According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Iceland has been assessed as Level 1. Exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy 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.
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.
Please 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.
Iceland continues its steady recovery from the economic collapse of 2008.
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 levels of crime are a product of a high-standard of living, a small population, social attitudes toward criminality, and a well-trained, highly educated police force. Iceland has experienced an increase in petty crimes that correlates directly with the exponential growth of Iceland’s tourist industry.
Reports of minor assaults, sexual assaults, rapes, automobile theft, vandalism, property damage, and other street crimes persist, especially in the Reykjavik metropolitan area. The majority of these crimes are attributed to juvenile delinquents, drug users, immigrants, and visiting tourists. According to police, the rise in pickpocketing is a direct result of an influx of immigrants/asylum seekers and the increased presence of tourists.
The Icelandic National Police have identified small, organized crime groups and outlaw biker gangs (chapters of the Hell’s Angels and Outlaws motorcycle clubs) maintaining a minor presence. Since 2013, authorities have increased pressure on these organizations, substantially reducing their reach and effectiveness. Authorities have deported or excluded visiting criminal support elements from Europe with some degree of success. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which was returned to a cabinet level agency in January 2017, has provided additional resources 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 murder rate of less than one per year for the last several decades. In a notable deviation from this trend, Iceland saw four homicides in 2017. The Commissioner of Icelandic National Police considers this an aberration and not evidence of increasing violence in Iceland society.
In June 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 Icelandic government has 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.
Iceland suffered its first serious cyberattack in December 2013, when major telecommunication carrier Vodafone was hacked, and detailed personal information on hundreds of Icelanders was released on the internet. Early 2015 saw the servers of several small, private institutions cyberattacked, and a private missionary organization’s computer network was attacked by hackers aligned with ISIS. In November 2015 and in January 2016, in a demonstration against Iceland’s support of commercial whaling, the Icelandic government’s public websites were attacked by the hacker collective “Anonymous.”
Iceland enjoys wide internet freedoms; accordingly, its well-educated populace is wired-in to a high degree. This permissive environment fostered the growth of WikiLeaks. Public sentiment continues to support legislation and actions ensuring maintaining internet freedom.
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 who are inexperienced at driving or driving in Icelandic weather conditions.
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 ownership rates in the world, comparable to that of the U.S. 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.
In 2015, the Keflavik International Airport (KEF) announced a 25-year Master Plan to accommodate the rapid increases in tourism to and through Iceland. It is estimated that the passenger flow will continue to increase beyond the 9 million passengers that transited KEF in 2017 to over 10 million passengers in 2018. When fully implemented, KEF airport will be able to handle between 14 and 25 million passengers per year.
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.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Reykjavik as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
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 as has been the concern with terrorist activity throughout Europe in 2016. There is no known domestic terrorist threat against Americans in Iceland or local activity regarding regional terrorist organizations.
The U.S. Embassy has seen a number of relatively minor protests over the last few years, mainly featuring non-violent demonstrations.
In August 2014, there was a demonstration of approximately 2,000-3,000 people in front of the U.S. Embassy in support of Palestinian issues.
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.
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.
The 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 and not at the levels found in many other European countries, 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 first mosque at a prominent location in Reykjavik.
The weather should always be taken into consideration, especially since conditions can change rapidly. The biggest threat to travelers is extreme weather (gale force winds, snow, ice) 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. Visitors need to take extra precautions and be very aware of their 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 August 2014, a series of earthquakes and volcanic activity centered on the Bárðarbunga volcano, 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.
Iceland’s low-cost power generation and advantageous cold weather conditions permit a growing data-storage industry, which is poised for expansion. In late 2013, Iceland joined 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. Now that nearly all capital controls have been removed, it 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 generally considered to be 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 2016, the Icelandic police investigated 16 potential cases of hate crimes as defined under Icelandic law, with only one case leading to formal charges. This 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.
Some 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.
Criminal outlaw organizations have been linked to the manufacture of methamphetamine, money laundering, and extortion, according to the Icelandic National Police Organized Crime Division. 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.
While uncommon, most of the kidnapping cases are tied to 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 January 2017, Iceland investigated its first potential abduction/murder case. The homicide of a 20-year old Icelandic woman allegedly by foreign sailors, whom she met over social media, shocked Iceland.
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 January 2017, police rolls remained steady with 668 police officers, with the vast majority (over 95%) being unarmed. Changes in 2015 allowed marked police vehicles to be equipped with sidearms under a strict system of control and use. Generally, law enforcement suffers from funding cuts and irregular budgetary considerations.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
American citizens who are detained by law enforcement authorities should request immediate notification to the U.S. Embassy Reykjavik. Persons detained by the police cannot be held for more than four hours without being formally charged with a crime.
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 smart phone application that allows travelers to notify a central emergency response center of their whereabouts, which 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.
Hverfisgata 113 – 115
Telephone operator (+354) 444-1000 (after hours: 112)
For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.
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 counter-terrorism 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 and receives assistance from the voluntary search and rescue (SAR) organization, Landsbjorg, with approximately 4,000 volunteers on-call.
Iceland with no national military, relies upon it NATO membership for national defense.
Icelandic healthcare is of a high Western standard. Emergency medical services can be obtained 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, please 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, where the nation’s second largest hospital is located. 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 ordinary airplanes cannot be used, 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 SAR, both ashore and at sea. They are staffed by two pilots, a rescue technician, a navigator, and a physician.
The Embassy recommends travelers consider obtaining regular travel insurance and medical evacuation 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
American Citizen Services (ACS) business hours: 0800-1700, Mon-Fri, excluding U.S. and Icelandic holidays
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy switchboard: (354) 595-2200.
Duty Officer: (354) 693-9207.
The Duty Officer number is only for emergency situations involving U.S. citizens. Inquiries regarding non-emergency U.S. citizen services, such as replacing a lost or stolen passport, should be made during normal working hours.
After hours: (+354) 595-2248
U.S. citizens traveling to Iceland should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
Iceland Country Information Sheet