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Iceland update: start planning, but maybe not flying just yet

Since my last post there have been a number of developments in Iceland. Many positive and some that require re-examining. Therefore I have dedicated this month’s blog post to adding additional information and including any changes. The question posed 1 month ago was, ‘Is it now the right time to come to Iceland?’ My answer to this question hasn’t changed; 
It would seem, with careful planning, a degree of flexibility and working with the locals it might be time to start looking at Iceland as your next big trip.
That statement remains as true today as it did last month. However, there are a number of things to consider before jumping on a plane on the 15th of June. I will elaborate below.  My personal thoughts Firstly, before reading on, I would like to offer up my own personal view.  Iceland is safe! Really safe in fact. But, please think about the repercussions of travelling back to your own country as well. Does your country still have a 2 week quarantine procedure? If you’re unlucky enough to catch COVID-19 while travelling, will you have the means to work while fully quarantined remotely? When you return, will you need to interact with vulnerable people? If the answer to any of these questions is negative or simply ‘don’t know’ then please consider visiting Iceland a little later, maybe in winter instead of summer. It’s just as magical, especially when you add in Northern Lights and ice caves.  Where to find accurate information I would like to caveat this post by stating that all the information at the time of writing is up to date. However, since last month’s post things changed rapidly. Therefore, I implore you to read this post in conjunction with the Icelandic Government website and the dedicated COVID-19 website in Iceland for the most up to date info.  Iceland has only had 8 new cases since the start of May That’s an impressively low number, especially with only one of those cases being in June so far (as of 13th June 2020). Zero people are hospitalised and only 3 are in isolation in the whole country. With widespread testing and a world class healthcare service I’m confident that these numbers will stay low. 40% of the population are also using the Covid-19 Trace App. So, if a flurry of new cases emerge the hope is that the Icelandic government will be able to stop it in its tracks.  Local services are open already Schools, swimming pools, bars, restaurants and clubs are all open. Any tourist attraction that you had your eye on will be fully operational when you get to Iceland, including the world famous Blue Lagoon. A 2 metre social distancing rule is still recommended, but not mandatory. All communal areas must allow for 2 metres but it is your choice whether to maintain that distance. There is also no stipulation that you need to wear a mask, though washing your hands and sanitising surfaces will be a priority. In effect, once you are in Iceland it will feel just like normal. Except there will be way, way less people than normal.  Anyone in the EU & Schengen can fly from the 15th of June My previous post suggested that this would be worldwide. That is because that is what the official announcement stated. Sadly, the EU & Schengen area has extended their travel ban until the 1st of July for all non-EU & Schengen nations. And although Iceland may choose not to follow this extension, at the time of writing, it would appear they will.  So, if you’re from any of the nations in the EU & Schengen zone then you can jump on a plane from the 15th onwards, assuming your country is offering direct flights to Iceland. If you are from the US and other non-EU nations then you must wait 2 weeks more.  The expectation is that the 1st of July will be the final set date for all countries, but there’s always a small chance that will change. If that’s the case, make sure to book tours and flights with companies that provide refunds or travel vouchers. Icelandair have been great in offering alternatives during all this. Oh, and get good travel insurance. That should be a given at this point.  IcelandAir and other airlines will be expanding their service During the shutdown, Icelandair was only flying infrequently to Boston, Stockholm and London. From the 15th of June it is looking likely that they will be expanding the frequency of flights and the destinations too, with Paris, London, Oslo and Zurich being some of the first to fly again. There will be 6 other airlines flying to Iceland too at the same time including; SAS, WizzAir and Lufthansa. It would seem that new routes will be opening up quickly as demand increases again. Testing on arrival will be free for the first 2 weeks then $113 This is one to watch as details have changed a few times already. For now, the official stance is that you cannot use tests in your own country to skip border testing. The good news, however, is that border testing will be streamlined and affordable. The testing procedure will only take 1 hour and you will be free to go to your hotel and roam the streets of Reykjavik with appropriate caution. You will then be given the test results within a few hours, or the next day at the latest. If you are born in 2005 or later you are exempt from testing. Great news for families with kids! You must quarantine if you test positive on arrival This is an important point for sure. If you fly to Iceland and test positive you will need to remain in the country for 2 weeks in your hotel, or a free hotel covered by the government. To minimise this risk you can test in your own country before coming. But bare in mind this is for reassurance that you don’t have it rather than getting to skip testing on arrival.  If you are near someone on the plane you may need to quarantine too This is a big one. Even if you don’t test positive, if someone else does near you on the plane then you could potentially still be asked to quarantine for 2 weeks. But, considering Icelandair requires you to wear a face mask at all times, and will appropriately space out seats on the plane, this is relatively low risk. But a risk nonetheless.  Check your country rules for returning quarantine regulations Just because Iceland is open, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. When you return to your home country make sure you are aware of what procedures you must take. If you automatically need to quarantine, like in the UK, will you still be able to do your job from home without it affecting your livelihood? Will you be interacting with loved ones shortly after returning? If so maybe the risk is too high for you.  You can skip testing if from non-high risk countries This sounds like a great rule for reducing testing and minimising the chance of quarantine. However, at the time of writing, Iceland only considers Greeland and the Faroe Islands to be non-high risk. Keep an eye on this list though as the weeks and months go on. Once your country is deemed non-high risk then you don’t need to be tested. Then, aside from filling out a precautionary form and downloading a tracing App you should be free to enjoy Iceland as it is intended.  Iceland is empty! Start planning – not flying So to finish off. Iceland sounds like a great place to visit. And, with so few cases left, along with all public services resuming, a trip here sounds perfect. But, with all the other things to consider first, please don’t rush into booking that dream trip just yet. Get in touch with the locals who know best and start planning – not flying. If you’re used to a summer vacation, great! But maybe this year is the time to expand your horizon and look at the fantastic winter breaks too.  Glacier hikes, Northern Lights, snowy landscape and ice caves make Iceland an incredible choice for winter. Take away 90% of the tourist numbers from last year and it’ll feel like you have this unique little island all to yourself. It sounds like Iceland in fall and winter is worth saving for, for a little while longer. But I am a little biased being a glacier guide.  See you relatively soon! Ryan Connolly is Co-Founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specialises in private trips, taking you to some of the hidden gems of Iceland with a passionate and experienced guide. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Ryan Connolly

