Travelling to Iceland in 2021: my experience of travelling with covid restrictions

Arnardrangur rock on Reynisfjara beach in Iceland

I just got back from driving Iceland’s Ring Road July – August 2021 and my head is spinning with memories of the spectacular things I saw there. It was amazing!  I saw mountains and waterfalls and craters and hot springs and puffins and glaciers and black sand beaches and arctic foxes – and a real live erupting volcano right in front of me! I have thousands of photos I am still reviewing and I have at least ten ideas for new blog posts that I want to write…  However, first, I thought I would share my experience of travelling to Iceland from the UK during the pandemic while it is fresh in my memory – in case it is helpful for anyone else thinking of travelling to Iceland in 2021.

This post isn’t intended to be a replacement for the official information issued by the governments of Iceland or the UK. You should definitely check official sources for everything that is required by the respective countries before you travel.  Things can change as infection rates change, so I advise you to keep checking regularly if you are planning on travelling to Iceland, in case any new restrictions get implemented.

The reason I think this post might be helpful is to provide some contextual information and first-hand experience to help you anticipate what is involved in going through the process.

Travelling to Iceland

Iceland’s entry requirements

 I found information on the entry requirements for Iceland on their website.

When I travelled to Iceland at the end of July 2021, the rules had just been changed and they introduced a new requirement for fully vaccinated people, which was that I had to show proof of a negative PCR test before I arrived.  Just a few days before my flight, I wouldn’t have needed this – which just goes to show how things can evolve and it is important to stay up to date.

Therefore, there were three pandemic-related documents I needed to show before I could board a flight to Reykjavik (plus passport and flight ticket, of course, making it a total of five things I needed to have present and correct, which felt like a lot!):

  1. Proof of full vaccination
  2. Certificate of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure
  3. Passenger form submitted no sooner than 48 hours before – and the barcode to show this had been submitted

The electronic form of all of these was fine, but I printed paper copies, just in case!

Again, I must reiterate that it is possible requirements will have changed by the time you read this, so you should check what the requirements for travel are from official sources before you depart.

My experience of travelling to Iceland from the UK

Getting tested before travelling to Iceland

The UK has official testing through the NHS for those that show symptoms of Covid19, but for travel, individuals have to arrange for a private PCR test at their own expense. This also means using a commercial provider. The government lists providers on its website but it doesn’t endorse any, so you have to choose a test provider at your own risk – which can make it hard to know which provider to use.

For my pre-departure test, I chose to go to my local pharmacy because it was close & convenient and because they offered a fast turnaround option.  It was also the place where I’d had my second dose of the vaccine, so I felt confident that it was legit.

I knew if I took the test early within the 72-hour window and got a 4-hour turnaround, in the unlikely event it was positive, I would have time to cancel my car hire without having to pay for it. So whilst this was an expensive test option (£185!!), it was convenient and helped me feel like my travel plans were less risky.

The process of getting the test didn’t seem that legit, though, to be honest: I had to conduct the test myself in a side room in the pharmacy and I had to register the test myself online (it was processed by Randox). I’d have had to pay another £20 for the pharmacy to do these things for me! 

Despite the process seeming a bit cowboy-ish, the result came through by email as negative within a few hours – and then I finally relaxed because I knew then I was actually going to Iceland!

Example of a negative PCR test certificate which is required before travelling to Iceland
You need a certificate for your negative PCR test before travelling to Iceland

Completing the passenger locator form

Once you reach 48 hours before your departure to Iceland, you can fill in the pre-registration form which the Iceland government requires.  It requires verification of either your email or mobile phone and it requires your passport and flight details, so make sure you have those to hand.

I found this form pretty easy to fill in – it is available in English and I found all the questions to be straightforward and clear. Once it was completed, they sent me an email with an attachment with a barcode, which I knew I would need to have scanned at the airport.

As a backup, I took a screengrab of the barcode on my phone and I also printed it as a hard copy.

Example email of the bar code sent to you by email when you fill out Iceland's passenger locator form
Once you fill out Iceland’s passenger locator form, you’ll receive a barcode by email

Getting on the flight to Iceland

On the day I was travelling to Iceland, I got to Heathrow airport earlier than I usually would, just in case there were longer-than-normal queues for the extra checks in the process. But my experience was that going through Heathrow wasn’t that different to normal – other than the fact that every single person had masks on the entire time, of course!

Check-in & security at Heathrow

Iceland Air were not allowing passengers to print their own boarding passes at home, so everyone had to queue at the check-in desks to get a boarding pass, but I was checking a bag, so I had to do this anyway. And the queues didn’t seem longer than normal for me (though it was a different story returning from Iceland, but more on that later).

