Should I bring my child’s car seat to Iceland?

One of the struggles of travelling with children is lugging car seats everywhere you go.  So the question is, when you travel to Iceland, do you bring your own child car seats?  I think, for the most part, the answer is NO.

As you would expect, Iceland has its own rules about car seat safety.  While they are similar to what is in effect in many US states, the rules are not the same.  The Icelandic Transport Authority publishes an English-language brochure on Child Safety in Motor Cars that you may wish to read. The main difficulty is that the US organization that certifies car seats has different (not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but different) standards than the European one.  There is no exception in Icelandic law for visitors, so car seats in Iceland are required to be approved by the European rules, not US rules.  That said, I have seen many other blogs suggesting that no one will be checking to see the approval sticker on your car seat.  BUT I don’t know that.  AND there could be issues with rental car insurance coverage if you get into an accident and are not using legal child safety equipment (US-approved would not be legal!).  The other issue you may encounter is that while the US uses the LATCH system, Iceland uses a similar-but-not-the-same system called ISOFIX, so you may have to fasten in your car seat using belts—Cars equipped with ISOFIX attachments don’t necessarily have a place to attach the top tether.  And if you need to use the seat belts, don’t forget a belt clip for non-locking belts.  My recommendation would be to stay on the side of legality and, in most cases, just rent seats!

Let’s look at the different types of seats, starting with what Iceland considers “baby seats.”

Baby seats (some double as carriers):

Iceland requires this type of seat until 13 kg (29 lbs.), but some may go up to 18 kg (40 lbs.).

This is the most difficult situation.  The problem is that infant seats sold in the US all have chest clips.  (If you find one without, let me know!)  European regulations forbid the use of a chest clip.  So far as I can tell, that means that if you bought your infant seat in the US, THAT SEAT WILL BE ILLEGAL TO USE IN ICELAND!  The gist of the disagreement in regulations is whether the extra safety provided by a *correctly positioned* chest clip is worth the danger of an incorrectly positioned one, coupled with the extra seconds an additional fastener requires when removing the child in an emergency.

What this means for us is– if you don’t plan to break the law, you MUST either rent or buy a baby seat in Iceland (or elsewhere in Europe, I suppose).  It also means that when you are looking at whether to rent a car or to just take day tours, you should not forget to include the rental costs and availability of car seats in your calculations.  The cost of renting a child seat can vary *wildly* from company to company.  Of course, the quality may vary as well!

We have rented a baby seat with both rental cars this summer and have had mediocre experiences.  If your child requires a cushy, top of the line seat, rental seats from the rental car companies aren’t going to cut it for you.  car set in car

This is the first car seat we rented.  As you can see, this is a bare-bones model.  But!  It was clean–it looked as though the cover had been washed between rentals.  And it had a locking clip (which was good, because we needed one)! This was the larger size seat acceptable for infants, which was nice.

The second experience was slightly different:

car seat new

This is for the same infant, but this is the smaller size seat and more difficult to deal with.  It is also a “carrier,” but because it does not come with a base, it certainly would not be convenient to use as a carrier.  Strapping it into the car without the base also makes it more difficult to put the child in, as the seatbelt has to go across the car seat!  This car seat was also very clean, and the cover looked freshly washed.  However–and this is a big deal–this was the second seat from this company–the first one had a crack in the styrofoam shell that I noticed as I tried to install it!  The rental company was very courteous about replacing it immediately, but a broken seat shouldn’t have been issued in the first place!  So, we had a mixed bag of experiences with renting from car companies.

Then, if you are going to rent an infant seat in Iceland, what do you do on the plane?  It appears that neither Icelandair nor WOW Air have bassinets available on their planes.  That means holding the baby.  For the whole flight.  Unless you plan to take your infant seat on the plane and then store it somewhere until the return trip (NOT practical for most people!).  Any ideas for solving this problem?  Both WOW Air (to Iceland) and Icelandair (from Iceland) gave me a child lap belt for our baby (3 mos. old).  This belt attached to my seat belt, and just wrapped around her waist.  It didn’t seem as though it would protect her much except for maybe from falling off my lap if I fell asleep!  But maybe it would also help in case of unexpected turbulence?

Child seats (rear- or forward-facing):

From the time a child outgrows the baby seat (at 13 or 18 kg (29 or 40 lbs.) depending on the type of baby seat) until heavy enough to ride in a booster, Iceland requires that he or she ride in a child seat with a five-point harness.  Further, the child seat must be rear-facing until the child is 1 year of age; they recommend rear-facing seats until age 3.

