UPDATE: Traveling to Iceland when vaccinated — my experience and what to expect
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information from the government of Iceland.
UPDATE: Iceland has postponed allowing vaccinated travelers from the United States and the United Kingdom to come to Iceland until April 6. In a press release dated Thursday, March 25, the government said they needed more time to make sure all the procedures and paperwork were in place, “The postponement is prudent in light of the importance of ensuring that the implementation of the new rules will be as smooth as possible, while maintaining the utmost caution in terms of transmission risk.”
Iceland is set to open its borders to vaccinated travelers from many countries — including Americans.
Travelers from the U.S., U.K. and the European Union will be able to travel to Iceland and skip testing and quarantine requirements if they can prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or if they can prove they’ve recovered from COVID-19. Citizens of other countries will be allowed entry later this year under the same conditions.
Related: Delta adding flights to Iceland
As a recently vaccinated traveler, this was music to my ears. I’d been waiting to travel abroad for months and quickly booked a ticket to Reykjavik (KEF). I arrived in Iceland early in the morning on March 23. (Editor’s note: Andrew got in during a brief window when Americans were being allowed in with proof of vaccine).
I’ll walk you through my travel experience, from checking in for my Icelandair flight in Boston (BOS) to arriving in Iceland, going through border control and hotel check-in.
First, I’ll discuss the requirements for entering Iceland during the coronavirus pandemic. Then, I’ll discuss my experience traveling to Iceland as a vaccinated traveler. Use my experience as a guide on what to expect if you decide to travel to Iceland during the pandemic.
Let’s get started!
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Overview of Iceland’s entry requirements (and what to bring)
As discussed in the intro, vaccinated travelers from the U.S., U.K. or European Union were able to enter Iceland with no COVID test, quarantine or other restrictions. That system will return for Americans on April 6. There are a few things to know before you depart — including how to prove you’re actually vaccinated, the type of vaccines that are eligible and how to enter if you’ve previously recovered from COVID.
You’ll need your CDC-issued vaccine card for entry
In order to skip Iceland’s quarantine and testing requirement, you’ll need to prove that you’re vaccinated at the border. Iceland originally had strict restrictions on acceptable proof of vaccination — for example, your vaccination card had to have your nationality stated. Thankfully, this has since been relaxed and U.S. citizens can now show their white CDC-issued vaccine card at the Iceland border.
For reference, your vaccine card must have the following information to be valid for entry:
- First name and last name
- Date of birth
- Name of the vaccinated disease (COVID-19)
- Where and when the vaccinations took place
- List the number of doses required to complete
- Information on the issuer of the certificate
- Name of the vaccine
- Manufacturer of vaccine and batch number
- Written in Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English or French
Iceland accepts all EU-approved vaccines for quarantine exemption. This includes all three vaccines currently approved and in use in the U.S.
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
Note that vaccines developed in China and Russia — like the Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Sputnik V vaccines — are not accepted at this time. These rules may change when Iceland reopens to citizens of other countries, but nothing official has been announced.
How to enter Iceland if you’ve recovered from COVID-19
You can also skip quarantine if you can prove that you’ve recovered from COVID-19. According to this page on the Icelandic government’s COVID-19 website, you can skip quarantine if you have either a positive PCR test taken 14+ days ago or if you have a positive antibody test. Your test will need the following information:
- First and last names
- Date of birth
- When the test took place
- Where the test took place
- Name of testing facility
- Telephone number of testing facility
- Type of test (PCR test or antibody)
- Test result (positive PCR test or proof of the presence of antibodies).
- Written in Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English or French
Vaccinated Americans still need a negative COVID-19 to return home.
Remember, you’ll need a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior of your flight back to the U.S. Without this, you may not be able to board your flight home. You can find a COVID-19 testing site on the Iceland Directorate of Health’s website. Make sure to plan your COVID-19 test in advance, so you don’t have issues returning home.
