The high number of tourists to Iceland every year proves that people LOVE coming to our little island. But some visitors have not wanted to leave. Others have seen the photographs of the amazing countryside or our picturesque highlands and want to live nearer to this pristine nature. Still others have read about higher wages, equality, or other aspects of Icelandic culture and thought that things may be better here than in their home countries.
Well, we have decided to break down the process of moving to Iceland, the cost of living, and some of the pros and cons of living in Iceland. But we should get this out of the way first: Iceland is not all the pretty pictures from Instagram! Of course, we’re still in love with Iceland, but for those planning to immigrate here, be prepared for a language barrier, high cost of living, and dark winters.
Pros and Cons
Let‘s start with a brief pros and cons list.
Icelandic nature is beautiful. Though, if you are working or studying, you may have limited time to explore.
Iceland is safe. In fact, just this year, Iceland topped the list of safest countries in the world.
Iceland values equality. We‘ve still got a long way to go, but the country also has a lower gender wage gap than many European countries, and the LGBTQ+ community is generally celebrated, with Pride being one of the biggest events in Iceland.
There ARE jobs here.
Cold, delicious and safe-to-drink tap water!
The language is difficult to learn – but not impossible!
The cost of living is high – but this generally coincides with a high quality of life.
The weather isn‘t great. It rains a lot in Iceland, and our winters (especially January and February) can be downright miserable.
Speaking of winter – can you handle the darkness? We get very little sunlight between November and March.
Immigration is not easy, and you may have to jump through several hoops, which we will explore below.
Visas in Iceland
How easy it is to move to Iceland will depend on where you come from. Citizens of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations can enter Iceland without any special documentation. Citizens of these nations may work and live here for up to three months, after which they need to register at Registers Iceland.
For citizens outside these countries, notably including the US and UK, the process is admittedly more difficult. There are three major ways to secure a visa for this group: education, work, and marriage. Many younger people will find that attending university in Iceland is an exciting adventure. Education in Iceland is also free, except for a nominal registration fee.
Before coming to study, you must provide the Icelandic government with some essential information – acceptance to a study programme, a clean criminal background check, and proof that you can financially support yourself while in Iceland. This last step can be challenging. You will need to show that you can meet the cost of living, which, at the time of this writing, is approximately 212,694 ISK (1,484 USD/1,482 EU) for an individual PER MONTH!
Luckily, students can work up to a certain percentage while working on their degree, which brings us to the next visa: work!
The good news is that there are LOTS of jobs available in Iceland. The bad news is that obtaining a work permit can be a tricky process, as the employer needs to prove, in theory, that the role could not be filled by a native. The best way to get a job is to have a skill (ie, being a specialist)j that is in high demand. So getting a non-specialist job is rather difficult, although Iceland has recently suffered from shortages in healthcare and education. Let‘s say you have a degree in either of these fields (early education is particularly short on teachers!), the questions that remain are: do your degrees/certifications transfer to meet Iceland‘s requirements, and can you manage these positions without knowing Icelandic?
Finally, the marriage option is not for everyone, and we are by no means suggesting a marriage of convenience! However, if you do happen to fall in love with an Icelander, then Iceland can be an excellent place to raise a family, with comparatively generous parental leave and (mostly) socialized healthcare.
If you are still curious about your status, the Directorate of Immigration has a site where you can check whether you will require a visa in Iceland.
If you are curious about work permits in Iceland, you may find the Directorate of Labour’s website helpful.
Iceland is a great place to work, with plenty of rights and benefits granted to employees. Icelandic unions have also earned Icelandic workers such benefits as stipends for continuing education, and even provide vacation homes to their workers. Some of Iceland’s biggest general trade unions are VR and Efling.
Some may have an image of Iceland as a largely agricultural society, still farming and fishing like in the past. Although these professions do indeed play an important role in the Icelandic economy, the job market in Iceland increasingly favours professions with advanced degrees. Some of Iceland’s largest industries are tourism, service and restaurants, fishing, and construction. Additionally, many in the capital area are also employed in tech, finance, government, media, and academia.
If you’re looking for a job in Iceland, you may find these links helpful:
- Alfred.is, a popular job board
- Jobs at the City of Reykjavík
- Störf.is, another popular job board
- Employment through the government, including work in healthcare and other fields
Cost of Living
According to the Welfare Division of Reykjavik City, the basic support criteria for an individual in Reykjavik is around ISK 212,000, around USD 1,477 or EUR 1,483 at the time of writing. Of course, if you want to do more than just survive, then you should factor in considerably more than this for recreation and savings.
