moving-to-iceland

Moving to Iceland

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A comprehensive guide to moving to Iceland

Traditionally, expats who dream of making Iceland their next destination may simply have the country’s stunning natural beauty in mind. But there is so much more to life on this volcanic island than just fjords and the Northern Lights. Our Relocation Guide looks at many of the practicalities to consider when moving.

Relocating to Iceland

At A Glance:

  • Despite its name and being Europe’s most westerly country, the climate in Iceland is surprisingly mild.
  • The Icelandic language is something locals take pride in; however, English is widely spoken.
  • All EU/EEA citizens can visit Iceland without a visa, but if you plan on staying for more than 90 days then you will need to apply for a visa as well as a work and residence permit.
  • Iceland has a limited range of transportation options, so the best option for travelling round the island is usually by car.

Though the island nation may be rather isolated, it has seen a surge in popularity among tourists in recent years with visitors travelling to experience the beautiful natural landscapes, the modern and buzzing cultural scene of Reykjavik, and much more. So why not make Iceland your new home? Here’s what to take into consideration before moving.

Location and Climate

Located between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is Europe’s westernmost country. If you are moving to Iceland from another European country, you’ll be happy to learn that despite its location, it only takes around three hours by plane to travel there from most major European cities.

Famous for its volcanoes, volcanic eruptions — such as the well-known 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which caused huge disruption to air travel across Europe — can and do happen. Despite this threat, Iceland was in fact ranked the sixth safest country worldwide in terms of becoming a victim of a natural disaster in the 2016 World Risk Report.

Contrary to what many might expect when moving to the glacier-covered country, the climate in Iceland is temperate thanks to the North Atlantic Current. You will experience surprisingly mild, yet wet and windy winters, with average temperatures of between 0 and 3⁰C, and cool summers, with highs of 13⁰C. Interestingly, due to its location and unique geography, Iceland is the only country in the world that obtains 100% of its energy from renewable sources.

Iceland’s Century-Old Democracy

Iceland is a constitutional republic. Its government, the Althing, is the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy and was established in 930 by Norwegian and Celtic settlers. Subsequently ruled by Denmark and Norway, Iceland gained independence in 1944, but the country’s civil law system is still influenced by the Danish model.

The president, currently Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson as of 2016, is the chief of state. Iceland’s prime minister is the head of the government and is elected by popular vote for four-year terms. The prime minister, a position currently occupied by Bjarni Benediktsson who took office in January 2017, appoints the Cabinet. In the government formed following the 2016 election, the Independence Party (led by Bjarni Benediktsson) won 29% of the vote and occupies the most seats (21) in parliament.

The Icelandic Language: A Cornerstone of Culture

The nation’s language has hardly changed throughout the last few centuries. Derived from Old Norse, Icelandic belongs to the North Germanic Languages, along with Norwegian and Faroese. Except for some Celtic influences in literature, Iceland has not been affected much by other languages due to the lack of foreign settlers. Until the 14th century, Icelandic remained very similar to Norwegian. Only when Norwegian changed due to the influence of its Danish and Swedish neighbors did it begin to differ greatly from Icelandic. Even today, Icelandic schoolchildren can often understand Norwegian texts from the 12th century.

After moving to Iceland, you’ll find that the language is considered one of the cornerstones of the country’s culture and that people take great pride in it. Icelanders do not usually adopt foreign words for new things, but instead try to invent new words or give old words a new meaning. Nevertheless, Icelandic is a particularly difficult language to learn due to its complicated rules and pronunciation; however, English is widely spoken by locals.

Iceland’s Visa Requirements

Iceland belongs to the Schengen region. This allows citizens of the EU/EEA and some other countries to travel to Iceland without a visa; visit the Útlendingastofnunwebsite for a list of these countries. However, you should keep in mind that this only applies to short-term visits, like business trips or vacations.

If you are not an EU/EEA citizen or are moving to Iceland to work, you will need a valid residence and work permit as well as a visa. Generally, there are two types of Schengen visa for nationals of non-EU/EEA countries which enable free movement between all countries within the Schengen Zone: the C-visa applies to tourists who visit Iceland for up to 90 days, while the D-visa applies to expats who will be studying, working or living permanently in Iceland.

Permits for Qualified Professionals

Before you can apply for a visa, you need to secure a work contract. In order to be eligible for a permit for qualified professionals, your future position has to require specialized skills and cannot be a short-term project. You need to apply for this type of permit before moving to Iceland and are not permitted to enter the country before the visa has been approved. It may take up to 90 days for your permit to be processed and approved.

In order to apply for a work and residence permit for qualified professionals, you need to submit the following documents:

  • an application form, completed and signed by you
  • an application form for a qualified-professional work permit, completed and signed by you and your employer
  • an employment contract
  • one passport-size picture
  • a copy of your passport
  • a criminal record check, issued by the country in which you have resided for the past five years
  • proof of medical insurance
  • authorization for an individual in Iceland to follow up on your application
  • a housing certificate proving that you have secured a place to live

The work and residence permit for qualified professionals can be renewed and is the basis on which you can apply for permanent residence. Make sure to apply for a renewal no later than one month before your permit expires, otherwise you will be forced to leave the country while your application is processed.

Shortage of Laborers Permit

Not eligible for a permit for qualified professionals? Or do you only want to move to Iceland for a short-term assignment? You can still apply for a work and residence permit for a specific position if there is a shortage of laborers, not only in Iceland but in the entire EU. Unlike the permit for qualified professionals, this permit is temporary and you can only renew it once.

In order to apply for a shortage of laborers permit, please submit the following documents:

  • an application form, completed and signed by you
  • an application form for a shortage of laborers permit, signed both by you and your prospective employer
  • an employment contract
  • a passport-size photograph
  • a copy of your passport
  • a criminal record check
  • proof of medical insurance
  • authorization for somebody in Iceland to follow up on your application
  • a housing certificate

Please remember that you are not allowed to travel to Iceland while your application is being processed. Unlike the permit for qualified professionals, the shortage of laborers permit is not a basis for permanent residency.

Obtaining an ID Number

Every expat needs to obtain an identification number at Registers Iceland. You can mail or email the completed application form or submit it in person. With this number, which Icelanders automatically receive at birth, you can rent an apartment, open a bank account, or get a phone connection at home.

Your individual ID number contains ten digits, made up of your date of birth followed by four random digits. Registers Iceland not only gives out ID numbers but also stores information on names, births, changes of address, marriages, and so on. For more information on your registration or your personal ID number, please contact Registers Iceland.

Transportation in Iceland

Travelling by Car

Expats who are living in smaller towns or rural areas might find that travelling by car is the most convenient way of getting around. The same applies to expats who spend a lot of time travelling around the country. It may make sense to rent a car initially until you have purchased your own vehicle. However, keep in mind that most car rentals are rather expensive. Whether renting or buying a car, make sure to pick a four-wheel drive as country roads may be rather rough.

Aside from the main highway — Route 1— which circles the entire country, there are a lot of mountain and country roads in Iceland. Wet and muddy weather conditions often make mountain roads impassable for the better half of the year, and they’re usually closed until the end of June. Roads which require a four-wheel drive and/or snow tires carry the letter “F” as a prefix on street signs. Try to drive carefully and abide by the speed limits (90 kmph on paved, rural roads, 80 km/h on gravel) and familiarize yourself with Icelandic traffic laws as fines can be high.

For current information on the condition of different roads, please refer to the Icelandic Road Administration.

Bus, Boat, and Air Travel

For those who do not own a car, exploring the country by bus is a viable option. Several private bus companies operate long-distance lines in different parts of the country. However, all of these companies are organized by BSÍ (Bifreiðastöð Íslands), based in Reykjavik. At the booking desks, you can buy your bus ticket and get your free copy of Ísland á Eigin Vegum (Iceland on Your Own) which offers timetables for some destinations — copies of these are also available online. While the service is very regular between June and August, transportation is limited or non-existent throughout the rest of the year. You should check with BSÌ or the individual bus company for more information.

Domestic flights are quite common in Iceland and are often the simplest way of getting where you want to go. As is the case when travelling by car or bus, you should try to remain flexible as the schedule depends on weather conditions. Car ferries allow you to reach smaller islands and secluded areas, such as Þorlákshöfn, Flatey, and Brjánslækur.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
08 January 2019
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