My experience flying Icelandair
I started my trip with a Delta flight from New York-LaGuardia (LGA) to Boston (BOS). This was necessary since Icelandair is only operating its Boston route. All other U.S. routes — including New York-JFK to Reykjavik (KEF) — are temporarily suspended, and no other airlines are currently offering service from the U.S. to Iceland. I expect this to change over the coming months as American tourism to Iceland picks up.
I booked my Icelandair flight at the last-minute for roughly $628 round-trip and credited the flight miles to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Here’s a little more about the flight experience.
Airport experience in the U.S.
I made my way to Terminal E at Boston Logan airport and went straight to the Icelandair check-in counter. There was already a line of people four hours before our flight was set to depart. No one was at the check-in counter, however, so I waited outside and enjoyed the unseasonably warm Boston weather.
I went back into the terminal 45 minutes later and waited in line for 5 minutes. Once at the check-in counter, the agent asked for my passport and proof of vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection. I handed over my CDC vaccine card and checked bag. The check-in agent told me I was good to go and I headed to the gate.
After security, I opened the Priority Pass app to look for a lounge. It said The Club BOS was closed but also said the Air France lounge was open — or so I thought. I made my way to the Air France lounge and was promptly told by an employee that the lounge was closed for the day. This makes sense, too — there were only a handful of flights departing Terminal E that evening, and none were operated by Air France.
The Icelandair boarding process
I sat down at a nearby cafe and ate a sandwich. When it was time to board, the boarding area quickly filled up.
Boarding started right on time with preboarding and business class. Then, the economy cabin boarded back-to-front. I was in seat 32G, which was among the first economy group to board the 767 that would take us across the Atlantic.
The boarding process was calm, but social distancing was not followed — that said, everyone on the plane was either tested, vaccinated or had antibodies, so it wasn’t overly concerning.
On the way onto the plane, I was handed a water bottle and a PPE kit. This kit included a fresh mask, hand sanitizer packet, sanitary wipe and a sealable bag. I assume the bag is for disposing of an old mask. This was a thoughtful addition on Icelandair’s part and it’s something I’d like to see more airlines do during the pandemic.
The boarding process was quick and we were ready to depart roughly 20 minutes after I boarded. This is the fastest I’ve ever boarded a wide-body aircraft, though that’s likely because the plane was 25% full at most.
Icelandair in-flight experience
Icelandair’s 767 economy cabin has a 2-4-2 configuration. I opted for a window seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft and had both seats to myself. The economy cabin has a nice 31 inches of pitch in standard seats and all seats recline. This made for a comfortable hop from Boston to Reykjavik — especially considering the flight was just 4 hours and 45 minutes long.
We pulled out of the gate and were in the sky shortly after boarding. Once cruising, a flight attendant came around with snack bags. Each included a banana, bottle of water and a sandwich. The sandwich wasn’t notable, but the snack bag was a nice touch on such a short overnight flight. The flight attendant later came around with drinks — beer and wine were available for purchase while soft drinks were free. I opted for a can of sparkling water.
The service was nice, but I was really hoping to sleep for the majority of my flight. This was difficult since the overhead lights were on for the entirety of the cabin service. Service concluded a little over an hour later, so I was able to sleep for a little over two and a half hours. Make sure to choose a center seat (for less light) and bring a sleep mask with you if you plan to skip meal service and sleep on your next Icelandair flight.
I didn’t take advantage of the in-flight Wi-Fi or use the seat-back entertainment system. I did flip through the entertainment selection, however, and found a library of American and Icelandic films, TV shows and documentaries. It would be more than enough to keep me entertained on such a short flight. Do keep in mind there are no power outlets in the economy cabin — only USB ports on the bottom of the screen.
I slept for the majority of the flight and woke up as we started our descent into Reykjavik. Our flight landed early despite the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupting earlier in the week and disrupting air traffic.
Experience at the Iceland border
Icelandair was great, but not so much the border experience at Reykjavik (KEF) airport.
