Study in Iceland

Are you keen to live and study in a country as majestic as Iceland? Want to know what the scope of higher education in Iceland is for overseas students and how it may benefit you? Learn here all the necessary details for applying for a study abroad program for higher studies in this Nordic island country.

Why study in Iceland?

Studying and staying in Iceland is a wonderful experience that one gets to avail once in a lifetime. The scenic beauty of the country in terms of picturesque mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs and the seacoast will enchant you. Along with the natural sceneries are the cultural attractions. The colourful past of the people, the colourful buildings, a busy nightlife, musical extravaganzas, literary activities and the sparsely populated countryside attracts you to study and settle here. The government of Iceland is keen that overseas students should come to Iceland and make the most of the infrastructure available here for higher education and research. The universities in Iceland have a number of tie-ups with foreign universities abroad for bringing in students through exchange programs. Even otherwise also, the government here encourages people to study in its public universities where education is almost free. It is only the living expenses that you need to take care of. Even in the private universities, where you need to pay the tuition fees, the costs are comparatively less compared to other universities in the western world, all because part of the cost of the functioning of these universities is taken care of by the state.

Icelandic being the official language of the country, it is the primary medium of instruction at schools and for most undergraduate studies in Iceland. But, when it comes to postgraduate programs, English is increasingly the more preferred language. A growing number of masters and PhD programs are these days being taught either fully or partially in English. It is especially so in the big universities such as the University of Iceland, University of Akureyri and Reykjavik University. Moreover, these universities have an excellent support system in place to guide and mentor foreign students coming to Iceland. Most of the overseas students prefer the postgraduate programs and as such face no issues, if any, regarding language. Icelanders are anyway, all too familiar with the English language and it is quite popular with the masses in and around Reykjavik, the country's capital.

The healthcare system is another plus point for studying in Iceland. It is only for the first six months of your stay that you have to arrange for a health insurance of your own. Beyond six months of stay, you are treated at par with bonafide citizens of Iceland. You will then have to pay at the same rate as applicable for the locals. Iceland being a Nordic welfare state, the rates are all very subsidized. Those from EEA countries have the added advantage that they can pay the same subsidized rates, for any medical services availed, even during the first six months also. All that they will need is the European Health Services Card that authorizes them to avail similar services in their own country.

Most universities allow overseas students to work for 15 hours a week. During the vacation period, you may work full time. You require a work permit before you are allowed to work in the country. Iceland is also one safe place to stay and study. It ranks very high on the peace index. There are hardly any crimes here. One need not worry about any security aspects while studying here. Even though the country has active volcanoes, the population is quite safe from them.

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About Iceland

Iceland is a small Nordic island country situated at the juncture where the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans meet. Even though very far away from continental Europe, historically and culturally, it has always been part of Europe. Geographically also, the country is closer to continental Europe than to the continent of North America. 290 km away, Greenland is its nearest neighbour. Greenland is, however, part of North America. The nearest European landmass is the Faroe Islands, 420 km away. In continental Europe, Norway is the closest to Iceland, some 970 km away. It takes three hours by flight to reach Iceland from London, Paris, Oslo, Stockholm and some other places. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. Two-third of the country's population, which is close to 350,000 live in and around Reykjavik. Of all countries in Europe, Iceland has the least population density. There are only three inhabitants per square of a kilometre. Most of the people live in the coastal areas. Most of the interiors of Iceland are uninhabitable because of lack of vegetation and harsh terrain.

According to some reports, Norwegians were the first settlers in Iceland. The first settlers came in the year 874 AD. In subsequent centuries, more of them followed from Norway as well as other Scandinavian countries including Sweden. Some people of Gaelic origin were also brought by the settlers to serve as serfs and slaves. Later on, in the 13th century, Iceland came under the rule of Norway. A few centuries later, when Norway itself got into a union with Denmark, Iceland came under the direct rule of the Danish kingdom. It was only in the year 1918 that Iceland could become an independent nation again getting independence from Denmark. In 1944, it finally became a republic.

Until World War II, Iceland was Europe's poorest country. The Icelanders solely depended on fishing and agriculture, which fetched poor returns. It was only when the fishing industry was mechanized and aid came in after the war that prosperity was brought to Iceland. Industrialization resulted in rapid growth of the economy and Iceland came to be recognized as one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Integration of Iceland with European Economic Area (EEA) helped the country in developing further and the booming economy diversified into services sector like banking, finance, manufacturing, biotechnology, software development, etc. Iceland is a low tax country that follows free market policies. Just like other Nordic countries, Iceland too follows the Nordic social welfare system that provides free healthcare and higher education to all its citizens. The country has been ranked first as per the Global Peace Index. As on 2016, it was the ninth most developed nation in the world. The country ranks very high in terms of social and political stability. In 2008, like most other nations, Iceland was severely affected by a global slowdown. It has, however, recovered since then, largely due to an upsurge in tourism and tourism-related activities.

