Moving to Iceland: From finding housing to new friends
First, you are not alone: Nearly a quarter of Iceland’s labor force is foreign born. The economy may be small, but it is booming.
Iceland is safe and beautiful, with a strong social network and high living standards. You will like it here -- in our humble opinion! -- but having some background information can clear up common misconceptions and prepare you for the transition.
Residency and Visas
The kind of passport you enter Iceland with makes a big difference in the process you have to go through to be allowed to stay legally.
If you are from a country belonging to the EU, EEA, or EFTA (European Free Trade Association), living and working in Iceland requires no special permits. These citizens are allowed to work legally in Iceland for three months before needing to register, although this can be extended to six months for those still seeking employment. Once you register, you must also apply for a tax card which also involves applying for an ID number, or kennitala.
If you are not from European Economic Area and long-term residency in Iceland has a few more steps. There are three main ways to secure the visa that you need to stay in Iceland long-term: marrying (or co-habiting) with an Icelander allowing you the right to live with your spouse, attending a university in Iceland through a Student Visa, or by finding a job and securing a Work Visa.
To apply for citizenship, most applicants need at least seven years in the country. You may, however, vote in local elections after five years.
Pet-owners note: furry friends need to undergo quarantine.
Housing and cost of living
Some 75 percent of Icelanders live in Reykjavík and the surrounding southwestern region from Selfoss to Keflavík. By default, that’s where most jobs can be found.
Regardless of where you settle, finding a place to live can be a feat in a competitive housing market. For a rough cost estimate, check out this price calculator maintained by a grassroot organization lobbying for fair rental prices. Short-term housing is generally more expensive over summer. Long-term contracts can be subject to government subsidies known as “húsnæðisbætur” available to many people who lack the capital to buy a house.
While housing prices may seem shockingly high at first, remember that Iceland’s primary energy resource is geothermal which makes the electricity, heating, and water costs significantly less.
GETTING A JOB
Thanks to the country's small population, prospering economy, and high level of education, job opportunities in Iceland have quickly moved beyond the traditional fishing and farming industry.
It's always easier to search for employment once you are already in the country, but it still takes time, and patience. Knowing some phrases in Icelandic helps, but there are still plenty of places in service, construction, transportation, and tech where you can get by with English to begin with at least.
Finding your first job can be easier leading to the summer season, as demand for labor peaks from June to August due to summer holidays and tourism. This applies especially outside the Reykjavík region.
Despite being a remote island, or because of it, Iceland is one of the most wired nation in world. Remote work is possible almost everywhere thanks to good internet connection and in recent years, a small but steady number of people have brought their job with them to Iceland.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS
Everyone can learn Icelandic and studies suggest that migrants who take time to learn the language have more up-ward mobility and feel more connected to Icelandic society.
There are many opportunities to learn Icelandic all over the country and course fees are often reimbursed by trade unions.
A popular course is at the University of Iceland, with a one-year diploma, is the Icelandic as a Second Language, with class hours that have working adults in mind. Icelandic courses are also a great place to meet people!
To meet locals, check out sports clubs and scheduled activities in your town or neighborhood; the Red Cross also frequently hosts meetups and some municipalities have a fjölmenningarfulltrúi, a desk dedicated to the service of migrants and multi-cultural affairs.
And then, of course, the local swimming pool. It’s where Icelanders catch up, and a great place to relax after work.