This month’s post will be a little more ‘breaking news’ style than normal. But for good reason. Iceland, as of the 19th of March 2021, will officially open its borders to anyone (and I mean anyone) around the world who has been double vaccinated or has a certificate confirming you have antibodies. Read on to get the facts.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a blog post that doesn’t get updated. For the most up to date information on border crossing, check covid.is. It’s also important to note that although many people consider this good news, it is still to be taken with caution. The COVID-19 vaccine is not 100% effective and we have no idea what the long-term efficacy will be either. Travelling, with or without the vaccine is a personal choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Who could come to Iceland before 19th March 2021?
Up until 19th March 2021, you could only travel to Iceland if you were in the EU, EFTA, EEA or Schengen Zone. Iceland more or less followed the same rules as the rest of the European Union. Thanks to Brexit, even the Brits couldn’t come to Iceland. However, just because the borders were officially open to these countries, it didn’t mean that it was a case of ‘sure, come on in’.
In fact, the border restrictions in Iceland are one of the most stringent in the entire world. They will continue to be in effect for non-vaccine or non-antibody travellers for the time being too). I should know, I just had to go through them when returning from France. This effectively stopped any form of tourism for the past 8 months but also safe guarded Iceland’s recovery too.
What are the border restrictions if I’m NOT vaccinated or DON’T have antibodies?
Since I had to do it myself this last week, I can share my journey with you.
STEP 1: You need to get a PCR test 72 hours prior to coming with a certificate (in English). If it’s not in English they won’t let you in, literally. This was easy enough to arrange but keep in mind that many places won’t provide testing or a service at the weekends so make sure you book your time-slot in advance so that it times well with your flights.
STEP 2: You need to fill out a pre-registration form on covid.is and download the Rakning C-19 App for for your phone. This will track where you are while in Iceland.
STEP 3: When going to the airport you must always wear a mask and social distance. Especially when on the plane. Icelandair have a reduced trolley service onboard too to minimise movement while on the plane. I recommend using the airport toilet before getting on the plane as I didn’t fancy being in an even more confined space with the potential of particles lingering in the air.
STEP 4: Upon arrival at Keflavik airport you need to show your PCR certificate and your pre-registration form (these can both be electronic, no need to print). The police and airport staff are on hand at this stage to discuss anything that isn’t quite right with your forms.
STEP 5: Another PCR test is completed at the airport followed by a discussion with airport security about the rules and regulations once you’re in Iceland.
STEP 6: Going into quarantine for 5 days. This technically begins the second you do your second PCR test. You cannot be picked up at the airport by loved ones or take public transport. The only way that is allowed is the airport shuttle, private taxi or hire car. We opted for a hire car. You then need to quarantine (no interaction) with the outside world for 5-6 days until you get your third and final test.
STEP 7: While in your accommodation you must not be sharing communal space with anyone else and even when ordering food or takeaway the delivery driver must be notified to leave things on the door. I used Dominos and quite a good food delivery service called Heimkaup. Aside from forgetting to purchase the essentials like salt and fairy liquid it’s kept us going so far. Btw, as I write this I’m still in quarantine. I recommend getting a place with big windows for light since you’ll be stuck indoors for a long time. If you can get a place outside of the city then even better. Technically you can go for short walks as long as you don’t interact with anyone and wear a mask the whole time. Aside from that it’s full quarantine sadly.
STEP 8: Once you’ve quarantined for 5 days you’ll be summoned to do your final test at a local test centre. But it doesn’t stop there just yet. You still need to wait for the results which usually take around 5-6 hours to come back, though sometimes as much as 24 hours.
STEP 9: Explore Iceland! Every thing is great assuming you’ve shown 3 negative tests.
What is Iceland’s current COVID-19 rate?
Thankfully, Iceland was spared the worst of the resurgence thanks to its quick actions, stringent border control and isolated location. After a fairly significant spike around September/ October 2020 the cases are now largely under control. In fact, at the time of writing there isn’t a single person in hospital being treated for COVID-19. Furthermore, there are virtually no new cases being reported anymore either. The virus has not gone, that’s certain. But, for now, it is under control. I could count the number of new cases with my fingers that have been reported in the last 2 weeks. This is obviously very welcome news.
I have the vaccine! What restrictions do I have?
Basically, there are no restrictions for you in terms of border testing and quarantining. So if you decide now is the time to come to Iceland then it’s a great time for it. Just please bear in mind that although you are vaccinated it doesn’t guarantee that you can’t carry the virus. So social distancing and wearing a mask in an enclosed space when you are around others who are not vaccinated is still a necessity. This means that if you book a private tour for example and your tour guide isn’t vaccinated then sadly you’ll need to wear a mask in the car with them. When you’re on your own you don’t. You can see further details on the official government website of what is going on with socialising in country here.
What’s open in Iceland?
Most things actually. Large gatherings (above 50) are still prohibited but concert halls, theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants are all open for business, albeit with careful monitoring and spacing. All the tourist attractions are open and many hotels have opened their doors again too. Most never closed in fact. Iceland appears to be business as normal in the most part.
Is it crowded in Iceland?
Not on your life. Iceland was never crowded in my opinion but it certainly was popular. However, even at the peak of tourism in 2018 (it had reduced by 15% by 2019) there were still barely 2.3 million people visiting Iceland each year. Compare that to Hawaii (which is a quarter of the size) who get around 10 million visitors and you can see that the media has been somewhat unkind. And don’t forget, domestic tourism is very small here too since there’s only 356,000 people living in Iceland.
Either way, the main attractions in Iceland are all outside in the untouched wilderness. Perfect for social distancing. After all, it’s hard to over-crowd a glacier lagoon that has miles and miles of black sand beach surrounding it.
Should I come to Iceland now?
Well that is a very big question. Not one that you should take lightly and certainly not an answer that I’d be willing to give either. I can categorically say that as of 19th March 2021 you will be able to travel to Iceland unencumbered if you can prove you have been double vaccinated or if you have an antibody certificate.
When you make the decision to travel I request that you take the time to weigh up your options; what are the inherent risks to you and the inherent risks to the local population? As I mentioned before, there are no certainties at the moment when it comes to COVID-19 in a post-vaccine world.
So I leave that final choice up to you. When the time is right, we’ll welcome you with open arms.
See you… soon.
Ryan Connolly is Co-Founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specialises in private trips, taking you to some of the hidden gems of Iceland with a passionate and experienced guide.