Everything You Need to Know About Immigration in Iceland

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A lake in Iceland with mountains in the background under a blue sky

I think all of us have had those moments at our figurative work desks where we stared off into the distance and thought about how we could make the most of our lives. 

Perhaps it’s been on a Thursday afternoon, when your lunch break feels like it happened yesterday and hometime seems like something that will likely come in a year. Maybe you’ve blankly looked across the carriage of a crowded metro during your commute and thought ‘imagine if I just left it all behind.’ 

You actually can. I don’t mean in an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ kind of way (although if you want to do that, you go for it.) So many of us spend our whole work lives thinking that we wish it was better, but never realise it can be, somewhere else. 

In the past decade many people have moved to Iceland in search of all the things it has to offer. They looked for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and some of them have found it. 

But why should you consider moving to Iceland? How do you do it? What makes this country a great place to immigrate to? Read on to find out all this and more.

Why Should You Consider Emigrating to Iceland?

Emigrating to the beautiful Iceland nature on a fjord

If you’re looking to experience life in a country where you can have an incredible work/life balance while being surrounded by some of the most impressive natural attractions in the world, then Iceland has you covered. 

Iceland is also a country that is constantly making it on to international indexes for happiness, equality, renewable energy and safety

To put it simply, Iceland is a place where you can make the most of your personal time, explore places unlike any other, enjoy the privilege of a level of personal safety few developed nations have, and do all of this while being ideally located halfway between America and Europe. 

If you’re willing and able to, you’d kind of be mad not to at least spend a bit of time here. 

How Easy is it to Emigrate to Iceland?

A globe in a lobby

The answer to this question is largely dependent on where you are from. For the purposes of emigration to Iceland you will need to look at which country or countries you hold citizenship in. 

Iceland has different laws about immigration depending on whether you are from the EU/EEA or outside of that. 

Moving to Iceland from the EU or EEA

European Union flags in Brussels

This is probably one of the easiest moves for anyone coming to Iceland. Members of the EU or EEA have complete freedom of movement between their home country and Iceland.

If you only intend to stay less than three months, you will need to apply for a temporary Icelandic identification number when you arrive. If your stay is going to be longer than three months you will need to apply for a permanent one.

You can apply for the ID by filling out the A-271 form when you arrive and taking it to the offices of Registers Iceland. 

Moving to Iceland from the UK

Big Ben and trafalgar bridge in London

The process of UK citizens moving to Iceland after Brexit is a bit different than those who are from countries within the EU/EEA. 

As of January 1, 2021, any UK citizen wishing to move to Iceland will need to apply for a visa. The specifics of this are still being decided by the Icelandic Government. You can find more information about this through the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.

Moving to Iceland from the US

The statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline under a blue sky

To be able to move to Iceland from the United States of America, you need to fit one of a few categories. 

If you are the legal spouse or domestic partner of an Icelander, you are entitled to apply for a residence permit.

You can also apply for temporary residency for the purposes of study. Iceland has quite a number of Universities that students from all around the world come to study at.

The easiest way for an American to move to Iceland is to apply for special consideration as a foreign specialist. There’s more on what this is and how to apply further down in this article.

What is the Process for Emigrating to Iceland?

A to do list of how to emigrate to Iceland

The process for immigrating to Iceland is pretty much the same as it is for most other countries in Northern Europe. The steps usually include; apply for a visa or residents permit, moving, finding work and getting things set up like local identification and a bank account. 

Do You Need a Visa?

A question mark light up on a black wall

This will depend on where you are moving from. If you are moving from the EU/EEA, you won’t need a visa, but you will need to apply for some things like an Icelandic ID number. 

EU/EEA citizens who want to stay longer than 3 months will need to provide evidence of a work contract in Iceland, or prove that they have three months worth of living expenses at their disposal.

If you are from outside the EU/EEA, you will need to apply for a visa. There are a number of categories that your visa could fall under. These could be things like; a partner or spouse visa (as mentioned earlier), a student visa, a visa because you are providing labor in an area of need, or because you are an expert in something. 

You can see the full list of visas and their requirements here.

Finding a Job in Iceland

A man holding a magnifying glass to symbolise looking for a job in Iceland

This is a relatively easy step if you have the legal right to reside already in place. Iceland has quite a low unemployment rate and when the country is in full swing there is readily available work in a broad range of industries. 

There are jobs available in all sectors and at many different levels; from entry all the way up to management. 

One helpful hint for finding work in Iceland is to take the time to learn a bit about the country’s business culture. Networks are incredibly important to Icelandic people and it’s often how they find out about job opportunities. 

