Photo by Albert Russ/Shutterstock
Entrance of an ice cave inside Vatnajökull glacier in southern Iceland
Vaccinated Americans can still travel to Iceland with no quarantine, but testing requirements and social-distancing measures are back due to a spike in COVID-19 cases this summer.
Ever since April 6, 2021, all travelers (regardless of origin) who can show proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination or prior COVID-19 infection have had permission to enter Iceland. But just a month after all social-distancing rules were lifted on June 26, a rise in new cases of coronavirus—even among its highly vaccinated population—has prompted the Icelandic government to reinstate testing requirements for all travelers en route to Iceland. Before you start plotting your trip to see the still-erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano, here’s what you need to know about Iceland’s new travel restrictions.
Make sure you can show proof of one of two things: a full COVID-19 vaccination—be it Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)—via one of the official accepted forms, or an accepted document that shows prior COVID-19 infection (for example, a positive PCR test that’s older than 14 days). Note that for proof of prior infection, you need documented laboratory results; clinical diagnoses and rapid diagnostic tests (antigen or antibody tests) are not accepted.
As of July 27, vaccinated travelers and those who can prove previous infection born in 2004 or earlier must also now provide proof of a negative PCR or antigen test that is no more than 72 hours old before departing for Iceland.
While both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers without proof of prior infection can visit, the vaccinated and those who had COVID previously won’t have to quarantine. The unvaccinated face a host of other tests and restrictions (see below).
Children born in 2005 or later are allowed to enter Iceland with their parents and do not have to be tested at the border or be subject to quarantine.
All visitors to Iceland born in 2004 or earlier need to preregister on this website before entering the country.
Even with these new travel restrictions, don’t expect to have the plane to yourself on the way over. Between the excitement of Iceland’s volcano tourism, its reopening to international travelers, and the country’s perennial appeal, AFAR’s trusted travel advisors are reporting a flood of interest and bookings.
Vaccinated travelers: If you’re vaccinated or can provide proof of a previous COVID infection, you won’t have to quarantine.
Unvaccinated travelers: However, unvaccinated travelers without proof of prior infection must present negative PCR test results on arrival and take another PCR test upon arrival then quarantine for five days at an approved accommodation and test again at the end of quarantine to be released.
Iceland has been lauded as one of the more successful countries at containing spring 2020’s COVID-19 infections. After the country managed to contain a larger wave of infections in fall 2020, a spike in new coronavirus cases this summer has led to a tightening of restrictions once again in July 2021.
Iceland has approved several COVID-19 vaccinations for use, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), and is currently providing free, nonmandatory vaccinations to citizens. As of 2019, Iceland has 356,991 residents; according to official Iceland vaccination statistics updated in early August, more than 255,322 residents have been fully vaccinated, and more than 275,173 have received at least one dose. That means roughly 71 percent of Iceland’s population has been fully vaccinated—one of the highest rates in the world.
On August 9, 2021, the CDC added Iceland to its “Avoid Travel” list and issued a Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19 in Iceland alert. The U.S. State Department also issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory to Iceland on the same day “due to COVID-19 related restrictions,” indicating a “very high level of COVID-19 in the country.”
The country has reported 30 coronavirus-related deaths since February 2020. The CDC warns: If you must travel to Iceland, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travelers need to stay six feet from others, avoid crowds, wear a mask in public spaces where distancing isn’t possible, and wash their hands. By comparison, the U.S. State Department currently lists Israel, France, and Aruba as Level 4 (Do Not Travel) while Mexico and Italy are Level 3.
Being fully vaccinated doesn’t ensure you can’t catch or spread variants of the virus, so heeding the country’s social-distancing and masking rules remains paramount.
The Icelandic government reimposed social-distancing rules again on July 25. They will remain in effect until at least August 27, when they’ll be updated on the country’s official COVID-19 page. You must keep one meter (roughly three feet) between people who are not “closely linked” to you and wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible. Face masks that cover the nose and mouth are still required on public transport (all operating as normal), and in taxis, stores, salons, as well as at sports events, movie theaters, and concerts. While restaurant owners can decide their own masking rules, there are also limits to the number of people allowed inside restaurants and bars, as well as theaters, grocery stores, pharmacies, and museums to help ensure social distancing.
Iceland is extremely dependent on tourism (2.3 million visitors arrived there in 2018, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board). If you follow Iceland’s protocols and laws, it’s safe to say you will be welcomed.
From museums to outdoor tours, expect to find most things open and operating across Iceland, albeit under new COVID-19 norms, with reservations often required and reduced hours and capacity possible.
Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that serve alcohol are open but have an 11 p.m. curfew and allow a maximum of 100 guests. While mask use isn’t mandated at these venues, all guests are required to leave their tracing information including name, ID number, and telephone number. Swimming pools and hot springs, including the famous Blue Lagoon attraction, are open but operating at a 75 percent limited capacity.
To be safe, call ahead of time to make sure whatever you’re planning to do is available. (Most Icelanders speak excellent English, but you can always request your hotel call for you.)