With this size car seat, you run into the same problem as with the infant seat: US seats all have chest clips, EU-approved ones cannot.  I have seen some manufacturers claiming to sell a seat that is approved in both places, but it looks as though you have to specify *which* place you want it to be approved by—in other words, it isn’t the same car seat; they just make two slightly different versions.  If you do find a seat that is approved by both set of regulations (FMVSS 213 and ECE R44-04), please do let me know!  In the meantime, my advice is to rent a seat when you get there.

Then there is the question of what to do on the plane.  If you do plan to bring your seat on the plane, check first to make sure it is allowed—the seat must be approved for air travel and different airlines have different rules about age/approval/seat availability/location for car seats.  If you are planning to rent a car seat once you get to Iceland, you probably do not want to also bring a separate car seat for the plane.  (But that means your child will not be in a car seat during the flight; that could be good or bad, depending on your child!)  One option is to get a special device called a CARES safety restraint just for the plane ride, but those look to be about $60-$70, and are only for aircraft use, so probably not worth it for most families.  (We have no affiliation with this product and have not used it.)

Older Kids—Boosters and Riding in the Front Seat

Front seat:

The hard rule in Iceland is that you must be at least 150 cm (4′ 11″) to sit in a front seat that has an airbag.  Here, rules vary by state, so make sure to let your child know beforehand if they will have to be “demoted” to the back seat again for the trip!  (And no, I don’t know what that means for an adult with a driver’s license who is under 4′ 11″—if you find out, let me know!)

Booster seats:

Iceland says that your child should not ride in a booster until at least 18 kg (40 lbs.) and should be in a booster until 36 kg (80 lbs.) or until they are too tall for the booster.  High back boosters are recommended, but not required.

Yes, the seat belt in the featured picture is twisted and should not be! Don't let the belts twist when you strap your children in! This is a good quality high-back booster that was provided to us on a tour bus in 2009.

Yes, the seat belt in the picture is twisted and should not be! Don’t let the belts twist when you strap your children in! This is a good quality high-back booster that was provided to us on a tour bus in 2009.

Unlike with the other categories of child seat, it *is* possible to find dual-approved (US and EU) boosters, so you *may* want to bring your child’s booster seat.  However, do note that the vast majority of booster seats sold in the US are not EU-approved, so check on your specific booster.  And do consider the next paragraph before deciding whether to bring one—boosters have different airline rules than car seats do!

If your child uses a booster, he/she CANNOT use that on the plane, so it will have to be checked (or counted as a carry-on).  On Wow Air, the booster (or other car seat) can be checked for free, as long as the child is no older than six—and you aren’t also checking a stroller for that same child.  (My soon to be seven year old and my ten year old both still sit in boosters, so that would be paid checked baggage for us!)  On Icelandair, you can bring a car seat AND stroller for free, but only if the child in question is under age 2 (so no free boosters).  You will need to check with your specific airline to see whether this is an option for you, remembering that your boosters are probably not legal in Iceland anyway!

Considering the age of your children and the cost of a booster, it may or may not make more sense to send one parent with the rental car to the nearest store to buy boosters while the rest of the family waits at the airport!  Less to carry, no increase in cost, but a bit of wasted time at the airport with tired kids—that’s the tradeoff.  We have found that in Iceland, this tip probably will not work out for you.  We searched for cheap boosters and found nearly all of them were at least $50 or so.  We finally found one store (Rúmfatalagerinn) that had $20 very basic backless boosters.  Unfortunately, the closest Rúmfatalagerinn to the airport is in Reykjavik, which would be an awfully long drive when you are very tired (45 minutes each way!) just to buy a booster seat.

Another option, if you have space left in your luggage, is the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat (backless), which is certified safe by both US and European regulations (this is highly unusual), costs around $30, and gets good reviews on Amazon.  (We have no affiliation with this product, and have not yet used it, but may in the future.)  One perk of this product is that it is only 13 in. across, so that you can fit three across a back seat if you need to.  If you are taking a bus to Reykjavik instead, and not renting a car at all, most tour bus companies should provide a booster.  The ones we were provided on tour buses and taxis (request the seat when you call for the taxi!) in 2009 were mostly good quality.

The car seat room at one of the car rental agencies.

The car seat room at one of the car rental agencies.

Share your experiences with bringing (or not bringing) car seats on your travels in the comments!

Updated July 2016 to reflect experiences and address issues from comment
Updated September 2016 to add affiliate link to Bubblebum booster seat

Updated October 2016 with more booster seat info

Should I bring my child’s car seat to Iceland? was last modified: October 15th, 2016 by Lora