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Iceland Is Now Welcoming More International Travelers

By Sara Button

Jul 16, 2020

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Iceland welcomed more than 2 million tourists in 2019 and is a popular summer destination for travelers. 

Photo by Yevhenii Chulovskyi/Shutterstock

Iceland welcomed more than 2 million tourists in 2019 and is a popular summer destination for travelers. 

The island nation opens its borders to more visitors from outside the EU/Schengen area—but not U.S. travelers.

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For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Iceland confirmed on July 1 that it will follow the EU’s recent recommendation to open to international travelers from select countries. As of July 15, citizens from a list of countries outside the EU/Schengen area—including Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand—are permitted to visit Iceland. Unfortunately, that list does not currently include the United States. That list will be reviewed at least every two weeks.

This decision pivots from hopeful conversations earlier this summer, when Americans thought (albeit briefly) that they’d be allowed entry when Iceland opened its borders on June 15. (The U.S. State Department still discourages nonessential travel abroad.) Icelandair is currently operating a limited number of direct flights to Reykjavík from Stockholm, London, and a number of other European cities; it hopes to expand its international offerings as more countries continue to reopen.

Unless they come from one of the approved low-risk countries, for summer visitors who want to soak in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon or see Gullfoss Falls, re-entry will come with a few caveats. 

Before departure, travelers will need to fill out a pre-registration form with contact details and a declaration of health.

Once they get to Iceland, two choices are available upon entry to the country. 

1. Get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival

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Travelers landing at Keflavik Airport (KEF) will be able to get tested for COVID-19 in the terminal. Those entering the country via other international airports or ports will be tested at health centers near those locations.

Starting July 1, passengers will need to pay 11,000 ISK (about US$80) per test; if they pay at least one day prior to arrival online, the cost is 9,000 ISK (about US$65). They’d be released to their lodging until they receive their results, usually on the same day (for those landing after 5 p.m., test results should come in the following day). According to someone speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travelers would not need to self-quarantine until their results arrive, but should wash their hands regularly and follow social-distancing measures.

Children born in 2005 and later will be exempt from testing. Test results from other countries are not currently accepted

2. Go into a two-week quarantine

Visitors who opt out of testing must quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of the illness before continuing on their trip in Iceland.  

All travelers are encouraged to download the government’s official automated contact-tracing app, Rakning C-19, which 38 percent of the population had downloaded by mid-May. The app would allow travelers to be contacted in the event of a positive result or to help facilitate further contact tracing efforts if visitors come down with symptoms themselves. Rakning C-19 will also include information about current public health measures.

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For tour operators like Hidden Iceland, it’s welcome news. The boutique travel company reopened for small group and private tours on June 15. Reducing seating capacity in its tour vehicles to allow more space between guests, discouraging handshakes, and disinfecting the vehicle during stops are among the many extra measures the company is taking to prevent infection.

Ultimately, cofounder Ryan Connolly thinks it will be a pretty good time to visit. “If you can come to Iceland safely in 2020, the expectation is that there’ll be a maximum of 25 percent of last year’s numbers,” Connolly wrote via email. “That means bathing in hot pools alone. That means walking the black sand shores with only the puffins to interrupt your view. That means the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon will be filled with icebergs, and not people. We’re genuinely excited to experience Iceland with our guests without any worry of hiding from the crowds.”

Iceland’s tactics are similar to those in the United Kingdom, where a number of travelers from abroad currently face a two-week quarantine. Similar airport testing is also underway in Austria. Contact-tracing apps are also in use in at least 25 different countries, including Israel, Australia, and Singapore; however, their efficacy varies, and concerns about privacy abound. (An inspector at the Icelandic Police Service working on contact tracing told MIT Technology Review that the app alone isn’t very effective in limiting contagion, but in tandem with manual contact tracing it can be.) 

Iceland’s current policy restricts all foreign nationals from entering the country unless their travel is deemed essential; they are EU, EFTA, or U.K. nationals; or are from the list of approved countries. 

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The island nation managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 through rigorous population testing and contact tracing. By the time its first confirmed case showed up in late February, testing had already been underway for a month. 

This story was originally published on May 13, 2020; it was updated on July 16, 2020, with current information.

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