Negative COVID-19 tests are required to enter the United States from a foreign country, including Iceland. This applies to everyone, including all U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated travelers. Both viral antigen tests or nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, are accepted. The test must be taken within three days of your return to the U.S.
You can book an advance appointment for a COVID-19 antigen test in Keflavík and Reykjavík through testcovid.is. Expect to pay 6,900 ISK (about US$55) and results will be emailed to you in 15–25 minutes, so you can book this test on your way to the Keflavík airport. The Keflavík site is open every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Reykjavík site is open Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m.
In May, the CDC also approved the use of at-home tests with a telehealth video call for international arrivals. So you can pack one of those—which range from $25 to $50—and complete the test in the comfort of your own accommodations up to three days before your return flight home.
There’s no need to quarantine in Iceland while you wait for your test results. Upon arrival in the U.S. with your negative COVID-19 test result, there’s also no need to quarantine.
Americans don’t need a visa to visit Iceland and can stay for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes. A full list of nationalities that require visas to travel to Iceland can be found here.
Icelandair flies year-round from Boston daily, and it restarted daily service from New York (JFK and EWR), Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Seattle last May through this December. You can also book flights from Minneapolis (five times a week) or Orlando (four times a week) now through December. Seasonal flights four times a week depart from Portland, Oregon, now through October 31.
Delta’s daily service to Reykjavík–Keflavík from JFK started back up on May 1 and resumed from Boston on May 20 and from Minneapolis/St. Paul on May 27.
United started daily service from Chicago to Reykjavík July 1 to run through October 3. United’s daily flights from Newark to Reykjavík resumed June 3 through October 29.
A recent search on Google Flights for nonstop round trips from New York were about $350, about $430 from Boston, and about $650 with one layover from Los Angeles.
Some of our favorite places to stay and tour operators in Iceland include:
AFAR’s digital content director Laura Dannen Redman flew via Icelandair out of JFK in May and traveled with Hidden Iceland, a bespoke travel company that specializes in small group and private tours with an emphasis on active travel. “My husband and I had a guided tour with Hidden Iceland’s Ryan Connolly—it was like road tripping with a (very knowledgeable) friend. The late-May trip started in dramatic fashion with a twilight hike the day we landed to watch the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupt, which is now one of my top travel experiences of all time. We then went on a two-day Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon tour and glacier hike in the UNESCO protected Vatnajökull National Park. The nature was stunning—next level—and the adventures across the country were made for social distancing.”
Founded in 1990 by Bruce Poon Tip, an AFAR 2018 Travel Vanguard winner, small adventure tour operator G Adventures has more than a dozen Iceland itineraries departing as soon as August 20, 2021, all the way through summer 2022 for those who like to plan ahead.
For a last-minute trip, the three-day Classic Reykjavik Summer Mini Adventure is $899 per person for its August 20 departure; it takes you through Iceland’s capital, the Kerid Crater, and Videy Island, with Blue Lagoon and whale watching excursions. For a more comprehensive itinerary, the seven-day Best of Iceland — Plus trip is $2,799 per person for its September 11 departure. During the guided trek, you’ll get to hike a glacier at Skaftafell National Park, visit the black-sand Reynisfjara beach near Vík, and more.
All G Adventure bookings made now through December 31, 2021, for travel departing now through December 31, 2022, can be canceled and rebooked up to 14 days prior to departure date to allow travelers a little more peace of mind in case they have to reschedule.
You can’t go wrong with a Classic Journeys guide—locals who are handpicked by the company founders based on their knowledge, skill, and ability to make you feel welcome, wherever you are. In Iceland, you may be led by a descendent of 9th-century Vikings. Its Iceland Culture + Walking itinerary is a great bet: “Guided by dyed-in-the-wool Icelanders, you’ll enjoy the captivating chaos of Iceland’s nature, interwoven with fascinating Norse mythology. Walk some of the most cinematic paths on the planet—over ancient glaciers, vivid moss fields and black-sand beaches—to Viking ruins, waterfalls, and fishing villages for lunch with local families.”
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon is an AFAR favorite spa hotel that gives you private access to the famed lagoon, while the minimalist-chic Silica Hotel provides easy access to the Blue Lagoon and Silica Lagoon.
Hotel Ranga, about 60 miles south of Reykjavík on the island’s south coast, where the suites are themed after the seven continents, has an onsite observatory for stargazing and offers tours through Southcoast Adventure to ice caves, volcanoes, and glaciers as well as horseback adventures.
Holdur, the largest rental car company in Iceland, has rental locations across the island and minivans, cargo vans, campers, and motor homes in its fleet. However, as in the United States, there’s also a rental car shortage in Iceland this summer. If you’re lucky enough to find one available, you’ll likely be faced with sky-high prices. A recent search on Kayak showed prices starting at $997 for a one-week rental on small economy vehicles in August. If you wait until mid-September, starting prices drop to a more reasonable $367.
With additional reporting by Laura Dannen Redman.
This story was originally published on May 4, 2021; it was updated on August 13, 2021, with current information.
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