Iceland may be a cold island, but it has become a "hot spot" for international tourists. Thousands of Americans are now putting an "Icelandic road trip" on their bucket lists. But does that mean you'll need an International Driver's License for your dream vacation on Iceland's Ring Road?
Even though Iceland has become more tourist-friendly, it has unique "rules of the road" that everyone must follow. Anyone wondering whether their driver's license is valid in Iceland should read the research we've done on this topic.
Americans over 20 can legally drive a car in Iceland with a US driver's license that's at least one year old. Remember that Iceland only allows tourists to drive with a US driver's license for six months.
Driving in Iceland can be exhilarating, but it's also very stressful if you're unprepared. The more knowledge you have about navigating this nation, the safer you'll feel on your Icelandic vacation.
Can People Drive In Iceland With A US Driver's License?
According to Iceland's Multicultural Information Centre, Americans over 20 who hold a US driver's license that's one year old and a valid passport can legally drive on Iceland's roads. However, Iceland only allows tourists to drive with this license for six months.
While most tourists don't stay that long in Iceland, people planning to move to Iceland must exchange their US driver's license for an Icelandic one before this deadline. You must contact the District Commissioner's office in your area if you need an Icelandic driver's license.
Please remember that Americans older than 20 but under 23 could only rent a standard passenger vehicle in Iceland. You'll need to wait till you turn 23 if you want a four-wheel-drive car.
Do Tourists Need An International Driver's License To Drive In Iceland?
Iceland recognizes driver's licenses from industrialized nations like the UK, Canada, Japan, and EU member states. Similar to American driver's licenses, Iceland requires foreigners to have held their licenses for one year and be at least 20 years old.
People with driver's licenses from many other nations are OK in Iceland if they meet the above requirements. Please ensure there are clear pictures on your driver's license and passport with Latin letters.
If tourists aren't sure whether Iceland will accept their country's driver's license, it's best to reach out to the official Icelandic Tourist Board [aka the Ferðamálastofa]. There may be some cases where an International Driver's License may be required, but it's typically not necessary.
What's The Minimum Required Age To Drive In Iceland?
Technically, Iceland's legal driving age is 17. However, foreign tourists can only legally drive a car in Iceland if they're over 20.
What Documents Do I Need To Rent A Car In Iceland?
You must have a driver's license from your home country and a passport to rent a car in Iceland. Iceland requires all foreigners to hold a driver's license with Latin letters for easy identification.
Tourists must also use a credit card to pay for their rental vehicle. While it's possible to use cash or a debit card, most rental companies request placing a security deposit via credit card.
Where Can People Rent A Vehicle In Iceland?
Many rental car companies spread out throughout Iceland, but most tourists pick up their rental at Keflavík International Airport. Since this airport is the largest in Iceland, almost every tourist visiting this nation passes through.
Most tourists who've been to Iceland recommend pre-booking a car online rather than hoping to find a vehicle when you arrive at Keflavík International Airport. There are no guarantees the car you want will be available if you hold off arranging your rental beforehand.
It's easy to find many local and international car rental companies online that will help customers at Keflavík International Airport.
Every company will offer different vehicles and insurance plans, so it pays to take the time to research every brand and find what works for your vacation.
While we're on the subject of airports, please consider reading our ultimate guide to "Domestic vs. International Flights."
Is It Safe To Drive In Iceland?
Iceland is known for its rugged scenery and harsh weather conditions. Understandably, these factors can make driving extra challenging for foreigners who aren't accustomed to snow, gravel, or mud.
Since everyone has different driving skill levels, it's impossible to say whether you'll feel "safe" on Iceland's roads.
Also, driving in Iceland can be "safer" depending on where you're traveling and what time of year you visit this nation.
In general, most foreigners feel the safest if they stick to Reykjavik and the paved Highway 1 (aka Ring Road) in the summer. Most tourists who feel comfortable driving in their home country feel OK driving on these main roads with a standard two-wheel drive vehicle.
However, those who want to travel inland or visit during any season except summer must brace themselves for rougher driving conditions. It's strongly recommended drivers only rent a four-wheel vehicle if traveling in these regions or at this time of year.
Please also keep in mind Iceland has many unique driving hazards.
Most notably, tourists are surprised at the number of sheep and horses that freely cross Icelandic roads. Drivers must be alert for these animals and avoid honking their horns.
Many tourists also complain that Iceland's roads are pretty narrow. People unfamiliar with roundabouts may need a refresher course before visiting Iceland.
Speaking of refresher courses, most rental cars in Iceland are manual [i.e., stick shift]. While there are automatic vehicles in Iceland, chances are higher that foreigners will need to use a stick shift while driving in Iceland.
If you need more details on driving in Iceland, watch this video:
What Side Of The Road Do People In Iceland Drive On?
You must drive on the right-hand side while in Iceland. People visiting from countries like the UK should be prepared to get "switched around" while driving in Iceland.
Is It Worth The Money To Rent A Car In Iceland?
The main positive of renting a car in Iceland is that it gives you the freedom to set your schedule. If you're interested in exploring as much of Iceland as possible without waiting for buses or tour groups, a rental may be worth it.
Also, Iceland doesn't have a robust public transit system. For instance, you can't take a train while on this island. If you're looking to travel far away from Reykjavik, chances are you'll need a car to get you to your destination.
However, there are cons to renting a car while in Iceland. Not only are there many unique hazards on Iceland's roads, but these rental cars also cost a great deal. On top of the rental costs, petrol prices are prohibitive.
If you're struggling to decide whether renting a car in Iceland is right for you, please check out this video:
What Are The Speed Limits In Iceland?
The speed limits in Iceland vary depending on where you are, but the general rules are as follows:
- 30 - 50 km per hour on city roads [e.g., Reykjavik]
- 80 km per hour on gravel roads
- 90 km per hour on paved Highway 1
Iceland has many speed cameras installed throughout the island, and they charge hefty fees for anyone going above these limits.
Can You Drive Off-Road In Iceland?
Tourists cannot go off-roading in Iceland. Significant fines exist for people who take their vehicles off Iceland's designated roads. Iceland is serious about this issue because tire tracks can severely damage the nation's flora.
Please keep in mind there are some designated non-paved roads in Iceland. Just be sure you're sticking to the official road rather than treading into the natural scenery.
Is It Good To Get Car Rental Insurance In Iceland?
All cars in Iceland are required to have basic insurance protections. However, additional insurance packages may include damage protection from elements like gravel and ash.
Whether a car insurance package is "worth it" will depend on your Iceland travel itinerary. If you're sticking to the main paved roads, it may be OK to stick with the basic insurance coverage. However, those going to inner areas of the country may need bonus protections.
Please be sure to speak with your Iceland rental car company to determine what insurance package may work for you.
So, Are You Licensed To Drive In Iceland?
Most people over 20 with a one-year-old driver's license can drive a rental car in Iceland. Whether you want to take advantage of this feature depends on what you want from your Icelandic holiday.
Driving in Iceland can be an exciting experience, but please recognize there are many unique challenges and costs. You can learn all of the basics of preparing for a long-haul drive by reading our post, "37 Tips That Will Make Your Road Trip A Success."