Ryan Connolly is the Marketing Manager and Co-Founder for Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland is a carbon neutral travel company that specialises in private or small group tours that take you across the whole of Iceland. Hunting for the Northern Lights, discovering ice caves, hiking on glaciers and walking to the tops of volcanoes are some of the more adventurous activities Hidden Iceland take part in. But many of their customers also enjoy relaxing in natural hot pools, enjoying local cuisine and chance encounters with the wildlife too. Ryan has guided in many different countries and is proud to have stepped foot on all seven continents in his pursuit of new terrain. He is a qualified Glacier Guide, Wilderness First Responder and permanent resident of Iceland.

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  1. Your post is really detailed. I have been planning for Iceland but from a Non-EU country called India. I don’t know when my dreams will come true, but your article makes me hopeful. Of course, it won’t be the same like before though.

    1. Hi Shraddha,

      Thank you for the kind words. Please do keep planning. As things improve over the next few months hopefully that dream trip will come true.

    2. Same, this made me hopeful as well. It’s good to get accurate, up to the date information about things like this because that seems to be the most important factor when dealing with this virus as far as travel goes. That’s awesome to be positive about this, it’s great to see them opening up again and setting a good example for the rest of the world.

    3. Agreed. It seems the first couple of weeks of testing have been a success. It would appear that people from the US and anywhere else outside of the Schengen area will have to wait slightly longer than the 1st of July, though this hasn’t been officially confirmed yet.

