Cost of Living in Iceland

Last updated in Nov. 2022. The original question is from Dec. 2015.

Q: I’ve recently been offered a job in Iceland and have been looking into the cost of living, which is quite high compared to many other European countries. Is a salary of ISK 700,000 (USD 4,800, EUR 4,600) a month enough to cover the basics?

Derek, Ireland.

A: According to Iceland Statistics, the average salary in Iceland is ISK 635,000 (US 4,370, EUR 4,200) before tax per month, so the offer you received is well above that. Income tax is 31.45% for income up to ISK 370,482. For income in the range ISK 370,483 to ISK 1,040,106, the tax is 37.95%, and for income above ISK 1,040,106, the tax is 46.25%. The personal tax-free allowance is ISK 53,916 monthly or ISK 646,993 annually. For more on taxation, visit skatturinn.is.

The average rent for a centrally located one-bedroom apartment in Reykjavík is ISK 185,000 (USD 1,270, EUR 1,220) per month. This website offers information on the cost of renting an apartment. The figures show the price per square meter in various parts of the country.

A single person can expect to spend ISK 195,000 (USD 1,340, EUR 1,290) a month on food, clothes, medical services, recreation, transport, communication, and other services. For comparable figures for families check this website.

Here is the website of Statistics Iceland that shows average household expenditure.

Based on these figures, you can accept the job offer, knowing that you’ll have more money to spare than the average person in Iceland.

VH

What is the best site or way to find house rentals in Iceland?

The answer below has been updated in Nov. 2022 to better reflect the current situation but the original question is from 2012.

Q: What is the best site or way to find house rentals in Iceland? Long and short term?

Kim Bohon, Iceland (originally from Burleson, Texas, USA)

———————–

A: The rental market in Reykjavík is difficult for renters; the selection is sparse and available apartments sought after, especially in the city center and surrounding neighborhoods, and the price is rather high.

For example, a 80 to 100-square-meter apartment with two to three bedrooms in an apartment complex in postal code 105 Reykjavík, could be rented for approx. ISK 280,000 (USD 1,945, EUR 1,870) monthly, while a 60-square meter apartment with one bedroom in an apartment complex in the suburb Grafarvogur, 112 Reykjavík, went for ISK 240,000 (USD 1,670, EUR 1,600) per month, as stated on mbl.is. (Numbers as of Nov. 2022.)

On leigulistinn.is, a 10-square meter room in Torfufell in 111 Reykjavík was advertised for ISK 80,000 (USD 560, EUR 530) per month, while a 12-square-meter room on Hringbraut, in Vesturbær 101 Reykjavík, was rented for ISK 120,000 (USD 830, EUR 800) monthly (Numbers as of 2011).

The main three websites with information on rental apartments in Reykjavík are Leigulistinn, Leiga.is and news website mbl.is under properties (“Leigueignir”).

For the first two websites you might be able to receive help via email: [email protected] and [email protected], but please note that on Leigulistinn you have to pay a small fee for using the website. In the ads on mbl.is, telephone numbers and emails are usually included (if you’re calling from abroad, dial +354 first).

Rent tends to be lower outside the capital region and in smaller towns but not necessarily.

There are several Facebook groups where rental housing is listed and where you can post about what you are looking for. ‘Leiga‘ (e. Rental) is the biggest of those groups, other groups include ‘Leiga á Íslandi / Rent in Iceland‘, ‘Leiga í Reykjavik – Rent in Reykjavik‘ (focus on accommodation in Reykjavik) and ‘Leiga 101 Reykjavík‘ (rental housing in downtown Reykjavík only, postal code 101).

As for short-term rental accommodation, holiday apartments or cottages, there are a few websites you can check out.

In Reykjavík, there is for example airbnb.com, and in Akureyri in the north, there is a range of options presented by Visit North Iceland.

For summer houses around the country, viatis.is has a good selection.

How Many People in Iceland are Homeless?

homelessness in reykjavík

Unfortunately, Statistics Iceland has not released statistics on homelessness across Iceland since 2011, when they conducted a census which found there were 761 homeless inhabitants of the country. Of that group, 111 were “primary homeless,” meaning living on the street or in similar conditions, while 650 were “secondary homeless,” or moving between temporary shelters such as friends’ homes, emergency accommodation, and hostels. The majority of homeless people were male and were located in the Reykjavík capital region.

“It is difficult to gather accurate information about homeless people,” Statistician Ómar Harðarson from Statistics Iceland told IR. “We did it in connection with the 2011 census due to international obligations to report them. These requirements will not be as strict in the future and therefore it is unclear whether we will make a similar effort.”

