Renowned for its dramatic wintry landscapes, colorful aurora skies, and unique Nordic food, Iceland has plenty to offer for its American expats.

If you’re moving to Iceland, you’ll also benefit from its incredible healthcare system, which strives for equality regardless of your nationality.

But before you head to The Land of Fire and Ice, you’ll need to look into your healthcare options. As we explain further down the page, anyone traveling to Iceland from outside a European Economic Area (EEA) country needs to get supplemental insurance for the first six months, before they can access state insurance.

Think private health insurance will be right for you during this time? Check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Waterfall in Iceland

One of Iceland's mystical waterfalls spraying water past the golden sun

Icelandic healthcare: key statistics

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    Average life expectancy
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    World healthcare ranking /100
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    Number of healthcare centers per region

How does Iceland’s healthcare system work?

The Icelandic government has one goal when it comes to healthcare: All citizens should have equal access to good service.

This universal healthcare system is divided into seven local regions. Within each of these areas, you’ll find roughly 60 local healthcare centers, providing services such as primary care, clinical testing, medical treatment, medical rehabilitation, care for the elderly, dentistry, and patient consultations.

As well as local Icelanders, anyone staying in Iceland longer than six months will be eligible for state healthcare, and will be covered by the country’s public health insurance – as long as they have legal residency.

Private health insurance in Iceland is pretty rare, unlike in almost every other country on the planet, and there are no private hospitals on the island.

Iceland’s state healthcare system covers:

  • Medical treatment by a GP
  • Medical treatment by a specialist
  • Hospital admission
  • Prenatal care by a midwife
  • Medicines
  • X-ray examinations and radiation therapies
  • Dental and orthodontic treatment for children and pensioners
  • Travel and transport costs due to illness
  • Medical aids
  • Physiotherapy
  • Nursing homes for the elderly
  • Nursing in the patient's home
northern lights in Iceland

The bright blue hue of Iceland's breathtaking aurora skies – also known as the Northern Lights

Is healthcare free in Iceland?

Public healthcare in Iceland isn’t free, but it is heavily subsidized.

Iceland’s universal healthcare system is heavily funded through taxation – with 85% of all healthcare services being covered, and only 15% being out-of-pocket fees.

Residents pay contributions to the insurance fund, which are capped each month. This means that once you’ve spent a certain amount, your state healthcare (i.e, any copayments due) will be free for the rest of the month – which is particularly useful for people with ongoing health issues.

The maximum monthly payment for the insurance is ISK 27,475 ($213.23), but costs are subsidized for the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.

You’ll also have to pay for prescriptions in Iceland, which can be incredibly expensive – though the state healthcare system may cover up to 75% of the cost for some patients.

Want to get a better idea of how much medication will cost you in Iceland? Check out the government’s price list, where you can search for your specific prescription.

Quality of healthcare in Iceland

Iceland sets the bar high when it comes to the quality of its healthcare.

In 2019, the Lancet’s worldwide effective healthcare coverage index gave Iceland a score of 95 out of 100 points – higher than the US’s score of 82. The Lancet also ranked Iceland’s healthcare system as the best in the world in 2016, as well as runner-up in 2017.

What’s the secret behind Iceland’s success? It mostly comes down to an efficient system propped up by lots of funding.

Compared to some other countries, waiting times tend to be pretty low. This mainly comes down to the fact that the number of doctors in Iceland has increased over the past decade, from 3.6 per 1,000 population in 2007 to 3.9 in 2018.

But it hasn’t always been like this. There were concerns about shortages of GPs in the past few decades, which is why the government increased the number of primary care training centers from 33 in 2000 to 53 in 2016, as well as putting incentives in place to encourage more doctors to choose primary care.

On top of this, the number of hospital beds in Iceland, and the average length of stay whilst being treated, is well below the EU average. For example, the average length of stay for a normal maternity delivery is less than two days, compared to the EU average of slightly more than three days.

However, the biggest flaw in the Icelandic healthcare system is that it is imbalanced across the country. There are only two large hospitals in Iceland – one in Reykjavik and another in Akureyri. Although there are lots of smaller hospitals dotted around the country, access to certain care is much easier to come by in these two cities, compared to rural towns.

Healthcare in Iceland for foreigners

All residents can access Iceland’s healthcare facilities – regardless of their nationality.

