UNDERSTANDING ICELAND’S CURRENT COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

Last updated: November 20th, 2020

Things are changing rapidly in Iceland and around the world. It’s hard to make sense of it all. New quarantine measures, border testing and social distancing rules are being tweaked almost daily. So planning your dream trip to Iceland just got a whole lot harder. Thankfully, it also got arguably safer too. This blog post is here to explain how Hidden Iceland can help you understand COVID-19 regulations while planning your trip. In fact, Hidden Iceland can plan out the entire trip for you from start to finish for your own peace of mind.

What are the current regulations?

As of the 19th of August, Iceland entered into a more stringent border screening process. Not only must you download the Rakning App, fill out a pre-registration form and do a PCR test on arrival but you must now also hard quarantine for the first 5 days of your time in Iceland, and then take a second test. You are obliged to remain 2 metres apart from anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member. When this isn’t possible then a mask must be worn. It is expected that these more strict COVID-19 regulations will be temporary and may be relaxed in the coming months. For now Hidden Iceland will assume they are here to stay when planning on trips in the short term.

This blog post is updated regularly but please do not read this in isolation as things change quickly. The Icelandic authorities have a dedicated COVID-19 website that is updated daily. They also announce changes on the official government website.

Falljökull glacier | Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 Day Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Denny Mcgee

Are the new COVID-19 regulations likely to change before I travel? 

In a word, yes.

It obviously depends how far in the future you are planning to travel. The announcement made on the 19th of August was sudden but expected. Iceland’s authorities have been very reactive and have shown strong leadership throughout the pandemic. This means that when things get worse COVID-19 regulations will be strengthened. However, when things improve the restrictions will be reduced quickly too. At Hidden Iceland we are assuming that the current COVID-19 regulations will last at least until the end of February 2021. So anyone planning a trip before that point should assume that things will remain as they are. This is of course just guesswork based on trends. So don’t hold us to that. If you are intending to come to Iceland in the spring time or next summer I would be surprised if the new regulations remain unchanged between now and then. In fact, we will plan your trip next year with the expectation that you will need to be tested on the border, but not have to do the 5 days of ‘hard’ quarantine. We can only hope that the COVID-19 cases drop worldwide to make this hope a reality.

As of the 19th of November, you will no longer have to pay for border testing upon arrival (normally between 9,000 and 11,000 ISK). This is to encourage everyone arriving to take the test rather than opt for 14 day quarantine, though the latter is still an option. This free period is to last until January 31st, 2021. At that point it will be reviewed.

Will these new COVID-19 regulations hurt travel? 

These new COVID-19 regulations sound debilitating and a little scary, but they have been brought in to protect and reduce the incidence of infection in Iceland. Yes, this will hurt our immediate booking numbers. That’s for sure. But what it will also do in the medium and long term, is safeguard Iceland’s recovery.

As I mentioned in a recent article for Family Vacationist,

Let’s start dreaming of 2021 and what that can mean for your family’s next adventure. Volcanic activity and solar winds to glaciation and wildlife are just a few of the reasons to make Iceland your next family vacation destination.

During the summer of 2020, after having opened the border (with testing on arrivals) and relaxing social distancing rules, Iceland saw a minor spike in cases. Though when I say minor, I mean minor. We went from mostly zero cases per day to around 8 or 9. Not a significant spike compared to other countries but certainly enough for the Icelandic Authorities to jump into action. A second wave was also experienced between September and November 2020. However, at the time of writing daily cases have reduced back to between 3 and 10 per day and trending downwards. Despite these 2 minor surges, the borders have remained open with testing on arrival throughout confirming that Iceland can control any new spikes in cases without resulting to full border closure.

At Hidden Iceland we want the COVID-19 cases to remain low, no matter what. These new COVID-19 regulations appear to allow us to keep our cases low and still let people travel, although in much smaller numbers. We understand and support the need and measurements brought in to protect the health of all Icelanders. We are sure when the time is right that the restrictions will be eased slightly to allow travel to be easier, for instance a ‘softer’ quarantine between the two tests.

Iceland Northern Lights and Starry Sky | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Brendan Bannister

Are people travelling to Iceland now?

For the few lucky travellers who came to Iceland this summer, they were spared most of these COVID-19 regulations thanks to the almost zero daily cases in Iceland. That has now changed as the rest of the world is seeing a resurgence. There has been an 80-90% drop in tourist numbers this summer which has left Iceland looking rather empty. Most travellers came from Germany, Denmark and Norway but also the UK, France and some other countries in Europe. This is a starkly different demographic considering the US, Canada, UK, Australia and China previously took the lion’s share.

With these new regulations being added we expect the number of travellers to drop even further. Travel is still possible though. In fact, these new COVID-19 regulations were put in place to allow travel to continue safely, not stop it altogether. Having to quarantine for the first 5 days can be a big chunk of your holiday gone but it is a welcome price to pay if it means you are entering a country with very few COVID-19 cases. People will still travel.

