Money in Iceland: Everything You Need to Know
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Notoriously expensive, more zeroes than you’re used to, an almost cashless society. So just how does money work in Iceland? And how expensive is Iceland, really? The answer is very. One of the most expensive countries in the world, you can easily be shocked with just how much things are here. But there are ways to prepare yourself to make sure that you are responsible with your budget and don’t blow it all out on a dinner.
The Icelandic Krona
Iceland uses its own currency, the Icelandic Krona (ISK). Be sure to check out the current exchange rate before you arrive, and to prepare yourself accordingly because once inside the country things can get expensive.
Why is Iceland so expensive though? The geographical nature of the country, isolated and hostile in the far North Atlantic, means that it needs to import a lot of goods. There are also very high taxes on these imports, driving prices up further. Another factor is the volatile Icelandic economy, which is easily troubled by events, strengthening or weakening the krona much more so than it would in America or Europe.
The (Almost) Cashless Society
Carrying any currency in Iceland is a rare thing for most locals, who rely altogether on their bank cards. Even at the remotest campsites with no one else about, there will likely be a card machine to take payment from you.
One problem that arises quite often, mostly with American cards, is filling up your campervan at an unmanned petrol station. Here you obviously must pay with card, and you must have a pin number to put in for the payment to be authorized. A lot of American cards are signature only, so if that’s the case, make sure to stop in at a manned gas station and buy a pre-paid gas card to use later.
Even though nearly everywhere accepts card, it does always pay to have a little bit of cash on you (you can withdraw some cash at the airport when you arrive). If you visit a remote hot spring, there might be an honesty box on site asking for a small donation, put towards keeping the pool and facilities clean. There are also some bathrooms at the major tourist sites that charge a small fee (think 100 – 200 ISK). One other thing you might need cash for is if you’re catching a local bus in Reykjavik. For some reason the public transport in the capital city hasn’t caught up with the rest of the country when it comes to paying for things with your credit card. The bus drivers also don’t give change, so it’s important to have the exact amount (460 kroner). You can also buy a bus ticket beforehand at a 10/11 convenience store and pay with card.
Exchanging Money for Icelandic Kroner
If you’ve brought a lot of your own currency into the country, you might need to exchange it into Icelandic currency (USD aren’t accepted inside the country). It’s best to do this at the airport – there is a small desk outside of arrivals where you can do this. Otherwise you’ll have to make a trip into downtown Reykjavik and wait in line at a bank, which is not high on the list of things people want to do when they first pick up their campervan.
Do you tip in Iceland?
Iceland has never been a country where tipping is expected. Wages are high, average income for Icelanders is one of the best in Europe, and all service fees are already included in the prices. However as of late, tip jars have started to appear in cafes and bars around the country, the money collected usually put towards the yearly party for the workers.
In restaurants, rounding up the bill if the service was good is appreciated, but not required (10% is usually fine). Taxis are the same – no one will be offended if you leave them a small tip, even if it’s just to make it a more rounded price.
The Costs of Some Common Things in Iceland
- The bus from Keflavik Airport to BSI Bus Station in Reykjavik: 2999 ISK.
- Space at a campsite: 1500 – 2000 ISK (be warned that some campsites charge per campervan, others charge per person).
- Entry to a local swimming pool: 400 – 1000 ISK.
- Burger, fries and a drink: 2500 – 3500 ISK.
- Hot dog from a gas station: 400 – 600 ISK.
- A tank of fuel for the GO Smart Camper 2-pax: 6000 – 7000 ISK.
7 Tips for Saving Money in Iceland
Bring a reusable water bottle. Water in Iceland is some of the cleanest in the world, and you can fill up your bottle right out of the tap (and even some rivers). This saves you having to buy bottled water at the supermarkets every few days.
Buy your alcohol in duty free. When you arrive, if you’re planning on having a few drinks around the country after a hard day’s exploring in the campervan, buy it in the airport before you leave the luggage collection area. The alcohol here is so much cheaper than what you’ll pay inside the country.
Seek out the free hot springs. The Blue Lagoon and Myvatn Nature Baths both cost quite a bit to get in (although they are very cool). If you want to save a bit of money, keep an eye out for the more natural hot springs, smaller and free of charge.
Hunt the happy hours at the bars. If you’re spending a night or two in Reykjavik or Akureyri and want to visit some bars, be sure to look up when the happy hours are so that you’re not spending your entire budget for the evening on a couple of beers.
Do your grocery shopping. Eating out in Iceland is almost prohibitively expensive. Be smart and stock up at the grocery store to make use of the cooking gear that comes included in the camper. Think simple; things like instant noodles, pasta with tomato and spinach, and hot dogs. Quick and easy.
Travel in the off season. Prices for everything are lower outside of the Icelandic summer. Think about planning a trip for the off season instead (from September until May)
Make use of the fuel discount card. We at Go Campers will give you a fuel discount card that you can use at some of the gas stations around the country. It’s only a little bit, but every little bit helps.
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