Another option for you would be to contact agencies like us who specialise in finding skilled workers and pairing them with incredible job opportunities.

Iceland is also experiencing a boom in its gig economy, so contract work might be a possibility. You could also look at doing some remote work for a foreign company and basing yourself in Iceland. 

If you’re not entirely sure it’s going to be a long term option, you could also look at testing the waters with a job swap before you make the decision to completely up-root your life.

Moving to Iceland

Packing belongings when you move to Iceland

This is probably the easiest step of the entire process for anyone moving to another country. That amazing moment when you hop on a plane and maybe frantically look for your keys, before you realise that you don’t actually have keys anymore because you’re starting a new life somewhere else. 

I will give you a hot tip: before you move, take the time to get to know Iceland’s communities of expats online. There’s probably a group of people from your home country living in the land of fire and ice who’ve already done what you’re about to do and are full of wisdom. 

These expat comrades can dish the insider secrets on everything from the best meal in town, to how to find a place to live, to even planning hangouts for those times you feel homesick. 

Currently there is a Facebook group for all foreigners who live in Iceland but there are more country specific ones out there too.

Getting a Kennitala & Bank Account

An Icelandic kennitala login

Picture: Skra.is

I know what you’re thinking, ‘what’s a kennitala?’

Iceland’s identification system is often perplexing to foreigners.

All people living in Iceland have one number to identify them for everything, and I mean everything. 

If you talk to the tax office you will use this number, but you will also give this number to the clerk at the electronics store to validate your extended warranty. 

This number is called a Kennitala and it can take some getting used to the fact that it’s shared frequently and liberally. I assure you this is normal. Iceland is, after all, an island. If anyone is going to try to steal your identity, they’re not going to get very far. 

To get a Kennitala, you need to apply through Registers Iceland in person. Once you have this the first thing you should do is go straight to a local bank of your choice and open a bank account. 

I promise you, opening a bank account in Iceland is life-changing. It just makes everything easier when living there, and I have never experienced faster transfers in my life.

How Many Immigrants Are There in Iceland?

A graph measuring the immigrant population in Iceland

This may be a surprise to you, but Iceland has a large, and growing immigrant population. As of 2020, immigrants made up a whopping 15.2% of Iceland’s total population.

This means that of the 350,000 people living in Iceland, 55,000 are either first or second generation immigrants. The population is becoming more diverse this year. A great deal of this is due to the amount of work available, and the openness of the Icelandic people. 

Is there a Shortage of Foreign workers in Iceland?

Two men silhouetted on a construction site

There’s a huge demand for workers in a number of industries right now in Iceland. The country is experiencing booms in many sectors and often the local population can’t actually keep up with the demand.

For this reason the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration offers special provisions to those who move to Iceland in roles where there is currently a shortage of skilled workers. One of the most prominent sectors is construction, but there are many other industries in need of workers.  

Are there Opportunities for Foreign Experts in Iceland?

A seal from the experts to help you emigrate to Iceland

There are some fantastic opportunities for foreign experts who move to Iceland but there are also some amazing benefits. 

Although the Icelandic population is highly educated, there just aren’t enough people becoming specialists to fulfill the needs of every industry in the country. Because of this the Icelandic Government allows foreign specialists to become residents in Iceland under a special visa.

Experts or ‘Foreign Specialists’ who move to Iceland are also able to apply for a tax discount. Currently the discount is 25%, so if you are a foreign specialist, you will only be taxed on 75% of your income for the first three years you live in Iceland. 

If you’re a foreign expert, Iceland also provides you with the opportunity to enter the market in a much more senior position due to the lack of competition. Many Icelandic companies will throw in other perks to secure you.  

Conclusion

Kirkjufell mountain inn Iceland with the sun setting behind it

Nature, culture, work/life balance, remuneration and quality of life are all exceptional in Iceland. It’s easy to see why the immigrant population is steadily rising and now is the perfect time to look at bringing your skillset to the land of fire and ice. 

If you’re able to move here, Iceland can provide you with a fresh perspective on life, while also helping you achieve your professional goals in a way you never thought possible. 

Maybe it’s time to ‘Marie Kondo’ some of your things, pack a bag and get on a plane. Well you should ideally fill out the appropriate paperwork and arrange a visa, but the first way is much more romantic. 

ABOUT SWAPP AGENCY

Swapp Agency is an innovative recruitment firm in Reykjavik that focuses on helping people find jobs and companies to fill their openings in Iceland.

Swapp offers a range of services to their clients in operational supports.

Contact us

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General: info@swappagency.com
Job inquires: job@swappagency.com

Phone: 00354 – 5195570

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