Moving to Iceland? Read This Complete Guide to Visas, Costs & Expat Life

If you’re considering moving to Iceland permanently, then this is the article what you must read. I will cover everything you need to know about moving to Iceland, from visas to costs and what to expect as an expat here.

The first thing you will notice is that moving to Iceland is different from traveling here. Staying long term in this small, yet beautiful country, comes with its fair set of challenges – but also advantages.

Either way, I have compiled the ultimate guide for moving to Iceland, newbie expat friendly and practical.

IMPORTANT: As with everything, requirements & details change. Make sure to double check everything presented in the article to make sure it’s up to date. I am doing my best to keep it updated and accurate, but you’re still the only one responsible for everything!

Traveling Iceland Vs. Living There

complete guide to moving to Iceland

I get excited about every single place I visit. I would often find myself daydreaming about what it would be like if I lived there.

I would have all the time in the world to explore, spend quality time in the museums, eat at all the cool restaurants, and dance at all the cool clubs.

However, many places that I visit – although beautiful – don’t really feel to me like places where I would like to live long term. Iceland, however, did – despite the fact that it’s so cold and I really dislike cold weather.

The truth is, though, that living in a foreign country is nothing like short-term travel. Homesickness, cultural shock, and loneliness are all very real expat problems.

The Iceland you experience as a tourist will also be drastically different from your day-to-day life if you move there.

Obviously, you would have to work. If you are a freelancer/remote worker/online business owner, you would be pleased to find that Reykjavik is an up and coming technology hub full of fun co-working spaces.

Sure, the cost of living in Iceland is high, but so are the salaries – in case you’re planning to get a job there (or already have one lined up for your upcoming move).

On the other hand, other aspects of your daily life might suffer. For instance, you can’t expect the same product variety to be available in supermarkets.

Iceland is a land in the middle of the ocean, and the climate is not particularly great for most fruit and veggies. They have to be imported and the same goes for most of your other favorite foods.

Be prepared to fully embrace Icelandic cuisine (and inevitably suffer through not having all of your food cravings satisfied).

First Things First – Visas Needed for Living in Iceland

photo of a passport

Your standard tourist visa only allows you to stay for three months at a time in Iceland.

If you are an European Union citizen, you have things relatively simple even beyond that.

Since the process for staying longer term in the country differs for US/non-EU residents and EU ones, we’re going to slip this sub-section in two.

Living long term in Iceland as an EU resident

EU citizens, as well as citizens of the Nordic countries, can benefit from a bunch of agreements that Iceland has with the union/their respective countries.

EU travelers can enter with just their national ID and they don’t need a tourist visa. If you have European citizenship, you can also stay in Iceland to work or study for as long as you want.

There are even laws that oblige employers to consider Icelandic and EU candidates first.

If you are an EU/EEA national, you still have to register with Iceland’s National Registry if you are going to stay for more than six months looking for a job (or more than three months, if you are already working).

This is mainly a formality, but it is something that has to be done in order to avoid any potential trouble and fines.

You are going to need a legal residence for that application. Since finding a place can be tricky, I advise you to start looking as soon as you arrive.

Living long term in Iceland as a non-EU resident (US citizen)

Reykjavik - Iceland
Reykjavik – Iceland

As a non-EU citizen (for instance a U.S. citizen) your options are a bit more limited:

  • You can get a student visa and renew it every semester,
  • apply for a residence permit,
  • or get one of many Icelandic women to marry you (I’m mostly joking about this one, of course – not that it’s not an option, but because you just shouldn’t do it)

The residence permit typically takes a while and it can be quite costly. If you already have a job offer, great!

Your employer should pay for the permit and arrange the documents. Sadly, because of the privilege given to EU and Icelandic citizens, getting a job in Iceland can be tricky.

Essentially, your future employer should prove that they can’t hire a local to do the same job.

Hence, the work permit option basically only works if you are a neurosurgeon, civil engineer, or another highly desirable professional.

The student visa is easier to obtain, just remember that you can only apply until February.

You will know if you got in around March and you can apply for a permit with your acceptance letter.

Finally, there is always the option to exit and re-enter the country every 90 days. Sadly, that does not give you any of the benefits Icelanders get.

No healthcare, no getting paid, no renting a place, you can’t even open a bank account… but at least it’s an option.

The Price of Moving to Iceland (And Living There)

stunning natural beauty in Iceland

There is no getting around the fact that Iceland is not a cheap place. Accommodation, bills, eating out: these will all set you back big time, even compared to other pricier European countries.

To make matters even worse, there is currently a housing problem in Reykjavik. Rent prices are not regulated, there aren’t many options available, and a lot of landlords are now turning to Airbnb.

Expect to pay upward of 80,000 ISK (around $600) for a single room (shared) in the center of the Iceland’s capital. If you want to own your place, rental prices start at around $1,200 per month for a studio or maybe a one-bedroom unit (if you’re lucky).

Here are some websites to check out for available accommodation, including hotel rooms in Iceland (they are generally aimed at locals, so expect slightly lower prices per month than what you’d get on Airbnb, but also expect a long-term lease to be signed):

  • Leiguland (you need to create a free account to see the listings)

Shopping for basically any item you might need is going to be expensive as well. When moving to Iceland, consider if it wouldn’t be cheaper to ship your belongings instead.

There are some quite convenient shipping options and a bit of research on the local price of the item goes a very long way.

The Expats + Friends Community in Iceland

The cool thing about moving to Iceland is that you will not have to go through it alone. As an expat, you get some pretty unique opportunities to socialize.

There are plenty of events for foreigners to mingle every month – concerts, pub crawls, foodie tours, literature readings, language exchanges… You name it, they have it.

I highly recommend joining the expat Facebook groups ASAP.

Apps and websites like Meetup also have a bunch of fun activities for you to meet people. You will find the expat crowd surprisingly diverse.

Apart from what I like to call ‘wandering Europeans’ (the 20-somethings who spend a couple of years here and a couple of years there), there are also older people, eccentric people, people that come from very faraway corners of the world…

Although spending most of your nights out is not a dream come true for everyone (and being an introvert is perfectly fine), try to mingle with as many expats and locals as possible, at least during the first weeks.

Even the locals will be friendly and, as long as you’re sociable and at least a relatively nice person to be around, loneliness shouldn’t be a problem.

Surviving the Harsh Icelandic Weather

cold but beautiful Iceland

Iceland is cold and wet, ok?

What did you expect from an island in the middle of the ocean, that far up North? Brace yourself for chilly weather. Buy as many waterproof clothes as possible. The same goes for shoes.

In fact, water impermeable is about to become your top priority for buying new shoes.

Nothing worse than your feet getting wet! Also, a windbreaker is essential and it is about to become your best friend.

The scenery is still beautiful, though, even if the weather suck, so make sure to still spend time outside. There is nothing like some much-needed alone time in the great outdoors to beat the winter blues.

The hiking trails available around Reykjavik are easily accessible by bus and beginner-friendly, too. Just make sure to dress warm and cosy.

Learning The Language When Moving to Iceland

If you hope to eventually become a citizen of Iceland, you would need to learn at least a bit of the language. Icelandic is tough – but there are plenty of ways to make the process easier.

The University of Iceland has a free online course available and they also offer affordable classes to foreigners.

Private schools are also an option and they often have more flexible class hours and options.

Make sure to post in the expat groups as well. You can easily find a language exchange partner and those are free.

A lot of locals are looking to improve their English, so your chances of finding a buddy are pretty high.

Of course, you would also need to learn some grammar and formal vocabulary but at the end of the day, practice makes perfect. Practice, practice, practice!

Getting Around Iceland

Like most European cities, Reykjavik is a very walkable (or bike-able) city, and it also has great public transport. Get a bus pass and a bike and you are all set for both summer and winter.

Although you don’t really need a car inside the city, intercity buses are notoriously bad and expensive at the same time. Rent-a-car’s are the cheaper way to go here – but make sure your license is valid.

Also, obviously, double check the company and ideally look for a word-of-mouth recommendation.

If you want to get a car, it might be worth considering shipping yours to Iceland instead.

Vehicles are just as expensive as everything else in Iceland. Check the shipping fares – they are steep but not as high as you would expect.

Final Tips And Words Of Encouragement

Although moving to Iceland is anything but easy, I really believe in you. If you loved the place so much that it made you want to go there (or if you love your job so much that you would go anywhere for your company), Iceland will be a piece of cake.

Make sure to pack your warm clothes, favourite snacks, and a lot of patience. As the cultural shock subsides you will find exactly how awesome this country is!

Do you have any tips of your own for moving to Iceland? Share them in the comments down below to help fellow expats (and expats-to-be)!

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