What makes Iceland a unique country to travel to?
Iceland is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and immediately south of the Arctic Circle. Iceland is a highly developed country with a stable democracy. The country has a population of approximately 320,000 people and is about the size of Virginia.
The national language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Tourist facilities in Iceland are well developed and widely available.
Iceland has a low crime rate with rare instances of violent crime; however, common sense does apply. Do not put any bags containing valuables, such as your passport, down on the floor in bars or nightclubs. Do not leave your valuables in parked vehicles, even if the vehicle is locked. In addition, be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become disorderly in the late night to early morning hours on weekends as people are leaving bars and clubs.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Iceland you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Iceland’s drunk-driving laws are very strict. Penalties for possessing, using or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iceland are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Iceland, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not at your destination. Some activities that might be legal in the country you visit are still illegal in the United States.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
IMPORTATION OF WHALE MEAT TO THE United States: All persons are barred from importing whale meat to the United States. Even though whale meat is sold throughout Iceland, the Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to bring back whale meat into the U.S. Any importation of whale meat to the U.S. will result in the seizure of the goods and possible criminal prosecution. Penalties include jail time and fines of up to $10,000.
Icelandic is part of the North Germanic branches of languages, and so is most closely related to Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Faroese
Icelandic is based on the Latin alphabet, with the addition of Þ, ð, æ, and the diacritics á, é, í, ó, ú and ö Icelandic developed into a distinct Scandinavian language around the 12th century.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Iceland is of high quality, but limited services are available outside of large urban areas. For emergency medical assistance anywhere in the country, dial 112. For non-emergency medical assistance in the Reykjavik metropolitan area dial 544-4114 during business hours. Outside of normal business hours, dial 1770. The nurse who answers will do one of three things: offer advice on how to handle the problem on your own, suggest that you come to an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to you for a house call. The Icelandic medical system does not offer coverage to people who do not live in Iceland. Nonresidents are expected to pay their own medical costs and you should be prepared to pay your bill in full before leaving the hospital or clinic.
Safety and Security
There have been no terrorist attacks and very few criminal attacks affecting U.S. citizens in Iceland. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Iceland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of members of terrorist organizations entering/exiting the country with anonymity. You should remain vigilant about your personal security and exercise caution while traveling abroad.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
You must be at least 17 years old to drive in Iceland. You can use your U.S. driver’s license for stays of 90 days or less in Iceland. Be advised that you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Less than one-third of Iceland’s total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road). Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but that highway sometimes closes in certain places for road repair. Many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks. Paved roads which end and change to gravel tracks are usually marked with a sign that says “Malbik endar” shortly before the pavement ends – most accidents occur in the first 50 meters of gravel track, when drivers who were traveling at high speeds fail to slow down for the gravel and end up skidding off the roads. Even paved roads tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin. Most bridges are only one lane wide (marked with a sign “Einbreid bru”) so drivers must be alert to oncoming traffic. Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through April), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly. Drivers should pay special attention to signs marking roads as impassable (the sign will usually say “Ofært”). If you drive on a road that the Icelandic authorities have marked as closed or impassable, and then become stuck, you may incur fines of up to $1500 for emergency assistance. Off-road driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland and can incur fines of up to $2000.
Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt. If you are driving in the interior of Iceland, you should consider traveling with a second vehicle. Always inform someone of your travel plans. For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please consult the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) website or call 1777.
For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands): 522-6000 (during regular office hours) or 902-0600; press 1 for English (pay-per-minute service available 24 hours a day).
Icelandic law requires drivers to keep headlights on at all times. Talking on cell phones while driving is prohibited, except when using a hands-free system, and is subject to a fine of 5000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 45 US Dollars). Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas. In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road: on dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h; on paved highways, thespeed limit is 90 km/h. It is illegal to turn right on a red light. At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles, drivers in the inside lane have the right of way. Many intersections in the capital have cameras to catch traffic violators.
The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight. Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 not wearing a seatbelt. No one shorter than 140 centimeters, lighter than 40 kilograms (or 88 pounds), or younger than 12 years of age is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland. The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low. Drivers can be charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence) with a BAT as low as .05%. Drivers stopped under suspicion of DUI are usually given a "balloon" or Breathalyzer test. If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered. Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary. The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 70,000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 625 US Dollars) and the loss of driving privileges for two months.