Not the most obvious place for graduates to launch their careers, but a thriving tourism industry and a range of skills shortages ensure Iceland has plenty to offer international workers

This Nordic island is sparsely populated with a small number of urban hubs, and while the summer days may seem to last forever (with 22 hours of daylight), the winter months can be particularly harsh. That said, there are a number of reasons why foreigners should consider working in Iceland.

The country has one of most impressive unemployment rates in Europe (3.7% in January 2020). Iceland is also the most peaceful country in the world - a title it has held since 2008, according to the Global Peace Index 2019.

While Iceland is one of the more expensive European locations, there's plenty to see and do that won't cost you a penny. Make the most of your generous holiday allowance by exploring geysers, glaciers, mountains and volcanoes. You could visit the famous Blue Lagoon, or watch the Northern Lights dancing in the sky. The country also puts on an impressive number of festivals so check out the Winter Lights Festival, International Literary Festival, The Colour Run, Pride and the International Film Festival, all held in the capital city of Reykjavik.

Jobs in Iceland

Iceland's economy was hit hard by the banking crisis in 2008 but has since recovered strongly, largely thanks to its tourism industry. The country welcomed nearly two million tourists in 2019 - six times its population of just 330,000.

The country's major industries include:

  • aluminium smelting
  • fish processing
  • geothermal power
  • hydropower
  • medical/pharmaceutical products
  • tourism.

Popular graduate jobs

  • Construction
  • Healthcare
  • IT
  • Tourism.

You can search for jobs in Iceland at:

Local newspapers and trade unions are good places to find openings if you're job hunting in Iceland, and it's also worth registering with recruitment agencies.

Skills shortages

There are currently six workers to every retired person in Iceland, but it's predicted that by 2040 there will only be three. Iceland is in need of roughly 2,000 foreign workers each year until then to address this imbalance and combat the repercussions of an ageing population.

In particular, the healthcare, construction, IT and tourism sectors are in need of workers. This can be attributed to a number of factors - for instance, disability rates in Iceland are increasing, and new technology is being developed at a faster rate than workers can be trained to use it.

If you can apply your skills and experience to any of these shortage areas, you'll be highly valued by employers.

How to get a job in Iceland

As Reykjavik is Iceland's economic, cultural and education hub, you're most likely to find success in the capital, unless you're hoping to work in agriculture or at a fishery.

The Directorate of Labour advises sending speculative applications to the companies you'd like to work for, as positions are not always advertised. You can also use social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, to build a network of contacts and discover available opportunities.

Most companies accept job applications via email. Enclose a short introductory message along with your CV and cover letter. Employers are looking for a concise overview of your achievements and skills - neither your CV nor cover letter should exceed one page in length.

Interviews are held face-to-face, but can be conducted via telephone or Skype if you're out of the country. While they're a formal stage of the application process, you may find your interview takes place in a more informal setting than you're used to, such as in a local café.  

Summer jobs

Thanks to Iceland's long summer days, there's plenty of opportunity for summer work.

Fluency in English will be a real benefit to the hospitality industry, where temporary positions - in restaurants or bars - are readily available, to support the demands of tourism growth.   

Alternatively, for a different summer experience you could become an au pair or work on a farm.

Opportunities for casual and volunteer work can also be found on:

Visit the Icelandic Directorate of Labour for more guidance.

The European Voluntary Service (EVS) is funded by the European Commission and is aimed at 17 to 30-year-olds who would like to volunteer abroad in areas such as youth work, cultural activities, social care or environmental protection. Placements last between two weeks and 12 months.

Teaching jobs

There's limited scope to teach English in Iceland, as the vast majority of the population speak the language to varying degrees and it's taught in schools from an early age.

However, opportunities do exist for skilled candidates hoping to teach at an advanced level. You'll need a Bachelors degree and relevant language qualification, such as a TEFL certificate, to secure a position.

A focus on delivering high standards of teaching in Iceland means that prior teaching experience is highly desirable for these roles. Holding more advanced qualifications, such as a Masters degree, is also viewed as advantageous.

Internships

By completing an internship in Iceland, you'll be able to explore a new country while boosting your employability. The majority of intern positions are located in Reykjavik, and not all will be paid. Search for vacancies at:

It may also be possible to secure an internship by applying speculatively to companies that you're interested in. If you don't speak Icelandic, focus on larger firms that use English as their business language.

Icelandic visas

If you're moving to Iceland from an EEA (European Economic Area) country, you'll be able to live and work in the country without a work permit or visa. However, you'll need to register as a resident with Registers Iceland, the country's national registry, if you're staying for longer than three months (or six months, if you arrive in the country as a jobseeker).

The EEA comprises all European Union (EU) member states plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. In addition, Swiss nationals have the same rights as citizens of EEA countries.

If you're from a non-EEA country and plan on staying in Iceland for longer than three months, you'll need to hold a valid residence permit. Your employer will apply for this permit once you've accepted an offer of employment, meaning you won't be able to arrive in Iceland as a jobseeker.

Residence permits are divided into three categories. They're for:

  • workers with expert knowledge
  • athletes
  • workers filling temporary labour shortages.

Visit the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration for more information.

In submitting an application you'll incur a fee, which is currently ISK 15,000 (roughly £87). It's advisable to apply as soon as you can - the process typically takes up to 90 days. Contact the embassy in your home country to get started.

If you're moving from an EEA country you'll be entitled to free public insurance once you've been a legal resident of Iceland for six months, which you can apply for from the day your legal residence is registered. Find out more at Work in Iceland - Health Insurance.

Language requirements

As the majority of nationals speak English, learning Icelandic won't be necessary to move to the country. However, having a basic grasp of Icelandic will help you to settle in and get by. It also demonstrates to employers that you're committed to becoming a part of Icelandic life.

You can start learning the language before arriving in the country, with free courses such as Icelandic Online. Offered at different difficulty levels, this course also provides a premium service to candidates at beginner and lower intermediate levels for an additional fee.

How to explain your qualifications to employers

Qualifications gained in the UK and elsewhere in Europe will generally be recognised by employers in Iceland. Visit Europass and ENIC-NARIC for more information about having your qualifications evaluated.

What's it like to work in Iceland?

A 40-hour working week, Monday to Friday, is the national average. You'll usually work eight-hour days with lunch and coffee breaks. You'll also have the right to a minimum of 11 hours rest in a 24-hour period, meaning if you travel for work and arrive home late, your next working day will start 11 hours later, even if that's after your usual start time.

Workers are entitled to a minimum of 24 days of paid leave per year on top of 15 public holidays.

The amount of tax you pay in Iceland depends on your salary. However, only 75% of the income of foreign experts in their field is taxed for the first three years they work in the country, if certain conditions are met.

Find out more

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