We made it into Iceland today with our brand new Icelandic teleworker visas!
We wanted to move to Iceland for a while for a few reasons: they’re doing such an excellent job of controlling COVID-19, life is going on normally (bars & restaurants & museums are open), they have phenomenal internet connectivity (gig fiber everywhere), and it’s just a beautiful place to visit year-round.
As Americans, if we want to get into Iceland, we have a few choices:
- Just drop in as a tourist for 90 days – except this is off-limits now due to the COVID19 travel bans
- Get a work permit and stay for years – this is what we’d originally planned to do when I first shared that we were moving to Iceland for a while. I had signed on to work part-time for an Icelandic company, a few days per month, in order to get a conventional work permit. However, my soon-to-be-employer had a shakeup, and rather than find another employer, we opted to…
- Get Iceland’s new teleworker visa – which lets you stay for 6 months per year as long as you’re from a country that wouldn’t normally need a tourist visa, and you can prove that you have a remote job that makes at least around $100K USD per year.
The good news of using the teleworker visa:
- Iceland’s internet infrastructure is fantastic, with full 1Gbit/sec fiber available all over the country, making it easy to work remotely
- I don’t have to work for someone else, and I don’t have to go into an office, so I can limit my possible exposure to COVID19
- It doesn’t affect our tax status – we don’t have to pay extra income taxes in Iceland, just our normal US income taxes back home
The bad news:
- It’s only good for 6 months per year – they’ve talked about raising that, but for now it’s still just 6 months
- It’s not eligible for a permanent residency permit – if I’d have had a regular work permit and stayed for 4 years straight (less vacations), we could have gotten a permanent residency permit, so we were planning to build a house in Iceland – that’s off for now
How to apply for a teleworker visa
The teleworker visa application is pretty simple, but can’t be done online: you have to send over real paper forms and passport photos. I would highly recommend shipping your application via a shipping company that includes signed proof of delivery and tracking. If you need help with the application process, WorkFromIceland.com offers an advisory package, but it costs thousands of dollars. (We didn’t use it, but I was tempted.)
After Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration receives your application, it goes into a bit of a black hole. We didn’t get email confirmation that our application was received, and Iceland’s immigration status page doesn’t show what range of teleworker visas they’re working on. That page is only updated about once a month – if you apply, I’d recommend using a service like distill.io to watch the page for changes.
We received approval via email after 5 weeks to process, but we had a few folks talking to the Iceland government on our behalf, so that might have sped things up. As we worked through the final logistics with the Directorate of Immigration, we found out that we were literally the very first people to get approvals for this new visa!
Iceland sends you a signed email confirmation, at which point you’re eligible to enter the country. You show this email to passport control as you enter Iceland, they check their databases, and in you go.
After arriving in Iceland, you’ll quarantine.
Obviously this situation is very fluid, and I’m writing about the January 2021 situation. If you’re reading this later, check covid.is for the latest coronavirus travel restrictions.
72 hours before you fly into Iceland, you have to register for your free COVID19 test and download the Rakning C-19 app. Iceland tracks you by your cell phone number, and the app helps the country do contact tracing.
When you arrive, you get a free COVID19 test at the airport. Because they’ve got testing gear centralized in one location, you get your results back in the app quickly – ours took just about 8 hours.
From the airport, you have to go into quarantine for 5 days. There are a set list of hotels that accept quarantining guests, or you can go to your house. You’re allowed to pick up a rental car, and if you have a long drive ahead of you, you can stay overnight in a quarantine hotel first before setting off on your journey – but only one night. Because there are storms in the north where we need to go, we decided to just do the whole quarantine at an approved hotel instead. Room service!
After 5 days, you get another free COVID19 test. (The date, time, and location are sent to you via email & via the Rakning-C19 app within a day of you starting quarantine.) After you receive the all-clear from your second test’s results, then you’re done with quarantining. We’ll drive up north, settle into our rental house, set up my home studio. I’m teleworking again, teaching training classes starting February 1. Oh I think I’m supposed to say 1 Feb now. I’m European. (raises pinkie finger)
I’m not teleworking too hard though: during our stay here, we’re working 2 weeks a month, and spending the rest of the time seeing the amazing sights of Iceland.
If you’ve got any questions about the application process or arriving into Iceland, let me know. Next up in your immigration process: getting a kennitala and an electronic ID.
Don’t forget to update your bio on this blog to say you live in Iceland now 🙂
That is absolutely true! I’ll do that on my social profiles this weekend.
Thanks for the update! During the 6 month teleworker visa, would have the option of getting hired by a company to make you eligible for residency? Or would have to leave and come back?
No, if you want to get a work permit for an Icelandic company, you have to leave and apply from abroad.
What if you find an employer, you “leave” to the nearest US Embassy and you sign the contract there? You then walk out and “enter” in the Iceland territory still with your former Visa (still valid) while you wait on the territory for the new Visa to take effect?
