We got back a week or so ago from our first international trip post-COVID vaccines and we went to one of our favorite destinations: Iceland. Long story short, we had flight credit on Iceland from a canceled trip last year due to COVID and it was due to expire at the end of May 2021. We also had finished getting our two-dose vaccines at the end of April and when Iceland announced they’d allow vaccinated Americans we decided to use our flight credits and go on a long overdue vacation to one of our favorite places. I will preface this by saying Iceland is being very careful with COVID and has very few cases within their borders and is also being very cautious with visitors as well so we felt safe the whole time. All in all, it was an incredible trip to a place we love dearly and I’m so glad we made it work. If you’re thinking of how to go to Iceland right now in 2021, here is everything you’ll need to know!
*Rules are changing rapidly so make sure you update yourself on the newest information but these were the requirements when we went at the end of May 2021.
Rules for Vaccinated Visitors from the USA
When we went in May 2021, the rule was basically that if you’re vaccinated you can fly to Iceland without having to have a COVID test to board your flight. You will show your proof of vaccination at the counter where you board your flight along with your passport. We did have to do a COVID test on arrival (see below) but other than having your vaccine card, you’re good to board your flight. Nick and I are both fully vaccinated so it was a pretty easy process.
You will need to fill out a form online 72 hours prior to leaving that gives all of your contact information so they can send you your COVID test results. The form can be found here.
COVID Testing on Arrival
I know this rule may be changing/have already changed, but when we went in May 2021, Iceland was still requiring a COVID test on arrival in Iceland. Basically when you land, you go to passport control like normal where they look at your vaccine card again, then you head straight to the COVID test where they take both a mouth and a nose swab. The general rule (although it wasn’t made super clear to us) is that you’re then supposed to go straight to your accommodation and stay there until you get your test results. Now I will preface this by saying that at the time we arrived, they were saying test results would take about 5-6 hours but could be up to 24 hours. I had spoken to a couple people that had been to Iceland recently and they both told me it was averaging about 4-5 hours but our test results took a solid 12+ hours so it was a long day in our hotel room upon arrival. And on top of that, nothing is open in the airport to buy food for the day and we tried to follow the rules so it was a long day without food except for the few snacks we had.
For future, if this is still the requirement when you’re planning to go, I would suggest packing a small bag of food to have with you if this happens to you and was more people start going, I’m sure that wait time will end up getting longer too.
After landing at 7am, driving 3 hours to our hotel and spending the day in our hotel room, we finally got our negative test results around 7-9pm that night and went out under the Midnight sun to explore our area. Once you have your test results (they come in a text), you’re free to roam as you wish.
COVID Testing in Iceland, 72 Hours Prior to Returning to the USA
The USA is still requiring vaccinated travelers to present a negative COVID test 72 hours or 3 days prior to your flight home to the US. While this might seem like an inconvenience it was pretty quick and easy in Iceland. A week before you need your test, you can make an appointment on this website and pick a day/time. Just make sure that day/time falls within the 3 day/72 hour rule of your flight. Whatever Icelandic city you happen to be in you can choose on the website, then you just show up at your appointment. Our appointment was in Reykjavik at 11am on a Friday and we arrived at 10:30am to find a huge line, however the line went really fast and was super efficient. We were literally in and out in 20 minutes before our true appointment time and had our negative results via text message and email letter within 4-5 hours. You can then show your digital emailed letter to the staff at the airport when checking in for your flight.
One note on this item, we did witness someone being turned away from getting a boarding pass for our flight because she didn’t have a COVID test so this is not something you can skirt around. Plus it’s so easy in Iceland, it’s really not a big deal.
What It’s Like on the Ground
One of the questions I’ve been getting a lot was what was Iceland like on the ground, were people wearing masks? Did it feel like COVID was still going there? The short answer is: no. Iceland has recently lifted their mask mandates so unless you’re getting a COVID test or in the airport, you are not required to wear masks. A lot of locals we spoke to had been vaccinated or had at least had one shot and most people were living normally. We had dinner out almost every night and everything was crowded and busy. Honestly, it was such an amazing feeling to go to a crowded restaurant again and not worry about catching COVID.
Iceland has been really proactive all year on contact tracing so whenever COVID cases do pop up, it’s stopped right away and they’ve not really ever had huge outbreaks like the US did. And being a small country and having their borders closed for most of the year really helped them keep it in check, which as a tourist now, seems like such a novelty after the year we’ve had in the US.
Overall, we wore our masks a few times while there, but largely there is not a lot of mask wearing and everything is open and running like normal for the most part.
How It Felt to Travel Again Internationally after such a Long Hiatus
I can’t even tell you what it felt like to watch our plane land in Iceland, looking out the window at the land below, knowing that life is starting to get back to normal. I know as a world we have a long way to go, but it’s headed in the right direction and being able to experience places that we love again is the best feeling. I can’t even quite put into words how it felt to travel again, to explore, to just witness everything. But I will say that I found myself not taking quite as many photos and really being in the moment, really just looking around, just enjoying it. We had date nights at cool restaurants and didn’t really make a lot of plans and it was so incredibly lovely after this very long year and a half of COVID.
Were there Tourists there?
Another question I’ve been getting a lot is “where there a lot of tourists there?” I will say this, there were more than I was expecting for sure, almost all American. While there were definitely not as many as “normal” for the last few years, there were still several people everywhere we went that were tourists. One thing though that was not “normal” was that most people were in rental cars and not on massive tour busses like before but overall I was definitely surprised at how many Americans took advantage of Iceland’s opening!
Headed to Iceland?