Emergency phone number: 112
Iceland is one of the safest places in the world, so there is almost no chance of getting robbed or harassed. This, however, excludes Reykjavík, which has recently begun to suffer instances of petty theft and night-time violence. Use common sense when sampling the night life and be alert.
The medical facilities in Iceland are good and available free to European Union citizens with a valid EHIC form or its replacement ID card. Scandinavian citizens must show valid passport and medical insurance to be treated.
Infectious diseases aren't a problem in Iceland (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/trav...). Inoculations aren't required except if you are arriving from countries that suffer from infectious diseases like cholera.
Iceland holds the European record for number of people with chlamydia STD, use a condom!
The biggest threat to your health is likely to be accidental injury or bad weather. Always make sure you have more than adequately warm and waterproof clothing. Selection of appropriate clothing is especially important in Iceland and can even be a matter of life and death. Exercise extra caution in geothermal areas: What may appear to be solid ground can sometimes not be so solid, breaking from underneath your feet with you falling into potentially deadly boiling water.
The water quality in Iceland is excellent and tap water is always drinkable.
The hygiene in public kitchens is very good, and food poisoning rarely happens to tourists.
Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country or you may have to clear immigration but not customs travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country.
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic íslenska, which remains very similar to, although not quite the same as 13th-century Norse. Icelandic writing uses the Latin alphabet, but with two characters long ago lost from English: eth Ð, ð, pronounced like the voiced th of "them", and thorn Þ, þ, pronounced like the unvoiced th of "thick". Materials in English often substitute "dh" and "th" respectively, so eg. Fjörður is written Fjordhur and þingvellir is written Thingvellir. Loanwords are shunned, and new words are regularly made for concepts like computers, known as tölva "number-prophetess". Icelandic is related to the other Scandinavian languages Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Faroese, and while written forms may be mutually intelligible, this is hardly the case with spoken forms.
Most Icelanders speak English well and have a basic to moderate degree of Danish with a local accent, as both languages are compulsory in schools, and often understand other Nordic language. Icelandic college students choose a "fourth language" to study, usually Spanish, German, French, or Italian, but proficiency is most often nonexistent. Even though the majority of Icelanders are competent in English, attempts at speaking Icelandic are always appreciated, and learning some basic greetings and phrases in Icelandic will make your trip much smoother.
Icelanders use the comma instead of the decimal sign for integers, i.e. 12,000 means 12, not twelve thousand, whereas 12 000 or 12.000 means twelve thousand. Icelanders use both the 24 and 12 hour system, speaking the 12 hour system and using the 24 hour system for writing. Icelanders do not use PM/AM to indicate morning and afternoon. In Icelandic, "half ten" "hálf tíu" means half past nine 09:30. When speaking to a person not fluent in English it is best not to use this form to avoid misunderstanding. Dates can be seen abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always DAY-MONTH-YEAR; 12.7.08, 120708, or 12/07/08 is 12 July 2008. Icelandic calendars also indicate the number of the week 1 through 52.
Iceland uses the metric system only. There is limited knowledge of Imperial or US measurements.
In Iceland there is no concept of a ground floor as in the UK. Instead, the entrance level of a building is called the first floor "jarðhæð", like in the US. Levels are then counted 1, 2, 3 etc.
Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Icelandic.
Consult the Icelandic phrasebook for more information.
You can buy a local SIM card, if you have an unlocked mobile phone. The biggest companies are Síminn, Vodafone and Nova. Compare prices on their websites in advance. The airline you fly in on might be selling a prepaid package for a lower price, as it is duty free. If not, try buying one at the duty free store at the airport. If you have a smartphone, you can buy packages to use the internet through the cellular network.
Most hotels, guesthouses, hostels, cafés etc. have a working Wi-Fi network. There are a couple of public computers at the University of Iceland and the National Library that you can use for free and without the need to log in.
Ms. Pétursdóttir or Ms. Guðrún?Iceland maintains another Norse tradition: the custom of using patronyms rather than surnames. An Icelander's given name is followed by his or her parent's first name usually the father's, in the genitive case, and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir Guðrún, Pétur's daughter. Members of the same family can therefore have many different "surnames", which can sometimes create confusion for visitors. Because of the patronymic last names Icelanders use first names, e.g. phone books are alphabetized by first name rather than last name. This also applies when addressing an individual. Icelanders would never expect to be addressed as Mr. or Ms. Jónsson/-dóttir no matter how important they might be.
Some Icelanders believe in the hidden people — called huldufólk — and a few claim to have seen them. They are analogous to elves, but are often considered separate. There is even a museum in Reykjavík devoted to the hidden people. This is an ancient Icelandic belief and most Icelanders respect the tradition. Skepticism thus can appear rude.
Many tourists, including other Europeans, see Icelanders as gruff and unapproachable. This is generally just a first impression and most people are friendly and helpful.
It is customary for one to take one's shoes off after entering private homes. In case your hosts do not mind, they will say so.
