In the past decade, the world has gotten a whole lot smaller in the sense that travel, connectivity and information are faster and more free-flowing than ever. We can also do things like work remotely, which gives us the chance to think about the place we choose to live in a whole new way.
It’s now completely perceivable that you could have your own ‘Eat Pray Love’ journey around the world. You could pack a bag, tent, laptop and passport and simply say hello to a range of new possibilities.
Plenty of people who have moved to Iceland have done exactly that. They leave their home countries sometimes with nothing more than a backpack and a one-way ticket. It can be incredibly difficult to plan for such a change. Researching everything, and somehow arranging everything from securing a job to finding housing can be complex and confusing.
What we thought would be a simple couple of Google searches actually led to hours of searching for key bits of information scattered across the ether of the internet, and we’re from Iceland! But let’s remove the fear and fatigue from your endless research with this comprehensive guide on everything you need to know and do when moving to Iceland.
If you think you might want to take a risk and head over to the land of fire and ice, it’s totally possible, and we’ve prepared the ultimate checklist for you before you do.
What Are the Main Steps to Move to Iceland?
Apart from the obvious steps like booking a plane ticket and cancelling that gym membership you stopped using 6 months ago but keep paying for, there’s a few balls you should get rolling as soon as possible if a move to Iceland is on the cards.
Find a Job
Even if you have a substantial amount of savings behind you, having employment opens a lot of doors for you in Iceland. One of the most beneficial is that employment is usually the first way a foreigner is introduced to a social network.
Icelanders are warm, friendly and interested people. Still, they are less likely to approach a stranger and make small talk than people from other cultures. Workplace friends often become regular friends, and with them come even more extended networks of people. This is a great, organic way to get to know a country, its people and how they relate to you and each other.
Another reason to get a job is that Iceland is a very high-income nation, but it’s also expensive. The cost of living in Iceland is among the highest in the world. You may have accumulated what you consider to be enough savings to survive a while, but consider that the cost of living where you’re from might be a lot less than in Iceland.
Imagine you live in the UK or even France. You can choose cheaper items when shopping for groceries to save money. If you want to have some wine with dinner, you can opt for the bottom shelf rather than something a bit pricier.
In Iceland, things are generally more expensive than they are in most of Europe. There’s also not the same kind of brand variety here, so you can’t necessarily buy the cheaper vegetables to save a bit of cash because there’s only one kind. That bottom shelf wine, the cheapest one, already costs 15€.
Simply existing and going about your everyday business could easily eat up your savings in record time. Getting a job with an Icelandic wage will help you make the most out of the great quality of life here.
Get a Visa
Researching the kind of visa you need to live and work in Iceland is essential. There are many different kinds of visas depending on where you are coming from. Some of the steps for applying for a visa might need to be completed before leaving your home country.
Planning this stuff ahead of time will not only ensure you are living and working legally, but it will also mean that you are completely informed of your rights.
Transport Your Luggage
Not everyone can just say goodbye to their things. Even though I came to Iceland with just a backpack, I eventually had some stuff sent over from home when I had decided I was staying long term.
Travelling to a country for a visit vs moving there is entirely different when it comes to bringing your things with you. One of the biggest issues you might face is just how do you get your things to Iceland without going bankrupt in the process?
If you’re travelling light, buying some extra baggage on your flight can work, but if you have more than the extra piece of luggage, it can get costly, not to mention difficult to load it all into a car on the other end.
Shipping companies like Eimskip can provide this service to you. You might think that they are more for companies transporting goods between countries, but individuals also use their services.
The process begins typically with you contacting the company for a quote. Shipping companies calculate their costs by using both the weight of the shipment and the space it takes up (in cubic metres).
They also need you to take a complete inventory of your shipment. This can be done in a simple spreadsheet where you name the box, list the items inside, their approximate worth and perhaps even add things like their weight.
Once you are ready, you will need to take your items to a pickup location, where they will be put onto pallets and wrapped to be shipped. You will then be invoiced, and your shipment will be delivered to your selected address at the other end.
One suggestion I would make is that if it’s possible, store the things you don’t need immediately in your home country until you are confident that Iceland is where you want to spend a decent amount of time.
