For more help planning your Iceland vacation with kids, check out our travel guide book, Iceland With Kids, or our fully customized Iceland trip planning services.
Traveling without kids? Check out 100 Tips for Visiting Iceland, and our custom itinerary planning services for anyone visiting Iceland!
This post is continuously updated; the last update was in October 2023. The latest update: Higher prices for WiFI devices in Iceland!
For the last few years, I have been recommending visitors to Iceland purchase an Icelandic SIM card, even if it meant you had to purchase a new unlocked cell phone. In 2023, that’s becoming a less enticing option for visiting Iceland or other countries:
- eSIMs are a great option if you have an unlocked phone. This is a virtual SIM that you can install on your phone. See more details below, and be absolutely sure your phone is unlocked!
- Physical SIM card slots are being phased out. If you purchased in iPhone 14 in the United States, there’s no SIM card slot, so don’t buy a physical Icelandic SIM card.
- All major US carriers now have options for service that are somewhat reasonably priced, and Sprint and T-Mobile now have totally free choices. (But be careful—if you’re on AT&T or Verizon, you’ll need to do a little bit of work to make sure you don’t get charged what I consider to be exorbitant data rates.) And the option of renting a mobile hotspot has gotten less expensive and more convenient. We’ll walk through all of the details below to help you decide whether a cell phone from an Icelandic company like Siminn, Vodafone, or Nova makes sense for you.
Before we dive in, let me note that this information is mostly for people from the United States. But if you live in Canada, the options are very similar to AT&T and Verizon: expansive roaming rates. If you’re in the EU, you can stop reading: The new “Roam like Home” law implemented in June of 2017 allows you to use your plan in any EU country just as if you’re still at home. But with the UK leaving the EU, UK residents are starting to see roaming charges again. At first, these were in the £2 per day range, and at those levels, your best bet its to grudging pay the new fees. If it’s £5 or more, read on to see what some other options are.)
Or check out our detailed post about preparing for your Iceland trip! And don’t forget that you’ll need a power adapter to charge your phone.
The four options for using your cell phone in Iceland
If you are from the United States and visiting Iceland, you have several options for cell phone service; let’s look at the major four.
Option 1: Becoming a Wifi nomad
First, you could disable roaming and just use your phone when you have Wifi; most hotels and restaurants will have free Wifi, though it will be harder to find when you’re driving. There are mapping programs that store all data on the phone (like Maps.me) you could use for navigation. Google Maps will also save portions of the Icelandic map for offline use. But you might have to pay a dollar or two a minute to send or receive phone calls, unless you call over Wifi, or use a service like Skype. Texts might also be expensive. And unless you know you have free international data on your current plan, turn off cellular data on your phone just to be safe. (iPhone: Settings–> Cellular. Android: Settings–> Data Usage) Your AT&T and Verizon plans won’t have free data; T-Mobile and Sprint often do. See below for more carrier-specific information.
Option 2: Adding an International Data Plan
The second option is to pay for an International plan with your cellular provider, or use one is included with your current plan (Sprint and T-Mobile only.) Do not just start using data when you arrive in Iceland. For example, AT&T will charge you $2.05 per megabyte of data you use while roaming internationally, unless you have an international data plan. How much is $2.05 per megabyte? Well, the homepage at icelandwithkids.com is about a quarter of a megabyte, so it would cost you 50 cents to load. Our article about planning your trip would cost about $1.50. If you’re browsing a lot of web sites and maybe doing some video chat with people back home, it would be easy to burn through a gigabyte of data in a week. Cost: over $2,000. Verizon charges the exact same rate.
On the other hand, if you have Sprint or TMobile as your carrier, international data might be free (depending on which plan you have) though at slow speeds. But that’s much better than an expensive bill. We’ll cover all of the specifics for each of the major carriers below.
Option 3: Buying an Icelandic SIM card
The third option is to buy a SIM card from an Icelandic company. This will give you lots of high speed data for less money than just about any international plan (well, except for the free but slow ones.) The downsides: You need to have an unlocked phone, and you’ll have an Icelandic phone number instead of your own.
This option no longer works on new phones that don’t have physical SIM card slots. The iPhone 14 doesn’t have one; expect this to become more common in the years to come.
This option also won’t work if your phone doesn’t work on the cellular network in Iceland. (Option 2 won’t work either!) Iceland uses the GSM network protocol, which is also what AT&T and TMobile use. But Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Most modern phones (and all modern iPhones) can use both, but check your Verizon or Sprint phone at willmyphonework.net to make sure. An older phone like the iPhone 4S may not work if it was a CDMA model.
If you won’t have an unlocked phone that will work in Iceland, you can sometimes find a cheap one for around $100. This is getting harder in 2023, but you can see what you can find in the list of Amazon Prime phones. Moto phones are usually good options, such as the $149 Moto Play When you get back home, use it as a Wifi device to play music or listen to podcasts, or try a low cost plan like this one from Ultra Mobile as an emergency phone for the kids.
2022 update: Buying an Icelandic SIM card was much harder during Covid restrictions, with the airport convenience store 10/11 closed. But now the store is back open!
Option 4: Renting a Wifi hotspot
This is probably the simplest option you have. You can pay a daily fee to rent a Mifi device from a company like Trawire; some rental car companies offer this as an add-on, or you can arrange for a rental yourself. Here you are paying for convenience. Your phone just sees the device as a Wifi hotspot, so you don’t need to unlock your phone, swap SIM cards, or sign up for international plans. (Phone calls and texts would still use your home cell phone plan, though.) And multiple people in the same family or group can share a single hotspot.
Trawire, the company we recommend for Wifi hotspots, has improved their service in recent months, and I can now recommend it. The device is now $10 a day (with a minimum of 5 days), though check the little chatbox to see if there’s a discount code. And post Covid restrictions, you can once again pick up the device in the 10/11 store in the Keflavik airport when you arrive in Iceland. They will provide you with a return postage paid envelope; just drop the device in the mail on your way out of the country. There is a mailbox by the oversized luggage area in the airport before security; there is also one by the main food hall past security. Here’s a map that shows the “odd sized” luggage area, and here’s a different map of the airport where the mailbox past security is labeled. (Edit September 2018: That second map link now points to archive.org; I am not sure why the original map is no longer there. Someone from isavia.is has confirmed that there is a mailbox past security, though they didn’t know where it is!)
Trawire offers service from Siminn, the best carrier in Iceland. And you can share the service with everyone in your family– up to 10 devices. You do all have to be in the same place, though. Still, for a family with many devices, this can be a real bargain. Just make sure you’re always connected to the Wifi device, and not using data through your carrier’s plan! Turn off cellular data on your phone just to be safe. (iPhone: Settings–> Cellular. Android: Settings–> