Iceland 2015 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Winter weather; Volcanoes; Theft; Assault; Drug Trafficking; Cyber; Riots/Civil Unrest
Europe > Iceland; Europe > Iceland > Reykjavik
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Iceland continues its slow recovery from the 2008 economic collapse. An initial minor up-tick in general crime has improved steadily.
Crime Rating: Low
Based on information from the Icelandic National Police, local news sources, and previous reporting, crime remains comparatively lower than in many developed countries. This is partly due to a high standard of living, a small population, and a well-trained and educated police force. Minor crimes are increasing with the rise of tourism to Iceland.
Reports of minor assaults, 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 and drug users. According to police, the rise in pickpocketing was the result of an influx of immigrants.
There has been minor organized crime led by groups that the police have identified as being Eastern European in origin. There is also a presence of outlaw biker gang organizations, including an Icelandic Hell’s Angels chapter and an Outlaws chapter. Since 2013, authorities have stepped up pressure on these organizations to dismantle their effectiveness. Authorities have deported or excluded visiting criminal support elements from Europe with some degree of success. The Ministry of Interior has provided additional resources in battling organized crime and has reported positive results.
In 2013, Iceland suffered its first serious cyber attack when major telecommunication carrier Vodafone was hacked, and detailed personal information on hundreds of Icelanders was released on the Internet.
Areas of Concern
Travel into the highlands and interior is not advisable during winter unless using well-equipped, off-road capable (4x4) vehicles under the supervision of experienced guides. Interior roads are usually closed during the winter. Occasionally, the main roads can be closed due to heavy snow. See www.vegagerdin.is/english and www.road.is for road conditions.
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 composed of unpaved, loose gravel. The primary risk factors are single-lane bridges, unexpected animal crossings in rural areas, poor surface maintenance, lack of emergency lane/shoulder space, and icy/windy road conditions during the winter months (October-April). Information on road conditions can be found at: www.vegagerdin.is/english and www.road.is.
Automobile use is relatively high, as Iceland possesses one of the highest ownership rates in the world and comparable to that of the U.S. This does not, however, cause traffic congestion due to low-urban density.
Public Transportation Conditions
As a result of high vehicle ownership, demand for public transport services is low and has not developed as much as in countries with similar levels of economic development. 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 (Akureyri).
There are nationwide coach and bus services that link the major towns, 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, and Strætisvagnar Akureyrar is the public bus system in Akureyri.
Iceland has no rail-based public transport.
Iceland’s aviation industry is a growing enterprise with two major carriers, Icelandair and Wow Air, providing service between Europe and North America. In addition to charter flight options, another smaller carrier (Air Iceland) handles intraregional and interregional flights from Iceland to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Other Travel Conditions
Iceland is served by some international sea services, including ferries from the Faroe Islands (Denmark) and the U.K. Local ferry services operated by Eimskip are offered between Þorlákshöfn, Landeyarhofn, and the Westman Islands.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Political Violence Rating: Low
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
According to the Icelandic National Security Unit (NSU), there is no known international/ transnational terrorist threat against U.S. interests in Iceland. However, Iceland is one of 25 European countries that are party to the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates all internal border controls between states. Lack of stringent border control can facilitate the movement of international terrorists. There is no known domestic terrorist threat against Americans in Iceland or local activity regarding regional terrorist organizations.
Terrorism Rating: Low
The U.S. Embassy has seen a number of relatively minor protests over the last few years; these demonstrations have all been non-violent. 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.
The prospect for civil unrest remains extremely low. There are occasional demonstrations in front of the parliament building, Althingi. These have often focused on economic issues as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. Though generally non-violent, protestors have pelted Parliament with paint, eggs, and garbage.
Demonstrations, both for and against, ascension to the European Union (EU) have increased. This is expected to continue to inflame the public sentiment until a long-term solution is reached.
With the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris highlighting the returning/transiting foreign fighter issue, religious and ethnic tensions have increased, especially toward Muslim immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, although general sentiments are strictly tolerant. Iceland’s issues center on concerns over increased immigration in general and 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. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are fairly common. The most real threat to travelers is extreme weather, including gale force winds, snow, and ice that can cause adverse traffic conditions and death by exposure if unprepared.
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 has centered on the Bárðarbunga volcano, one of seven active volcanoes in Iceland. There has been no impact on aviation, and, despite an ongoing eruption, only the effects of lava and gaseous discharges have occurred. 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. Icelandic volcanologists consider this latter scenario as unlikely and continue to monitor Bárðarbunga closely.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Its low-cost power generation and suitable 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 HAZMAT response to industrial accidents. Iceland also has an established a well-respected search and rescue (SAR) system, staffed by volunteers nationwide.
Iceland enjoys wide Internet freedoms; accordingly, its well-educated populace is wired-in to a high-degree. This permissive environment fostered the growth of the WikiLeaks organization under former resident Julian Assange. Public sentiment continues to support legislation and actions ensuring maintaining Internet freedom.
Some drug-related disturbing trends include a continuing increase in the cultivation of marijuana for domestic consumption and enterprising smuggling attempts to use Iceland as a transshipment point from the EU to North America.
Criminal outlaw organizations (Hell’s Angels and Outlaws motorcycle gangs) have been linked to the manufacture of methamphetamine, money laundering, and extortion, according to the Icelandic National Police Narcotics 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 that exist are tied to drug-related debt collection and domestic/parental disputes involving multi-national couples. There have been no reported cases of political kidnappings.
The Icelandic Police (Logreglan), including the Metropolitan Police in Reykjavik and the National Police, are professional organizations that use modern equipment and techniques in preventing, disrupting, and investigating crime. As of January 2014, police rolls increased to 655 police officers, with the vast majority (over 95 percent) being unarmed. Generally, law enforcement continues to suffer from budget cuts and irregular budgetary considerations.
The Icelandic Emergency Response 112 has a smart phone application that allows travelers to identify their whereabouts, which can drastically reduce response in the event of search and rescue operations.
Crime Victim Assistance
The Icelandic national emergency number is 112. Victims of crime may also visit a local police station for assistance.
Hverfisgata 113 - 115
Telephone operator + (354) – 444 1000 (AFTER HOURS 112)
As of January 2015, there are nine police districts with pending restructuring plans to merge into eight districts. The National Commissioner’s Office serves as the operational umbrella for the police districts.
The Icelandic Coast Guard represents the maritime law enforcement arm and receives assistance from the voluntary search and rescue (SAR) organization Landsbjorg with approximately 4,000 volunteers on-call.
Emergency medical services can easily 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 on how to handle the problem, suggest an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to make a house call. For information on after-hours dental care, call 575-0505.
Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics
Telephone operator + (354) – 543 1000 (24/7)
Recommended 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. Until a few years ago, individual doctors contacted the most suitable aircraft company without any formal arrangements for the provision of on-call services. The Ministry of Health and Social Security (MHSS) has contracted out air emergency services since 2001. The service for the western, northern, and eastern part of the country is now centered in Akureyri, where the nation’s second largest hospital is. There is one dedicated air ambulance, which is well equipped and capable of transporting two patients at a time. 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 are 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.
Recommended Insurance Posture
The Embassy recommends travelers consider obtaining regular travel insurance in order to cover all types of incidents.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/iceland.
Directorate of Health / CDC address:
Directorate of Health
Telephone operator + (354) – 510 1900
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
Embassy Contact Numbers
During business hours: +354-595-2200
After hours: +354-595-2248
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no OSAC Country Council in Iceland; however, the Embassy is seeking to establish a chapter. To reach OSAC’s Europe team, please email OSACEUR@state.gov.