Set Up Your Kennitala
Iceland has an identification system that’s a little different from what you might be used to if you live outside the Nordic countries. Every person residing in Iceland has just one number that is used to identify them. This number is called a Kennitala and is made up of ten digits. The first 6 digits are the person’s date of birth in the form DDMMYY, followed by four other numbers.
A kennitala is basically your key to everything. It is how someone can find you to transfer money to your bank account; it’s how you are identified for tax purposes; it’s the membership number you receive at the gym. Even in the days when we rented DVDs, you used your kennitala for it.
To get a kennitala, you need to apply through Registers Iceland. You will need a few specific things depending on where you come from, but the basics include; proof of ID, proof of address in Iceland, a job contract or proof of income, and health insurance.
In most cases, you need to begin this process by presenting in person. Although most Icelanders speak a decent English level, many agree that it can be helpful to take an Icelander with you (if you know one willing to do so) for this particular element of the immigration process.
This is because there may be complex information that needs to be given, and it’s always helpful in situations like this to have a local who can explain it all to you.
Open a Bank Account
Once you have a Kennitala, opening a bank account in Iceland is incredibly easy. You just need to take this number, along with proof of address in Iceland, and that’s it. You will need to show up in person to open the account. This is because you need to sign the account agreement. The process is quick and straightforward. You usually have a debit card within a week or two of the account being opened.
Of course, you don’t have to have a bank account in Iceland, but it does make things a lot easier and saves a lot of money on international transfer fees.
The Immigration Process in Iceland
This part of the process can seem complex and overwhelming because there are many different rules depending on where you come from. To make it easier, I have broken it down into sections below.
Before reading further, you need to be aware that having an Icelandic Identification Number (Kennitala) does not grant someone permanent residency in Iceland; it is also not a work visa. These things have to be applied for separately. A Kennitala is only used to identify you.
Can I Move to Iceland from the US?
Moving to Iceland from the US is possible, but you have to fit within one of a few categories. Those who are the spouse or legal partner of an Icelander can, of course, apply for legal residence.
Americans who fall into this category are given a temporary residence permit that is regularly renewed until they have lived in Iceland long enough to apply for permanent resident status.
You can apply for temporary residency in Iceland as a student at an Icelandic university. Several scholars from America come to study in Iceland.
The easiest way to move to Iceland is through employment. If an Icelandic company employs you, they are then also able to sponsor your residency. This is often the case when an Icelandic company is looking for a foreign specialist.
Can I Move to Iceland from the UK?
You can move to Iceland from the UK. However, the process of moving here after Brexit is a bit different to what it used to be. Before December 31, 2020, British citizens had freedom of movement between the UK and Iceland.
As of January 1, 2021, UK Citizens must now apply for a visa to be able to live and work in Iceland. The specific details of this are still being figured out, as there are also a number of people from the UK who already live in Iceland. More information on this can be found through the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.
Can I Move to Iceland From Another EU or EEA country?
If you are a citizen in another EU or EEA country, you have total freedom of movement between Iceland and your home country.
If you are going to stay less than three months and intend to work, you will need to apply for a temporary Kennitala.
If you are going to stay longer than three months, you will need to apply for a permanent Kennitala.
This can be done by filling out the A-271 form and taking it to the offices of Registers Iceland on arrival.
You will also need to prove that you have 3 months worth of living expenses, which at the time of writing this is 638.082 ISK for an individual and 1.020.930 ISK for a married couple. This can be done with a recent bank statement.
Please consider that even for a member of an EU or EEA country, it can still take 2 to 3 months to complete this process.
Can I move to Iceland From the Rest of the World?
Yes, you can move to Iceland from other countries in the world. The most direct way to move to Iceland as a citizen that is not from an EU EEA county is to do so as a foreign specialist or get a special visa for remote working. This is a visa that allows you to work remotely in Iceland for up to 180 days as long as it is for a company that is not based in Iceland.
For all of the countries and regions above, Swapp is able to help point you in the right direction. If you are a skilled worker, the Icelandic market might be looking for someone exactly like you, and Swapp can help connect you and assist in getting the paperwork sorted.
How to Prepare to Move to Iceland?
