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Masters in Iceland

by Chantelle Francis

A Masters in Iceland offers all the perks you might be looking for as an international postgraduate: free tuition, diverse cultural opportunities, and high-quality living.

Though it is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, Iceland is home to over 1,100 international students. Languages, culture, and the arts are all highly refined in university study, and renewable energy and eco-friendly sciences are definitely on the top of the agenda for this green island. With a geologically active landscape and temperate climate, you’ll never be lost for sites to explore.

This guide explains everything you’ll need to know about Iceland’s universities and postgraduate degrees, including fees, funding and visa requirements.

Masters Study in Iceland - Key Details
Universities 7
Oldest University University of Iceland (1911)
International Students 1,100
Course Length 2 years
Typical Fees (Domestic / EU) €569-6,042
Academic Year September to May

Why study a Masters in Iceland?

Despite its small size, there are several factors that make Iceland worth considering for postgraduate study.

Firstly, Iceland offers free tuition for students of all countries – meaning you can get the degree you love at very little cost.

As one of several Nordic countries with similar language traits, a variety of languages are spoken in Iceland and some courses are offered in English. So, though the official language is Icelandic, you won’t necessarily have to learn a new language to study here.

A rich cultural and educational tradition

The University of Iceland is the country’s oldest and largest University, hosted in the country’s capital city, Reykjavík. Founded in 1911, it has grown to include over 14,000 students across more than twenty-five faculties.

Reykjavík itself is a highly artistic and cultural centre. It houses several professional theatres, a symphony orchestra, an opera, and a large number of art galleries, bookstores, cinemas, and museums.

Other aspects of Iceland’s rich heritage are visible across the country. There are four active folk dance ensembles in Iceland and its literary heritage traces back to the 12th Century Sagas of Icelanders. In fact, Iceland’s literacy rate today is the highest in the world. Iceland is also considered to be one of the world’s most peaceful countries, having no standing army.

Being politically and economically independent, Iceland certainly produces forward-thinking, liberal postgraduates. If you’d like to become one of them you can check out the postgraduate courses in Iceland listed on our website.

Universities for postgraduate study in Iceland

As noted above, university tuition in Iceland is free for all students, including those outside of the EU/EEA. There are currently seven higher education institutions in Iceland – 4 public and 3 private. These universities reflect a range of Iceland’s academic specialisms: two are agricultural institutions and one is an academy of the arts whilst the remaining four offer a wide variety of Masters programmes.

University degrees in Iceland are organised into a familiar European system of First Cycle (Bachelors), Second Cycle (Masters) and Third Cycle (PhD) programmes. Masters students are therefore categorised as ‘Second Cycle’ students. This means that courses may be listed as ‘Second Cycle Programmes’ on your institution’s webpage.

All higher education institutions in Iceland are accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. However, universities in Iceland are highly autonomous, and have a lot of control over their curriculum. As a result, you may find that similar programmes vary in duration and style in different institutions.

What are the top-ranked universities in Iceland?

Iceland is a small country with a higher education system to match. But that doesn’t mean its universities don’t punch above their weight.

In fact, the University of Iceland is one of the world’s top 300 universities, ranked 201-250th in the THE World University Rankings. It is also a popular study abroad destination - around 8% of its students are international.

Masters degrees in Iceland

If you’ve studied in a European country before, Iceland’s system will be fairly familiar to you. However, there are some specialisms that you may want to take note of before applying for postgraduate study.

Length of a Masters degree in Iceland

Postgraduate studies at Masters level last between six months and two years, and are worth 30-120 ECTS credits. The workload for one year corresponds to 60 credits.

Which language will I study in?

Some universities offer all of their courses in English, but others deliver programmes in one of the Scandinavian languages. If you choose to study in a language that is not your native one, you will be asked to provide proof of proficiency in the language you wish to study in when you apply.

How is a Masters in Iceland taught?

Teaching methods vary somewhat between programmes and level of study. In most cases there is a combination of lectures, seminars, individual assignments and group work. In technical and science programmes, laboratory work and practical training are more common teaching methods.

Which subjects are most popular for Masters study in Iceland?

As noted above, the arts and the environment are the two of the most popular subjects in Icelandic study. Sciences dedicated to environmental improvements and geological tracking are extremely popular.

