This is an annual report produced in
conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik.
OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security
conditions in Iceland. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Iceland
country page for original OSAC reporting, consular
messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to
private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S. Department of
State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s
publication assesses Iceland at Level 1,
indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Reykjavik
as being a LOW-threat location for
crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Based on information from the
Icelandic National Police, local news sources, and previous reporting, crime
continues to be lower than in most developed countries and countries of similar
size and demographics. The low level of general crime and very low level of
violent crime is due to the high-standard of living, lack of tension between
social and economic classes, small population, strong social attitudes against
criminality, high level of trust in law enforcement, and a well-trained,
highly-educated police force.
Reykjavik Metropolitan area continues to see increasing levels of petty crime
and minor assaults directly connected to the increasing number of tourists it
attracts. Reykjavik also has higher than average (for Iceland) reports of domestic
violence, sexual assaults, automobile theft, vandalism, property damage, and
other street crimes, which is typical for any large urban area. These numbers
are still very low when compared to the United States or Europe. Police
attribute most of these crimes to juvenile delinquents, drug users, immigrants,
and tourists. According to the police, the rise in pickpocketing is a direct
result of an influx of immigrants/asylum seekers coupled with the increasing presence
of tourists. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.
Iceland has had a homicide rate
of less than one per year for the last several decades. In a notable deviation
from this trend, Iceland registered four homicides in 2017, but only one again
in 2018. The Commissioner of Icelandic National Police considered 2017 an
aberration and not evidence of increasing violence.
The Government of
Iceland has taken steps, including a reorganization of the Icelandic National
Police, to detect and combat trafficking in persons before it takes a foothold
in Iceland. Officials are
concerned that the growth in the construction and tourism industries could
result in an influx of trafficked persons.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit, and Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.
In 2015, Iceland unveiled its
National Cyber Security Strategy to protect important elements of the cyber
infrastructure and develop solutions to growing cyber threats that pose a
hazard to the government, the economy, and the citizenry. In 2018, the new government
pledged to increase its capacity to prevent and respond to cyber security
threats, implement legislation based on international norms, and establish
closer collaboration and coordination on cyber security between Iceland,
partner nations, and leaders in the information technology industry. After
cyberattacks in 2013 and 2015-2016, there have been no major cybersecurity
Iceland enjoys wide internet
freedoms. Accordingly, its well-educated populace is online to a high degree.
This permissive environment fostered the growth of WikiLeaks. Public sentiment
continues to support legislation and actions ensuring maintaining internet
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and
Though Iceland has a fairly
modern highway system, roads are not constructed for speed. Many roads outside
of the main highways are undeveloped and often composed of unpaved, loose
gravel. The primary risk factors when driving outside of populated areas are
single-lane bridges(marked with
a sign “Enibreid bru”), unexpected
animal crossings, poor surface maintenance, lack of emergency lane/shoulder
space, icy/windy road conditions during the winter (October-April), and
tourists inexperienced at driving in Icelandic weather conditions.
Familiarize yourself with
Iceland’s traffic laws and practices, which include stopping for yellow traffic
lights, no right turns at red lights, and giving the inside lane the right of
way when exiting traffic circles. 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. Driving under the influence of alcohol
is a serious offense. The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and
Avoid travel into the highlands
and interior during the winter or during inclement weather unless using
well-equipped, off-road capable (4x4) vehicles under the supervision of
experienced guides. Interior roads usually close during the winter.
Occasionally, even main roads in more populated areas may close due to heavy
snow. Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July due
to muddy conditions and swollen rivers caused by snowmelt. See www.road.is
for road conditions.
Iceland possesses one of the
highest car-ownership rates in the world. This does not cause much traffic
congestion, however, due to low urban density.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and
Evasive Driving Techniques; and
read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.
Because of high vehicle
ownership, demand for public transport services remains low. Public
transportation is relatively underdeveloped, and many areas are poorly served
compared to other capital cities. Limited but effective services are available
in major urban areas.
