COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Iceland is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and immediately south of the Arctic Circle. Iceland is a highly developed country with a stable democracy. The country has a population of approximately 320,000 people and is about the size of Virginia.
The national language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Tourist facilities in Iceland are well developed and widely available. Read the Department of State Fact Sheet on Iceland for additional information on US.-Iceland relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Iceland, please take the time to tell us about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
The Embassy in Iceland is located at the following address:
U.S. Embassy Reykjavik
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: 011-354-595-2248
You can also follow the U.S. Embassy Iceland on Twitter (@usembreykjavik) and Facebook.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Iceland is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Iceland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. You also need to show that you have sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet. For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of Iceland at 2900 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007-1704, tel: 1-202-265-6653. Information can also be obtained from the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration website (available in English).
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to, or foreign residents of, Iceland.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: There have been no terrorist attacks and very few criminal attacks affecting U.S. citizens in Iceland. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Iceland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of members of terrorist organizations entering/exiting the country with anonymity. You should remain vigilant about your personal security and exercise caution while traveling abroad.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: Iceland has a low crime rate with rare instances of violent crime; however, common sense does apply. Do not put any bags containing valuables, such as your passport, down on the floor in bars or nightclubs. Do not leave your valuables in parked vehicles, even if the vehicle is locked. In addition, be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become disorderly in the late night to early morning hours on weekends as people are leaving bars and clubs.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can
The Icelandic Red Cross has a helpline that is open 24 hours a day, every day, for anyone needing assistance with grief, anxiety, fear, depression or suicidal thoughts. Dial 1717 to reach Red Cross volunteers in Iceland.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Iceland is 112.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Iceland you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Iceland’s drunk-driving laws are very strict. Penalties for possessing, using or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iceland are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Iceland, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not at your destination. Some activities that might be legal in the country you visit are still illegal in the United States.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
IMPORTATION OF WHALE MEAT TO THE United States: All persons are barred from importing whale meat to the United States. Even though whale meat is sold throughout Iceland, the Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to bring back whale meat into the U.S. Any importation of whale meat to the U.S. will result in the seizure of the goods and possible criminal prosecution. Penalties include jail time and fines of up to $10,000.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Be extremely careful if you are going to Iceland's numerous natural attractions, which include glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls, and glacial rivers. Each year, between 600-700 people, most of them tourists, need to be rescued from the Icelandic countryside because they have underestimated Iceland’s volatile weather and terrain. The weather in Iceland can change extremely quickly and can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening problems for tourists who have not adequately prepared themselves.
If you plan on taking advantage of Iceland's hiking trails and unparalleled natural beauty, do your homework first. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) operates an English language website, www.safetravel.is,which includes free, helpful information on how to safely enjoy Iceland's outdoor wonders. You can even leave your travel plan with them before you go hiking or camping in remote areas.
Additionally, the Icelandic meteorological office operates a comprehensive English language website which provides up-to-date weather information and road conditions for all regions of the country.
The Icelandic Road Administration has an English language website designed to assist travelers in Iceland. This websiteis updated in real time and clearly shows the status of most roads in the country in a color-coded, easy to read fashion.
Regardless of the time of year you are visiting Iceland, you should be aware that weather conditions can change extremely quickly. We urge you to consult these websites before venturing out on your Icelandic holiday.
If you plan to rent a car in Iceland, make sure you are clear on where you can and cannot drive the car. Tourists are often charged hefty fees by rental car companies when they return cars with ash or gravel damage caused by unauthorized off-road driving. Additionally, the search and rescue squads routinely need to extract tourists’ rental cars from rivers and off-road areas. Not only are such activities extremely dangerous, the fees incurred to pay for the damaged rental car can be exorbitant.
Hikers and backpackers should stay on marked trails, travel with another person, notify a third party about their travel plans, and check weather reports before visiting such areas. Be sure to leave a travel itinerary with family, friends, or local guides/officials if you are planning to trek through remote parts of the country.