In my experience I found myself in the same situation in New Zealand: with an Italian working holiday visa I could only apply to 3 month contracts but because I work in IT and the employer was so willing to hire me they made the paper for me and I didn’t had to leave the territory
No, you can’t even apply for your first Iceland work permit if you’re in the country on a teleworker permit. You have to apply from abroad.
An embassy is foreign soil.
Being at an embassy means you are outside Iceland.
Brian – that’s not how it works, they don’t stamp your passport when you enter/exit the embassy. Nice idea though!
(To be more clear – you have to be outside of the country during your entire application process. They don’t approve your application in 15 minutes – it takes weeks.)
Looking forward to reading about your experiences in and impressions of this interesting country
Awesome! I was approved for the remote visa in January and we are arriving in Iceland in March. We’re staying for about seven weeks. Wish we could stay longer:) It’s nice to see someone else that has gone through the process.
Stephen – congrats, and safe travels!
Very cool. Thanks for sharing your experience so far.. Hopefully, you continue to share beautiful pictures of that country on your Instagram/Twitter!
Wow. San Diego to Iceland. What’s the weather going to be like now?
It’s definitely different. I’m mostly excited to see the 24-hour days during the summer – that’s going to be awesome.
So, if you still have to file US taxes, where do you say you live on the US tax forms? Do you get to pick anywhere? Some place that has no state income taxes?
In theory, you could say anywhere, but in practice, you’ll still probably have ties to a state. For example, our cars are still titled in California. If we’re only gone for 6 months, it doesn’t make sense to retitle and move everything out of state – but if we stayed longer, it would.
Sounds like an amazing adventure, Iceland is amazing, but do stay away from the Hakarl fish.
Do you have an idea what you will do once the visa expires?
You make it sound like I have choices. What choices were you envisioning?
I understand you have to leave the country (no choice), once you do that? The original plan was the work permit that allowed you to stay longer. Is the work permit still a goal after the current visa expires?
Ah, gotcha. No, I’m not planning for that at this time. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’d have to be a pretty special opportunity. I think I’d rather lobby Iceland to extend the teleworker visas – they’ve already talked about doing that, and I figure if I’m a really good resident and I give back a lot, it might help our chances.
Congratulations on your move. Exciting times!
Any changes to your GDPR policy regarding your classes for Europeans?
Thanks! No, nothing to announce yet. It’s something I’d love to do, obviously, but it’s going to require a lot of work on my side. We have a plan, though!
Congratulations Brent, I hope you and your wife have a great time, a hug from Argentina
Too cool Brent. We’ve wanted to go to Iceland for several years now, had made plans but life got in the way. Really want to see the Northern Lights there. So I was wondering, does moving to Iceland affect (enhance) your ability to market your services to Europe ?
No, moving to Iceland does not magically make all of our technology GDPR compliant, sadly. 😉
How wonderful – I am so freaking excited for you! And a bit jealous!
Hahaha, thanks Terri!
Sounds like an adventure. Best of luck, Brent.
We traveled the ring road and loved it! Iceland is very beautiful and diverse. Not sure how I would handle the extended dark (the extended light was hard enough). We were at a waterfall at 10pm.
We enjoyed going to Goðafoss Waterfall and the baths at Myvatn.
I hope you have a great time on this adventure (and if Helmut needs to stretch his legs, I’m here to help)!
Ron – thanks sir! We’ve been to both of those and loved ’em too. So many beautiful spots here.
I popped into your live class this afternoon and I have to pick my jaw up off the ground to hear that you and your wife are living in Iceland! (I’ve been a little off the grid lately.) Wow! That’s SO COOL! (Get it? 😉 ) I just love living the travel life vicariously through you guys! Please visit more places around the world so I can see and learn more about them. LOL Congratulations and Cheers to being blessed with many more adventures! 🙂
Hahaha, thanks, Hadley! Yeah, it’s been cool alright – I spent about two hours shoveling snow this morning, hahaha.
Diary from someone moving from the south to the north of Norway.
Have fun shoveling 🙂
The winter/summer (light or lack thereof), sounds a lot like where I live in Alaska.
Tony – absolutely true! I’ve always wanted to see a 24-hour day and 24-hour night in Alaska, and this adventure has taken the place of that.
Any chance you will be streaming on youtube, while in Iceland, like on some weekends?
Yes, just been really busy lately.
That’s good to know about Iceland not requiring people on teleworker visas to pay Icelandic income tax. When I first saw you post about this, I thought you must have gone mad to be willing to deal with the IRS, the California FTB, and Skatturinn all at the same time, plus potentially adding a bunch of foreign tax reporting to the IRS.
It’s rare for a wealthy country to offer remote workers this big of a tax concession, but I suppose Iceland is different in that it’s so heavily dependent on tourism.