Tipping is not expected in Iceland; some Icelandic companies have started having a tipping jar next to the cash register but these are generally ignored.
Punctuality is not as important in Iceland as it is in many other northern European countries. People may often not appear until 15 minutes later than the stated time, and even much later than that for parties or other social gatherings.
If you feel an urge to discuss the global economic crisis, keep in mind that it is an emotive issue - Iceland has suffered more than many in the banking crisis and ordinary people have lost a great deal of purchasing power
It is not uncommon for an Icelander to ask a foreigner for his or her opinion of Iceland as a first question. The standard question is: "How do you like Iceland?" This is in large due to Iceland being a very small country with regards to population dispersion, but it is also a country-wide inside joke of sorts. It is often best to be positive, as many Icelanders are likely to be offended by negative views of their country and thus get defensive.
Iceland is one of only a few countries with an active whaling industry, and if you choose to assert an anti-whaling position expect some Icelanders to have strong pro-whaling opinions and be well prepared to argue the issue and do not expect to win the argument.
For the protection of children, Iceland has a strictly enforced nationwide curfew. Children aged 12 or lower are not allowed to wander outside alone after 20:00, they must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Minors aged between 13 and 16 can not wander outside alone after 22:00 unless they are on their way home or from a recognized event organized by a school, sports organization or youth club. From 1 May to 1 September, all minors 16 and under are allowed to wander alone for two extra hours.
The greatest dangers to tourists in Iceland are found in the nature. Always do what the signs tell you to do. If there are no signs, use common sense. Every year, quite a few tourists get hurt, even killed, in the mountains or on the seas, usually after having been given unheeded warnings. For example, do not approach a glacier front, big waves on the coast, or a big waterfall unless you know what you're doing, and do not walk on glaciers without proper training and equipment. Iceland is a volcanically active country and you can get caught in an eruption, but chances of that are extremely low.
When hiking or skiing, be prepared for a sudden shift in the weather, as these can happen very quickly in Iceland. If unsure about conditions, ask locals or go on a guided tour. Icelanders are taught to respect nature's power and take care of themselves outdoors in the wilderness from childhood, so you usually won't find fences or warning signs even at the most dangerous places.
Driving around Iceland can be difficult or even dangerous. Inform yourself of local conditions and make sure your vehicle and driving skills are up to the task. The Route 1-Ring Road around the country is well maintained, and paved for all but a few miles north of Djúpivogur. Be aware that many roads are unpaved and can turn into slippery mud during the summer. There have been a number of instances where foreigners, unprepared for Icelandic roads, have had accidents, some of them fatal. Since the roads are very quiet and the distances between settlements great, some Icelanders abuse this by speeding considerably. Sheep sometimes roam near the roads or even on them, so always have your eyes open and be on the lookout for sheep, as they tend to wait for cars before crossing the roads.The East Coast of Iceland's route 1 is very flat and windy selfoss to jokulsarlon which can cause sandstorms in the summer, and drifting snow in the winter. Fortunately the Icelandic road administration is always kept up to date of driving conditions, check this before any drive. If you find yourself caught in a sandstorm, do not stop in the road! Continue slowly until you find an appropriate place to pull over and wait it out. If possible, find somewhere sheltered as sandstorms will damage the paintwork on cars.Check out the following website for up-to-date road-condition information: (http://www.vegagerdin.is/...). If you are travelling into the highlands please also leave your travel plans on this website (http://www.safetravel.is/).
Road numbers starting with an F are for 4x4 vehicles only, and are usually simple dirt paths made by a road scraper and it's not uncommon that river crossings are required. Many F-roads are closed due to extremely bad road conditions from October to mid-June.
Speed limits on highways are 90 km/h on paved roads and 80 km/h on unpaved roads.
Rules and regulations in the traffic are generally the same as in the rest of Europe. Foreign visitors should be aware that police controls are common and that fines are very high, and should take special note of the following rules:
The give way rule is universal. On roads without the "Yellow Diamond" sign, all traffic from your right hand side has the right of way; you must yield to traffic from any road to your right, except from private areas such as parking lots.Headlights are mandatory even during daylight.The general speed limit is 90 km/h in the country side and on motorways, and 50 km/h in urban areas. Note that there are no specific rules for change of speed limit as in some other countries when driving conditions change. The driver is expected to adjust speed downward to a safe level in for instance fog, heavy rain or snow.Don't drink and drive. Your blood alcohol concentration must not exceed 0.02 ‰. One small beer can be enough. This rule is strictly enforced and violators risk a huge fine, a long or even indefinite suspension of the driver's licence and a prison sentence.On typical Icelandic two-lane road with a narrow shoulder, overtaking is only allowed on long straightaways with plenty visibility. Overtake only if really necessary, consider alternatives like taking a short break.
Using one's vehicle horn is considered impolite and may result in a fine unless used for an emergency.
Right turn on red is illegal.