Visiting Iceland

A car stuck in water.

Iceland is a beautiful country with breathtaking scenery. But each year, between 600-700 people, most of them tourists, need to be rescued from the Icelandic countryside because they have underestimated Iceland’s volatile weather and terrain. The weather in Iceland can change extremely quickly and can cause serious, even life-threatening problems for tourists who have not adequately prepared themselves. If you plan on taking advantage of Iceland’s hiking trails and unparalleled natural beauty, do your homework first!

  • Iceland is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Iceland without a visa for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes. 
  • Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen area. 
  • You need sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. 
  • If your passport does not meet the Schengen requirements, you may be refused boarding by the airline at your point of origin or while transferring planes. You could also be denied entry when you arrive in the Schengen area. For this reason,we recommend that your passport have at least six months’ validity remaining whenever you travel abroad. 

For more information on Iceland please see our country specific information located on this link here.

The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) operates an English language website, http://www.safetravel.is/, which includes helpful information on how to safely enjoy Iceland’s outdoor wonders. You can even leave your travel plan with them before you go out, just in case you need assistance.

  • Will your phone work in Iceland? If you are planning on traveling extensively outside of Reykjavik, having a working cell phone could make the difference between life and death. Check with your cell phone provider before you leave the United States to determine if your plan allows for international phone use. Iceland has a very low population density outside of Reykjavik, so if you are traveling and your car breaks down, or you are hiking and become lost, having a working cell phone can allow you to quickly get the help you need. The emergency number in Iceland is 1-1-2.
  • If you plan to rent a car in Iceland, make sure you are clear on where you can and cannot drive the car. Each year the search and rescue squads need to extract tourists’ rental cars from rivers and off-road areas. Not only are such activities extremely dangerous, the fees incurred to pay for the damaged rental car can be exorbitant. Additionally, if you are renting a car in winter, you may wish to consider renting a car with studded snow tires if you plan on driving outside of the capital region. Rescue teams in areas outside of Reykjavik have been reporting an increase in the number of winter rescues due to tourists driving cars that are not suited for winter roads. Even the “ring road” around Iceland can be closed in winter due to snowy conditions. The Icelandic Road Administration has an English language website designed to assist foreign travelers in Iceland. http://www.vegagerdin.is/english
  • Additionally, the Icelandic meteorological office operates a comprehensive English language website which can provide you with up-to-date weather information for all regions of the country. http://en.vedur.is/
  • Before you begin your trip, we encourage you to register your travel with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. The link to enroll in STEP is here.

We urge you to consult these websites before venturing out on your Icelandic holiday! If you need emergency assistance, the Icelandic version of 911 is 1-1-2.  If you have an emergency and need to contact the U.S. Embassy during normal working hours you may call (+354) 595-2200. For after hours emergencies, please call (+354) 595 2248.

Over one million tourists visit Iceland every year, and that number is growing. Such large numbers of visitors can have a devastating impact on Iceland’s nature, so while you are enjoying this country’s natural beauty, we urge you to set the standard for safe, responsible tourism.

Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. Not only will you face heavy fines, but you can cause permanent damage to surprisingly delicate terrain. To answer your questions about where you can and cannot drive, visit the Icelandic Road Administration’s excellent website, www.road.is. Also bear in mind that even in summer, many roads in Iceland are impassable due to heavy snow. Closed roads are marked “Lokað” or Ófært.” If you see these signs, or are given any other instructions by the Icelandic authorities, follow them, even if it requires changing your plans. You don’t want be one of those visitors each year who disregard the advice of the Icelandic authorities, only to call for rescue later.

Every year, between 600 to700 people need to be rescued from the Icelandic countryside because they have underestimated Iceland’s volatile weather and terrain. Even experienced outdoorsmen can be shocked at how quickly the weather can change. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) operates an excellent English language website, www.safetravel.is, which includes helpful information on how safely to enjoy Iceland’s outdoor wonders. You can even leave your travel plan with them before you go out, in case you need assistance, and check-in to report your whereabouts using the 112 app, downloadable for free to your cell phone.

New food experiences are an exciting part of traveling.  That said, some “exotic” foods marketed to tourists can be rare and endangered species. Part of being a responsible tourist is making sure your consumption is sustainable, too.  If you’re not familiar with a certain food, you can check a reputable website such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the IUCN Red List.  Remember also that not all foods can be brought back to the United States.  For example, it is illegal to import whale meat to the United States, even though whale meat is sold in Iceland.

We hope you have a safe, responsible, memorable time visiting Iceland and enjoying its wonders and natural beauty!