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Iceland travel guide

About Iceland

A country of extreme geological contrasts, Iceland has built up an impressive tourism sector with over 2 million visitors a year flocking to see its moss-covered lava fields, glacier-fed ice caves, rock-ribbed coast and ash-spouting volcanos.

Widely known as "the land of fire and ice", Iceland is crammed with magnificent scenery that delights and awes at every turn. The word fire in the phrase refers to Iceland's abundant volcanoes, which burst into life periodically. Elemental forces bubble just below the surface across the country, and clever Icelanders have long been accessing geothermal energy to generate electricity, heat tap water and warm up tomato greenhouses.

Volcanic tourism is also lucrative, with tourists taking trips to see bubbling fumaroles and soak in thermal springs. The two famous examples of the latter are the Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon near Reykjavík; both are geothermal spas that aim to soothe your aches and pains.

Ice is Iceland's other big draw (the clue is in the name) – more specifically, the dramatic glaciers that slice down towards the coast, calving icebergs into serene lagoons. About 11% of the country is covered in glaciers, with Vatnajökull being the largest and extending some 8,400km² (3,243mi²) in the southeast with thick layers of snow blanketing many high, majestic mountain ridges. Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur (2,119m or 6,592ft) can also be found here. Guided tours to glaciers, ice caves and frozen waterfalls are widely available.

Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city, is where most travellers start their journey. This fun and vibrant city, with its many museums, marine excursions, and colourful nightlife, is certainly a worthy diversion.

So come to experience walking in a lava cave, climb a glacier, spot a whale, or catch the colourful northern lights in their full glory, undimmed by light pollution in the least densely populated nation in Europe. No matter what you do, a holiday in Iceland is an experience you'll remember for a lifetime.

Key facts

Area:

103,000km² (39,769mi²).

Population:

341,243 (2020).

Population density:

3 per sq km.

Capital:

Reykjavík.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Gudni Jóhannesson since 2016.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir since 2017.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Volcanic eruption and earthquakes

Volcanic activity has been detected in the Askja area. The Icelandic authorities continue to monitor the area closely. You should follow authorities’ advice on travel to the area.

Check for alerts and advice from the:

Also see Extreme weather and natural disasters.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:

  • advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
  • information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Iceland set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact Iceland’s embassy in the UK .

COVID-19 rules

Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel provider for changes.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to get treatment there.

Read TravelHealthPro’s general COVID-19 advice for travellers.

Entry to Iceland

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Iceland.

Passport validity requirements

To travel to Iceland, you must follow the Schengen area passport requirements.

To enter Iceland (and all Schengen countries) your passport must:

  • have a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive. Passports issued after 1 October 2018 are now valid for only 10 years, but for passports issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added if you renewed a passport early
  • have an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave

Contact Iceland’s embassy in the UK if your passport does not meet both these requirements.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Checks at border control

Make sure you get your passport stamped.

If you’re a visitor, your passport must be stamped when you enter or leave the Schengen area (which includes Iceland). Border guards will use passport stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for stays in the Schengen area. If your passport was not stamped, border guards will presume you have overstayed the visa-free limit.

If your passport was not stamped, show evidence of when and where you entered or left the Schengen area (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

Read about passport stamping if you live in Iceland.

At Icelandic border control, you may also need to:

  • show a return or onward ticket
  • prove that you have enough money for your stay

Visa requirements

You can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel:

  • as a tourist
  • to visit family or friends
  • to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events
  • for short-term studies or training

If you are travelling to Iceland and other Schengen countries without a visa, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day limit. Visits to Schengen countries within the previous 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.

To stay longer (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the Icelandic entry requirements. Check what type of visa or work permit you may need with the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.

If you stay in Iceland with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit.

Vaccination requirements (other than COVID-19)

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Iceland guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of Iceland. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Whale products

It is illegal to import whale products from Iceland into the UK or EU. You could be fined up to £5,000 or imprisoned.

Taking money into or out of Iceland

You must declare if you’re carrying more than 10,000 euros or the same amount in other currencies.

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and warnings for Iceland.

Terrorism

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Iceland

Terrorist attacks in Iceland cannot be ruled out.