The check-in staff checked I had everything before they gave me a boarding pass – they checked all five documents. Even though I had been really thorough in checking I had fulfilled all requirements, I still had an irrational fear that something would go wrong.  But it didn’t, so I was very relieved!

After this, security was exactly how it usually is – no changes there.

The only thing that was different to pre-covid flights was me: it turns out I had forgotten how to go through airport security!  First, I tried to go through with hiking boots on, so they turned me back. Then I went through with my watch on, so I set the alarm off and they then had to pull me aside for a body scan. Before the pandemic, I travelled every 3 to 6 months, but it had been nearly two years since my last trip – I guess after so long, I forgot how to do it properly!  

During the flight to Iceland

My flight from London to Reykjavik was closer to normal than I was expecting. There were still snacks and drinks on my IcelandAir flight, and there were no extra restrictions I had to comply with. Other than everyone wearing masks, it seemed pretty normal!

Author in a face mask, on a plane
Excited face, flying for the first time in nearly two years!

What felt strange to me was being close to so many people after social distancing for most of the last year and a half. But knowing most people were vaccinated and everyone had been tested meant I wasn’t worried about catching covid.

Arriving at Keflavik airport in Iceland

Arriving at Keflavik, Iceland’s international airport, the process seemed pretty smooth… right until the end. 

Passport control was as it normally is, and there were no extra checks there.  I got through this stage quickly and I got lulled into a false sense of ease, thinking all the covid-related checks had been done in London and arrival would be straightforward.

So I took my time in the baggage hall – my husband picked up our bags and I went into the duty-free to get some beers (alcohol is super-expensive in Iceland, so if you’re exploring Iceland on a budget you should definitely take advantage of the huge duty-free shop in the baggage hall). I was ready to swan out and pick up the rental car when I noticed it was really congested in the far end of the baggage hall. I didn’t know why it was so crowded until I tried to leave and realised there was a huge queue snaking around half the hall.  A queue to leave.  That’s when I realised I wasn’t going to be picking up my rental car anytime soon…

Keflavik airport's duty-free and baggage hall
Duty-free, in the quiet part of Keflavik’s baggage hall – the far end was ‘the queue from hell’

The baggage hall queue from hell!

The cause of the queue was that there was an extra covid check that they had implement in the airport: a set of make-shift desks outside of customs and in the arrival hall itself, which I had to go through to have all of my documents checked again before I could enter Iceland.

This process was quite uncomfortable because there isn’t much room in the baggage hall: we’re queuing, but some people needed to cross the queue to get to their luggage on the belts etc, so it was a bit chaotic.  There were staff managing the queue, but there were too few of them and quite a lot of people were skipping the queue by ducking under barriers, which was really frustrating to witness.

I made it to the desks eventually and everything was fine with my barcode and docs, so I was then able to leave the airport.  But there was one more hurdle!

Arrivals & rentals in Keflavik: the final hurdle

The new desks they’d set up to check our covid docs took up a lot of space in the arrivals hall, leaving hardly any space for the area where people usually find the rental car, tour group or taxi.  And there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people crammed into this small space. Some were queuing for the car rental desks inside the hall and many others were searching for their car rental or tour company in the crowds – and this throng of people spilled out into the area outside the hall.

It was a real scrum and it was certainly the most people I’d been near since the pandemic began. If I didn’t know everyone had been vaccinated and tested before they flew, I’d be concerned about catching covid!

It took a while, but eventually, I found our van rental contact person and I hit the road. This was approximately 1-1.5 hours later than I thought it would be, but it was a wonderful feeling, knowing I was heading into a land of wild beauty and ten days of freedom.  

Campervan with signs painted on it
My home in Iceland for ten days

My husband and I explored Iceland in a campervan: we drove the ring road, explored North Iceland, East Iceland and revisited some of my favourite places in South Iceland. Plus, we took a flight over Iceland and saw the eruption at Fagradalsfjall!

I’ll definitely write more about my experiences in Iceland shortly…

black crater and red ht lava at the erupting volcano in Iceland
I saw the erupting volcano in Iceland!
two glaciers leading to a glacial lagoon with icebergs floating in it at Fjallsárlón in Iceland
One of my favourite places in South-East Iceland: Fjallsárlón

Covid restrictions within Iceland

Iceland has kept its cases of Covid19 relatively low and has vaccinated most adults, but despite this, I did experience some light restrictions as I travelled around. The most common of these is a request to wear masks in some shops, restaurants, bars and petrol stations.

