Travelling to Iceland during COVID-19 – two tests and a quarantine in practice
When I was planning my trip to Iceland, the only entry requirement was a COVID-19 test at the Keflavik Airport. The price was around EUR 100, but it was a fairly uncomplicated procedure. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the Icelandic authorities have decided to make the life of travellers much more difficult.
From 19th August 2020, new regulations have come into force, so currently all people entering Iceland must do two COVID-19 tests and a 5-day quarantine/isolation between them. Because the regulations are very new, the rules are constantly updated and as a result, it’s hard to find reliable information.
Nevertheless, together with a group of friends, we decided to take the risk and fly to Iceland 4 days earlier than planned, in order to do the quarantine in Reykjavik. How does the two tests and the quarantine in Iceland look like in practice? I described step by step the whole process that we went through.
1. Filling out the form and paying for the COVID-19 tests
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 virus, many countries have introduced special forms which have to be filled out before entering a given country. This also applies to Iceland. Therefore, shortly before departure (at earliest 72 hours before), you need to fill out a form, which is available here: https://visit.covid.is/. It requires your personal data, information about the place of quarantine and a statement about your health.
Finally, it is possible to pay for two tests which together cost ISK 9.000 (approx. EUR 55), if you pay online before arrival. You can also do that at the airport, but then the cost is higher (11.000 ISK). After making the payment, I received an e-mail confirmation with a bar code, which I needed later at the airport.
2. First COVID-19 test at the Keflavik Airport in Iceland
The plane on which I was flying from Vienna to Iceland (Keflavik Airport) was missing around 80% of the passengers, so it was almost empty. Some passengers were even asked to change their seats in order to even out the weight distribution on the plane. No wonder the airport was also empty.
On the way to the exit, first, I had to show the code mentioned above to a few staff members, and then I was directed to the place where the COVID-19 tests were performed. There were about 10 stands, one person taking the samples in each. Due to the emptiness of the airport, there were either no queues or very short ones, so everything took about 10 minutes.
Samples for COVID-19 test
During the COVID-19 testing two samples are taken. The first is a mouth/throat smear. The lady that was taking a sample from me just put a stick into my mouth for a few seconds and that was it. Taking the second sample was definitely worse, because it is done by inserting a long stick with small teeth deep into the nose and rub it against the skin inside. It only takes a few seconds, but for me it was a very unpleasant feeling. A tear flew from one of my eyes, and for the next few minutes I felt irritation in my lymph node. However, not everyone would describe this experience as a negative one. I heard from my friends that it was just tickling 😀
After the COVID-19 test, I went to the next gate. An airport employee explained to me that I have to do a quarantine and gave me a sheet with rules. He also asked if I had the application RAKNING C-19 downloaded on my phone. I said that I don’t have it but that I will download it later. That was the end of our conversation and the whole administration part, so I was able to leave the airport.
The rest of the group also received a flyer at the Keflavik Airport with the quarantine rules, translated into several languages. You can find its English version below.
COVID-19 test results and second test appointment
I landed at the Keflavik Airport at 3:30 pm local time. On the same day at around 8:00 pm I got my test result (negative). It was sent to me by SMS. The rest of the team that landed at 7:00 pm got their results the next day at around 11:00 am. Only one person got the test result later (at around 2:00 PM), even though they all did the test together.
At the same time, I also got an e-mail. It said when and where I had to go for the second test: on the fifth day of the quarantine between 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm in Reykjavik.
RAKNING C-19 APP IN ICELAND
The Rakning C-19 app is mentioned on the covid.is website. Downloading it is recommended but not mandatory (you get your results via SMS). The purpose of the application is to identify all people that had contact with an infected person. Apparently 40% of the Icelandic population has it. However, I personally decided not to download it.
3. Quarantine in Iceland
I landed much earlier than the rest of the group, so I had to wait a few hours for them at the Keflavik Airport. The recommendation is that after landing and finishing all the formalities, you should go to the place of quarantine immediately. I waited a few hours at an airport shop next to the exit and nobody asked me to leave. By the way, it was the only open place at the airport where you could get something warm to drink and eat.