Nationwide coach and bus services
link the major towns and cities, although many Icelanders use domestic flights
to get from one major town to another. Strætó BS, the public bus system,
operates its services in metropolitan Reykjavík. Strætisvagnar Akureyrar is the
public bus system in Akureyri. Iceland is also investigating the feasibility of
building a light railway system to service the Reykjavik metropolitan area.
In 2015, Keflavik International
Airport (KEF) announced a 25-year Master Plan to accommodate the rapid
increases in tourism to and through Iceland. KEF had a record setting 9.75
million passengers in 2018.The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the
government of Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International
Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of
Iceland’s air carrier operations.
Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Maritime Security Conditions
Despite being an island nation,
Iceland has limited international sea services, featuring regular ferry service
from the Faroe Islands (Denmark) and local ferry services operated by Eimskip
between Þorlákshöfn, Landeyarhofn, and the Westman Islands.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Reykjavik
as being a LOW-threat location for
terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. According to the Icelandic
National Commissioner of Police, there is no known international or
transnational terrorist threat against U.S. interests in Iceland. Iceland is
party to the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates all internal border controls
between member states. Lack of stringent border control can facilitate the
movement of international terrorists, a concern with terrorist activity
throughout Europe in recent years. There is no known domestic terrorist threat
against U.S. interests in Iceland or local activity regarding regional
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Reykjavik
as being a LOW-threat location for
political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Iceland experienced its largest public demonstrations in history, as over
22,000 people protested outside the Prime Minister’s office in Reykjavik. This
multiple-day, non-violent protest came after revelations from the Panama Papers
showing that several senior Iceland officials
(including the Prime Minister and Finance Minister) had large investments in
foreign corporations to circumvent Iceland’s austere capital controls. The
public outcry over these revelations forced the Prime Minster to resign. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Terrorist attacks in France,
Belgium, and Germany, coupled with the ongoing crisis in Syria, has heightened
concerns in Iceland about migrant/asylum seeker/refugee issues, with special
emphasis on the transiting foreign fighter issue. While general sentiments have
been strictly tolerant, religious and ethnic tensions have increased,
especially toward Muslim immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Iceland’s
issues center on concerns over increased immigration and the perceived increase
in crime attributed to immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.
Icelanders are also concerned
about the expansion of Islamic cultural and religious institutions, including
opposition to plans for building of the country’s first mosque at a prominent
location in Reykjavik.Local media
reported a single incident of a potentially religiously motivated hate crime in
2019. In July, a woman accosted a group of three Muslim women outside a grocery
store in a suburb of Reykjavik, shouting at the group before spitting in their
direction and attempting to grab their hijabs.
In July and September 2019, a
small contingent of neo-Nazis, mostly Swedish and belonging to the Nordic
Resistance Movement (NRM), distributed white nationalist propaganda in the
country. While the number of Icelandic members of the NRM is unknown, authorities
believe it to be small. On September 5, police monitored an NRM demonstration
in downtown Reykjavik. The demonstration caused a local outcry, and a counter-protest
the following day drew a significantly larger number of attendees.
The U.S. Embassy has witnessed a
number of relatively minor protests over the last few years, mainly featuring
non-violent demonstrations concerning U.S. foreign policy. The 2016 U.S.
presidential election caused several small, non-violent demonstrations in
Always consider weather
conditions, which can change rapidly. The biggest threat to travelers is
extreme weather (e.g. gale force winds, snow, ice, and dramatic temperature
changes) that can cause adverse traffic conditions and death by exposure to
those who are unprepared.
The sandy beaches along the
southern coast have become a popular tourist destination. Take extra
precautions and be very aware of your surroundings, as sudden large waves and
strong riptides have taken the lives of several tourists in recent years.
