Reykjavik, Iceland Report of what it's like to live there - 07/29/11
Personal Experiences from Reykjavik, Iceland
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
5th expat experience.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Flights from Iceland to the east coast (Boston and JFK) are short - only about 5 hours. Direct flight from Iceland to Seattle is 8 hours. A seasonal direct flight from Iceland to Orlando is about 9 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years so far.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Working at the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is a mix of apartments and houses and are standard sizes for Europe. Housing has either two or three bedrooms, usually one full bath and another half bath. If you live downtown you can walk to the embassy (15-20 minute walk depending on where you live).Even in the suburbs the commute is not long - expect about a 15 minute commute at most.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can expect to pay double or triple what you would pay in the US for groceries and goods. This is an isolated island they import most of their goods, and there is a heavy tax on these items. The COLA is essential here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I was happy that I brought a good supply of all my liquids (shampoos, lotions, laundry detergent, toothpaste, etc.) They don't have a ton of variety in Iceland, and you cannot send these products through the pouch. Stock up on these things and include them in your HHE before you come here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The only American brands currently in Iceland are Subway, KFC and Taco Bell. Expect to pay double what you would pay in the US.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
This island is blissfully bug-free, apart from some bumble bees and mosquitoes in the summer months.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
This is a pouch only post, and standard pouch restrictions apply. It takes about 2 weeks for incoming mail. For outgoing mail to the US most people use the regular Icelandic postal service, which is completely reliable and MUCH faster than the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive. You can usually find someone to clean your house once a week. Cost is between $60 - $100 depending on the size of your home. Diplomats can bring live-in help with them.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The biggest gym chain is called World Class and costs $50/month for a membership.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Icelanders use credit cards for everything. ATMs are widely available in Reykjavik and work just like in the US.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There is only one weekly paper available in English, the Reykjavik Grapevine. The other two major dailies are only in Icelandic.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Almost everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English. Some basic Icelandic is always a nice touch and is appreciated by the local community.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Iceland is not a great place for someone with disabilities. In Reykjavik it's not too bad because most of the buildings have wheelchair access ramps, but a lot of the small, older buildings in the downtown shopping area have no ramps, steps, or are too small to accommodate a wheelchair. Public buses and taxis all have wheelchair/disability access. Outside of Reykjavik most of the touristy sites are out in the smack middle of nature and have no special access for those with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local buses in Reykjavik are safe and reliable. Bus fare is about $2 to $3 per trip, depending on where you are going. Taxis are available and widely used in Reykjavik, though they are pricey.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
You do not need a 4 wheel drive vehicle for Iceland. An SUV is nice for when you want to travel outside Reykjavik, just to have more room. Off roading is not really allowed in the country, so you will have to stick to the paved (or dirt roads) in the country. Highway 1 (called the ring road) goes around the entire island and is a popular vacation route.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, very good interet available. You will pay between $60-$80/month for your internet package.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you work at the embassy you will get a cell phone, though you must pay for personal calls.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes, a 4-week quarantine must be arranged before the pet is allowed in country, at your expense.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not unless you speak Icelandic. EFM jobs are hard to come by here - there are very few EFM positions at the Embassy and finding work on the local economy is difficult if you don't speak Icelandic.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty much the same as in the US.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None. Iceland is extremely safe, though there is the occasional pickpocket or house break-in.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No special health concerns. Medical care is excellent. Iceland has a national healthcare system. Embassy employees typically pay the healthcare provider up front and then apply for reimbursement from the insurance company.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is excellent, especially when the wind is blowing that clean air down from the north pole. My lungs have never been happier.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Iceland does not have extremes like you see in the northeastern US.Winter temperatures generally stay between 20F-30F and summer days are somewhere between 55F-60F.It's the light (or lack thereof) that is more troubling to many people. December and January are the darkest months of the year - you have daylight from about 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Late May through end of July the sun never really sets at all. March/early May and August/September are the equinoxes where there are equal amounts of light and day, similar to what you see in the US at that time of year. Winters tend to be rainy. snowy and extremely windy. Summers are warm (never hot) and pleasant.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have kids, but there is only one English speaking school, but only for kids up to about 12 years of age. This is not a good post for high school age children because there is no international school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Preschools and daycare (called kindergarten locally) are widely available. All Icelandic kids start going to "kindgergarten" at about 2 years of age. These are generally Icelandic speaking only.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's a small but good group. The various Embassy communities around town do a lot of things together.
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of dinner parties and game nights are the norm. There are also malls, movie theaters, restaurants and bars/clubs.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is a good post for anyone who is outgoing and willing to make an effort to make friends. Reykjavik is a small city, but has lots of restaurants and bars despite its small size, but you have to be willing to go out and explore.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, Reykjavik has an active gay community and is fairly liberal about gay rights.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really. The predominant religion is Lutheran, but there are a few Catholic churches around as well.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling in the countryside of Iceland is always interesting. Midnight boat trips in midsummer when the sun never sets; road trips to northern Iceland with some of the most interesting scenery I have ever seen.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Traveling around Iceland, seeing volcanos, horse back riding, geothermal swimming pools and hot tubs. There are a number of nice restaurants and bars in Reykjavik, though it is expensive.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Icelandic wool sweaters and gas costs for traveling around the ring road.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Iceland is a unique, beautiful country with lots to see and do. It is clean and by far one of the safest places on the planet.
11. Can you save money?
I think singles and couples without kids can save money. Families probably not. Everything here is two to three times what you would pay in the US.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Shorts and sandals! There are only a few weeks out of the year when you will see people in shorts and summer footwear.
3. But don't forget your:
Swimsuit. You'll need it all year long for the geothermally heated swimming pools and hot pots.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Halldor Laxness books - Independent People and Under the Glacier.