In keeping with Iceland’s rich literary heritage, the country is also a sought after destination for literature postgraduates looking to access its unique resources and expertise.

Some Masters degrees focus on a single specialism, as is common in countries like the UK. Others are similar to the US model, comprising one major subject alongside one or more minor subject.

Types of Masters Degree in Iceland

Universities in Iceland offer both taught and research Masters Programmes. Research Masters will consist of a substantial research project overseen by a supervisor, while taught programmes consist of modular teaching ending with a dissertation. Assessments throughout the academic year consist of written, oral, and practical examinations, with examinations usually taking place at the end of each semester.

The academic year in Iceland

The academic year typically comprises two semesters: the Autumn (Fall) semester from September to December, and the Spring semester from January to May.

Search for a Masters in Iceland

You can use our course listings to search and compare Icelandic Masters degree programmes, as well as other opportunities for postgraduate study in Europe.

Applying for a Masters in Iceland

There is no central portal for Masters applications in Iceland, but the overall application process is relatively simple.

Entry requirements

Most Masters programmes in Iceland only accept students with a first class bachelor’s degree, but some programmes do accept students with a 2:1 (equivalent to an Icelandic grading of 7.25).

Application process

Applications must be made directly to the university, so deadlines and processing periods differ. Generally, application deadlines are between March and June each year, but are sometimes as early as February for international students.

In research-oriented programmes, students must reach an agreement with a supervisor on a research project for their Masters thesis, and then file a joint application with that supervisor for a specific research project. The project must then be accepted by a review committee for the student to be allowed to enter the programme.

Supporting documents

As noted above, proof of proficiency is usually asked for when you are applying for a programme of study in a second language. Other documents may include:

  • A copy of your CV
  • References (from your previous university)
  • An academic transcript
  • A copy of your passport

International students are usually charged an application fee of around €50 ($56 USD).

Masters student visas in Iceland

Students from the EU/EEA do not need a visa to study in Iceland, but do require a residence permit.

Students from outside the EU/EEA must apply for a residence permit, and then a long-stay visa once this is approved before arriving in the country.

Permits usually take up to three months to process, so it is essential that you apply early.

Student Residence Permits in Iceland

All international students (except for those from the Nordic countries) must apply for a residence permit to study in Iceland. Before applying, you must be fully registered at your university. Permits are only granted on the basis that you take up full-time study at a higher education institution (equivalent to 30 ECTS credits per semester).

Students from outside the EU/EEA must apply for a residency permit before they arrive in Iceland. You will have to undergo a medical examination, and this can be costly. If you have a valid medical certificate from your home country which has been issued less than three months before you apply, you will not need to undergo a medical examination.

EU/EEA citizens must also apply for a residency permit after their arrival, and must be registered as a full-time student at a University. However, you will not need to undergo a medical examination in order to apply for a residency permit.

How to apply for a student residence permit in Iceland

To apply for a residency permit, you must contact the Directorate of Immigration in Iceland. Alongside the application form, you will need to provide:

  • Proof of support or income equivalent to ISK 163,635 per month
  • Proof of health insurance
  • A housing certificate
  • Proof that you have registered at the university
  • A criminal record certificate
  • Medical examination (if relevant)
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • One passport-sized photograph
  • Receipt for payment of the residence permit application


In order to be approved on time, you must apply for your residence permit early:

  • Autumn (Fall) semester: Application and all supporting documents must be received by the Directorate no later than 1st July, in order to grant the permit before semester starts.
  • Spring semester - Application and all supporting documents must be received by the Directorate no later than 1st November, in order to grant the permit before semester starts.

Permits are usually issued for six months or one semester at a time. You must apply for a renewal at least 4 weeks before your permit runs out.


If you are a student from outside the EU/EEA, you will need to apply for a visa to study in Iceland once your residence permit is approved. In order to do this, you need to state on your application for a residence permit which embassy you will be obtaining your visa from.

You can find the embassy in your home country here.

Can I work on a student visa?

Generally, yes. The amount of hours you can work varies depending on the profession, but is usually between 4-12 hours per week.

If you are a student from outside the EU/EEA, you must apply for a work permit before you arrive. Your prospective employer must sign your application form and contract in order for you to apply. For more information, see The Directorate of Immigration’s website.

