These days, it is hard to imagine a world without cell phones, or a place where they won’t work. I think many of us have come to expect a perfect signal wherever we go, so we are surprised when we are unable to get coverage. But the fact is, there are still some places in the world that the web of connectivity hasn’t expanded to yet. Does this include areas in Iceland? Let’s take a look.
Mobile Phone Coverage in Iceland
Mobile coverage is consistent and strong in the towns, cities, and on the major highways of Iceland. However, these are all concentrated on the coastal areas. Once you venture into the interior of Iceland, to the highlands, your phone may not be able to find a signal. If you are traveling from Europe, and are going to be using your own SIM from home, your phone should not have a problem connecting to one of the three main carriers in Iceland: Síminn, Vodafone, and Nova. They will all boast that they have fantastic coverage, and they all do, in certain areas. For those traveling to Iceland from North America, you may have some problems connecting to local networks. Check with your provider if you need to unlock your phone for international use.
For those that don’t know, in 2017 the European Commission abolished roaming charges for all countries within the EU/EEA. So, for Europeans, your mobile network will likely offer a package that includes minutes, texts and data available for use in all other countries within those groups. But to guarantee stronger coverage, or for those traveling from outside of Europe, it’s worth purchasing a SIM card from one of Iceland’s carriers when you arrive.It’s important to remember that heavy storms (which can occur frequently between October and April) can and do affect connection levels.
Buying an Icelandic Prepaid Sim Card
The three main operators all have prepaid SIM cards available and it’s worth buying one if you’re going to be making calls or using data whilst in Iceland. These SIM cards can be purchased at Keflavík Airport, petrol stations, and at the companies’ own shops as well as at some general stores like 10-11.
Síminn is Iceland’s largest and most extensive mobile network. They have two great packages which actually include free delivery of the SIM card to your hotel. The ‘Phone prepaid Data’ Package provides 10GB of data and costs ISK 2,900 ($20 approx). The ‘Prepaid Starter Pack’ contains 5GB of Data, 50 minutes and 50 texts and also costs ISK 2,900. The 50 minutes are not just valid in Iceland; they cover a long list of countries both in and out of the EU.
Vodafone Prepaid Sim Card
Vodafone has a variety of options, the suitability of which will depend on where you are traveling from and to. Their 5GB Prepaid Bundle, for ISK 2,190 ($15 approx), gives you 5GB of data to use in Iceland or in the EU and unlimited minutes and texts. Their 25GB Prepaid Bundle gives you 25GB of data, 10GB of which can be used in the EU, and unlimited minutes and texts. If you are thinking of calling abroad, consider buying the Vodafone Premium Starter Pack. This gives you, among other perks, 50 minutes’ worth of calls to certain overseas countries. However, this package is only available on Icelandair flights.
Finally, Nova; the cheapest provider and the least extensive network coverage. Nova SIM cards will work great if you are in the south-west (near or in Reykjavík) but not as effectively in other parts of the country. They have a range of data packages to suit your browsing time and a very cheap international package, which gives you unlimited minutes and texts to selected countries for ISK 890 ($6 approx) per month. However, since the website doesn’t have an English option and the network coverage isn’t as great as the other two providers, this company is probably best for locals or long-term visitors to Iceland.
Iceland Country Code
If your friends or family from home want to contact you using your Icelandic number, the country code is +354 and then your seven-digit phone number.
Will my phone work in Iceland?
It depends. There are different types of network protocols between Europe and North America. Iceland uses a GSM protocol that some American carriers' cell phones use as well. Among them, you have T-Mobile and AT&T. In the case of Sprint and Verizon, they use CDMA.
As most of the rest of the world uses the GSM protocol, most new cell phone models can actually work on both systems. Do remember that your phone must be unlocked if you wish to use a different SIM card. To check if a specific cell phone model will work in Iceland, you can use this useful link.
If your phone is not unlocked nor does it work on GSM networks, you can then buy a cheap "disposable" phone. All you need to check for is an unlocked, GSM, QuadBand Cell Phone. You have some really cheap options starting from $30. Here you have an option from Best Buy. Not the fanciest phone ever, but it will keep you connected while abroad. Both to your loved ones or in case of an emergency.
Useful Mobile Apps in Iceland
As well as purchasing a local SIM card, it’s also a good idea to download some Icelandic apps to your smartphone. There are many that offer great information and guidance to travelers in Iceland, to help you save money, stay safe, and avoid getting lost. An important one to mention is the 112 Iceland app, with two great functions.
With this app, you can log your route with the emergency services so they know where you are just in case, using the ‘Check In’ button. If you are in need of immediate assistance, you can directly send them a text message with your location using the ‘Emergency’ button. For more information on apps worth downloading, see my article on Best Travel Apps for Tourists in Iceland, here.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.