Earthquakes and volcanic
eruptions are common. Iceland’s restless volcanic activity has had an impact on
air travel in the Atlantic/Arctic corridor. Beginning in 2014, a series of
earthquakes and volcanic activity has centered on Bárðarbunga, one of seven
active volcanoes in Iceland. The impacts of a larger possible eruption remain
unclear, though in a worst-case scenario, extensive flooding or aviation
disruptions related to ash emissions could occur. Volcanologists consider the
latter scenario unlikely, though they continue to monitor volcanic areas
Iceland’s low-cost power
generation and advantageous cold weather conditions permit a growing
data-storage industry poised for expansion. Since 2013, Iceland has been part
of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence to develop its
ability to augment and defend its cyber security infrastructure.
Iceland has excellent hazardous
material (HAZMAT) response capabilities to address industrial accidents.
Iceland also has established a well-respected search and rescue (SAR) system,
staffed by volunteers nationwide.
After the 2008 financial crisis,
Iceland implemented capital control measures, which among other effects
substantially reduce financial crimes and the illicit movement of money through
Iceland. However, nearly all capital controls are now removed; this will likely
bring with it both the positive and negative effects associated with the
increased flow of currency and financial assets.
Iceland is a leader in human rights, with a very progressive and
accepting society related to gender, sexual orientation, and disability issues.
The law guarantees religious freedom, and
discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or other factors is
In 2018, police investigated seven
potential cases of hate crimes as defined under Icelandic law, more than half
of which were classified as racist/xenophobic; police only prosecuted one case. The police take a proactive approach to the
issue, with a great emphasis on engaging the Eastern European, Islamic, and
Two laws prohibit sexual harassment. The
general penal code makes sexual harassment punishable by imprisonment for up to
two years. The law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as
any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior
that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the victim, and continues despite
a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers
and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent
employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or
sexual harassment. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.
LGBTI+ activists continued to note the lack of
explicit protections for LGBTI+ individuals on the basis of sexual orientation,
gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, in hate crime laws. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.
For the first time, a synagogue is in the
process of registering as a religious organization. There were no reports of
discrimination or institutional challenges to its registration. Review OSAC’s
report, Freedom to Practice, and
the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.
The constitution prohibits discrimination
against persons with disabilities. The law provides that persons with
disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications. By law,
persons with disabilities are free to hire their own assistance providers and
tailor assistance to their needs. Disability rights advocates complain that
authorities do not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of
these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two
years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contend that
authorities rarely, if ever, assess penalties for noncompliance. All government
buildings in Iceland are wheelchair accessible, as are most museums, malls, and
large shopping centers in the capital area. The public bus system and taxis
provide transportation services for individuals with disabilities. Many stores
in the old downtown area in Reykjavik, such as around the popular shopping
street of Laugávegur, are not wheelchair accessible. Many sidewalks in downtown
Reykjavik lack curb ramps, and the streets are steep. Hotels outside Reykjavik
and smaller hotels in the capital are not all accessible to individuals with
disabilities. There are very few paths or marked trails at natural attractions
found outside urban areas. Review the State Department’s webpage on security
for travelers with disabilities.
Drug-related trends include a
continuing increase in the cultivation of marijuana for domestic consumption
and enterprising smuggling attempts to use Iceland as a transit point from the
EU to North America.
The Icelandic National Police
Organized Crime Division links criminal organizations to the manufacture of
methamphetamine, money laundering, and extortion. Authorities have made inroads
into disrupting this activity through increased domestic enforcement and
engagement in the exclusion and deportation of outside criminal support elements
from the EU.
Police have identified several small
organized crime groups and outlaw biker gangs (most notably, chapters of the
Hell’s Angels, Bandidos, and Outlaws motorcycle clubs) operating to smuggle
drugs into Iceland. Since 2013, authorities have increased pressure on these
organizations, including denying entry and deporting known members and
associates of these organizations, substantially reducing their reach and
effectiveness. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the police have continued to
employ additional resources and enlist the support of external law enforcement
agencies in the fight against organized crime, with positive results.
