Reykjavik, Iceland Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/13
Personal Experiences from Reykjavik, Iceland
1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):
2. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3. 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?
East Coast - there are direct flights on Icelandair to JFK, Boston, Dulles, Orlando, Denver, Seattle, and now Anchorage, as well as some Canadian cities. And we get a "Fly America" waiver because Icelandair is the only airline flying year 'round between Iceland and the US.
4. How long have you lived here?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Reykjavik for half a year, a seventh expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Some folks live in apartments downtown, within walking distance to the Embassy, others live in single family houses in the suburbs. The commute never is more than 20 minutes, and that's if you are living farther away.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much everything is available here, for about three to five times what you pay in the US. The only thing I have really found lacking is the cheese - there doesn't seem to be much variety. Iceland grows a surprising amount of its own vegetables, and dairy products are of excellent quality. There is a store here called Kostur which is a knock-off of Costco, complete with all the Kirkland brands, but the prices are much, much higher than the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Snow tires, healthy snacks for school lunches (granola bars, etc), all liquid toiletries and cleaning products, since they can't go through the pouch, birthday presents for the parties your kid will get invited to (toys here are insanely expensive), cake mixes, laundry soap, basically, as much as you can fit in your HHE. I asked for a supplemental shipment from the US and was glad I did.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Subway, KFC, Taco Bell, Ruby Tuesdays, TGIF, Dominos, but no McDonalds. Iceland is very expensive - we don't eat out much.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I think I have seen 2 flying insects since I got here. There are areas outside of Reykjavik with giant flies, but on a day-to-day basis insects are non existent. A couple months ago a man found a cockroach in an apartment complex hallway and it made the evening news, complete with a video of the creature in a jar.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have dip pouch for incoming mail, but we need to use click-and-ship USPS for outgoing packages. Outgoing letters can be sent through the Icelandic post and will probably make it back to the US way faster than the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I brought my own live-in nanny with me. Iceland is not part of the EU so there are no wage requirements here.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many gyms and sports clubs for adults and kids alike.
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?
You can buy a pack of gum here with an ATM card - people use them for everything.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There is one free newspaper in English, the Grapevine, but the "real" newspapers are in Icelandic.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
More than I thought I would. Even though most everyone speaks English, most websites are all in Icelandic, as are newspapers. And it's not like there are a lot of English - Icelandic cognates. Icelandic is a very hard language to learn.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The Embassy is not ADA compliant and many shops aren't either - it'd be tough.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are very useable and run everywhere. Taxis are fine to. Trains? Ha!
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?
I brought a 4WD SUV and was glad I did. I wish I had brought studded snow tires, though, because I ended up buying them here and they cost over $1000. The street I live on does not get plowed, or salted. At all. The snow just gets packed down. Then it starts to melt, freezes again, and becomes ice. Smaller cars without snow tires often get stuck on my street and then the traffic gets blocked, etc. For a place called Iceland, you would think they would be a little more forward leaning on snow removal, but I guess not.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I have fiber optic at home. It's expensive, but worth it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy supplies them for employees, and family members can get added on to the Embassy calling plan to save money.
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?
There is a dog quarantine here, but the kennel is like a posh doggie hotel and I hear they are very while cared for.
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?
No, not unless you speak Icelandic.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as DC.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is outstanding.
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?
Cleanest air on earth.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
When I told people I was going to Iceland, many of them cringed. But the weather is nowhere near as bad as people think. Just about every city on the northeast part of the US got more snow that we have so far this winter. The temperature always hovers around freezing, sometimes above, sometimes below, so snow never stays around long.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School of Iceland is very small (10 kids in Grades 2-4 combined) and I have been very happy there.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The international school has been very accommodating of my Class 2 child - there are many English speaking, US educated specialists here of all kinds.
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 are subsidized by the government and are everywhere. You will be assigned one depending on where you live, although it's possible to switch to a different one in your neighborhood if you don't like the one your child was designated to attend. I pay less than $200 per month for full day preschool with 2 hot meals and an afternoon snack. The preschool is all in Icelandic, but the teachers usually speak some English and can help your child adjust.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Tons! During the summer there are numerous activities for kids too, since there are many working parents in this country and school is out. Soccer, gymnastics, swimming, horseback riding, tae kwon do, it's all here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big - there's a Facebook group of Americans living in Iceland and the International School as a decent smattering of various nationalities.
2. Morale among expats:
Pretty high. We're in Iceland, after all.
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?
Reykjavik has awesome nightlife. Things don't get started til super late and run into the early morning.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Reykjavik has a wild night life for singles, and lots to do for families.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Gay Pride is one of the biggest festivals of the year, and the Prime Minister is gay, so, yes.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are amazing sights a very short drive from Reykjavik, not to mention the wonderful outdoor swimming pools.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many to name. This is a city where something is always going on - the periodic email that goes out listing "things to do" is many paragraphs long.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Handmade Icelandic wool sweaters.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Reykjavik is a lovely, quaint, clean, and safe city and Iceland has unbelievable scenery. It's like no place else on earth. Breathtakingly beautiful.
11. Can you save money?
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:
Ideas that Reykjavik is a horrible frozen wasteland.
3. But don't forget your:
Bathing suit! Outdoor swimming is one of the most popular sports here - there is an almost unlimited supply of super hot water.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
by Halldor Laxness