The real question you have to ask yourself is, is it worth it? If you are staying for 10-14 days then I suspect the answer is yes. Especially if you can find a great hotel or guest house who will accommodate you during this time. Any less time in the country and I’d say it’s better to wait.

Why would I travel to Iceland during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

First of all, Hidden Iceland does not recommend anyone to travel anywhere during a global pandemic without careful consideration and understanding the risks involved. For any guests who get in touch directly will be advised in detail about what travel to Iceland is like right now.

If you do intend to travel and have weighed up the pros and cons and still want to come to our isolated island we are here to help. My view is that if you are definitely going to travel at some point before the pandemic is completely over then Iceland is arguably one of the safest places to do so.

Maybe you have decided travel isn’t for you right now. That is fair. But planning for the future should definitely be considered. Especially with the discounts and flexible booking policies that are currently being offered by airlines and agencies alike.

With the stringent border testing, COVID-19 regulations, low case numbers and social distancing rules, Iceland is an ideal location during the pandemic. These safety measures will likely protect Iceland from any resurgences around the world. So if you are planning your trip now, for next year, Iceland will still be ready and waiting for you when the time comes. The main issue for our travellers is their country of origin, rather than Iceland. Keep an eye out for what your own country is doing in the lead up to your travel. It’s often the country of origin and the airline that halts or impedes the planning for Iceland trips at the moment.

Westman Islands | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Lucas Peters

What makes Iceland better than other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Well, Iceland’s main attractions are not busy theme parks, crowded high streets or queued monuments. The main attractions are out in nature! Perfect for social distancing and avoiding the crowds.

Hunting the Northern Lights. Chasing the midnight sun. Discovering ice caves. Hiking on glaciers. Walking to the top of a still warm volcano. Seeking out puffins. Bathing in natural hot springs. Strolling along secluded black sand beaches. Oh, and tasting unique local cuisine, from Arctic Char to the geothermally grown tomatoes. These are just some of the natural activities you can get up to while in Iceland.

In short, Iceland is made for isolation. In fact, around 15% of the entire country is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A great deal more is protected as National Parks, Nature Reserves and restricted development.

Iceland’s population also provides a helping hand. In a country 5 times the size of Hawaii it only holds around one quarter of the inhabitants (around 350,000 people). Once you escape the capital city of Reykjavik you will scarcely find a town numbering more than 5000 in the rest of the country.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic it’s fair to say that Iceland was never described as empty. These days it’s not far off from being true.

Secret Lagoon | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Kat Craats | Feature

How can Hidden Iceland help me understand COVID-19 regulations?

We are still firmly committed to running trips that are personalised, immersive and above all else, safe. This means that if we don’t think now is the right time to come, we’ll tell you just that.

However, at the time of writing we know people still want to travel. The new rules seem to reassure rather than dissuade our future guests. They are very confusing though, that’s for sure. We keep as up to date as anyone in the country and constantly monitor new press releases and announcements. If anyone is a safe bet to answer niggling questions about travel it’s us.

We can help you understand what will happen with the first PCR test on the border. With our key insights we can go into detail about what you can and can’t do while in your 5 day quarantine. We will help you plan your second PCR test if needed. And after all that, we will then help you plan the perfect holiday too.

Hidden Iceland’s full service during COVID-19

So instead of contacting Hidden Iceland and asking us to plan the perfect tour itinerary, many of our future guests are asking us for a full service, from airport arrival to airport departure. This will of course include all of our most popular scheduled tours and private trips depending on budget, but will also include our recommendations for the best hotel/ guest house to do your quarantine in. Really delving deep into what you can and can’t do on each day of your holiday. Short walks are ok while in quarantine but what if your hotel is surrounded by busy roads? Is that really where you want to be for 5 days? After all, there is a big difference between a hotel room and a quarantine friendly room these days. Whatever your thoughts are, we can answer them and make sure that if you do intend to come to Iceland this year it’ll be in the safest and most efficient way possible.

It’s also important to note that although these rules are in place now, when you are planning your trip to Iceland, they may well change before you arrive. That means flexibility is key. Hidden Iceland works very closely with local operators, hotels and restaurants so we can be quite reactive when plans change. For example, if the 5 day quarantine rule is loosened before you travel that will mean you have a lot more time on your hands to travel. Not a bad problem to have to deal with, though one that potentially requires a lot of work. We can help with that.

Blue Diamond Ice Cave 2020 | Local Guide + Hidden Iceland | Photo by Elliot J Simpson

Contact Hidden Iceland to help you plan your trip

The best way to start this process is to drop us an email at info@hiddeniceland.is. Or even better, fill in our contact form or private tour form. That way we can really understand your desires right from the get go. We look forward to welcoming you into our little country when the time is right.

Ryan Connolly | Marketing Manager, Guide, Co - Owner | Hidden Iceland

Hi, I am Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.

I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. My passion for the outdoors, science, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study and write about Iceland. I have been interviewed in ForbesConde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects.

Hidden Iceland Logo | Hidden Iceland

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