Once you’ve settled into your new home, make sure to register at the nearest healthcare center and apply for a GP. After this, you’ll need to give the healthcare center permission to access any of your past medical data.

But when it comes to covering the cost of healthcare in Iceland, there are a few options. We’ve listed the main ones below.

Icelandic Health Insurance (IHI)

Icelandic Health Insurance (Sjúkratryggingar Íslands) is available to all residents who have lived in Iceland for at least six months.

However, if you are a citizen of a country that is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and were previously registered in that system, you might be able to avoid the six-month waiting period.

All you have to do is apply for the switch, and make sure you:

  1. Are registered as a legal resident in Iceland
  2. Have an Electronic ID to sign in with
  3. Have moved to Iceland from an EU/EEA country, Greenland, or the Faroe Islands

Moving with little ones? You’ll be pleased to know that children and adolescents under the age of 18 are insured through their parents.

Once you have access to the Icelandic Health Insurance, you’ll be covered for:

  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity clinics
  • Hospitalization abroad
  • General medical assistance outside a hospital, by the patient's physician
  • All necessary examinations and treatment carried out by specialists and institutions
  • Medicine
  • X-ray examinations and radiation
  • Per diem (daily allowance) for sickness benefits
  • Midwife assistance in cases of birth at home
  • Dental and orthodontic treatment for children, people over 66 years, and pensioners
  • Transport costs and travel costs
  • Nursing in the patient's home
  • Assistive technology and nutrition
  • Physiotherapy

Non-EEA citizens

If you’re a citizen of a country that’s not part of the EEA, you will still have access to the Icelandic Health Insurance scheme, but you’ll have to wait the full six months before you can use it.

In the meantime, you’ll need to get supplemental insurance, which can either be from a voluntary health insurance fund or a private plan.

Although voluntary health insurance is the cheaper option, it’ll only cover you for the bare minimum, and won’t typically include any existing health issues. To make sure you have the best coverage during your first six months in Iceland, it’s a good idea to shop around for a private plan that suits your needs.

There are just a handful of private insurers that are legally allowed to provide plans for people in Iceland.

Check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Kirkjufell at sunrise in Iceland

Kirkjufell – a 463 meter-high mountain – stands tall on the north coast of Iceland

Do I need health insurance in Iceland?

Yes, all residents are required to have health insurance in Iceland.

Once your residence status has been confirmed, you’ll be automatically added to the Icelandic Health Insurance – whether you can access it immediately or six months down the line will depend on where you’re moving from.

It’s also not possible to opt out of the public insurance scheme – and to be honest, why would you want to? Although you’ll still have to make copayments, prices will be heavily subsidized.

If you have to wait six months before having access to the Icelandic Health Insurance, you’ll have to get either a voluntary or private health insurance plan – a strict requirement when applying to become a resident.

Benefits of private medical cover in Iceland

If you’re traveling from a non-EEA country, then private medical cover will benefit you in a number of ways, including:

  • Covering you whilst abroad – Some private plans include the same level of coverage in multiple countries
  • Choosing where you’re treated – This mainly applies to health centers, clinics, and specialists
  • Getting cover for pre-existing conditions – Voluntary plans won’t usually cover this during your initial six months

Bear in mind that although there are some private medical facilities – such as clinics and specialists – there are no private hospitals in Iceland. 

How much does health insurance cost in Iceland?

The state insurance scheme is funded through social insurance, which residents have to pay into.

Rather than paying premiums directly, employers will take 6.10% of the employee’s wages and put it towards social insurance. The maximum payment is IKR 27,475 ($213.23), which is lowered to IKR 18,317 ($141.93) for pensioners, people with disabilities, and children.

If you’re looking into private insurance, on the other hand, the price will vary depending on a few factors.

Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to health insurance costs, which is why the price tag will fluctuate so much. It depends on a range of factors, including:

  • The provider you choose
  • Your level of coverage
  • Your age (the higher, the more expensive)
  • The area of cover (i.e. are other areas required in the coverage, in addition to Iceland?)
  • Whether you have any pre-existing conditions

Want a better idea of how much it’ll cost you to get covered for private medical insurance in Iceland? Check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Advice for expats moving to Iceland

Now that you’re up to date on Iceland’s healthcare system, you can figure out whether a voluntary or private plan will work best for you and your family in your initial six months.

Once you’ve made this choice, you can look forward to all that Iceland has to offer.

To find out more, check out our article on Moving to Iceland.