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One of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, this nation of around 350,000 people has much to offer international students looking for a truly unique place in which to study a Masters.
From breath-taking geological features to a cultural scene that punches well above its weight on the global scene, Iceland is a fascinating place that enjoys a particularly high standard of living.
This guide will give you an overview of some essential student practicalities, such as accommodation, living costs, transport and health insurance.
Iceland is a proudly egalitarian nation with a landscape like no other on Earth. Bubbling geysers, thundering waterfalls and ancient (and not-so-ancient!) lava fields are among the natural attractions that Masters students can experience here.
Many visitors to Iceland hope to witness the aurora borealis or take a trek across one of the country’s glaciers. It’s also a big draw for spa enthusiasts – there are many geothermally-heated pools to go for a dip in.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a charming city characterised by the colourful corrugated iron cladding of its houses. The tallest structure is the dramatic-looking Hallgrímskirkja, an Expressionist church that took 40 years to build.
Iceland has a thriving music scene, probably producing more artists per capita than anywhere else in the world! The legendary Björk was born in Reykjavik, while Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men and Jóhann Jóhannsson also hail from the island nation. Who knows – maybe you’ll spot the next big thing playing in a tiny bar during your Masters!
Iceland is also famously a nation of book-lovers and it’s estimated that one in 10 Icelanders will publish a book at some point. Given the number of Icelandic sagas that were written in the 13th and 14th centuries, this doesn’t seem too surprising. From Nobel Prize-winning novelist Halldór Laxness to Nordic noir crime fiction, modern Iceland has a proud literary lineage.
As you’d expect from a country with such stunning scenery, hiking is a common pastime in Iceland. During the summer, adventurous postgraduates can visit Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic Highlands, an isolated region with vibrantly coloured mountains and geothermal pools.
Football is the most popular sport in Iceland, with the men’s team qualifying for the European Championship and the World Cup, becoming the smallest nation in terms of population to do so.
Your university’s international office will usually be able to help you find suitable accommodation during your time in Iceland.
University-owned accommodation – particularly on-campus options – is in short supply so you’ll probably need to enter the private market when looking for an apartment or house-share.
In Reykjavik, the average monthly rent is around 100,000 ISK (€720), while in the second-largest city of Akureyri the cost will usually be between 60,000 ISK and 70,000 ISK (€440-515).
In some cases, international students are eligible for housing benefit from the Icelandic government, contributing towards their rent. Find out if you’d be eligible for Icelandic housing benefit.
There’s no getting around it – the cost of living in Iceland is quite high (almost as high as the standard of living!). The Icelandic government estimates that a single person in Reykjavik should budget 189,875 ISK per month (€1,500) for living costs, including rent.
Food and other daily expenses are around 50,000 ISK (€360), while public transport costs around 6,000 ISK per month (€45).
Looking for more information about Masters study in Iceland? Our detailed guide covers everything from university rankings and courses to fees, funding and applications.
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals are free to work without a permit during their studies in Iceland.
Other international students will need to apply for a temporary work permit, which entitles them to work on a part-time basis (or full-time during the holidays). Applications are made through the Icelandic Directorate of Labour.
Hopefully you’ll now know a little more about what to expect from student life in Iceland, whether that means enjoying the views from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja or taking a well-earned study break in one of the country’s geothermal pools. There are a few more practicalities to consider, however.
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals should bring their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with them to Iceland, which will entitle them to healthcare at the same reduced rate as Icelandic citizens. You may also need to bring your passport with you when receiving medical care.
Other international students will need to be covered by a private healthcare policy, either from their home country or purchased from an Icelandic provider.
International postgraduates in Iceland can open an account with one of the country’s three banks: Íslandsbanki, Landsbanki and Arion Banki. These banks all offer student services.
When opening an account, you’ll need to visit your local branch with your kennitala (Icelandic ID number), passport and student ID.
Unless you’re arriving by ferry, it’s likely that you’ll land in Iceland at the country’s only international airport – Keflavík, about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik.
Iceland’s challenging terrain and climate means that there aren’t any trains, but long-distance buses link the major towns and settlements around the coastline. There are several domestic airports, which can be a more reliable way of travelling when the weather is particularly bad!
If you plan on driving the country’s famous ring road, be aware that sections of the route are often impassable during the winter. Also, make sure that you have the requisite spare parts (and know how to change a tyre if needs be!).
In Reykjavik, there is a decent network of public buses and the city is relatively bike-friendly.
Last updated - 06/02/2020