In addition to this, some campsites were operating with reduced capacity. One closed their gates without being full, citing covid-related capacity limits, and another was restricting the number of people in their communal spaces, including toilets (which led to long queues for the ladies!).

But all in all, I was able to do everything I wanted to do in Iceland without feeling like it was affected by covid restrictions.

Travelling from Iceland back to the UK

Coming back to the UK, the general process is similar to travelling to Iceland, with a requirement for a negative pre-departure test and completion of a passenger locator form. However, there are some differences and overall, I think the Icelandic government have made their process a bit slicker than the UK’s.

The UK’s entry requirements

The UK’s entry requirements vary depending on the classification they apply to the country you depart from.  There are three lists of countries: green, amber and red, with green having the lightest restrictions and red having very strong restrictions.

When I returned from Iceland, it was on the green list, meaning the covid-specific conditions for travel to the UK were:

  1. Proof of full vaccination
  2. Certificate of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure
  3. A PCR test booked for Day 2 of my arrival in the UK
  4. Passenger form submitted no sooner than 48 hours before

As I said before, please check official sources for the latest information, as things may have changed since I visited Iceland and since I published this post – I found my information from the website.

My experience of travelling to the UK from Iceland

Getting tested before flying to the UK

I needed a negative PCR test before I could board my flight home, and I found out that, unlike the UK, Iceland has only certain designated places where you can get tested.  The main location and the fastest option is in the capital, Reykjavik, and it offers a 24-hour turnaround for pre-departure PCR tests. There are also regional test centres, but results take longer to come through.

The main testing centre is at Suðurlandsbraut 34, 108 Reykjavík and you are asked to make a testing appointment in advance, which you can do online. You’ll need to submit your passport and flight details when you do this, and you will receive a confirmation and a bar code by email to show at the test centre. 

Example of a test confirmation email for a PCR test in Iceland
You need to register for a pre-departure test at the official testing centre in Iceland

However, the appointment won’t guarantee you a timeslot and when you arrive you will need to join the back of the queue to get tested. Several hundred people were already waiting when I went there on a weekday morning – and the queue was long!

But the good news is the queue moved pretty fast – even though the queue was all the way back to Armuli street when I arrived, I was tested within 25 minutes. A professional in protective gear conducted the test, and my certificate came through by email within 12 hours.  It all seemed very efficient!

Like the UK, you must pay for your own test for travel, but unlike the UK, the prices aren’t dictated by market forces and ruthless providers.  My test in Iceland cost 7,000ISK, which worked out as only £41.31 (compared to £185 that I paid in the UK!). This might be the only time Iceland’s prices didn’t make my eyes water!

Overall, I was very impressed with the affordability and efficiency of the Icelandic testing approach. Nice one, Iceland!

Booking a Day 2 PCR test for arrival in the UK

The UK’s passenger locator form can be submitted 48 hours before your flight to the UK, and before you complete it, you need to book any PCR tests that you need to take on arrival in the UK. As Iceland was on the UK’s green list, I needed to book only one PCR test, to be taken on or before day 2 of my arrival in the UK (called a ‘Day 2 test’).

First, I had to choose how I wanted to do the test. I didn’t have the urgency of getting results fast like I did when I was leaving for Iceland, and I preferred to do it at home vs in a pharmacy (especially as I did it myself in the pharmacy for my pre-departure test, anyway).  So I wanted an at-home test that I would do myself and then send it off for analysis by post.

Next, I had to choose a test provider to use, and this was really hard, as there were 355 providers listed on the government website at the time and none of them were familiar to me. It felt like pure guesswork, which did make me anxious – I didn’t feel confident I was choosing a reliable provider.  I checked a few and found prices were fairly similar for the kind of test I wanted. I think I just picked one that did postal tests and paid £75 for it (!).

I then had to make note of the booking confirmation number because I knew I’d need that for the passenger locator form.

Completing the passenger locator form

I found the UK’s passenger locator form more complicated than the Iceland equivalent – it just seemed unnecessarily long and the wording on one or two questions wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Like the Icelandic form, it requires your flight and passport details, as well as the booking number for the Day 2 test.

When it was complete, they sent me an email with the completed form attached as a pdf document, which is OK, but the form is several pages, so it wasn’t possible to snapshot and keep it as a photo image. The Icelandic form with its bar code was much easier to save and keep track of.