The duty-free zone and the beforementioned shop are the only places where you can do some shopping. After leaving the airport, you are not allowed to go to any stores for 5 days. The car rental companies were also open and an Arion Bank where you could exchange money. Everything else was closed (e.g. restaurants).
I exchanged 100 EUR to ISK just in case but it was completely unnecessary and at the end of the trip I still had some cash left. Everywhere in Iceland I paid with my Revolut card and depending on my needs I exchanged money through the Revolut app. Thanks to that I didn’t had to worry about the amount of cash in ISK and about finding the place with the best exchange rate. In case you don’t have an Revolut card yet with this link you will get one for free + 10 EUR for the start!
Transportation from the Keflavik Airport during quarantine
Public transport cannot be used during quarantine. You can get around by taxi or a rented car. We decided to rent a car to get from the airport to the city, and used the opportunity to go for a walk near to Reykjavik.
Accordingly, to Reykjavik Excursions, people who are subject to quarantine can use the Flybus to get to Reykjavik because it’s not classified as public transport.
Rules during quarantine in Iceland
Currently the quarantine in Iceland lasts for 5 days. It starts the day after arriving on the island. This is not a 100% quarantine, as you are allowed to go for walks. However, the main point is to minimize the contacts with other people, so you cannot go to any shops or restaurants. Icelandic authorities prepared a document with rules for travellers during quarantine. Here are some of the highlights.
This is allowed during quarantine in Iceland (as of 25th August):
- going for walks but you must keep a 2-meter distance from other people. In the flyer it’s written that you can take walks in areas where few other people are present and covid.is says that the area is limited to the neighbourhood of your accommodation,
- the use of taxis and rented or private cars,
- refuelling at self-service stations (we got an email confirming this from the Icelandic Tourist Board).
This is not allowed during quarantine in Iceland (as of 25th August):
- using public transport,
- participating in meetings with other people,
- going to shops or pharmacies,
- going to bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, swimming pools, shopping malls and other places where large groups of people gather,
- driving long distances,
- changing the places of quarantine,
Keep in mind that the regulations are very new and the rules may change. In fact they are changing overnight so it’s necessary to check the covid.is website on a regular basis before travelling to Iceland.
Accommodation during quarantine in Iceland
The accommodation for quarantine must meet some requirements. Among other things, it cannot have a shared kitchen or bathroom, so hostels are not suitable for quarantine. Detailed information about the requirements can be found here.
There is a list of places which meet the requirements for quarantine. However, it’s only a list of accommodations that have specially indicated that they want to welcome visitors for quarantine. It’s not a full list so you can also book accommodations that are not on the list, if the owners have nothing against it.
Before this list was published, we booked an apartment at Baldur Apartments in the centre of Reykjavik. Later it turned out that it was not on the list. Nevertheless, we wrote to our hosts asking if we can spend the quarantine in the booked apartment and they said yes.
Food and shopping during quarantine in Iceland
When we found out that during the quarantine it is forbidden to go to shops or restaurants, we immediately asked ourselves what would we eat? It turns out there is a website in Reykjavik where you can order food from a store called Netto and it will be delivered to your home. It’s called aha.is. You can also order food from the restaurants on this website.
Therefore, the first thing we did after arriving at our apartment was ordering food. For a total of 4 people we ordered 107 items for the duration of the quarantine (each tomato, banana, potato, etc. was counted separately) and it turned put to be too much, so we took it with us.
We paid around ISK 23,000 (EUR 140) for the entire order. Delivery was free for orders over 5,000 ISK. In my opinion, the prices in this store are very similar to those in Austria, except for some vegetables and fruits, which might be more expensive.
What to do during quarantine in Iceland?
As already mentioned, during the quarantine you can go for walks, but you can’t go for sightseeing. There are no precise descriptions of those terms. There are also no examples provided, therefore there is some room for interpretation. We decided that we will stick to the principle that we can only visit places in the open-air area and only if they are free of charge – in such places we could always say that we are on a walk. Moreover, we always made sure that we can keep a 2-meter distance to other people.
Our apartment was located in the very centre of Reykjavik, close to Hallgrimskirkja Church. Since the streets were very empty, we could go for a walk around the city at any time. I will try to publish an article about the places we visited during the quarantine in Reykjavik and it’s neighbourhood soon.