Iceland is home to active volcanoes and was a focal point in international news following the April 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano and the May 2011 eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano. Although both volcanoes have ceased all eruption activity, future eruptions can occur with little advance notice. If a volcanic eruption occurs while you are in Iceland you should closely follow any instructions from the Icelandic authorities. Be aware that airports, including Keflavik International Airport, may need to close in the event of volcanic activity. You can find updates on volcanic activity in Iceland though the Icelandic Office of Civil Defense.
If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips on the Women Travelers page.
LGBT RIGHTS: There are no known safety and security issues of concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Iceland. The LGBT community is protected by anti-discrimination laws, and there are no legal or governmental impediments to the organization of LGBT events. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Iceland, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Icelandic law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and requires that public accommodations and government buildings, including elevators, be accessible to individuals with disabilities. All government buildings in Iceland are wheelchair accessible, as are most museums, malls, and large shopping centers in the capital area. The public bus system and taxis both provide transportation services for individuals with disabilities.
However, many stores in the old downtown area in Reykjavik, such as around the popular shopping street of Laugavegur, are not wheelchair accessible. Many sidewalks in downtown Reykjavik lack curb ramps, and the streets in the area are steep. Smaller hotels and hotels outside the major cities are not all accessible to individuals with disabilities. There are very few paths or marked trails at natural attractions found outside of urban areas.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Iceland is of high quality, but limited services are available outside of large urban areas. For emergency medical assistance anywhere in the country, dial 112. For non-emergency medical assistance in the Reykjavik metropolitan area dial 544-4114 during business hours. Outside of normal business hours, dial 1770. The nurse who answers will do one of three things: offer advice on how to handle the problem on your own, suggest that you come to an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to you for a house call. The Icelandic medical system does not offer coverage to people who do not live in Iceland. Nonresidents are expected to pay their own medical costs and you should be prepared to pay your bill in full before leaving the hospital or clinic.
You can find detailed information on vaccines and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas.
You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: You must be at least 17 years old to drive in Iceland. You can use your U.S. driver’s license for stays of 90 days or less in Iceland. Be advised that you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Less than one-third of Iceland’s total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road). Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but that highway sometimes closes in certain places for road repair. Many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks. Paved roads which end and change to gravel tracks are usually marked with a sign that says “Malbik endar” shortly before the pavement ends – most accidents occur in the first 50 meters of gravel track, when drivers who were traveling at high speeds fail to slow down for the gravel and end up skidding off the roads. Even paved roads tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin. Most bridges are only one lane wide (marked with a sign “Einbreid bru”) so drivers must be alert to oncoming traffic. Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through April), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly. Drivers should pay special attention to signs marking roads as impassable (the sign will usually say “Ofært”). If you drive on a road that the Icelandic authorities have marked as closed or impassable, and then become stuck, you may incur fines of up to $1500 for emergency assistance. Off-road driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland and can incur fines of up to $2000.
Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt. If you are driving in the interior of Iceland, you should consider traveling with a second vehicle. Always inform someone of your travel plans. For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please consult the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) website or call 1777.
For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands): 522-6000 (during regular office hours) or 902-0600; press 1 for English (pay-per-minute service available 24 hours a day).
Icelandic law requires drivers to keep headlights on at all times. Talking on cell phones while driving is prohibited, except when using a hands-free system, and is subject to a fine of 5000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 45 US Dollars). Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas. In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road: on dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h; on paved highways, thespeed limit is 90 km/h. It is illegal to turn right on a red light. At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles, drivers in the inside lane have the right of way. Many intersections in the capital have cameras to catch traffic violators.
The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight. Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 not wearing a seatbelt. No one shorter than 140 centimeters, lighter than 40 kilograms (or 88 pounds), or younger than 12 years of age is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland. The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low. Drivers can be charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence) with a BAT as low as .05%. Drivers stopped under suspicion of DUI are usually given a "balloon" or Breathalyzer test. If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered. Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary. The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 70,000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 625 US Dollars) and the loss of driving privileges for two months.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Iceland’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Iceland dated March 25, 2013 to add information on LGBT travel to Iceland.