The City of Reykjavík, however, released a report in 2021 that found 301 people were experiencing homelessness in the city. This is a decrease of 14% since 2017. According to data from the report, 71% of the individuals were men, and 29% were women, and most were between 21 and 49 years of age. Just over half were living in temporary or long-term housing provided by the city, while around one-third stayed in emergency shelters. Eight people were living in the open, with no shelter that could be considered housing. City authorities agreed that more needed to be done to meet the needs of this group.

Which languages are most closely related to Icelandic?

Icelandic is an Indo-European language, belonging to the group of North Germanic languages, to be specific. This group also includes Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Faroese. Of those languages, Norwegian and Faroese (spoken in the Faroe Islands) are the most closely related to Icelandic.

Icelanders and Faroese people may be able to understand each other’s languages on the page, as their writing systems and spelling are quite similar. Speaking is another matter, however: the pronunciation differs significantly, and the two languages are not mutually intelligible without study. 

Icelanders receive some help from their schooling when it comes to understanding the other North Germanic languages. Danish is a compulsory subject in schools, and learning it helps with the comprehension of Norwegian and Swedish as well.

How Hard Is It to Get a Nursing Job in Iceland?

A: In a recent interview with Iceland Review, Guðbjörg Pálsdóttir, President of the Icelandic Nursing Association, confirmed that there is a shortage of nurses in Iceland.

Applicants must, nonetheless, fulfil the requirements set by the Ministry of Health on appropriate education in nursing before receiving a permit for working as a nurse in Iceland (click here for further information). The Directorate of Health is responsible for issuing work permits on behalf of the ministry.

As wage agreements are currently being negotiated, Guðbjörg preferred not to comment on nursing salaries, as they are liable to change quickly: “Current wage tables* do not reflect the state of negotiations.” For further information regarding salaries, interested parties are encouraged to send an email to the Icelandic Nursing Association ([email protected]). When contracts have been signed, new figures will be published on the English version of the Association’s web site.

*The basic monthly salary for an experienced nurse in Iceland was around ISK 327,000 ($4,100 / €2,600) in 2018.

Icelandic Nursing License

Nurses that are citizens of EEA (European Economic Area) member states:

Individuals seeking to practise nursing in Iceland are required to possess an Icelandic nursing license, which must be recognised by the Ministry of Health and Social Security. Applicants must send the following papers to the Icelandic Ministry of Health and Social Security.

1. Certified proof of your citizenship in an EEA country (a certified copy of your passport is sufficient).

2. Certified copy of your diploma or a nursing degree proving that you are registered as a nurse in your home country.

3. Certified copy of your nursing license. This certificate must not be older than three months to ensure its current validity.

4. Letter of good standing, including a statement that your basic-qualification training complies with EEA training standards, and a verification that you have a valid nursing license in your home country.

The respective authorities must certify all these copies (photocopies are not accepted). These documents should be written in English, and any translation should be certified by a governmental authority or an official translator.

The Icelandic Nursing Association is a member of the International Council of Nursing, and employs the same criteria as the ICN regarding job applications from nurses outside the EEA (European Economic Area):

Individuals seeking to practise nursing in Iceland are required to possess an Icelandic nursing license, which must be recognised by the Ministry of Health and Social Security. Applicants must send the following papers to the Icelandic Ministry of Health and Social Security.

1. Certified copy of your permanent address (a certified copy of your passport is sufficient).

2. Certified copy of your diploma or a nursing degree showing that you are registered as a nurse in your home country.

3. Certified copy of your nursing license. This certificate must not be older than three months to ensure its current validity.

4. Certified copy of full details of the programme of your nursing studies: an outline of the curriculum, the length of the program, a description of the courses with the number of lectures, discussion, and clinical work.

The respective authorities must certify all these copies (photocopies are not accepted). These documents should be written in English, and any translations should be certified by a governmental authority or an official translator.

Applicants are no longer required to speak Icelandic before being granted an Icelandic nursing license from the Ministry of Health; however, nurses are required to study and learn Icelandic. For the first year or two, nurses who do not speak Icelandic can take courses while working. For further information, contact the Ministry of Health.

Please note: Prior to arriving in Iceland, you must contact an Icelandic employer and sign a contract of engagement. Foreign nationals coming to Iceland for employment purposes and without having obtained a work permit will be ordered to leave according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The address of the Directorate of Health: Landlaeknisembaettid, Katrínartún 2, 105 Reykjavík. Tel: (+354) 510-1900.

