Five Quick Things Americans (And Others) Should Know Before Going to Iceland

The quirky country alone in the North Atlantic has had numerous bloggers wax poetic about the beautiful waterfalls (including me), Viking history, and quaint customs, such as half of all Icelanders believe in elves (this is actually not true). While this is fun and cute, here are a few facts that tourists, particularly American tourists, should know before going to Iceland.

Iceland is Hella Safe

One of the refrains you will hear as a traveler coming from the States is "be safe!" Coming from a large city where people regularly threaten to kill me then ask me for money on my way to get my morning coffee, this is somewhat humorous for me. Traveling is probably a safer option for me than staying where I am. 

Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. According to the Overseas Security Advisory Committee, Iceland does have outlaw biker gangs affiliated with the Norwegian Hell's Angels. I learned about this on the popular Icelandic police procedural Lava Fields. 

Credit Cards are Accepted Almost Everywhere

While you should definitely have some cash, in this case ISK, on hand, almost everywhere in Iceland accepts credit and debit cards. Like the majority of Europe, Icelandic credit cards use the chip/PIN system but this shouldn't be a problem in Reykjavik. Outside of Reykjavik be prepared to enter a 4-digit PIN. Also be aware that many banks will charge fees when using your debit/credit card outside of the country. And always let your bank/CC company know that you are out of the country. 

Don't Be Afraid to Drive

There are blogs out there warning about driving in Iceland because of the variable weather. I am sure in some areas, such as parts of the highlands where you must have a 4x4, and in the winter this may be an issue, but Reykjavik has almost no traffic and the roads in the more rural areas are in good condition. Most rental cars are standard transmission so be prepared to pay more for an automatic if you are renting a car. Iceland, like almost every other country in the world except the USA and Myanmar, uses the metric system and speed limit signs are in KMH. Be aware of the one lane bridges with the pull over spots. Signs with EINBREIÐ BRÚ will warn you of this. 

Bring Your Own Condoms

If you're a condom user (i.e. you're planning on hooking up with some Icelandic lady or gent, or use them regularly with your partner), you should definitely bring your own. They can be difficult to find: we had to go to three different stores to find them; the chain pharmacy didn't even carry them. They can also be very expensive compared to prices in the United States. However, Iceland does have these amazing souvenir condoms with hilarious packaging. I might just order some online. 

Iceland has a fairly open culture toward sex, but according to The Reykjavik Grapevine, Iceland has the highest rates of chlamydia in Europe. Don't be too worried, though: it's higher in the United States. 

 Tipping is not a Thing

While it is not considered rude or illegal in Iceland to tip, it's not really done. Unlike in America, Icelandic restaurants pay their employees a relatively decent wage. Some places will include a service charge if you are eating in so you may pay less if you order to go. If you would like to tip your guide or waitress, you can do so but they may give you an odd look. It is expected to be pleasant and hospitable as part of the culture, not something you need to be paid for. To learn more about tipping behavior, I recommend reading this post from I Heart Reykjavik. Actually, I recommend reading through that blog if you are planning a trip to Iceland. 

Service may be a little different than what you're used to in the United States. You will probably need to ask for your check at a restaurant, at least this was our experience. Your server will probably not ask you at most restaurants how your meal is going. You take your receipt up to the register and not to your server. 


There is much more you need to know about Iceland before going, but these were just a few things that I thought it important to share. Have you been to Iceland recently? Is there something that you think people should know before coming? Did I commit egregious slander against Icelandic people with this post?