Reykjavik, Iceland Report of what it's like to live there - 09/06/21
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?
No, I have also lived in Latin America, Asia and Europe.
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?
Very easy, 5-7 hours nonstop from the East Coast or Midwest. Delta and United fly there now in addition to Icelandair.
3. How long have you lived here?
A three year assignment.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most housing is in the inner suburbs, townhomes or single family homes for families. About a 10-15 minute commute. Many singles are in downtown apartments. Housing appliances are usual small European standards with some design quirks. In general, housing is good with at least some outdoor space for families. The tourism decline has freed up some housing that had been used as AirBnB rentals.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Generally good though fresh fruit/vegetables are hit and miss. EXPENSIVE. Costco and the cost of living allowance (COLA) help soften the blow.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The usual international spices. You can find them but might take some digging.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Good food scene especially seafood. Again, a sit-down lunch for under 15 USD is a rarity. No major delivery services. A few American fast food or local equivalent. Gas station convenience stores usually have tasty high-quality affordable options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Pricey and hard to find. Very few have housekeepers.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Great gyms. CrossFit is hugely popular and you can find English language yoga and exercise classes. Nice biking and hiking trails when weather cooperates. Modest ski slopes about 30 minutes away. A LOT of golf courses but only one indoor tennis complex.
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?
Yes, people use CC for even a candy bar. ATMs also safe.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but locals really appreciate even modest Icelandic because they know it is such an obscure language. Worth learning pronunciation of names and place names .
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably. Downtown is fairly navigable but a lot of older buildings have not been retrofitted and the countryside can also lack services.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Decent bus service but about $4 a ride. Taxis safe but super pricey. No Uber/Lyft. A night out downtown often has to factor in the $40 cab ride home.
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?
SUV: take winter tires in HHE.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
Didn’t have pets but quarantine policies lengthy, stringent and expensive. One family even left dog behind with parents in the States as a result.
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?
Bilateral work agreement has opened up opportunities on local economy. Some limited opportunities at Embassy but fewer than most posts. Favorable time zone means remote work is easy in States or Europe.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Red Cross is a good resource.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Varies. Icelanders will dress up but many will stick with high-end winter wear over their suits. 66 North is the most popular local brand.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Only road safety in quickly changing weather conditions.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is excellent and accessible. Some have had surgeries or given birth there.
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?
Probably best in world.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It’s a thing; good to supplement Vitamin D and get off the island in January or February. Many go to Southern Europe for a reprieve.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers usually 60-65 degrees F and unlimited daylight. Very pleasant. Winters not as bad as you think because of warm currents. Chicago and NE USA actually worse. Wind can be brutal any time of year. People exercise and socialize regardless of weather - just find the right clothes!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Two international schools. Both are (barely) adequate for lower grades but think twice about middle school or up. Our kids were happy. Small classes means two or three grades are combined into a class of 10-12 students. Some very good teachers there but Reykjavík too small to have two high-quality schools. In a perfect worl,d they would merge.
2. 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?
Local preschools in Icelandic with English support. Our youngest made great Icelandic friends and came out speaking fluent Icelandic! Very affordable but application process can be convoluted. Preschools only go to 3 or 4 pm so can be challenging if both parents work.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, each neighborhood has a professional sports club that run affordable youth sports programs. We did basketball, soccer and gymnastics.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small. Overall morale is good. Quality of life very high. Can be hard for outsiders to penetrate insular Icelandic society.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Outdoor activities: walking groups, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above: good nightlife and cheap travel to Europe. Super safe.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
See above. It is a homogeneous place though it is changing. Prejudice too strong of a word but maybe some preconceived ethnic stereotypes.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
One of the best in the world;
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender equality is a national point of pride but local women say misogyny and inequality persist under the surface, especially in the business world. Likewise religious minorities might feel a bit out of place. Having said that, Iceland PM is a woman and this country had the first democratically elected female head of state in the world!
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Unforgettable, otherworldly nature. Once you get off the tourist circuit, you will really be out there.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
North Iceland was our favorite. The neighborhood hot-pots are a great leisure activity and chance to mingle with locals.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safe, surprisingly cosmopolitan, close to USA and Europe, nature travel, easy to navigate (short commutes, etc.).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The challenges of working in a tiny diplomatic mission.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
1000 percent. Unique experience and I think of it often.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Shorts (but bring swim trunks!).
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Woman at War, And Breathe Normally, book: “How Iceland Changed the World.”