Over 13% of Icelanders Live Abroad

Tenerife elderly senior Spain

Over 13% of Icelandic citizens live abroad, according to the latest figures from Registers Iceland. While 324,193 Icelanders live in Iceland, 49,870 live outside of the country. About three-fifths of Icelandic emigrants live in other Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland). RÚV reported first.

Denmark tops the list for relocation

Denmark, Iceland’s former coloniser, is the most popular country for Icelanders to relocate to, with 11,982 Icelandic citizens living there currently. This represents 24% of all Icelanders who live abroad or nearly one-quarter. Norway and Sweden are in second and third place, home to 9,250 and 9,046 Icelanders respectively.

Number of Icelanders living abroad growing

The US and UK round out the top five, with 6,583 Icelanders living in the United States and 2,518 in the United Kingdom. Over 900 Icelanders live in Spain, a popular vacation destination for Icelandic citizens. In most of the top 15 countries on the list, the number of Icelandic residents has been steadily increasing. The same is true of the number of Icelandic citizens living abroad in general. In 2004, they numbered 29,591, and at the end of 2023, they numbered 49,870.

It bears noting that Iceland’s population has also grown in recent years, though not as much as previously believed.


Icelanders Flock to Tenerife to Find Sunshine, More Icelanders

It has been a particularly punishing winter in Iceland this year, but many locals have avoided the blizzards and gales entirely, or at least managed to escape it for a short while. Vísir reports that the Spanish island of Tenerife has become a home away from home for a bustling community of Icelandic expats and tourists who are eager to soak up the southerly sun.

The flight from Iceland to Tenerife takes roughly five hours, with round-trip tickets from Keflavík starting at around ISK 68,000 [$475; €443]. These flights are extremely popular with Icelanders throughout the winter months, so much so that the Icelandic electronics chain Elko started advertising, in Icelandic, in the Tenerife airport over Christmas, hoping to encourage some last-minute gift purchases.

“We set [our billboard] up in December,” said Elko marketing manager Arinbjörn Hauksson. “There’s been a lot of discussion about all these Icelanders who have been flocking to Tenerife. So we saw an opportunity on the table and secured a billboard in the best place to get traffic, take advantage of this whole stream of Icelanders who are going out there and then coming back home.”

Elko’s decision to use Icelandic in the advertisement caught locals’ eyes, and certainly got people talking, but it’s not even the first time that Icelanders have advertised in the Tenerife airport. Last April, Hildur Björnsdóttir, an Independence Party representative on the Reykjavík City Council, announced her candidacy for the upcoming council elections in the Tenerife Airport.

Two thousand Icelanders a week

Sigvaldi Kaldalón, known as Svali, the owner of Tenerife Tours, does a bustling business with tourists of all stripes, not just Icelanders. He says the overwhelming number of visitors to the island overwhelms the existing infrastructure, which is a problem back in Iceland, too.

“This island is literally bursting with tourists, not just Icelanders, but tourists in general,” he said. “The main concern of Canarians is not having a sufficiently organized infrastructure, which is something we don’t have in Iceland, either.”

“Last year, 8.3 million tourists came [to Tenerife], and it’s looking to be even more this year,” he said. “I’d say there are close to 2,000 Icelanders every week. Icelanders are mainly here for the weather, just want to relax a bit. It’s a totally different tempo here.”

But whatever infrastructure problems might exist, they don’t seem to be putting Icelanders off in the least. In fact, many Icelanders make the trip annually.

“I’ve been here 14 times, I’m just addicted to it,” Ólöf Ingbergsdóttir said with a laugh. “A person could spend their old age here, I think it’s heading that direction.”

“It’s just so nice, the weather’s great,” said Þorgerður Gísladóttir, whose family was on their 13th visit to the island. “It’s wonderful to come with the kids, everyone can just do what they want and we don’t have to wear coats.”

“It’s fabulous, I’ve got to come here every single year,” agreed Bjarni Sigurjónsson from a sun lounger on the beach.