Finally, this information from Registers Iceland on average rental prices in Iceland serves as a good index for the cost of living both in Reykjavík and throughout the country. As of July 2022, the most recent information as of the time of writing, the average price per square meter for a 2-bedroom apartment in the capital area sits around ISK 3,437 (USD 24, or EUR 24). This will of course vary depending on a variety of factors, but be prepared to pay at least ISK 200,000 (USD 1,394 or EUR 1,399) for a modest apartment in the capital region. Rent is just one factor in the cost of living, but it serves as a good baseline to set your expectations.
As any tourist can tell you, Iceland is expensive. From food to petrol to a haircut – be prepared to pay more than you did in your home country. So these things must be taken into account when factoring in the cost of living.
Housing in Iceland
The housing market can be difficult to break into for recent immigrants. Reykjavík has exploded in the last 15 years with international interest in hotels and development, driving the cost of real estate up. Iceland’s population has also grown rapidly in the last few years, and housing development has not kept pace, leading to a housing shortage. Icelanders also generally tend to own their homes, meaning that relatively few houses on the market are for rent. New apartments and condos are being built as we speak, but these are generally high-end residences and the costs are through the roof! You may be able to save on furniture by also checking Facebook groups for used furniture and other stuff. These groups include Brask og brall (e. Bargaining and speculation), Húsgögn og fleira fyrir heimilið til sölu! (e. Furniture and more for the home for sale!) and Gefins, allt gefins! (e. Free, everything for free!). In Gefins, allt gefins!, people are only allowed to advertise things to give away or that they are looking for free of cost.
Rent will of course depend on location, but it generally makes sense for foreigners to move to the capital area due to transportation and job opportunities. As a rule of thumb, for a modest apartment, you can expect to spend around ISK 200,000-300,000 (around USD 1,380-2,070, or EUR 1,420-2,130 at the time of writing). It is of course possible to find cheaper, but expect a less-than-ideal location, roommates, and the like.
These listings may be helpful for you in your search for housing in Iceland:
- Morgunblaðið real estate listings
- Vísir real estate listings
- Information on housing benefits and rent subsidies
- Leiga Reykjavík, a Facebook group for finding rentals
The Actual Move
Maybe you have your visa situation sorted, have a job lined up, and managed to find a place to live – now what? The biggest decision you will have to make is whether you want to bring your furniture and things with you to Iceland, or if you want to purchase new items here. The truth is that both options are expensive. There is an IKEA in the capital area, and there are plenty of stores to buy beds, TVs, etc. But, as mentioned, the cost of these items will generally be more than in your home country.
Those that have opted to bring their lives with them rent a shipping container, fill it with as much stuff as it can hold, and send it via ship to Iceland. The costs vary between countries and shipping companies. Eimskip offers a quote calculator, while you can contact ProPack to get a quote for your situation.
So far, we have been mostly focused on individuals. But Iceland is a great place for families. We have already mentioned that Iceland is safe and the schools are free. After living in Iceland for six months, you will automatically get medical insurance through the state. While not exactly free, like in other Nordic and some European countries, healthcare in Iceland is affordable.
There are many family-friendly activities to be found around Reykjavík, such as holidays, cinemas, museums, playgrounds, and swimming pools. Speaking of which, if you really want to break into Icelandic society – something some immigrants find difficult – the pool is a great place to start. It functions as a social hub for small towns and neighbourhoods. Chit-chat with your neighbours and try out your Icelandic. The locals will really appreciate it!
There are visas known as family unification, and these are for the spouses of foreigners who have the legal right to live and work in Iceland. On this visa, the spouse can work in Iceland, though there might be some restrictions as to how much or what type of job.
There are clubs, sports, and activities for children and teenagers to enjoy. The biggest obstacle will most likely be the language. Most young people are fluent or at least know quite a bit of English, which is the common language for foreigners in Iceland. Though, school lessons may prove more challenging.
For couples with young children, it can be extremely difficult to find a daycare or kindergarten. It was challenging for parents even before the pandemic set in, with parents applying for kindergarten space almost as soon as they knew about the pregnancy. But Covid created a baby boom in Iceland, putting more pressure on the preschool/daycare system. Add in a shortage of teachers, and finding a place for your child feels downright impossible!
One option: try to get a job at a kindergarten. Teachers get priority on the waiting list, so their children can usually get into daycare without the waiting and anxiety other parents go through. Another upside is that working with children improves your Icelandic dramatically. Take advantage of children‘s songs, simple sentences and repetitive phrases to build up your vocabulary – not to mention practising a new language with those learning the language themselves!
Living in Iceland is not all waterfalls and geothermal pools. But it is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. If you can navigate through the immigration red tape, you may be able to experience the pros and cons of living in Iceland!