  2. My thoughts are similar – I’m sure Iceland is very safe, and far safer than here in the UK, but it’s the rest of the travel experience that could potentially be problematic, from the train to the airport, to the flight itself. It’s risking propagating and spreading the virus to do much of anything at the moment I think, but it shouldn’t stop us from thinking ahead as to where we want to go and what we want to do, drawing up a few ideas and making plans in pencil that we can change as the general situation changes. I hope travel doesn’t impact Iceland and the incredibly low infection rates there. This is what concerns me about travel generally, that there are too many moving parts and the risks are both to the country you’re leaving and the country you’re entering. That said, I do like the idea of places like Iceland being quieter at the moment, all the more so when you’re hesitant to be close to others and are hyper aware of the risks.

    It’s interesting to hear Iceland are using the tracing app though, I hadn’t realised that. How’s it been going? The whole thing has been an utter shambles here.

    1. Iceland’s ability to track and trace is one of their key strengths. Coupled with border testing and the hope is that it will curtail any chances of a resurgence. But, as you said, there are so many moving parts to consider. One way or another this will be a very interesting experiment. I can only hope it goes well.

  3. I think that traveling to somewhere safe like Iceland is great, in theory. Even if all the safety protocols are in place like testing at the airport, keeping physical distancing in mind at all times, and tracking everyone who goes in and out of the country, there is no guarantee that a traveler won’t get it from anywhere else. Most especially if you have layovers at other airports or have to ride public transport from point A to B. I do think that these detailed accounts of what Iceland has been doing to keep travels safe can be a great basic outline for other countries to follow when they do decide to open their borders to foreign travelers. And for me, I’d want to keep these low-risk or non-risk countries that way by not introducing a possible “contaminant” for lack of a better term. Just until we can get better control of the virus. I’d be too scared still, to be honest. Planning a trip for a later date, like the end of 2020 or mid-2021, could be the safest.

    1. You make great points. Even with all of Iceland’s safeguards it is not a guarantee that you won’t catch the virus, or worse, spread it. Holding off till a little later in the year or even 2021 might be the most sensible for some people depending on their mode of transit.

  4. I am just checking the recent news about Iceland. It seems that the European Union isn’t really too receptive about allowing international travel into their little economic zone. So in essence, you might be able to travel to the Schengen Area — but that doesn’t mean you’ll be permitted into EU countries just yet? Especially if you are coming from America. But it does make sense that Iceland is one of the first countries to open to international travel because of its size and location.

    1. It would seem you are right. At the time when this was published the US and other countries outside of the EU and Schengen would be permitted into Iceland because of border testing. Now it is looking less and less likely that will be the case, for the time being anyway.
      It appears that people from the US and other non-EU & Schengen countries will have to wait a little longer. Rest assured, when other countries are permitted to enter the rest of Europe Iceland will be ready.

  5. We enjoyed your post, even though it now looks that US residents won’t be able to travel to Island for while. My son’s family – with three young children – had a wonderful time in Iceland last year. They also were glad to learn and practice a few Icelandic greetings and polite phrases on our website. While they didn’t encounter anybody. who didn’t speak English, just knowing a few local words often is a ice beaker and at the very least will produce a smile!

    1. Thank you Peter.

      Yes, the US will sadly still not be allowed to enter Iceland for the time being. Only 14 countries outside of the EU & Schengen will be able to come to Iceland for the time being. Hopefully that will change soon.

      Great to hear your son learned some Icelandic while in the country. The locals, despite all speaking perfect English, do appreciate some Icelandic phrases from tourists from time to time.

      I hope you can make it across one day.

  6. Iceland is on my bucket list :) But I haven’t been traveling in this pandemic…will wait for things to normalise & some more before I plan this trip.

    1. Good to hear that Iceland is on your future goals. Good idea to wait a little to have it normalise.

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