Iceland is a modern European nation, ranked one of the safest places to live and offering everything found in other developed countries. English speakers are in demand in the health and social care, tourism, teaching, retail, and wholesale industries. As Iceland has an ageing population, immigrants with special skill sets or who can meet the requirements for ‘labour shortage’ positions are particularly welcome. Icelanders are enthusiastic and welcoming of expatriates and experts.

So, wanting to work in Iceland – how do you make it happen? Some countries’ nationals enjoy the freedom of movement to live and work there without the need for an entry visa or work permits, such as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, as they are members of the Schengen area. Citizens of the Schengen area, upon the production of a Schengen ID card, are allowed unlimited stays to live and work in Iceland, while other countries on the visa-exemption list can stay for 90-days in any 180-day period without a visa. However, they require other documentation to work in Iceland. Those Third Country Nationals (TCNs) not visa-exempt also require an entry visa (C-Visa).

As of the end of 2022, a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) visa waiver should be applied for, online, for those who are ‘visa-exempt’ at the present time, to monitor visitors travelling within the Schengen area. Border controls are taken very seriously, and mistakes should not be made by individuals or companies over immigration documentation and visa/permit compliance.

The different types of Visas and Work Permits for Iceland

The Icelandic authorities, such as the Directorate of Immigration and the Directorate of Labor, determine who requires documentation, and for what activities. They are also responsible for implementing and enforcing the rules as well as for processing and issuing work and residence permits.

The law covering foreign nationals is The Foreign Nationals’ Right to Work Act and it is up to each individual or company to make sure they follow official requirements to avoid fines or terms of imprisonment.  The first step is to check whether or not a visa or permit is required. This depends on the nationality, the purpose and the duration of stay.

What is an Entry Visa?

An Entry Visa is a stamp or a document required to be able to enter a country legally.

  1. European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area citizens do not require a visa (permission) to enter Iceland as it is part of the Schengen area. All they do require is a valid national ID card.
  2. Some countries are visa-exempt and can travel to Iceland for a maximum stay of 90-days within a 180-day period for holidays, family visits, business purposes, transit, and medical reasons – but not paid work, and need a valid passport. For longer stays, a D-Visa is required (granted once in a 12-month period).
  3. All other citizens have to apply for a C-Visa (Schengen) for 90 days in a 6-month period. Apply at a Visa Application Center (VFSGlobal) or issuing local Icelandic Embassy/Consulate. For a longer stay, a D-Visa is required but restrictions apply.

What is a Work Permit?

These are required to perform paid employment in Iceland and are closely associated with residence permits.

Members of the EFTA/EEA areas do not require a work permit to work or a residence permit to stay in Iceland, but they need to register with Registers Iceland for a National ID number.

Third Country Nationals (TCNs) need a work permit, residence permit and entry visa if not visa-exempt. Work permits come under the auspices of the Directorate of Immigration and are then passed on to the Directorate of Labour which processes and issues the work permit. It is the prospective employer who has to apply for permission to employ a non-EEA/EFTA citizen.

Generally, Temporary Work Permits are granted the first time of applying for short-term contracts, for specific work/projects and for specific employers.

Unlimited Work Permits can be applied for if foreign nationals have lived in Iceland for three successive years or have a Residence Permit under the Foreign Nationals’ Right to Work Act or have been granted a temporary work permit on a previous occasion.  

Main Icelandic Work Permits of Interest to companies

  • Foreign Specialists with Expert Knowledge Permit: This was designed to fill gaps in the job marketplace for skilled workers. The work permit duration depends on the project or the employment contract. Companies need to prove that the TCNs they want to employ are essential for their business and have a degree or recognized training or professional experience (seven years) – provided no local/EEA/EFTA citizen can be found to fill the position.
  • Labour Shortages Permit: to cover growth in particular sectors and lasts as long as the employment contract – provided no local/EEA/EFTA citizen can be found to fill the position.