Iceland is a parliamentary democracy with a unitary form of government. The parliament, also known as Althing, has 63 members with a term of 4 years. The President is the ceremonial head of state with limited powers. The political power rests with the Prime Minister and his or her cabinet. Iceland is a multi-party democracy and has always been ruled by coalition governments, as no single party has ever won a majority. On the international front, Iceland is a member of the United Nations, NATO, European Economic Area and EFTA or European Free Trade Association. Because of its EEA and EFTA membership, the country has access to markets in the European Union. It is not yet a member of the European Union.

Quick Facts

  1. Iceland is a land of active volcanoes, lava fields, mountains and glaciers. It has numerous glacial rivers that flow into the sea.
  2. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain
  3. The climate of Iceland is temperate even though it is near to the Arctic Circle and at a high latitude. This is due to the warm Gulf Stream that does not allow the climate to get extremely cold even during winters.
  4. Ingolfur Arnarson, a Norwegian, is considered as the first human to settle in Iceland and having founded Reykjavik.
  5. Among all country capitals, Reykjavik is the most northerly located.
  6. The official language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language and part of the Nordic group of languages. Danish as well as English are popular languages in Iceland and are part of compulsory subjects taught in schools.
  7. Renewable energy is the main source of power in Iceland. The country runs almost entirely on hydroelectricity and geothermal power. The country is thus ranked very highly as per the Global Green Economy Index and is among the world's ten greenest economies.
  8. Iceland does not have a standing army. It has only the coast guard to defend its territorial waters. The country is, however, a member of NATO.
  9. Iceland is a land free of mosquitoes. It does not have any reptiles or amphibians living there. The arctic fox was the only native land mammal that existed prior to the arrival of the humans in Iceland.
  10. The country is heavily dependent on the fishing industry. 40% of the export earnings are from this industry alone.
  11. Icelandic Krona (ISK) is the currency of Iceland. In dollar terms, one dollar is roughly equal to 105 Icelandic Krona. Iceland is said to be the smallest country with its own currency and an independent monetary policy.
  12. Ecotourism and whale watching is very popular in Iceland. On an average the country receives more than 1.1 million tourists a year. That is three times the country's population.
  13. The ownership level of cars is very high in Iceland, as good as one car for every 1.5 individual. Road transport being the main form of transport, there aren't any trains in Iceland.
  14. Because of its name, many misinterpret the country as a land of ice. However, once you get there you learn, more than ice, it is a great place to study as well as live.
  15. Whether it is quality of life, economic freedom, gender equality, healthcare or peacefulness, the country has always been ranked very high.
  16. Often called as the land of 'Fire and Ice' because of its volcanoes and glaciers, Iceland is also a land of light and darkness. The sun shines almost the whole 24 hours on summer days, whereas in winters there is hardly any daylight.
  17. Even though very close to Greenland, you don't find Eskimos residing in Iceland.

Admission Process in Iceland

Before applying for any educational program in Iceland you have to first familiarize yourself with the admission requirements. Depending upon whether you want to undertake an undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD program there are different sets of rules. Even each university has its own set of rules for certain undergraduate courses such as medicine, dental, radiography, nursing and law, where you may have to appear for entrance tests to check your aptitude for such courses. For a bachelors program, you should also have cleared your senior secondary or higher secondary school exam under a recognized board and a year of studies in higher education. For postgraduate studies, you should have an undergraduate degree in the discipline you are seeking to do the masters. Moreover, for all those who don't have English as their native language, they have to prove their proficiency in the language by appearing for exams like TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge English. Your test scores should not be more than 2 years old as on 1st September in the year you are likely to start the course.

Once you have satisfied the educational requirements you need to search for the university of your choice and the program you wish to study. You have seven universities in Iceland to choose from, four of them being public universities. Also, check for any scholarships that you may acquire from the universities or from the Ministry of Education in Iceland. There aren't too many scholarships for bachelors and masters study though. A few scholarships are there for those seeking to study the Icelandic language, literature and history and some for the PhD programs. Once you are done with the selection, gather all your necessary documents and apply to your chosen university directly.

Once your candidature is accepted by the university you can then apply for a resident permit for Iceland. Following are the documents required for applying for the same.
  • Application form along with necessary fees.
  • Evidence of financial support for your period of stay in Iceland.
  • Confirmation letter from your college regarding acceptance of your candidature.
  • A criminal record certificate from your country of origin, not older than six months.
  • An evidence of your medical insurance cover for the first six months of your stay in Iceland.
  • A copy of your passport.
  • Recent passport size colour photographs.
  • Receipt of fees paid

Once you have arranged for the documents, send them to The Directorate of Immigration in Iceland at the given address.
Skogarhlio 6,
105 Reykjavik, Iceland
On receipt of your application and its subsequent approval, a D-visa is issued by the Directorate of immigration. The D-visa is to be collected by you from the embassy of Iceland located in your country. On arrival at Iceland, you will have to fulfil certain requirements before being issued with the student resident permit. First, you will have to get a housing certificate from your landlord in Iceland and submit it along with your passport and other travel documents to the immigration directorate. You will also have to get a medical exam done within two weeks of your arrival in Iceland. Once you conform to all these requirements your resident permit is sent to you at your address in Iceland. It is to be noted that the permit is generally for six months. At least a month prior to its expiry, get it renewed by depositing the necessary fees. For getting your permit renewed, it is important that your academic performance should be satisfactory and should have the means to fund your further stay.

