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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: Iceland

Iceland: Republic of Iceland
Capital: Reykjavik
Population: 279,384
Currency: Icelandic krona (ISK)
Languages: Icelandic
Religions: Evangelical Lutheran 93%, other Protestant and Roman Catholic, none (1997)
Borders: 0 km

Iceland is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy. The national language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken, especially in the capital city of Reykjavik.

There have been very few criminal or terrorist attacks affecting Americans in Iceland. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Iceland's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorists or other criminals entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Iceland has a relatively low crime rate, but minor assaults, automobile break-ins and other street crimes have become more common, especially in the capital city of Reykjavik. Tourists should be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become especially disorderly on weekend evenings. Violent crime is rare, but it does occur, and appears to be increasing.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Icelandic laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iceland are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Excellent medical facilities are available in Iceland. To obtain emergency medical assistance anywhere in the country, dial (within Iceland) 112. To obtain non-emergency medical assistance in the Reykjavik metropolitan area outside of normal business hours, dial (within Iceland) 1770. The nurse who answers will offer advice on how to handle the problem, suggest that the patient come to an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to make a house call. For information on after-hours dental care, call (within Iceland) 575-0505.

Iceland is subject to natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches and violent storms. Travelers should learn how to prepare for and react to such events by consulting the website of Iceland's National Civil Defense Agency at General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Iceland is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Excellent
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Excellent
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good

Less than a third of the country's total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road). Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks. Even those roads that are paved tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin. Most bridges are only one lane wide, requiring drivers to be cognizant of oncoming traffic.

Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through March), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly. Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt. When driving in the interior, consider traveling with a second vehicle and always inform someone of your travel plans. For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please call the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) at 1777 or consult its web site at For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands, dialing from within Iceland) at 902-0600, ext. 44.

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, and is subject to a 5000 Icelandic kronur fine. Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit in urban areas is 50 km/h and 30 km/h in residential areas. In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road. On dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h. On paved highways, the speed limit is 90 km/h. It is illegal to turn right on a red light. At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles to drivers in the inside lane. Many intersections in the capital have automatic cameras to catch traffic violators.

The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight. Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 who is not wearing a seatbelt. No one who is less than 140 centimeters tall, weighs less than 40 kilograms, or is under the age of 12 is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland. The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low. Drivers can be charged with DWI with a BAT as low as.05%. Drivers stopped under suspicion for DWI are usually given a 'balloon' or Breathalyzer test. If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered. Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary. The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 50,000 Icelandic kronur and the loss of driving privileges for two months.

U.S. citizens spending less than 90 days in Iceland may drive using their U.S. licenses. For specific information concerning Icelandic driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Iceland National Tourist Organization offices in New York via the Internet at

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Iceland's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Iceland's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the U.S. Department of Transportation within the United States by telephone at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD by telephone at (618) 229-4801.

Extreme care should be exercised when touring Iceland's numerous nature attractions, which include glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls and glacial rivers. There are few warning signs or barriers to alert travelers to potential hazards. Several tourists are scalded each year because they get too close to an erupting geyser, or because they fall or step into a hot spring or boiling mud pot. High winds and icy conditions can exacerbate the dangers of visiting these nature areas.

Hikers and backpackers are well advised to stay on marked trails, travel with someone, let someone else know their travel plans, and check weather reports, as there are often no means of communication from remote locations. This is especially important as weather conditions in Iceland are subject to frequent and unexpected changes. Those planning visits to dangerous or remote locations in Iceland are strongly encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy before beginning their journey.

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

September 24, 2004

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