While uncommon, most kidnapping
cases involve drug-related debt collection and domestic/parental disputes
involving multinational couples. There have been no reported cases of political
kidnappings. In 2017, Iceland investigated its first potential abduction/murder
case. The case involved the homicide of a 20-year old Icelandic woman,
allegedly by foreign sailors, whom she met over social media. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics
Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
Though whale meat and other products that
utilize whale parts are sold throughout Iceland, the Marine Mammal Protection
Act makes it illegal to bring back whale products to the United States. Any
importation of products containing whale to the United States will result in
the seizure of the goods and possible criminal prosecution. Penalties include
jail time and fines of up to $10,000. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into
or out of other countries.
The emergency line in Iceland is 112. Icelandic Emergency Response has
a smartphone application that allows travelers to notify a central emergency
response center of their whereabouts; this can drastically reduce response time
in the event search and rescue operations become necessary. Victims of crime
may also visit a local police station for assistance: Metropolitan Police, Hverfisgata
113 – 115, 101 Reykjavik; Tel: (+354) 444-1000. For local first responders,
refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims
The National Commissioner of
Police Office serves as the operational and administrative headquarters for
Iceland’s nine administrative police districts, each lead by a chief of police.
The police have a national counterterrorism unit (the Viking Squad), which
consists of specially trained officers who can respond quickly to large-scale emergencies.
Iceland has just over 700 active
duty and reserve police officers, almost of all of whom are unarmed while on
duty. Since 2015, Icelandic law has equipped marked police vehicles with side arms
under a strict system of control and use. While the police have adequate
training and operate professionally, they are understaffed and underfunded
compared to the area and number of people they must protect. Iceland’s very low
crime rate permits the police to maintain an average response time on par with
other European cities. Be prepared for dramatically varied emergency response.
Specifically, the police do not generally respond to traffic accidents unless
there are injuries or the road becomes blocked.
The Icelandic Coast Guard (ICG) is
Iceland’s maritime law enforcement arm. It receives assistance from the
voluntary search and rescue organization, Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg(Icelandic Association for Search
and Rescue, or ICE-SAR), with approximately 4,000 on-call volunteers.
The national police, the nine
regional police forces, and the ICG fall under the purview of the Justice Ministry.
Iceland has no military.
The medical emergency line in Iceland is 112. To obtain non-emergency medical
assistance in Reykjavik metropolitan area, dial 544-4114 during business hours.
Outside of normal business hours, dial 1770. Icelandic healthcare is of a high
Western standard. All operators speak English. A nurse will offer advice, suggest
an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to make a house call. For
information on after-hours dental care, call 575-0505. Each town has at least
one Apotek (pharmacy), identified by a green plus sign. Find contact information for available medical
services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Patient transport by air is of
great importance because of Iceland’s many sparsely populated areas, long
distances, and transportation difficulties during the winter. The Ministry of
Health and Social Security (MHSS) has contracted out air emergency services
since 2001. The service for the western, northern, and eastern parts of the
country centers on Akureyri, the location of the nation’s second-largest
hospital. There is one dedicated air ambulance, which is well equipped and
capable of transporting two patients. Staff includes an EMT-I or EMT-P from the
Akureyri Fire and Rescue Service, including a physician from University
Hospital in Akureyri or the local health authority, if needed.
When use of ordinary airplanes is
not possible, Icelandic Coast Guard emergency helicopters may be available. The
Coast Guard operates three rescue helicopters (Aerospatiale Super Puma) based
in Reykjavík. The primary mission is search and rescue, on shore and at sea. Staff
includes two pilots, a rescue technician, a navigator, and a physician.
Consider obtaining regular travel
insurance and medical evacuation (medevac) insurance to cover all types of
incidents. The U.S. Department of State strongly
recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling
internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Iceland.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no Country Council in Reykjavik.
Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe
Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Laufásvegur 21, 101 Reykjavik
Hours: 0800-1700, Monday-Friday, excluding U.S. and Icelandic
Embassy switchboard: (+354) 595-2200.
After hours: (+354) 595-2248
Before you travel, consider the following