Thankfully, however, I made it through without issue — here’s a quick look at the process.
Before you depart (or immediately after you land), you’re required to fill out a preregistration form that asks for basic information like your name, birth date and nationality. I found it to be pretty non-intrusive when I filled it out in Boston before hopping on my flight. Oddly enough, however, the flight attendants made no mention of this form until after we landed. Thankfully, there’s Wi-Fi at the airport, so you can fill it out right after landing if need be.
You’re emailed a barcode after filling out this form. Make sure to hold onto this as you’ll need it to pass through immigration.
When you land, you’re first taken to a room where you can register for a COVID-19 test for entry. I simply showed the agent my CDC vaccine card and was told that I should make my way upstairs to the immigration counter. Again, no testing will be required for those who are vaccinated or have previously been infected with COVID-19 as of April 6.
I waited roughly 20 minutes for my turn in the immigration line. Once called forward, the border control agent scanned my preregistration barcode and asked to see my passport and vaccine card. At first, she asked if I had my vaccine proof on the WHO “yellow book” that was also in my passport. I said no, and the agent asked another person in the booth who took a second look at my card.
After a few minutes of nervously waiting, the agent asked me if I completed both shots. I replied that I had taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires a single dose. The border agent then scanned my passport and said I was good to go.
I don’t believe the lot number of my vaccine was verified. The whole process seemed a bit informal and, frankly, disorganized. It’s easy to understand why though — the new entry requirements went into place just days before I arrived, and there have only been a handful of flights from the U.S. to Iceland since then. This was likely one of the first times this agent has seen a CDC-issued vaccine card.
This experience further proves why the world needs some sort of standard vaccine passport for travel. There’s too much inconsistency and confusion around vaccine proof — and let’s be honest: a paper card is easy to lose or fake. A digital alternative would’ve made this experience a lot faster and less stressful for both the border agent and me.
Getting from the airport to Reykjavik
After I had my passport back, I walked out of the immigration area to find a desolate Reykjavik airport. There were only three flights departing that morning — Amsterdam (AMS), Copenhagen (CPH) and Paris (CDG) — so all the shops (sans duty-free) and restaurants in the arrivals area were closed. Thankfully, rental car counters and kiosks for purchasing a bus ticket to Reykjavik city center were still open.
I purchased a ticket on the flybus for 3,299 ISK (~$26.33 USD) at the kiosk and caught the next bus. The bus was immaculately clean and I was in the city within 45 minutes, ready to start my first trip to Iceland.
Checking into my hotel
After arriving in Reykjavik, I stopped by a local coffee shop, drank an espresso and walked to my first hotel. I’m staying in three different hotels on this trip, with the first being the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica. The hotel let me check-in a few hours early, which was welcome after an overnight flight. The check-in process was mostly the same as any other Hilton check-in experience, with a notable exception.
When I arrived, the front desk clerk asked if I was staying there to quarantine. I told him that I was vaccinated and therefore exempt from the quarantine requirement. He agreed but asked to see my vaccination card. The clerk made a copy of both my passport and vaccine card, and I was free to go to my hotel room without issue. Other than that, the experience was standard, quick and easy.
Getting to Iceland during the pandemic is harder than pre-COVID-19 times. Flights are limited and you either need to be vaccinated or have previously recovered from COVID-19 in order to enter as an American and skip quarantine. That said, for vaccinated travelers who are willing to spend a little extra time on their travel plans, it’s a worthwhile trip. Just be prepared for a bit of confusion when you get to the border if you travel in the next few weeks.
That said, I believe we’ll see Iceland become a major tourist destination for Americans this year. It’s one of the first countries to fully open to vaccinated tourists and it’s super close to home — especially for us on the East Coast. Because of this, we’ll likely see airlines add more U.S. to Iceland routes over the coming months and the Icelandic government work to make the border control process easier for vaccinated travelers.
Feature photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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