Ten Off-Road Driving Incidents Since June

The Environment Agency of Iceland has reported ten incidents of illegal, off-road driving since the beginning of June, RÚV reports. Division Head Ólafur A. Jónsson says there’s a need to better educate the public—and particularly visiting travelers—about areas in the countryside where people are not permitted to drive as many off-roading violations are, he says, inadvertent.

The ten incidents have taken place in the South and the Southern Highlands: two at Dýrhólaey promontory on the south coast, one at the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the highlands, and seven in the Fjallabak nature reserve. The damage done to the landscape was significant enough in these incidents to report them to the police.

Although Ólafur says there was not a cumulative increase in these incidents as of the end of last year, his office is, nevertheless, in almost daily contact with the police about similar issues and says that his office is still working on raising public awareness about the fragility of Iceland’s natural landscapes. To this end, the Environment Agency has begun collaborating with Search and Rescue on matters related to land protection and new educational materials distributed to tourists. They are also preparing a database which will chart all of the roads in Iceland that it is permissible for people to drive on. “In most cases, you want to think these were unintentional acts,” he says, “that people didn’t mean to do any damage, had thought it was permitted [to drive off-road] or something like that.”

Intentional or not, Ólafur believes that fines are important in the event of serious damage being done to the landscape. Only a few days ago, French tourists driving two jeeps were fined ISK 200,000 ($1,900/€1,600) each for off-road driving near Kerlingarfjöll mountain range. The travellers called for help when they got their cars stuck in mud near the mountain Loðmundur. The area has been closed to vehicles due to wet conditions. The individuals’ driving damaged vegetation and soil in the area. The two individuals were questioned at the police station in Selfoss, South Iceland, where they paid the fine.

“I think that everyone who comes [into a protected area] needs to pay a fine to the police,” he said. “When you get up to amounts like that, I think it’s really important.”

Ripped Off by Car Rentals?

Q: I have rented a car in Iceland a few times, up to now without any complaints whatsoever. Surfing through a few forums I was astonished to read that a lot of tourist seem to have been ripped off by their rental company through claiming minimal dents or scratches as major damage with a huge fine/claim. And I do not mean sandstorm damage. Is there an increase of those instances or is it an example of “once in a while and exaggerated via Internet forums”?

Mechthild, Germany

A: I spoke to a representative at the Icelandic Automobile Association. He said there seems to have been an increase in instances where renters of cars have been charged for dents and scratches once they return the rental car. He explains it as a result of a policy change within the larger car rentals in Europe in general, where an emphasis has been placed on scrutinizing the car upon return in search of any possible dents. He believes that policy has simply made its way to Iceland.

When asked for good advice to give to car renters, he said it was vital to walk around the car with a representative of the car rental when you pick up the car. Make sure every dent and scratch you see is clearly marked in the rental agreement. Also, be aware that there are many gravel roads in Iceland, making small dents likelier to occur than in many other countries. Most importantly, don’t drive a vehicle across rivers if it isn’t well equipped for such driving.

If you run into a dispute with the car rental, the Icelandic Automobile Association advises European travelers to contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in your home country. They will then forward the complaint to the ECC in Iceland and work in coordination with them to resolve your issue.

Should a dispute arise between a consumer and a company, which is member of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) then the dispute can be referred to the complaints board of the Consumers’ Association of Iceland and SAF. This option is not limited to Icelandic citizens alone, but available to consumers of any nationality.

VH

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in Iceland

Q: A recent conversation with a friend stimulated this question. He had just watched the Ben Stiller film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on TV, knows I visited Iceland in 2009 and wanted to talk about it. My wife and I saw the film earlier when it first hit our local movie theater and we like it a lot.

What did you think of the segment of the film that took place in Iceland? Did the film portray things fairly accurately?

Is Iceland’s ban on stripper bars still in place? The reason I’m asking this question is because there is a scene in the film where Ben Stiller gets off a ship in an Icelandic port and races several Portuguese (?) sailors to a bicycle so he can continue his quest. The ship captain tells Stiller that the sailors want to use that bike to pedal into town to a stripper bar.

Ron, MD, U.S.

A: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which premiered in Iceland in January last year, ended up being the fourth most-watched movie in theaters in Iceland in 2014.

Upon leaving Iceland in September 2012, Ben Stiller tweeted: “Last day of the shoot. Iceland is an incredible place. Going to miss it here.” He also raved about Iceland on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier in the year.

Judging by how Icelandic landscape was portrayed in the film, Stiller really did love it. Parts of it seemed like an Inspired by Iceland commercial.

Scenes were shot in Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur on Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, in Höfn and on Vatnajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland, and in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. An indoor scene was also shot in Borgarnes, West Iceland.

However, not all of the scenes were supposed to take place in Iceland; Stykkishólmur and Höfn served as locations in Greenland, while the Vatnajökull scenes were supposed to take place in Afghanistan and the Himalayas.

Also in the Iceland scenes, the geography was messed up. Walter Mitty was in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland when he witnessed Eyjafjallajökull erupt, but according to the map that he carried, he was in Stykkishólmur in West Iceland and the volcano was located in the town’s vicinity. In reality, Eyjafjallajökull isn’t anywhere near either of the two towns, its actual location is in South Iceland.

Stripping is still banned and there’s also no Papa John’s in Iceland so Stiller definitely didn’t portray things accurately, even though he certainly did Icelandic nature justice in his landscape shots, especially where Walter Mitty skateboards down Fjarðarheiði to Seyðisfjörður.

I thought the geographical mix-up was funny but it didn’t bother me much when watching the movie. Writers and filmmakers are granted a certain liberty as a good storyline trumps facts. Stiller isn’t the first filmmaker to play around with Icelandic geography—the locations in Icelandic Oscar-nominated director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s 1995 comedy Cold Fever (Á köldum klaka) didn’t make much sense either.

The film got mixed reviews and not everyone liked it, although the people I spoke with generally agreed that it was entertaining, a ‘feel good’ movie.

ESA

Northern Lights to Decrease in 2019

Northern lights activity will lessen from 2019-2021 due to decreasing solar activity, Vísir reports. There will be fewer of the colourful, bright displays which have recently attracted tourists to Iceland.

Northern lights are caused by solar activity, which goes through 11-year cycles. During these solar cycles the sun experiences changes in levels of solar radiation and magnetic activity, and as this activity decreases, so do northern lights.

“Now and in the next few years [the activity] will begin to decrease, slowly but surely. So that 2019 will probably be very quiet, 2020 as well, 2021, and then the activity should increase again after that and should reach a high point in 2026, around that time, and the following years, three or four years, there should be very nice northern lights as well,” stated Sævar Helgi Bragason, editor of Stjörnufræðivefurinn website and Facebook page which aim to promote interest in astronomy.

Sævar Helgi assured that even in periods of low activity, northern lights never disappear completely. “We will, however, get fewer colourful, splendid displays of the kind we would like to show off to tourists and see ourselves,” he stated.

Great displays of northern lights are still expected this winter, before the activity begins to diminish.

“This winter has gotten off to a good start, and seems to be continuing to be quite good. So I’m very optimistic about this winter and also pretty optimistic about next winter, though we may see graceful and beautiful displays a bit less often then,” adds Sævar Helgi.

Are there any public laundry facilities in Iceland?

Q: Are there any public laundry facilities in Iceland?

We will be bringing our three sons to Iceland for two weeks this summer and at some point in the two weeks I’m sure we will need to wash some of our clothes.

For our first five days we will be based in Reykjavík and then we will be traveling around the island for the rest of the trip, spending two days in Akureyri.

When my wife and I were there last summer we didn’t see any public laundry facilities nor did we see this service provided at any of the hotels we stayed at.

John Kingma, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada

———————–

A: Almost every household has its own washing machine or, in some older apartment complexes, each apartment has access to a shared washing machine in the basement. This means that, unfortunately, there aren’t any self-service laundromats in Iceland.

However, you should be able to have your clothes washed at your hotel or if you’re staying at a hostel, you may well have access to a machine. The website hostel.is provides a listing of services available at each of the hostels in Iceland and a quick overview showed that almost all of these hostels had laundry facilities, at least the ones in Reykjavík and Akureyri.

There are some laundry services listed in the phonebook, although most are drycleaners who also offer laundry services. However, these services are normally outrageously expensive.

For example, there is a company in Reykjavík called Fönn that offers full-service laundering. Unless you come with a very large amount of clothing (we’re talking about several garbage bags of clothes) then you are charged by the garment.

Socks cost ISK 172 (USD 1.34, EUR 0.96) per pair, undies cost ISK 230 (USD 1.79, EUR 1.28) per pair, shirts cost ISK 554 (USD 4.32, EUR 3.08) per garment, and so forth.

So you can see how your bill would add up quite quickly. Clothes dropped off before noon can be picked up the same day. Otherwise, there is a one-day turnaround.

If you want to check your options, here is a listing of drycleaners, including contact information, in Iceland from the online telephone book.

On the website tjalda.is, which lists all campsites in Iceland, you can see that some of have access to washing machine, such as the camp site in Akureyri and the camp site in Laugardalur in Reykjavík.

Otherwise, you might just have to seek out a hot spring to do your laundry as Icelanders used to do back in the days.