For Expert Knowledge Work and Residence Permit

  • The employment should not be a temporary position.
  • The employer has to show that these skills or ‘Expert Knowledge’ is necessary to the company.
  • A degree, technical expertise, or professional experience to qualify for this Permit (translated into English or Icelandic)
  • The Permit is valid for two years and takes 16 to 32 weeks to process. For the first Permit, it can take up to six months (extendable)

Labour Shortage Work and Residence Permit

  • Typically, in sectors such as Healthcare, Construction, Tourism, and IT
  • Employees have to be qualified for the job position
  • The Permit is valid for up to 1 year, and the process takes about 16 to 32 weeks and up to 6 months in some cases

How to apply for Visas and Work Permits for Iceland?

Applications for Work Permits and Residence Permits come under the auspices of the Directorate of Immigration, which checks the suitability of persons who wish to reside in Iceland and approves the Residence Permit. The application for the Work Permit is then passed on to the Directorate of Labour which satisfies themselves that all the documentation is correct and that the rules and regulations regarding The Foreign Nationals’ Right to Work Act have been followed. For instance, the employer has tried to find an employee in Iceland (or EEA/EFTA), and the relevant trade union has been sent a request for their opinion regarding the employment of a foreigner.

Contact the local embassy, consulate or authorized Visa Application Center for the correct process and complete list of documents. This is where the employee applies for the Residence Permit, or it can be posted directly to the Directorate of Immigration at Dalvegur 18, 201 Kopavogur, Iceland.

  • A job offer and work contract signed by both the employer and employee
  • The employer does a Labor Market Test through the Directorate of Labour Icelandic, offering positions to locals, EEA, and EFTA citizens
  • The employer applies for the Work Permit 
  • The Residence Permit fee is paid for
  • The applicant has to go to the local Icelandic Embassy, Consulate (or Visa Centre) to apply for the Residence Permit, which allows employees to stay legally in Iceland
  • The Directorate of Immigration notifies the applicant of the approval
  • If not visa-exempt, employees need a visa to enter Iceland, which is sent to the relevant local consulate/Visa Center – when the residence permit has been approved
  • Then the Directorate of Immigration sends the work permit to the Directorate of Labor to be processed
  • When the applicant travels to Iceland, make an appointment with the Directorate of Immigration to have photographs and biometrics taken
  • A medical examination is needed in the first two weeks of being in the country
  • This allows applicants to collect their Residence Card (with an ID number), which also has details of their work permit

Applicants should check the following:

  • What documents should be translated or notarized
  • Whether originals are needed, or copies are accepted
  • Whether applications and documents are time sensitive before submitting
  • How documents should be signed – with ink or using an e-signature

Documents for Residence Permit and Work Permit:

  • Passport with six months validity and no more than ten years
  • Recent photographs complying with passport guidelines
  • Certificate of any criminal record, with translation, if not in Icelandic or English
  • Health Insurance covering the first six months in Iceland
  • Completed application form for Residence Permit
  • Payment receipt for relevant residence permit attached to the work permit
  • Application for relevant temporary work permit signed by both parties, including the ‘opinion statement’ from relevant trade union regarding terms of employment, is also part of the work permit application re: collective agreements.
  • Notification of Residency in Iceland: Place of residence should be included OR registered within two weeks of arriving in the country when photographs are taken
  • Employment contract signed by both parties, which includes details of job and position (title) plus which pension fund registered with. Generally, residence permits are for two years but no longer than the work permit.
  • Labour Market Test: Proof the position has been advertised to local, European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens
  • Employee’s curriculum vitae
  • Proof of professional experience, degrees, diplomas, and certificates proving the person is qualified for the position (and work permit applied for), which need to be in English or Icelandic – or translated
  • Confirmation that employers are liable for repatriation of employees should they become ill or have an accident, and the contract is cancelled through no fault of the employee.
  • Proof employee has funds to support his stay in Iceland (including the salary offered)

When the work permit and residence permit have been approved, applicants that require a visa to enter Iceland collect it from the relevant local consulate or embassy in their home country or appointed Visa Application Center. Employees must enter Iceland to be photographed, have their biometrics taken, and undergo a medical examination to receive their Residence Card.


For more information, download our free guide or get in touch with our consultants here