Aside from the bureaucratic elements, there are some other things to consider before making your move to this little island nation in the Atlantic Ocean. These are things that might seem obvious, but a lot of people, myself included, never really give them much thought before coming here.
Join Local Facebook Groups
Iceland is a country where you can still actually find helpful information through Facebook. Icelanders love the app and use it for everything from entertainment to finding someone to help them take care of an odd job around the house.
The leading group for information for foreigners is called Away from Home – Living in Iceland. It has everything from immigration information to even deals on domestic accommodation.
One tip when using groups on Facebook is to know that there’s likely to be a budding comedian lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to make a joke for every question you ask. Although it can be funny, it doesn’t really help you.
There’s now the ability to search previous posts on Facebook groups, which sometimes means you don’t even have to ask the question because someone else already did, and the responses are available for you to browse.
Read Up On Icelandic News
To read the news of a country is to get to know its people. Icelanders usually are pretty up to date on domestic affairs. If you want to have a chat around the water cooler in the office to break the ice, this is the easiest way to know what to talk about.
Several news sources in Iceland are available in English. These are great to use for news because although google translate is a great resource, it doesn’t always work for Icelandic.
Here are a few of the best sites in English for Icelandic News.
Consider Taking Some Icelandic Courses
Nobody will expect you to be fluent in Icelandic when you step off the plane. Still, if you can manage a few simple things like ordering a meal or asking for directions, you will go a long way.
The Icelandic culture is intrinsically linked to the Icelandic language. The more Icelandic you learn, the more you will understand the country and its people.
Here are some links to help you possibly learn a bit more Icelandic before you arrive.
Learn About the Cost of Living
As I said earlier, Iceland is an expensive country to live in, so taking the time to understand just how much the cost of living differs from where you are now can be essential if you want to avoid surprises.
To give you an idea, this list breaks down daily and monthly cost items like rent, food and childcare, and provides a current average cost for each. The amounts have been determined via contributors, giving a more realistic expectation of what you will probably pay to live in Iceland.
Learn About Your Rights in Iceland
Iceland has a long history with strong union representation. As a foreigner living in Iceland, I can tell you that Icelanders are the first to say when they think something ‘isn’t right’ or is ‘unconstitutional.’
One thing I noticed, though, is that because the majority of the Icelandic public are so well-informed about these things, they might not think to inform others. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to learn about your rights.
Your rights can also extend to your responsibilities. There’s no welcome pack that tells you when your income tax is due, so you need to do your homework to figure this stuff out.
Apply For a Job
There are several ways you can find work in Iceland. If you want to tip your toe, so as to speak, you could start with a job swap. This is where you basically swap jobs with someone in a similar position to you for a specified time. This can be a great way to test out Iceland as a possible long-term home.
You could also look for a job the more traditional way. Of course, there are websites that advertise job listings and we ensure that all the vacancies we manage in Iceland are fully up to date on our jobs page.
Word of mouth is also incredibly useful in Iceland. This is why making friends with locals helps. There’s always someone who has a cousin looking to hire someone.
Iceland also has a thriving gig economy, so if you are more interested in freelance work so you can balance your time with exploring the natural wonders Iceland has to offer, it’s a totally realistic option.
If you are looking for a more specific job, perhaps in an advanced field, it might be worth contacting us to see if we can match you with an Icelandic company.
Find a Place to Stay
Getting onto this as early as possible is the best way to get success. The rental market in Iceland is incredibly competitive and, unfortunately, isn’t completely regulated.
Most renters have private agreements with their landlords, which might give them cheaper rent, but doesn’t offer them the security of a long-term contract.
Obviously, if you are willing to live a bit further out from the city centre of Reykjavík, you are more likely to strike a deal quicker. If you start working on this early, it will benefit you in the long run. There are websites to help you search for a place to live, but the most comprehensive information in English can be found here.
Iceland is a country that can provide you with an incredible work/life balance. It’s one of the safest and most friendly nations on the planet, and when you throw in the natural beauty, it’s no wonder so many people fall in love with this country every day.
Making the choice to move to Iceland could be the beginning of an adventure or the first step towards having a home you live in for the rest of your life. Whatever your journey to Iceland is, being prepared will undoubtedly make it easier.