The currency used in Iceland is the króna, which is abbreviated as Isk, Ikr or kr, and it is made up of 100 aurar. The notes in use are 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000kr and the coins are in denominations or 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100kr.
The country’s official language is Icelandic and is virtually the same as the original Viking language that was in use 1300 years ago. English is widely spoken, however, as is Danish.
Iceland has a much milder climate than many expect compliments of the Gulf Stream. Average temperatures in summer are between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius and in winter they are between –2 and 2 degrees Celsius. Overall, however, the weather is changeable with snow, sunshine and rain often within a couple of hours in the same day. The country also experiences continuous sunshine for two to three months in summer while from mid-November until the end of January it only receives between three and four hours of daylight.
Iceland operates on Greenwich Mean Time.
Most shops open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 10.00am until 2.00 or 3.00pm on Saturdays but of course this varies from shop to shop. Larger shopping centres open late on Friday, usually until 7.00pm and they also open on Sunday between 1.00 and 4.00pm. Office hours are between 8.00am and 4.00pm in summer and 9.00am and 5.00pm in winter. Many companies also take an annual three-week holiday and this usually takes place in July. Finally, banks are open from Monday to Friday between 9.15am and 4.00pm, but again this can vary and some branches in the capital do observe longer opening hours.
Electricity in Iceland operates on 220 volts AC, 50Hz.
In Iceland value added tax (VAT) is calculated at a rate of 24.5%. This is usually included on a quoted price but you should confirm this prior to purchasing anything to avoid any confusion when it comes to payment. For non-EU residents, however, the good news is that you can get 15% of this tax back on any item for which you pay over 4000kr. In order to avail of this incentive, you need to complete the necessary form when you are making your purchase. When you are leaving the country, you present both the form and the receipt at the currency exchange booth by the duty-free shop in Keflavik airport where you will receive your refund in whichever currency you wish. If you are leaving the country by ferry, get your form stamped at customs and post it to the relevant address within ninety days. VAT refunds are only applicable where you are leaving the country within thirty days of the purchase.
All that EU, US, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand nationals require to enter the country is a passport which is valid for at least ninety days after their arrival in Iceland. For all other visitors or those from the aforementioned regions who wish to gain a work or residence permit, it is recommended that you contact the Icelandic embassy in your home country for relevant information.
The country’s main tourist office is in Reykavik and is located at 2 Bankastraeti on Laugavegur Street. It is open daily from 8.30am until 7.00pm from May to September and between 9.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday at all other times. There are also numerous other branches scattered throughout the country and quite often they can be found in the town’s bus station.
Post office branches can be found in all the bigger towns and cities. They open between 8.30am and 4.30pm from Monday to Friday.
The country has three banks, Islandsbanki, Landsbank Island and Bundaoarbanki, which can be found in almost every town and village in Iceland. Most have an ATM and all provide a currency exchange facility. It’s also worth noting that Islandsbanki doesn’t charge a commission. Other options include the major hotels or The Change Group but both charge high commission and offer much poorer rates.
While travellers’ cheques are widely accepted, there are some places which may refuse to do so, particularly in more remote parts of the country. Therefore, it is advised that you change them before leaving for such destinations.
All major credit cards are also widely accepted and if you have the PIN you can use these to receive cash in compatible bank machines. The same applies to bankcards which are members of any of the international banking networks including Cirrus and Maestro.
The country code for Switzerland is 354 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 354 and the local number. There are no area codes in Iceland. Instead numbers which had five digits are now preceded by 55 and six digits numbers are preceded by 5. When you are making an international call from within the country you will need to dial 00, followed by the international code, the area code and the local number. You should also note that you need to omit the 0 from the local code where applicable.
Siminn is the name of the country’s national telephone network and they usually have offices in the local post office as well as a number of booths outside. Public phones in Iceland accept both coins and phonecards and all can be used to make international calls. For the cheapest rates try to call between 7.00pm and 8.00am from Monday to Friday or at weekends.
Because the service charge is included in the prices of most the principal services; hotels, restaurants and taxis, tipping is entirely at your discretion. If the service you receive is particularly good, however, you can leave a small additional amount. Where a service charge is not included a tip of between 10 and 15% is sufficient.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Iceland they take place on January 1st, April 12th, Good Friday, Easter Monday, April 19th, May 1st and 24th, first Monday in June, June 17th, 1st Monday in August, December 24th, 25th, 26th and 31st. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.