Renting a car in Iceland during quarantine
During the quarantine you are allowed to drive with the car only in order to get from the airport to your place of quarantine and in order to do the second test. Exactly for those two days (the arrival day and the last day of the quarantine) we rented a car. We managed to find a Renault Kadjar for ISK 10.000 per day. We were in direct contact with Daniel, the owner. He brought us the car and picked it up at the agreed place, mostly adapting to our plans, which was super convenient for us. He was very flexible, and the car rental went very smoothly so for us it was the perfect option during the quarantine.
When Daniel found out that I wanted to recommend his car on my blog, he offered a discount for you guys! Therefore, with the code salty.travels2020 you will get -10% if you rent a car from him. For those of you who are interested in renting a car from Daniel here is his number +35 47602820 (you can write via WhatsApp) and his email email@example.com.
4. Second COVID-19 test in Iceland
On the fourth day of quarantine, we all received an email with a barcode that was necessary to do the second test. Most of our group got their second test appointment between 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m., but one person, for unknown reasons, had an earlier time: 12.00 pm – 1.30 pm. We wanted the do the test asap, so we decided to take a risk and go together earlier.
It turned out that the place where they were doing the COVID-19 tests in Reykjavik was already open before 12:00pm, even though it was a weekend and it should be open from 12:00 pm. There was a short queue outside, so we waited for about 15 minutes. Nobody asked us about the time of the appointment which was mentioned in the email. All we needed was the bar code and an identity document. The test itself was looking exactly the same as the one at the airport. Two samples were taken, one from the mouth and one from the nose. Everything took us around 20 minutes.
The e-mail with the second test appointment stated that if somebody will not get the result within 24 hours, then it’s negative. When I asked the lady who took my samples, how does it look in practice – whether you get an SMS with the result or you just have to wait 24 hours – she said that the SMS may come, but it doesn’t have to. This means, if we wouldn’t get it, we would have to wait – and this could mean an extra day of quarantine. Fortunately, 5 hours after taking the second COVID-19 test in Iceland, we all got a text message saying that the result is negative, and we were finally free!
The second test can be done in or outside of Reykjavik. The locations, terms and opening hours are included here. Note: almost all places doing the test outside of Reykjavik are closed on weekends and public holidays. If you plan to spend the quarantine far away from Reykjavik and your second test will fall during this time, you will have to wait until Monday or after the holiday for the second test.
If you’ve always dreamed about visiting Iceland and you have the possibility to take 1.5 – 2 weeks of vacation, I think it’s definitely worth it! Over the past few years, Iceland has become a very popular travel destination. Annually, about 2 million tourists visit this island! Due to the stronger entry restrictions, mainly the 5-day quarantine, there are currently almost no tourists in Iceland.
Of course not being able to move around the country for 5 days is a big downside, but it’s also a unique opportunity to experience Iceland when it’s empty. Our stay (including the day of arrival and departure) lasted 12 days – 5 days of quarantine and 6.5 days of driving around Iceland and I deffinitely don’t regret it!
- The car parks near to the main attractions were so empty that it was difficult to decide where to park. All the time we were joking about that and saying “Should I go out of the car and check how much space do you have in the back?” or “Damn, where are we going to park the car?!” 😀
- You can do thousands of photos and there will be no need to remove any people from the background in Photoshop.
- Sometimes we got a better apartment or room, and we were alone at the dormitory in The Barn Hostel.
- It is very safe, because you rarely come into contact with other people, and all visitors are tested.
- Five-day quarantine and ISK 9,000 for COVID-19 tests
- in small tourist towns most of the restaurants were closed – sometimes it was hard to find a place for dinner, so don’t forget your sandwiches 😉 Only places where locals eat were open.
- The risk that the result of the COVID-19 test will be positive and you will have to do a much longer quarantine under stricter conditions.
Most important sources of information about quarantine in Iceland:
covid.is – official Icelandic website about the current restrictions.
Instructions for quarantine for visitors in Iceland – the official document from the Icelandic Directorate of health.
Appropriate housing while in quarantine – additional source with regulations about the accomodation during quarantine in Iceland.