presidential elections, in addition to national referendums. Different rules apply for municipal elections, where foreign residents are still eligible to vote if they have been registered to Iceland for three years or more. Slightly different rules also apply to citizens of other Nordic nations.

Where can you vote?

Your polling station will be determined by your residence as stated to Registers Iceland. At their website, you can enter your civil registration number (kennitala) and find where you polling station will be.

Remember that the 2024 presidential elections will take place June 1.

Do I need to bring anything to the polling station?

Yes, Icelandic law does require voters to present identification before voting. This can be in the form of a driver’s license, passport, or civil identity card. Electronic identification is also accepted, so if you have it set up, your phone will be sufficient (though it doesn’t hurt to bring additional identification, just in case).

I will be abroad. Can I still vote?

If you will be travelling or otherwise unable to vote on election day, it is still possible to vote at the district commissioner’s office or at Holtagarðar, if you live in the capital region. Read more here.

If you are an Icelandic citizen registered as living abroad, you will need to contact an Icelandic embassy or consulate. A list of Icelandic embassies and consulates is available here.

I have special circumstances. Can I still vote?

If you are sick and in hospital, in a nursing or residential home, imprisoned, or otherwise unable to make it to a polling station, it is still possible to vote. More information here.

Voting at home is also permitted in cases of illness, disability, or childbirth. Special permission must be applied for no later than two days before elections. Read more.

 

When is whale watching season in Iceland?

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland offers a great diversity of wildlife, and heading on a whale-watching tour is one of the main highlights of one’s stay on this island. Luckily, Iceland has a broad shoreline and can boast numerous whale-watching spots. But when and where is the best time and place to go whale-watching in Iceland? Read on and find out!

The best season for whale-watching

Undoubtedly, the best season for whale-watching is the summer months, from April to October. As many whale species migrate to Iceland during that time to feed in the nutrient-dense waters, this is the best time to observe an abundance of these cetaceans in the waters. If you are interested in reading more about which whales you can observe in Iceland, read our travel article here.

The weather also plays an important part in heading on a whale-watching tour. Most tour providers do not offer tours from November to January, as storms are quite regular, and heading on a boat tour would not be too pleasant.

The only species that is better observed in spring/early summer are Orcas. They are best spotted from March until early June, with the prime hotspot being in Ólafsvík, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Top spots for whale-watching in Iceland

Generally, most places to go whale-watching in Iceland are in the western part of the country and in the North. Húsavík is commonly known as the “capital of whale-watching” and offers many tour providers and whale sightings every season – even tracking when blue whales, the biggest species on earth, come and visit the small town in the North.

Other spots in Iceland do not rank behind, and heading on a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík can also lead to great observations! Read more about whale-watching tours from Reykjavík here. You can check out this map below to see all the whale-watching spots in Iceland. 

If you’re interested in booking a whale-watching tour, you can check out these tours here.

I’m a foreign national. Can I buy property in Iceland?

iceland real estate

The short answer is yes, but there are many conditions and caveats to consider. It’s also worth noting that due to a growing population, the volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula (which have displaced Grindavík residents), and rising post-COVID interest rates, Iceland is currently experiencing a housing crisis. So, for potential buyers, it may not be the most economical (or ethical) time to buy property in Iceland.

Who can buy property in Iceland?

Briefly, foreign residents with a legal domicile in Iceland are eligible to buy property in Iceland.

The relevant section from the Act on the Right of Ownership and Use of Real Property states:

No one may acquire the right to own or use real property in Iceland, including fishing and hunting rights, water rights or other real property rights, whether by free assignation or enforcement measures, marriage, inheritance or deed of transfer, unless the following conditions are met:

1. In the case of an individual, he shall be an Icelandic citizen or have domicile in Iceland.

2. If several individuals are involved in a company, and each bears unlimited liability for the debts of the company, they shall all be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years.

3. In the case of a company in which some members bear unlimited liability, and others only limited liability, for the company}s debts, all those who bear unlimited liability shall be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years.

4. In the case of a company in which none of the members bears unlimited liability for the company}s debts, or an institution, the company or institution shall have its domicile and venue in Iceland and all its directors shall be Icelandic citizens or shall have been domiciled in Iceland for at least five continuous years. In the case of joint-stock companies, 4/5 of the share capital shall be owned by Icelandic citizens, and Icelandic citizens shall exercise the majority of the votes at shareholders} meetings.

