One of the questions I hate the most that I get through this blog is “How can I move to Iceland?“. Especially when it is followed by “How can I find housing in Iceland?” and “What’s the best way to get a job in Iceland?” I don’t hate these questions because there’s anything wrong with them per se, I totally understand why people would ask me that, but rather because I don’t have any answers to them. I am a local and I’ve never gone through this process. I also haven’t been on the rental market or had to look for a job in years. So I hate them because I just don’t know.
Thankfully there’s a group on Facebook where you can get questions about living in Iceland as a foreigner answered. So in order to help those of you who have been getting my apologetic “I don’t know” replies I reached out to the friendly folks in the group and asked if they had any first hand experience to share. This guest post is the result of my plea.
Jenna Gottlieb is a New Yorker and journalist that moved to Iceland in 2012 to be with her Icelandic husband.
All you need to know about moving to Iceland
So, you just got back home from your trip to Iceland and you’re convinced you want to move here. And, who could blame you? Iceland is beautiful, chock full of waterfalls, glaciers, hiking paths, pools and hot springs. And then there’s Reykjavik—ground zero for art, culture and killer nightlife. Before you pack your bags and buy a one-way plane ticket, there are several things to consider. For the purpose of this blog post, let’s separate potential immigrants into two groups: EEA/EU citizens and everyone else.
First up are EEA/EFTA citizens. If you’re European, you’re in luck. You will have an easier time navigating the immigration process and moving to Iceland. Indeed, citizens from the EEA and EFTA states do not need a special residence permit to stay in Iceland, but must register with Registers Iceland after arriving.
After arriving, you can apply through a bank to receive a “kennitala” which is essentially Iceland’s social security number. It’s essential to have this number for everything from renting an apartment to getting a job. If you have a signed work contract before you arrive, your employer can help you obtain your kennitala.
As part of the immigration process, you have to show that you can support yourself while in Iceland. The amount of money an individual is expected to earn to support oneself is ISK 163,635 per month, and ISK 245,453 per couple.
For additional information on immigration requirements, please visit the Directorate of Immigration’s website at www.utl.is.
As for everyone else, the bad news for you non-EEA folks is that there are only three ways for you to secure a residence permit in Iceland.
- Be married to an Icelander. This is pretty straightforward.
- Attend a university. If you are accepted into a university in Iceland, you will likely be granted a residence permit and possibly a limited work permit. However, you will have to prove that you have enough money to support yourself while in Iceland.
- Secure a work permit for a job. This sounds good, but it’s not so easy. It has to be for a specialized, desirable work skill like computer programming. A prospective employer has to show that you are needed for the job, one that they can’t find an Icelander or EEA citizen to fill. So if you’re looking for a job as a restaurant worker, journalist, wedding planner, teacher, or just about anything else, you’re basically out of luck. There’s a very short list of potential jobs for you. Also, you will have to have a signed work contract before you move to secure the permit. You cannot move to Iceland and look for work like EEA citizens can. I’m sorry to be a buzz kill, but it’s very, very difficult to obtain this kind of permit. For more information, check out the Directorate of Immigration website at utl.is.
Now, if you are still interested in moving to Iceland, here’s some practical information:
The ability to secure a job as an EEA citizen depends on your expectations. If you want to come to Iceland as a seasonal worker in a hotel, guesthouse, or restaurant, your best bet is during the high season (the summer). Restaurants and hotels are always looking for extra staff in the summer. If you are after a more professional job, it’s much more difficult to obtain if you don’t speak Icelandic. The exception is the computer programming/gaming industries, where loads of immigrants work, or the tourism industry. If you are interested in working on a farm, there are opportunities to do so in the countryside. Below are a few job websites:
Be advised that the rental market in Iceland is tough. It’s not easy to secure an affordable room in central Reykjavik. There are single rooms that can go for 70,000ISK. If you’re looking for a studio or one bedroom apartment, the going rates could be shocking. It’s very, very expensive to live in Iceland. Below are a couple of websites where you can check out available rooms. Also, because Reykjavik is more popular than ever, there is a lot of competition for rooms. Locals, exchange students and new immigrants are all after the same rooms/apartments.
If you want to give learning Icelandic a go, and why wouldn’t you? It’s a fun language! Check out this free online course offered by the University of Iceland: www.icelandiconline.is. After you arrive, there are a number of language schools that teach Icelandic including the “Icelandic for Foreigners” program at the University of Iceland (www.hi.is), and schools like Mimir (www.mimir.is) and the Tin Can Factory (www.thetincanfactory.eu).
If you had your holiday in Iceland during the summer, you saw just a small slice of Icelandic weather. You may have experienced some rain and wind, but if you were lucky, you also saw long days with lots of sunshine and blue skies. It’s pretty easy to love Iceland in the summer. The winter, however, is a different story for some people. Days are short, the wind is brutal and the lack of sunshine can drive some people nuts. Don’t get me wrong, Iceland is great, but it’s not always the easiest place to live, especially for those that don’t have a network of friends and family. Before you move, it’s a good idea to experience the winter, especially during December or January if possible. Be sure you know what you’re getting into. The winter can be lovely with Northern Lights and cozy days with friends, but it can also be challenging.
I moved to Iceland about three years ago from New York City and it’s been the best, yet most challenging move of my life. Iceland is undeniably a beautiful and special place, but it’s important to do you research before you move to give yourself the best shot at success. Best of luck!