Just like Sunday lunch at grandma’s

Icelanders may be coming for the distinctly un-Icelandic weather, but they can still have a taste of home while in Tenerife. There are at least four Icelandic restauranteurs on the island. Níels Hafsteinsson is one of them. Níels owns several bars and restaurants and has 45 employees working for him. Icelanders are some of his most frequent customers.

“Yes, like tonight,” he said gesturing around one of his restaurants during a recent interview. “Three out of ten tables are Icelanders. It’s a lot fun.”

Níels’ Icelandic diners were happy to be able to patronize an Icelander’s business while in Tenerife and found it comforting to be able to go somewhere where everything felt like home.

“It’s just like going to Sunday lunch at grandma’s,” said customer Ásgeir Ingólfsson. “The rhubarb jam is missing, maybe, but the food is great.”

No Deadline for Decision on Whether Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson Will Be Prosecuted in UK

The Office of the Crown Prosecutor in the UK is currently reviewing evidence against Icelandic footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson and deciding whether it will pursue prosecution against the former Everton midfielder or drop the matter entirely, RÚV reports. Gylfi Þór has been accused of “multiple sexual offenses” and has been subject to a travel ban that has prevented him from leaving the UK since being arrested at his home in Manchester in July 2021.

Responding to an inquiry from RÚV, Nazia Dewji, a spokesperson for the Office of the Crown Prosecutor, said that there was no set deadline by which a decision on the matter must be made. Dewji said that the evidence from the police investigation had been received by the prosecutor at the end of January.

Gylfi Þór was released on bail shortly after his arrest, but has not played in a professional football match since then. He was taken off the active roster for the Premier League team Everton and his contract was not renewed when it ran out last summer. He has not played with the Icelandic Men’s National Team since then either.

In October 2022, Gylfi Þór’s father Sigurður Aðalsteinsson, gave an interview in which he called on the Icelandic government to come to his son’s assistance. The case had been dragged on for far longer than legally reasonable, he argued. “If someone is detained in some [other] country for some hypothetical offense, you can’t just let him languish there for a year, year and a half just endlessly waiting,” he said. At the time, the footballer’s family hoped to change Gylfi Þór’s legal domicile to Iceland so as to make it harder for the British judiciary to extend his travel ban. It was the first time that anyone close to Gylfi Þór had confirmed that any such travel ban existed.

Update April 14, 2023: Charges Dropped Against Footballer Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson

Icelanders Seek Sunny Climes Over Easter

Tenerife elderly senior Spain

Between 600 and 700 arrivals and departures are expected at Keflavík airport over the Easter holiday, counting from last Saturday to Monday. Vísir reports that this is a significant increase over last year, when there were only about 100 arrivals and departures during the same timeframe.

Unsurprisingly, given the drizzly skies and temperatures hovering between 6-12°C [43-54°F] forecast in the capital over the weekend, the most popular destinations have been sunny beach destinations. City break vacation packages have also been in high demand.

As a result of the holiday flight frenzy, all the parking lots at Keflavík airport were filled as of Wednesday. Even though traffic out of the capital may now be considerably lighter than in recent years, those taking staycations within Iceland this Easter should nonetheless expect to encounter a fair amount of traffic heading north and to the Westfjords, as well as along Suðurlandsvegur heading toward the cottage communities in South Iceland.

Icelanders Flock to US as Borders Reopen

The United States opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from other countries on Monday, RÚV reports, precipitating a rush of Icelanders looking forward to finally being able to visit family members and/or enjoy some time in the southern sun after over a year and a half of being barred entry to the country.

Prior to Monday, only Icelanders qualifying for particular exemptions, such as travel for work or study, were allowed to enter the US. Now, any traveller who has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test is allowed to visit.

Five Icelandair flights to the US were scheduled on Monday, to US destinations New York (JFK), Seattle, Boston, and Orlando. Florida is a particularly popular North American destination for Icelanders, particularly in the fall and winter months, and many Icelanders own second homes there.

Ragnheiður Gyða Ragnarsdóttir was travelling to the Sunshine State to clear out the basement of a flat that her parents sold last year—and to enjoy “slightly” better weather than Iceland is currently experiencing.

Sigurbjörg Björgvinsdóttir and her husband were embarking on a four-week trip to Florida as well. She noted that lots of Icelanders stay in the area the couple was travelling to, “a whole neighbourhood,” even.

Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason said that local bookings skyrocketed as soon as the November 8 border opening was announced. “We now have 11 destinations in North America—ten in the US and one in Canada.” He said that flights would be added depending on demand. “We’re not quite back to normal, but having gotten through COVID, you could say that we’re in a better place now than we were a few months ago. All in all, we’re on a positive track.”

Around 2,000 Icelandic Pensioners Live Abroad

Tenerife elderly senior Spain

New data from Statistics Iceland shows that there were around 51,000 Icelandic pensioners as of December 2020—an increase of 3.9% from what this number was a year ago. Just under 2,000 Icelandic pensioners live abroad now, which represents 4% of the total number of pensioners. The number of pensioners living abroad has increased by 45% since 2017.

Around 24,000 of the recorded pensioners are men and 27,000 are women. About a quarter of the individuals on pensions were under 70 years of age; almost half were 75 or older.

The number of pensioners on disability has increased by 0.3% between this year and last, almost 20,000 people total. This is a lower relative increase than has been seen in previous years. Close to 12,000 pensioners on disability are women and around 8,000 are men.

The number of individuals receiving rehabilitation pensions increased by a quarter, just around 3,000 at the end of last year. Rehabilitation pensions differ from disability pensions in that they are temporary.

See the full report, in English, here.

One Out of Four Icelanders Went Abroad This Summer

Keflavík Airport

One out of four Icelanders went abroad this summer, as the country began to recover from the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. This per a new Gallup poll, reported by RÚV, and is a marked increase from the summer before, when only 6% of Icelanders left the country.

Though this summer saw an increase in Icelanders enjoying international travel, the numbers are still not close to what they were pre-pandemic. During the summer of 2019, 57% of Icelanders went abroad during the summer; 62% went abroad in 2018. The current poll surveyed Icelanders from all around the country and found that more capital-area residents travelled out of the country than those who live elsewhere in Iceland.

Domestic travel is still experiencing a boom in Iceland, too: three out of four Icelanders travelled within the country this summer, or 76%. That is a slight decrease from the summer before, when 82% of Icelanders travelled domestically.

The poll was conducted from October 7 to 18 and surveyed 1,625 people with a participation rate of 51.1%.

Majority of Icelanders Not Planning to Travel Abroad this Year

Just over a third of Icelanders plan to go on holiday abroad this year or have already done so. This was among the findings of a recent survey conducted by Prósent on behalf of Fréttablaðið.

Although 28.2% of Icelanders have plans to go abroad later this year, only 7% have actually done so already. A far greater majority—57.9%—said that they were not going to travel abroad and 9% said they didn’t know.

People in the highest income brackets are the most likely to travel abroad, as are capital-area residents. Looking just at residence: 45% of capital residents have gone or are going abroad this year, versus 29% of those who live in the countryside. Otherwise, the distribution among various social groups is fairly even. Age does play a factor: Icelanders aged 24 – 44 are the least likely to travel abroad.

The survey was conducted from July 15 – 23, just around the time that the COVID-19 infection rate began to increase again. According to Þráinn Vigfússon, who works at the travel company Vita, bookings for trips abroad during the upcoming Merchant’s Weekend ground to a halt after outdoor festivals within Iceland were canceled or postponed due to stricter gathering limits.

The current infection level in Iceland means that the country will be red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s country map next week, regardless of how many infections are diagnosed within the coming days. This may have affected Icelanders’ plans to travel abroad, as well as the answers of survey respondents.

The survey had 2,600 respondents, aged 18 and older, and answers were organized according to gender, age, and place of residence. The response rate was 52%.

Government Sponsors 16 Flights to Bring Icelanders Home

The Ministry of Transport and Local Government has contracted Icelandair to provide a minimal number of flights between Iceland and North America and Europe. Per a press release published on the government’s website on Thursday, flights will be available to Iceland from Boston, London, and Stockholm until May 5.

“International flights play a vital role in the security of the Icelandic nation and these flights are, among other things, necessary to ensure that Icelandic citizens who are located abroad can find their way home,” reads the statement.

All total, 16 roundtrip flights (32 legs) are planned to/from the three destinations. The flight plan is subject to change, but is currently as follows:

Boston (Logan International – BOS) April 16, 18, 23, 25, 30; May 2

London (Heathrow – LHR) April 19, 22, 24, 26, 29; May 1 and 3

Stockholm (Arlanda – ARN) April 18 and 25; May 2

The Icelandic government will pay Icelandair a max of ISK 100 million [€639,624; $692,233] to fund the company’s extended operations, although that amount may be offset by revenue that the company generates from the offered flights.

Typically, the government would accept bids from contractors for providing a public service of this nature, but under emergency circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, law allows the government to contract directly with a service provider.

Quarantine of Icelanders Returning from China Raises Questions

An Icelandic-Chinese family under quarantine after returning from a recent visit to China has sent an inquiry to the Board of Public Health regarding what they see as inconsistencies in quarantine procedure. Vísir reports that Stefán Úlfarsson, his Chinese wife, and their daughter were retroactively told to quarantine themselves in their home for 14 days as a precaution against the possible spread of the coronavirus. Stefán finds the directive confusing and overly restrictive, however, in that it contravenes the Director of Health’s original advice and also because Chinese tourists are currently allowed to travel through the country unrestricted.

Stefán and his family arrived back in Iceland on Monday after travelling to China to take part in New Year’s celebrations in Beijing. Following a directive issued by the Icelandic Embassy in China, they registered themselves on a list with the Foreign Ministry’s citizen service’s division and contacted the Directorate of Health upon their return. At the time, however, Stefán said that he was told that he and his family “didn’t need to worry.”

“I could go to work, my daughter to the dentist, all of us could go out for walks and to the pool,” he told Vísir. “We were just supposed to be attentive to hygiene and pay close attention to our health.”

“We’re supposed to run away”

Later that same day, however, Stefán received an email from an epidemiologist that said that health precautions were being updated and that he and his family should quarantine themselves at home for 14 days. The family was told to take care of grocery orders online and not interact with anyone else. “We can go out in the garden and areas where there aren’t any people,” Stefán explained. “But if someone approaches us, we’re supposed to run away.”

Stefán says that he and his family want to do their part in restricting the spread of the virus and as such, they are abiding by the quarantine request. But he is confused about the way that quarantines are being enforced by Icelandic authorities. For one, cases of the coronavirus have mostly been centred around Wuhan, which is over 1,000 miles from Beijing where he and his family were visiting. Moreover, he says that quarantines are seeming to be enforced inconsistently.

“Of course, I don’t know everything about this, but it seemed to me that on our trip from Beijing there was a whole flight of travellers from China and East Asia. As in Sweden, where we had a stopover, there was no preparedness. People just went through Passport Control and into the country,” he remarked. “You get the feeling that maybe one to ten [Icelandic] families are being confined, while there are many more tourists waltzing around.”

Contingency plan in place

Iceland’s Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management have, in fact, already activated a contingency plan in response to the coronavirus. Passengers arriving in Iceland via Keflavík airport are asked to report whether they have signs of respiratory disease. Passengers who have been in Wuhan, China in the past fourteen days, or have been in contact with individuals who have contracted the disease or are suspected of it are also asked to report. If arriving passengers fulfil any of these three requirements, a medical examination will take place at the airport. The results from the medical will determine the next course of action, but the quarantine of individuals is a possibility.

When it comes to perceived inconsistencies in quarantine recommendations, however, Þórólfur Guðnason, the Directorate of Health’s chief epidemiologist, remarked in a Stöð 2 interview on Wednesday that it’s simply easier to enforce quarantines among Icelanders. “In the first place, it’s very difficult to find out from everyone [tourists from China] where they are coming from. It’s very likely that someone won’t tell us if they are going to be quarantined, and it is much harder to quarantine tourists. We simply don’t have suitable housing for that,” he said.

Thus far, there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus in Iceland and Þórólfur rejected the idea that Chinese tourists travelling in Iceland are more likely to be carriers of the coronavirus than Icelanders who have travelled to China and then returned home. “That’s impossible to say,” he told reporters, “impossible to predict.”