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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Iceland 2019 Crime & Safety Report

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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Iceland-specific 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.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Reykjavik. 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 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.

he 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 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.

Police have identified several small, organized crime groups and outlaw biker gangs (most notably, chapters of the Hell’s Angels 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.

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.

Iceland has traditionally 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.

Cybersecurity Issues

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 incidents.

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 freedom.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

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, 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.

Travel into the highlands and interior is not advisable during the winter or during inclement weather unless using well-equipped, off-road capable (4x4) vehicles under the supervision of experienced guides. Interior roads are usually closed during the winter. Occasionally, even main roads in more populated areas may be closed due to heavy snow. See www.road.is for road conditions.

Automobile use is relatively high; Iceland possesses one of the highest car-ownership rates in the world. This does not, however, cause much traffic congestion due to low urban density. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

As a result 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 provided in major urban areas.

There are nationwide coach and bus services that 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

In 2015, Keflavik International Airport (KEF) announced a 25-year Master Plan to accommodate the rapid increases in tourism to and through Iceland. ISAVIA, the public-private partnership that operates Icelandic airports, forecasts a contraction in the number of foreign travelers passing through KEF for the first time in nearly a decade, projecting a 2.2% decrease in passenger transits in 2019. This translates to a 220,000 decrease in the number of passengers transit Keflavik from a record setting 9.75 million passengers in 2018.

Other Travel 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.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Reykjavik. 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 terrorist organizations.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

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.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from political violence in Reykjavik. In April 2016, 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 was prompted by 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 then-Prime Minster Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson to resign.

The 2016 U.S. presidential election also caused several small, non-violent demonstrations in Reykjavik.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

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.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Weather should always be taken into consideration, especially since conditions 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 if 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 fairly 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 closely.

Critical Infrastructure

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.

Economic Concerns

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.

Personal Identity Concerns

Iceland is a leader in regard to human rights, with a very progressive and accepting society related to gender, sexual orientation, and disability issues. Religious freedom is guaranteed, and discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or other factors is illegal.

In 2017, police investigated 14 potential cases of hate crimes as defined under Icelandic law, more than half of which were classified as racist/xenophobic; only one case was prosecuted. The recent increase in investigated cases does not denote an increase in actual hate crimes, but is a result of a more proactive approach to policing, with a great emphasis on engaging the Eastern European, Islamic, and asylum-seeker communities.

Drug-related Crimes

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.

Kidnapping Threat

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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

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.

Police Response

The Icelandic Police (Logreglan), including the Metropolitan Police in Reykjavik and the National Commission of Police, are professional organizations that use modern equipment and techniques in preventing, disrupting, and investigating crime. As of December 2018, Iceland had 730 active duty and reserve police officers, almost of all of whom are unarmed while on duty. Since 2015, Icelandic law has permitted marked police vehicles to be equipped with side arms under a strict system of control and use.

While the police are well trained and professional, they are understaffed and underfunded compared to the area and number of people they are required to protect. It is only Iceland’s very low crime rate that permits the police to maintain an average response time on par with other European cities. Be prepared for dramatically varies emergency response. Specifically, the police do not generally respond to traffic accidents unless there are injuries or the road is blocked.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Detained U.S. citizens should request immediate notification to the U.S. Embassy. Police cannot hold suspects for more than four hours without formally filing crime charges.

U.S. citizens who have an emergency and need to contact the U.S. Embassy outside of normal working hours should call the afterhours Duty Officer at (354) 595 2248.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Icelandic Emergency Response (112) 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

Telephone operator (+354) 444-1000 (after hours: 112)

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

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 emergency situations.

The Icelandic Coast Guard is Iceland’s maritime law enforcement arm. It receives assistance from the voluntary search and rescue organization, Landsbjorg, with approximately 4,000 volunteers on-call.

Medical Emergencies

Icelandic healthcare is of a high Western standard. Obtained emergency medical services by dialing 112. All operators speak English. To obtain non-emergency medical assistance in Reykjavik metropolitan area, dial 544-4114 during business hours. Outside of normal business hours, dial 1770. 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.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

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 is centered in 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. It is staffed by an EMT-I or EMT-P from the Akureyri Fire and Rescue Service, including a physician if needed, from University Hospital in Akureyri or the local health authority.

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. Their primary mission is search and rescue, both on shore and at sea. Their staff includes two pilots, a rescue technician, a navigator, and a physician.

Insurance Guidance

Consider obtaining regular travel insurance and medical evacuation (medevac) insurance to cover all types of incidents. 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Iceland.

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 Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Reykjavik: Laufasvegur 21, 101 Reykjavik

American Citizen Services (ACS) business hours: 0800-1700, Monday-Friday, excluding U.S. and Icelandic holidays

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy switchboard: (354) 595-2200.

After hours: (+354) 595-2248

Website: https://is.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Iceland should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Iceland Country Information Sheet

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