Work and Travel in Iceland
VOLUNTEER AND PAID WORK OPPORTUNITIES IN ICELAND FOR TRAVELLERS
Iceland is a small Nordic island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean. An incredibly singular country, it’s known for its dramatic, volcano-filled landscape and fishing-based economy.
In the past decade, Iceland has exploded as a tourist destination. This provides the average working traveller with unique challenges. The cost of living is sky-high, but the opportunities for working in the tourism industry are also huge.
Figure out how you can make it work as a self-supporting backpacker in Iceland with our handy guide below.
1. Work on a sheep farm
Iceland famously has more sheep than people, so all those animals could use more helping hands. If animal husbandry is within your skill set, or you’re willing to learn as you go as you muck out barns, feed the herd, etc., then you’ll likely be able to do it from some beautiful farm in the rural countryside.
2. Help out family households
Both partners usually work outside the home in an Icelandic family, so they’re often on the lookout for babysitters, au pairs, live-in cleaners, tutors, or dog walkers. If you have skills in the home, you may be able to find an informal situation rather easily. Although at first such opportunities may only provide room and board, if you do well it could eventually lead to more legitimate paying work.
3. Work at a bar or restaurant in Reykjavik
All international flights land right outside the capital of Reykjavik, and most people spend at least a few days here. All those tourists are frequenting the businesses on the main streets, and Iceland’s notoriously small population hasn’t enough labour to cover it all. That being said, as a fluent English speaker you should be able to snag a position in one of these establishments straightaway, as long as you have the proper work permits.
VOLUNTEER WORK VISA / PERMIT REQUIREMENTS FOR ICELAND
Iceland is a member of the Schengen cooperation which exempts travelers from border controls travelling between 26 EU and EFTA states, with the tourist visa lasting 90 days.
Currently, UK and US/Canadian travellers are also exempt from acquiring this tourist visa for up to 90 days.
To stay longer, to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons, you will need to meet the Icelandic entry requirements. Check with the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration what type of visa and/or work permit you may need.
SEASONAL BACKPACKER SKILLS NEEDED IN ICELAND
Spring is an ideal time to work and travel in Iceland because of the long daylight hours. Spring also sees relatively mild temperatures, so joining a homestay and working on construction projects should be at the top of your list.
Waterfall treks are popular in spring due to snowmelt, and horseback trips are often organised now to see the spring blossoms. Consequently, guiding skills are in particularly high demand this time of year.
Like in the neighbouring Faroe Islands and the rest of the Nordic region, summer days are incredibly long and it rarely gets dark. In June, the days can be as long as 19 hours.
For this reason, farming work is an ideal project. These volunteering opportunities in Iceland are available in abundance. The locals always need help on both short-term and long-term farming projects.
Whale watching and fishing trips are traditionally piloted in the summer. So now is the best time to get involved with conservation projects or join up with a fishing outfit.
The daylight hours are rapidly growing shorter in autumn in Iceland, so now is the time for a backpacker to snap up work opportunities in the bars and restaurants in the cities.
Since tourism is so colossal in Iceland these days, however, you will still find many positions in the hospitality industry even in the autumn. Cleaning an Airbnb accommodation is a widely available work and travel position in Reykjavik.
Since Iceland is small enough to drive around its’s perimeter in a week or so, many tourists travel by caravan when they visit the country. So if you have vehicle maintenance or car rental experience, you could likely find a legitimate job in that industry here.
Tourists head to Iceland in the winter to witness the Northern Lights, so you’ll be able to hold onto those positions in the hospitality sector even in this cold, dark season.
Guided, multi-day tours to seek out the lights are usually the route tourists take, so professional guides can join in this industry, but support workers are also needed to drive buses, cook meals, and carry equipment. Ski resorts are also a place to look this time of year, of course.
ATTITUDE TO FOREIGNERS WORKING OR VOLUNTEERING IN ICELAND
Icelanders generally speak excellent English and embrace western culture, so you won’t have much trouble fitting in here as a working traveller.
Just be sensitive to the fact that their population is small and so is the professional job market, so try to avoid snapping up work that may be most desirable to locals.
Iceland is the hot (and cold!) place to travel to these days, so grab your backpack, your work and travel skills, and head over to your next adventure!
- Edited on Jun 11 2021 by Lily