As much as we may like to disconnect from our devices on vacation, your cell phone will surely come in handy on your Icelandic adventure.
You’ll need service to check the opening times of local attractions, use online maps, and look up weather conditions before heading out on the road. Your vacation will go a lot smoother if you don’t have to constantly search out free wifi at a cafe or hotel to do your research.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about using your cell phone in Iceland. We’ll cover the best mobile providers, roaming fees, eSims, and even how to rent a mobile hotspot on your visit.
Using Your Phone In Iceland
There are so many options when it comes to using a phone in Iceland.
These include using your own phone with a solution like:
- Roam Like At Home
- Paid Data Roaming
- Hotel wifi
- Renting a wifi hotspot
- Getting An Icelandic Sim
- Phone Passport
- International Day Pass
- Getting an eSim
Or you may need to get a cheap new phone for your trip, especially if you have an older phone that can’t support an Icelandic network.
Let’s look at your options in more detail.
Roam Like At Home
If you have a European phone contract, you can use your phone as usual in Iceland. Texts, calls, and data will cost you the same as it would back home. But this is subject to “fair usage,” meaning you need to use your phone in your home country more than abroad.
If you use “roam like at home” for too long, you may get a message telling you that you have to use your mobile back in your home country before it works again abroad.
Brexit and Roam Like At Home
Following Brexit, UK phone contracts will not be eligible for Roam Like At Home. You will be better off with an Icelandic Sim or renting a wifi hotspot in this circumstance. Depending on your provider, you may be able to get a cheap daily rate from £2-£4 to use your UK phone in Europe.
Paid Data Roaming
For non-EU contracts, you don’t have the ease of using Roam Like At Home. If you carry on using your phone abroad, you’re likely to rack up some serious bills.
If you plan to use data roaming for emergencies, you should put your phone in airplane mode for most of your stay. You can then switch on your data when you need to call someone or check a website, but you’re looking at around 50 US cents per simple webpage you load.
It could cost hundreds of dollars to use essential services like maps and phone calls during your vacation, so you should be very cautious before proceeding. On the other hand, some phone providers let you use your phone for free anywhere, but being abroad will massively reduce the internet speed for most of these contracts. (So you could be waiting for an eternity just to do a google search).
Roaming Charges vary depending on the provider, so it’s a good idea to look into your contract to double-check fees.
Hotel Wifi Only
If your roaming data is expensive, it may be better to keep your phone in airplane mode all the time and just use it when you have access to wifi at your hotel. This way, you can still surf the web without racking up a huge bill.
You can download offline maps on an app like maps.me when you have wifi and then use it to navigate when you turn your data off. You will have to download the maps for Iceland before leaving your wifi zone.
Even without a signal, you’ll be able to map routes, see where you are, and the app will tell you how long it will take for you to walk, cycle, or drive to your chosen point. But using hotel wifi only will limit your connectivity considerably, and you won’t be able to keep in contact with people on the road.
You can still text and call through an internet-based messaging service like Whatsapp or Facebook messenger, but only when you’re connected to the wifi.
So this is not the best option for a road trip or longer vacation, but it’s the cheapest and simplest way to deal with a weekend stay.
Renting A Wifi Hotspot
Renting a wifi hotspot can be a good compromise.
You can bring your hotspot on the road with you so you always have an internet connection. This way, you can use apps and messaging services without stopping at restaurants or hotels. (But you still won’t be able to make standard calls or text).
One company that offers this service is called Trawire, which offers connectivity in 98% of Iceland! If you preorder a wifi hotspot through their website, it costs $8 a day. (But you have to book a minimum of $40 worth of days.) You pick it up at the airport or a local gas station, then post it back to the company on your way out of the country.
This is a great option, as you can use up to 20 gigs a day. (But the company asks you not to use that as a limit, not an aim).
If you are visiting several different European countries on your trip, you may want to consider a service like Hippocket wifi instead.
Getting An Icelandic Sim
If your phone is unlocked, the most straightforward option may be to grab a prepaid Icelandic Sim at the airport for around 20 dollars.
