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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 expat guide looks at many of the practicalities to consider when moving.
Despite the harsh effects of the financial crisis, moving to Iceland is still popular among expats.

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.


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Fjodor Andersen

"Finding other expats interested in playing squash in Reykjavik seemed difficult. But with InterNations I found them easily."

Michelle Guillemont

"Iceland is not the expat country number one. But I met truly global minds with InterNations. It really works."

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