Student Visa Application Process

Any overseas student, who is from a country other than European Union or EEA and wants to stay for more than three months in Iceland, will need a visa or student resident permit, as they call it in Iceland. The resident permits are issued to overseas students who are above 18 years of age and are interested in studying a full-time program at a university in Iceland. The student resident permit needs to be applied well in time. The permits are obtained from the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration. For programs beginning fall semester or August, the Directorate of Immigration should receive the application and the necessary documents by 1st June of that year. For spring semester courses that begin on January, your application should reach by 1st November. Courses below three months generally do not require such resident permits.

The resident permits are issued mostly for a period of six months. However, PhD students are granted permits for one year at a time. The permit has to be renewed at least four weeks prior to its expiry and it is the student's responsibility to do so. To obtain a resident permit you will have to first seek admission at a university in Iceland. It is only after your candidature is accepted and you fulfil all the other necessary requirements that you may apply for the resident permit through the Directorate of Immigration in Iceland. On verification of all your documents and candidature, that the concerned embassy or consulate office located in your country of origin will issue with the visa. On arrival at Iceland and fulfilling some formalities you are finally issued with the student resident permit. The approval process for the permit is a time consuming one and you need to apply for the same at least 3 months in advance from your probable date of departure.

After completion of studies, you may apply for a work visa at the immigration directorate. For that you need to get a contract form signed by your prospective employer. You also need to submit a blue immigration form. Once the labour board in the country approves your application you are all set to work in Iceland.


Iceland is a rich and well-developed country. The people here have a very high standard of living. Almost everyone here owns a car. As such the Icelanders like to live their life well. They are keen cultural enthusiasts. They like to visit theatres, movies, musical shows, art galleries and book stores. Icelanders are book lovers too. The number of per capita books published here is the highest in the world. They also have a strong liking for music and have a movie industry of their own. Outdoor activities are also quite popular with the Icelanders. They get into trekking, mountain hiking, snowmobiling, horse riding, fishing and a host of other outdoor activities. Tourists and locals alike simply love getting into the numerous geothermal springs that dot the country. Being an island country, there is a long coastline that fetches Iceland good business in fishing. Rotten shark meats and pickled whale blubber are some of the local traditional delicacies that one can try their hands on.

Cost of Living for Students

The best thing about studying in a public university in Iceland is the free tuitions fees. The registration or administration fees are all that you need to pay and that comes to around US 500 dollars a year. The registration fees are to be paid by one and all and may differ from institute to institute. If you take admission in a private university, then you will have to pay both the registration as well as the tuition fees. Therefore, it is best to seek admission at a public university in Iceland. The costs are far lower in them. Students from the European Union have the advantage that they have to pay somewhat less than what students from outside the European Union pay.

As far as the living expenses are concerned, it comes to around 12,000 US dollar a year. The expenses are mainly on accommodation and food. Renting a single room with a kitchen comes to around US 600 dollars a month. You will also have to pay a security deposit and pay the rent a month in advance. You will have to sign a written lease with the landlord. You may also spend a part of your living expenses on travel and leisure as there are lot many things to see and do in Iceland. The cities here have an active nightlife with music, theatre, movies and what not.

Documents for University Admissions in Iceland

Following are the important documents required while applying for a residence permit and a study abroad program in Iceland.
  1. Mark sheets and certificates of your academic performances, beginning from class X onwards.
  2. A passport with sufficient validity to cover your entire period of study.
  3. Application form along with necessary fees.
  4. Evidence regarding your ability to finance your stay in Iceland, through self-means or through grants and loans. This could be in the form of bank statements or other financial documents.
  5. Your passport size photos.
  6. Evidence regarding your admission to a university in Iceland.
  7. A criminal record or a no objection certificate obtained from the country of your stay for the last five years.
  8. Your English language proficiency test score
  9. Fee receipts
  10. Proof regarding medical insurance for the 1st six months of stay.

It is of great help if you keep with you some letters of reference or recommendation obtained from your past school or college. These could come handy while attending the visa interview. Any document that is not in English or any other Scandinavian languages, need to have a certified English translation.

Universities in Iceland

Iceland has seven top universities. Four of the universities are state-owned, whereas the rest three are in private hands. Even the private ones are financially supported by the state. In all, 18,000 students are studying in these higher education institutions, out of which around 5% are overseas students. One may study in Iceland through university exchange programs or of their own. A range of degree programs and courses such as science, engineering, social sciences, medicine, economics, humanities, language studies, etc. are available at these institutes and you may enrol for any one of them. Those seeking to improve on their speaking, reading and writing skills in Icelandic may take up Icelandic as a second language in their undergraduate or graduate programs. The seven universities in Iceland are as follows.
  1. University of Iceland
  2. Reykjavik University
  3. University of Akureyri
  4. The Agricultural University of Iceland
  5. Iceland Academy of Arts
  6. Bifrost University
  7. Holar University College

Apart from the above seven universities, there is a top research institute in Iceland that goes by the acronym RANNIS or The Icelandic Centre for Research.

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