Iceland’s New ID Cards Double as EEA Travel Documents

Registers Iceland's new ID card

Registers Iceland has introduced new ID cards as valid personal identification for all Icelandic citizens, featuring options for standard ID or travel documents within the EEA. Cards issued before January 1, 2013, expired on December 1, 2023, while those issued up to March 1, 2024, will expire by December 31, 2025.

Valid passports within the EEA

Registers Iceland has begun issuing new ID cards, available as standard personal identification or travel documents valid within the European Economic Area (EEA) serving as an alternative to passports.

Standard ID cards, which do not display the holder’s nationality, are not valid as travel documents. ID cards as travel documents can be used within the European Economic Area (EEA) instead of a passport and “contain a chip like passports and comply with international standards and EU regulation,” a press release on Registers Iceland’s website reads.

As noted on the website, the difference between ID cards as travel documents and passports is that passports are valid as travel documents to all countries worldwide. In contrast, ID cards are valid within the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Upgraded security features

The latest rollout of ID cards also introduces upgraded security features to address growing requirements for personal identification documents. These cards, now available in a user-friendly size, sport a refreshed design that is based on a new standard from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“Iceland is the first country in the world to issue documents according to this new standard. The main change is that the facial image is much larger, facilitating easier comparison with the cardholder,” Registers Iceland’s website notes.

The changes align with European Union regulations aimed at bolstering the security of personal and travel documents across the EU and EEA: “With the new issuance of ID cards, their security is being increased to meet the heightened demands made on personal identification documents, while also being conveniently sized and updated in design.”

The new rollout also addresses society’s increased demands for individuals to identify themselves with valid personal identification documents, which makes it necessary to accommodate groups that cannot present, for example, a driver’s licence.

“With the new ID cards, young people and other groups can prove their identity by presenting them, especially domestically.”

Must apply in person

Applying for the new ID cards requires a specific application process. Applications are submitted to District Commissioners along with embassies and consulates abroad, similar to passports.

“Even if an applicant has a valid passport with a photo, they must still appear in person at the application site, both domestically and abroad, to specifically apply for an ID card. The same photo as in the passport cannot be used,” Registers Iceland’s website notes.

According to Registers Iceland’s website, the new ID cards are valid personal identification documents that all Icelandic citizens can apply for regardless of age and use for identification. Older ID cards issued before January 1, 2013, expired on December 1, 2023, and cards issued from that time until March 1, 2024, will expire on December 31, 2025.

Birnir Most Popular Baby Name in Iceland

baby swimming

Birnir was the most popular name given to newborns in Iceland in 2023. Emilía was the most popular name given to girls. The data on the most popular baby names of 2023 was published by Registers Iceland today.

Thirty newborns were given the name Birnir last year in Iceland, more individuals than any other name. Emil and Elmar were the next most popular boys’ names, followed by Jón and Óliver. Emilía was the most popular girl’s name given to newborns last year and sixth most popular name overall. Sara, Sóley, Embla, and Aþena (Athena) were the next most popular girls’ names given to babies last year.

Nameless newborns

Naming culture in Iceland differs from that of many other countries. Newborns are not typically named at birth, but at their baptism or a non-religious naming ceremony around two months later. It is quite common for Icelandic children to be named after their grandparents, although, as the data from Registers Iceland shows, naming trends do change over time.

All names given in Iceland must be pre-approved by the country’s Naming Committee. The committee maintains a register of approved Icelandic given names and governs the introduction of new names into Icelandic culture. Its existence has been a topic of debate in recent years, with former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir proposing its abolishment.

Anna and Jón most common

But what are the most common names in Iceland overall? The two most popular names in the country are Anna (6,272 individuals) and Jón (5,599 individuals). They are followed by Guðrún (4,923), Sigurður (4,445), and Guðmundur (4,208), which round up the top five spots.

8.9% Increase in Foreign Nationals Living in Iceland

pedestrian street Laugavegur Reykjavík

70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1, which is an increase of 5,722 persons since December 1 of last year (or 8.9%). Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

Greatest Relative Increase Among Palestinians, Belarusians

According to Registers Iceland, 70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1. This marks an increase of 5,722 people (8.9%) since December 1 of last year.

Significant population increases were noted among Polish, Ukrainian, and Romanian nationals. The Ukrainian resident count rose by 43.4% (982 individuals), now totalling 3,247; the number of Romanian residents in Iceland increased by 14.7% (534 individuals), standing at 4,157; and Polish residents, the largest foreign national group, grew by 7.2% (1,677 individuals), reaching a total of 24,973.

As noted by Registers Iceland, the most significant relative growth among foreign nationals was seen among Belarusian citizens, with a 46.7% rise, or 14 individuals. Palestinian nationals increased by 39.4%, or by 122 individuals.

During the same period, the Icelandic citizen count saw a minor increase of 1,062, or 0.3%. Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

49,000 Icelanders (13.2% of the population) Currently Live Abroad

pedestrian street Laugavegur Reykjavík

According to new data from Registers Iceland, almost 49,000 Icelanders have a registered legal residence outside Iceland. Denmark, Sweden, and Norway remain the most popular destinations among Icelanders.

The Nordic countries remain the most popular

On Wednesday, January 25, Registers Iceland published data on the number of Icelandic citizens living abroad (as of December 1, 2022). According to the data, 48,951 Icelanders live outside the country, or 13.2% of the total population. This figure has increased by more than five thousand over the period of a single year, Registers Iceland notes.

The Nordic countries remain the most popular destination for Icelanders: 62.1% of Icelandic citizens who have a registered legal domicile abroad are registered in the Nordic countries. 11,590 Icelanders currently reside in Denmark (or over 3% of the population), 9,278 in Norway, and 8,933 in Sweden. Approximately 30,000 Icelanders live in these three countries.

6,492 Icelanders live in the United States (which is followed by Great Britain, Germany, and Canada).

Only one registered Icelandic citizen in 15 countries

As noted by Registers Iceland, as of December 1, 2022, Icelanders had a registered legal residence in a total of 100 countries out of the 193 member states of the United Nations. The article also contains the following, interesting tidbit:

“It is interesting to note that 15 countries had only a single Icelandic citizen with a registered legal domicile. These are the countries Albania, Angola, Belize, Ecuador, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mauritius, Pakistan, Panama and Somalia.”

Membership in National Church of Iceland Gradually Declining

New data published by Registers Iceland shows that registered membership in the National Church of Iceland continues to decline, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the pagan Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association have both been quietly gaining members.

As of September 1, there were 229,714 people registered as members of Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church. This is a decline of three members since December 1. And while this is not a dramatic decrease in membership, it does appear to be part of a consistent pattern. From December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the church lost 75 members from its registry.

The Catholic Church has the second-highest membership, or 14,709 members. Fríkirkjan, the independent Lutheran Church of Iceland, which operates apart from the national church, comes in third with 10,040 members. The Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association had the greatest jump in membership—279 new members. (Statistics Iceland shows a total of 5,118 members of Ásatrú and 4,084 members of the Ethical Humanist Association as of January 1, 2021, but the current National Registers round-up offered no more specific, recent data regarding total membership in either organization.)

As of September 1, there were 28,926 people (7.7% of the population) registered as not being part of any religious organization. There were additionally 58,514 people listed as ‘Other and Not Specified,’ or 15.7% of the nation.


Unregistered Foreigners in Iceland Reaching Out for Help

Sigþrúður Erla Arnardóttir

An increasing number of foreigners whose employment or residency situation leaves them ineligible for financial help are seeking assistance from municipal services or charity groups. Sigþrúður Erla Arnardóttir, Director of the City of Reykjavík’s Municipal Service Centre for the Vesturbær, Miðborg, and Hlíðar neighbourhoods, says there are a number of options available for foreigners who have been left stranded or unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reykjavík has six Municipal Service Centres serving residents of different neighbourhoods. The Centre for Vesturbær, Miðborg, and Hlíðar also provides services to foreigners in special circumstances as well as individuals applying for international protection in Iceland. “This means there are more foreigners that come to us than in other neighbourhood service centres due to these particular projects,” Sigþrúður explains, “and we are seeing an increase in people coming in.”

While most foreign residents in Iceland have access to unemployment benefits, some fall outside the system due to their particular employment or residency situation, Sigþrúður says. “The people that have been coming to us generally fall into one of four groups: tourists who didn’t manage to leave the country before restrictions were put in place; individuals who are not fully registered (who have a kennitala (national ID number) but haven’t managed to register a legal address) and therefore don’t have the right to unemployment benefits or financial help; foreign nationals that came to work, didn’t find any, and didn’t manage to leave the country before restrictions were put in place; and finally individuals who have been working without a kennitala or visa and need to get home.”

Legal address required for benefits

Foreign nationals can receive an Icelandic work permit and kennitala without changing their legal residence if they are working in the country for six months or less. In this case, however, they are placed on a special registry (Utangarðsskrá) intended for foreigners working in Iceland short term. Those on the Utangarðsskrá are not eligible for unemployment benefits or other financial assistance. Some individuals in this group now find themselves no longer employed but without a way of getting home.

“The Directorate of Labour and Registers Iceland are aware of this group and we are working on this together. What Registers Iceland has done in these cases is if you can prove that you’ve had an income for a certain length of time they can backdate your legal address registration. We’ve been helping people who are in this situation to collect the documents they need to submit in order to get this retroactive registration of their legal address.”

Undocumented workers seek out NGOs

“The fourth group, those that are in Iceland without a visa or kennitala, isn’t coming to service centres, rather going to the Red Cross and church help centres. At the City our procedure is that we are required to report such individuals to the Directorate of Immigration and the police. We can’t give specific numbers, but we have heard from the Red Cross and church organisations that there has been an increase in people in that situation reaching out for help.”

Individuals choose what help they receive

While Service Centre staff can connect individuals with various services, both to assist with employment-related issues or to help them return to their home country, Sigþrúður assures that the individual ultimately decides what assistance they accept. “It’s important for this group to get the best possible service. It’s difficult if you maybe don’t speak the language, to try to understand how the system works, and that’s why we want to make contact with these groups and assist with whatever ways they can get help. But the choice always lies with the individual.”

Sigþrúður stresses that for those who have lost some or all of their employment, the first step is to contact the Directorate of Labour to determine what their rights are. “But it’s very important to know if they are fully registered in Registers Iceland and if not, what they need to do in order to register fully. Then they can always contact the municipality they live in for assistance.”

Name Changes In a Week or Less Once Law Goes Into Effect

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Once the new Gender Autonomy Act goes into effect, individuals will have only a three to five day wait for their requested name changes to be processed, RÚV reports. Although the law has yet to be published, preparations are already underway at Registers Iceland in the hope that the name change process will be as smooth and fast as possible for all applicants.

Alþingi passed the Gender Autonomy Act last week. Per this new law, Icelandic names will no longer be gendered. This means that anyone will be able to take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender, and marks a major change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.” Moreover, individuals will have the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents).

Registers Iceland is preparing itself so as to be ready to process name changes as soon as the law goes into effect says Margrét Hauksdóttir, the organisation’s general director. “…[W]e’ll be ready with electronic forms where people can apply for changes, both to their surnames and given names.”

Per the new law, individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ will be able to take gender neutral surnames in lieu of patro- and matronymics that designate the bearer as being someone’s son or daughter. The status quo is for children to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender-neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation. (People registered as female will still be required to take the patro- or matronymic -dóttir and people registered as male will still have to use -son.)

Margrét says that Registers Iceland is anticipating a high number of name change applications to be submitted once the law takes effect, as there are a number of people who have been specifically waiting for the law to allow them to do so. Processing time for name changes should be within three to five business days, she says.

“Not much more than that,” she remarked. “If it is, in fact, a name that exists in the name registry and if it doesn’t require any special consideration, it will go through quickly.”

New Icelandic Passports Unveiled

A new version of the Icelandic passport will be unveiled today. Registers Iceland has been working on this new version, which includes added security features, as well as new interior illustrations of landscapes around Iceland and the Golden Plover, for two years. The new changes will cost 200 million krónur to implement [$1.6 million/€1.45  million].

The traditional blue colour of the passport cover will stay the same and the expiration dates on older passports will also remain valid. However, anyone who applies for a new Icelandic passport will receive the new version.

Registers Iceland has also significantly cut down on the wait time for a new passport. Last year, there was a two-week wait for new passports, but now, says division head Júlía Þórhallsdóttir, applicants will only have to wait two days for their new passports.