Crime

Crime levels are low but petty theft and antisocial behaviour can occur, particularly around bars in downtown Reykjavík. Take sensible precautions and keep your belongings safe.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You do not have to carry your passport with you, but it is sensible to keep some form of ID on you. Keep your passport somewhere safe. Make sure you have entered next of kin details on the back page.

Smoking and e-cigarette bans

It is illegal to smoke or use e-cigarettes in restaurants, bars, public transport and public buildings. Anyone caught smoking will be asked to leave and could be fined.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

It is illegal to possess even small amounts of drugs, including marijuana, in Iceland. Anyone caught can get a heavy fine and a prison sentence.

It is illegal to use or import khat in Iceland.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex relationships are legal in Iceland.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Hiking, mountaineering and other adventure sports have specific risks.

You should:

Going too close to the ocean, cliff edges and hot springs are common causes of accidents in Iceland.

Hiking and mountaineering

When hiking, choose a trail suited for your level of experience. Conditions in Iceland could be different to what you’re used to.

Take enough food, equipment, clothing and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Use a map, compass, GPS and phone.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Iceland, please see information on driving abroad and read the RAC Iceland guide.

You must:

  • obey speed limits – fines for speeding are high
  • keep dipped headlights on all the time – you could get a fine if you do not
  • follow drink-drive laws – alcohol limits are much stricter than in the UK
  • use winter tyres from 1 November to 15 April – exact dates can vary

You could get a fine for using studded tyres after 15 April (20,000 krona per tyre), unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Distances between towns can be large, roads are narrow and winding, and speed limits are low. On gravel and loose surfaces reduce your speed.

Check road and weather advice from the Icelandic Road Administration. They also have information on off-road driving, which is strictly controlled.

Many highland tracks are only open for a short part of the summer. In the highlands you should use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Drive slowly (5 to 10 kilometres per hour) when you cross rivers. River levels can change quickly, even within the same day.

The weather can change quickly. Infrequent strong winds can cause sand and ash storms. British tourists have had to pay large amounts of money to repair damage to hire cars caused by sand and ash.

Breakdown recovery costs, especially in remote areas, can be high.

Licences and permits

You need either a 1968 international driving permit (IDP) or a valid UK driving licence to drive in Iceland. The 1949 IDP is not accepted anymore. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service.

Driving a British car abroad

You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. Since 2021, UK stickers have replaced GB stickers. Check the government guidance on displaying number plates for more information on what to do if you are driving outside the UK.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common in Iceland.

Risks include:

  • travel delays and cancellations
  • poisonous volcanic gases
  • rock falls and landslides
  • flooding

These organisations have information on volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in Iceland:

Arctic travel

Most British nationals travel safely around the Arctic each year. However, consular assistance and support to British nationals is limited by the capacity of national and local authorities. Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment or potential repatriation.

Before you visit:

  • consider the remote nature of certain destinations and access to medical facilities, search and rescue and evacuation options
  • have emergency plans in place, particularly if you are an independent traveller

Sea travel in the Arctic

Most people visit the Arctic by ship. Some areas of the Arctic are uncharted and ice-covered. Before you travel:

  • check the experience and credentials of operators offering travel in the region
  • consider the on-board medical facilities and discuss any pre-existing medical conditions with the cruise operator

Search and rescue

In the highest latitude regions of the Arctic, cruise ships may be isolated from other vessels or populated areas. Be aware that:

  • search and rescue response may be very far away
  • assistance to stranded vessels may take several days to arrive, particularly in bad weather
  • search and rescue teams will only offer basic transport and medical care and are unlikely to be able to offer advanced life support

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

For more information read guidance on healthcare when travelling in Europe.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Iceland

You can view a list of English-speaking doctors in Iceland.

If you’re living in Iceland, read living in Iceland for healthcare information.

COVID-19 healthcare in Iceland

You will not have to pay for COVID-19 examinations and treatment.

See Iceland government information on what to do if you have COVID.

Health insurance cards

Most people cannot use a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to get medical treatment in Iceland. See information on GHICs and EHICs in Iceland.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Iceland

Telephone: 112 (ambulance, fire, police)

Safe Travel Iceland

If you’re travelling around Iceland, leave details of your travel plans with Safe Travel Iceland in case you need help from the Icelandic emergency services.

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are in Iceland and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy Reykjavik.

You can also contact FCDO online.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges.

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