Importantly, the stipulation that foreigners have a legal domicile raises some important considerations. In order to be legally domiciled in Iceland, one is required to have a kennitala (a civil registration number) and be registered at Registers Iceland.

This likewise raises several other conditions. Non-EEA residents will need a residency visa, and if they are not independently wealthy, a work permit as well. Additionally, being legally domiciled entails already having a residence, i.e., renting a property, since you will not initially be able to buy property outright. Retirees may want to read more about retiring in Iceland.

There is, however, a way to circumvent some of these requirements: special permission from the Minister of Justice, in which case the Minister may grant permission to deviate from the conditions laid out in the Act on the Right of Ownership. Such special permits only pertain to one specific property, which cannot exceed 3.5 hectares, and the applicant may not own other properties in Iceland. As you might expect, there are some conditions and further exceptions to these exceptions.

The relevant application forms can be found on the official government website, or here below.

Form 1.

Form 2.

Applications can either be printed, scanned, and emailed to [email protected], or mailed directly to the Ministry. Some real estate agents that specialize in international clients may offer to take care of this application, for a fee.

Another aspect of buying property in Iceland to keep in mind is that Icelandic law makes a distinction between vacation houses and legal residencies. One cannot be legally domiciled, that is, registered, to a summer house. One’s legal residence is required to be a residence intended for year-round habitation.

Real estate listings in Iceland

Most major newspapers have real estate listings, which may be helpful if you’re property hunting in Iceland.

Vísir real estate listings.

Morgunblaðið real estate listings.

Prices will of course vary based on a variety of factors, but average prices per square metre can be found here. Note that the prices given are in hundreds of thousands of ISK. At the time of writing, the average price in the capital region is about 1 million ISK per square metre [$7,126, €6,650], so a relatively modest apartment in Reykjavík might cost some 70 million ISK [$501,000, €465,500].

How to buy real estate in Iceland

So you’re legally eligible to buy property and you’ve found the right place – how, exactly, does one go about buying it?

It’s a complicated process, and if you’re serious about moving forward with your decision, we do recommend getting in contact with a real estate broker and possibly a lawyer specializing in such matters.

Nevertheless, here are the broad contours of buying property in Iceland. Íslandsbanki also has a useful roadmap for first-time homebuyers. 

Step 1: Determining whether you are legally able to buy property, as described above.

Step 2: Getting your finances in order. Of course, this is its own topic entirely, but it may be difficult to get a mortgage at an Icelandic bank without long-term residency and/or citizenship. Many foreign nationals looking for real estate in Iceland may need to take out loans in their home countries to be able to pay cash in Iceland.

Step 3: Finding a property. The real estate listings given above are a good place to start. At this stage, you may also begin looking for a real estate agent. There are real estate agents that specialize in dealing with English-speaking clients and wrangling with some of the legal issues that arise in such cases.

Step 4: Once you’ve found an agent, they should be able to guide you through the rest of the process (n.b. Agent fees generally range from 1.5% to nearly 3% of the total sale cost). One thing to keep in mind is that you will also need a notary to sign official documents. Fees for transferring the property and registering the newly-purchased property can amount to around 1% of the total property value.

 

Does Iceland have Costco? Can I use my membership card?

costco iceland kauptún

Many travellers to Iceland may be surprised to learn that Iceland does, indeed, have a warehouse from the bulk retailer Costco.

Opened in 2017 and located in a shopping centre in Garðabær, a 10- to 15-minute drive from Reykjavík, the membership-based retailer carries – for the most part – the same selection as its American warehouses, with a little local flavour. In addition to tubs of hummus, sacks of coffee, and jars of speciality pickles, Costco in Iceland also offers a selection of skyr, Icelandic hotdogs, local sodas, harðfiskur, and more.

And yes, travellers can use their membership cards from abroad at Costco in Iceland, and vice-versa: Icelanders with Costco memberships can also use their cards when travelling.

So, while travellers may have no need for the quantity of goods purchased at Costco, it may be a good option for a last-minute pair of rain pants, a sweater, or stocking up on snacks for a trip around the Ring Road.

It’s also worth noting that membership cards from abroad also work at the gas pump.