Example of the UK's passenger locator form confirmation email
You must complete your passenger locator form before travelling to the UK

Getting on the flight at Keflavik

Departing from Keflavik airport, the process was very similar to Heathrow: the covid-related documentation was all reviewed thoroughly at check-in and there was no change to the rest of the process other than having to wear a mask in the airport.

The queues for check-in were slower than in Heathrow, though: it seemed like they only had a small number of people working the desks, so it took at least an hour to get checked in.

During the flight to London

I flew back to the UK with British Airways (I’d originally booked with Wizz, but they cancelled my flight a couple of weeks before departure and they had no other flights running during August 2021). Other than mask-wearing, the only change to normal service was that they handed out an anti-bacterial wipe to everyone once we were all seated. It seemed like a thoughtful gesture, but I trusted they had cleaned the plane, so I didn’t use the wipe.

Arriving at Heathrow airport in London

Unlike Keflavik, the experience of arriving in Heathrow was pretty straightforward. There was no extra step in the process, though the queues for passport control were longer than normal. And interestingly, they still channelled most people through the electronic passport gates, so in fact, no humans checked anything on my arrival in the UK.  

Of course, they had all my information linked to my passport digitally, so if I failed to do my Day 2 test, they would be able to follow up with me.

Day 2 PCR test

My Day 2 test from ‘1stopcovidshop’ was at home when I arrived.  I wasn’t sure whether Day 2 was the day after arrival or the second day after arrival, but I knew it was ‘on or before’ Day 2, so I did it the day after I arrived.

instructions for conducting a Day 2 PCR test at home
I did by Day 2 PCR test using a postal test kit

I took the test and put it in the post using the pre-paid Royal Mail special delivery envelope. The deal was that I’d get results 24 hours after it was received by the lab.  But this didn’t happen…

My husband got his results within that time frame (negative, thankfully), but mine didn’t arrive.

I chased them by email twice and eventually got a reply to say the sample had been received at the lab a day late and that my results would come in the next two days (which was three days later than expected).  I was suspicious about this ‘we received it late’ explanation because I’d tracked the package and Royal Mail said it was delivered on the day I expected it to be.

But in any case, I did receive it and the result was negative – so it ended up OK.  Better late and negative than never!

Overall reflections on travelling to Iceland during Covid

The UK’s airport process seemed slicker, more efficient, but the passenger locator form isn’t as user friendly and the PCR test market feels like the wild west – lots of cowboys!

Iceland’s digital and testing process was much more legit and efficient – and cost-effective.  But the airport experience was messy and slow.

Top tips for travelling to Iceland in 2021

  1. Keep checking the official guidance and updates on restrictions, as things can change regularly
  2. Restrict your contact with other people for a couple of weeks before your pre-departure flight to reduce the risk of catching covid and having to cancel your travel
  3. Consider your insurance and cancellation policies before booking and before choosing the timing of your pre-departure PCR test – give yourself as much time as possible to change plans, should the result be positive.
  4. Make yourself a pre and post departure checklist for every journey – there is a lot to remember! For example, mine was:
    • UK to Iceland
      • Vaccination certificate
      • Negative PCR test certificate
      • Passenger Locator form & barcode
      • Flight details / ticket
      • Passport
    • Iceland to UK
      • Vaccination certificate
      • Negative PCR test certificate
      • Day 2 test booked
      • Passenger Locator form
      • Flight details / ticket
      • Passport
  5. If you’re using digital copies of everything, make sure your phone is charged up and that the battery will last the whole duration of your journey.
  6. Take screen grabs of the digital documents you need in case you lose signal at any stage of your journey – and consider taking paper copies as well, just in case (this is what I did).
  7. Allow plenty of time going through the airports (especially Keflavik) & picking up your car rental – it will take much longer than it did previously
  8. Always have a mask with you, just in case it is a requirement somewhere you want to go in Iceland
If you’re travelling to Iceland, have a great trip!

I hope this helped you understand more about the process you have to go to.  And do check out my guide to saving money whilst travelling in Iceland.

And if the eruption at Fagradalsfjall is still going, check out my guide to seeing the volcanic eruption.

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

4 thoughts on “Travelling to Iceland in 2021: my experience of travelling with covid restrictions”

  1. I can’t thank you enough for this information. The whole process of finding out what to do is very convoluted and isn’t explained as clearly as this article!

    I will of course check for updates as we do not fly until the end of September but this at least gives me an outline of the steps involved.

    Thanks again, great writing, very enjoyable!

  2. Thank you for sharing the Randox test certificate. I was wondering whether there was any difference between the the certificate when you do the test in clinic or by yourself.

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