If you are an EU/EEA student, you do not need to apply for work permit to work in Iceland, and are accorded similar rights to Icelandic citizens.

Upon arrival

You must register with Registers Iceland within 90 days of arrival. Once registered, you will be issued with a social security number.

They must also be informed when you complete your studies and leave the country.

Masters fees and funding in Iceland

Iceland doesn’t charge tuition fees for its Masters programmes (at least not in the conventional sense) but there are still a few costs you’ll have to cover.


Though tuition is free, admin fees of around €509 ($569 USD) are payable by all students once per academic year. So, a two year Masters degree would cost you €1,018 ($1,138 USD).


As tuition is free, funding can be quite difficult to come by. Some universities do offer merit-based grants, but you will need to contact the university directly to find out more.

The Icelandic Research Fund (IRF) is aimed at students in research studies, providing funding for research projects approved after a proposal. It is more commonly aimed at PhD students, but Masters students can also apply.

The Icelandic Student Innovation Fund (ISIF) is a similar source of funding. Projects take place over the summer, and you are provided with a supervisor to oversee the work.

Erasmus+ scholarships are also available to EU students. Costs covered can include travel and accommodation. See our guides to Erasmus Masters funding for more information.

Postgraduate living costs in Iceland

With a booming economy and self-sufficient mind-set, Iceland living is not particularly cheap. On average, living costs for one person amount to around 163,000kr ($1,418 USD) per month.


Accommodation is usually provided by your university, so costs vary. Contact them directly for more information. However, if you do need find your own accommodation, you can expect to rent a one-bedroom apartment for between 115,000kr – 166,500kr ($1,000 - $1,450 USD) depending on where you live.

Day-to-day living costs and expenses

The following are representative prices for typical student costs and expenses in Iceland.

Item Price (IKR) Price (USD)
Milk (1 litre) 143.70 1.25
Loaf of bread (500g) 318.00 2.80
Potatoes (1kg) 269.30 2.35
Chicken breasts (1kg) 2,175.50 19.00
Rice (1kg) 369.70 3.20

Monthly Utilities
Item Price (IKR) Price (USD)
Monthly travel pass 10,900.00 95.00
Broadband internet (10mbps, uncapped) 6,845.00 59.70
Domestic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water and Waste) 11,439.50 99.75

Entertainment and Leisure
Item Price (IKR) Price (USD)
Cinema ticket 1,300.00 11.35
Mid-price bottle of wine 2,500.00 21.80
Cup of coffee 521.00 4.50
Draught beer (0.5 litre) 1,000.00 8.70
Inexpensive restaurant meal 2,000.00 17.50

Note Information in the above tables is based on crowd-sourced data collected by Numbeo. Figures are approximate and provided for comparative purposes only. They do not take account of student discounts and may vary over time or between cities.


Students who are covered by an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) are eligible to pay the same rate as Icelandic nationals when visiting a doctor, which is €7-20 ($8-23 USD) per visit. You must take your EHIC card and passport with you when you visit your local clinic to be eligible to pay the lower fee.

For students outside of the EU/EEA, healthcare costs €150-230 ($168-257 USD) per visit to your local centre, so health insurance is essential.

After graduation - careers and opportunities with an Icelandic Masters degree

As a Masters graduate in Iceland, the only way is up! Employment opportunities are increasing in Iceland every year, especially in geological sciences, business, and finance. For these areas, though, those that are able to speak Icelandic are predominantly employed. If you haven’t managed to crack the language, then industries such as computer programming, gaming, and tourism may be more your niche.

Can I work in Iceland after I graduate?

If you wish to stay on in Iceland after you have completed your studies, you will need to apply for a work permit. You can also apply for a permanent residence permit, but may not be able to do so until you have resided in Iceland for more than 4 years. For more information, click here.

Can I study a PhD in Iceland after my Masters?

If you decide to move home, you will still have broadened your horizons. Studying abroad provides you with superb language and interpersonal skills. Having challenged yourself with embracing a new culture, you will be able to show employers your adaptability and resilience in new situations. You will also be considered more culturally conscious, and as such better at dealing with cross-cultural situations. You may even wish to consider PhD level research as your next step.

Search for a Masters in Iceland

You can use our course listings to search and compare Icelandic Masters degree programmes, as well as other opportunities for postgraduate study in Europe.

Last updated - 03/11/2016

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