The telephone provider called Simmin will probably give you the best overall coverage, but Vodaphone and Nova are also good options.
As well as being unlocked, your phone should be a GSM model. If you have no idea what that means, you’ll find a section near the end of this article explaining the difference between GSM and CDMA phones.
Phone Passport and International Day Pass
Some network providers will let you buy an International Day Pass to use your phone abroad as usual. These cost around $10 a day, and it’s a pretty good solution for a shorter vacation.
You can also look into getting a phone passport that will last you for 30 days instead of just one. These don’t typically come with much data, so they would only be a good choice if you’re going to keep your phone use to a minimum. A phone passport will probably cost you between 100 and 200 US Dollars, so you could save a couple of hundred dollars by getting a month pass instead of 30 day passes.
If you have one of the latest smartphones, you may be able to use an eSim. This is a bit like the virtual credit cards that let you pay with your phone these days. You install an eSim on your phone virtually, and they work just like the real thing. (But your phone must be compatible and unlocked!)
This will only work for some phones, typically higher-end models that came out in the last couple of years. We all know how fast technology progresses, though, so watch this space!
GSM V CDMA Network Technology
We mentioned earlier that you might have some technical issues if your phone is not a GSM model. Don’t worry if you feel lost; most people don’t know the difference between GSM and CDMA phones. But let’s clear up any confusion.
GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication )
GSM phones have sim cards that connect to the mobile network. They are used a lot internationally, including in Iceland. It’s the kind of phone where you can just change the SIM.
CDMA (code-division multiple access)
CDMA phones don’t come with a SIM slot, because the phone itself is linked to the network. You will have problems with CDMA-only phones in Iceland. But modern phones can support both CDMA and GSM, just to make things more confusing.
But what does this all mean when it comes to visiting Iceland?
If you have a CDMA-only phone, you won’t get onto the Icelandic phone networks.
This is becoming less of an issue as time goes on because modern phones can handle both types of network. But if your phone is getting on a bit, you may want to check in with your provider and make sure it can support GSM.
Here’s a couple of tips to work out your phone type by yourself:
- Can you change the SIM card? It’s probably GSM
- Is your phone from AT&T or T-Mobile? It’s also probably GSM
- Can you not find anywhere to change a SIM? Your phone is probably CDMA
- Is your phone from Sprint or Verizon? It’s probably CDMA
- Is your smartphone brand spanking new? It probably supports both GSM and CDMA
Does Iceland have a good Phone Signal?
Icelandic cell phone reception is pretty good these days. You certainly won’t have any problems in the towns and cities, and the ring road has good coverage throughout. In some of the most rural areas, the signal can be patchy or even non-existent. Your best bet will be a Simmin sim if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the countryside.
Does Iceland have payphones?
You can find payphones outside some bus stations in Iceland and at some gas stations. But they aren’t very common, so you’d do better not to rely on them. (Unless you want to go on a nostalgic road trip to the times before mobile phones!)
What is the emergency number in Iceland?
112 is the emergency number for fire, police, and ambulances in Iceland. The provider will speak English.
What is the Icelandic country code?
The Icelandic country code is +354, but there are no regional dialing codes. If you’re calling the US from Iceland, you need to type +1 before making your call.
What’s the internet speed like in Iceland?
The average top download speed in Iceland is 66 megabits per second. Like in any country, this will vary depending on your location.
Can you get free wifi in Iceland?
Yes, you can get free wifi in quite a few places in Iceland. This includes many hotels, restaurants, and other public places.
How you use your phone in Iceland will depend on your country of origin, the length of your trip, and your connectivity needs. We don’t recommend you rely on data roaming unless you qualify for Roam Like At Home because you can end up with a painful phone bill to make your post-vacation blues even worse!
You can find lots more helpful information about traveling in Iceland throughout the Play Iceland website, including some hand-picked tours to help you get the most out of your stay.
We hope you found this article helpful, and we look forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon!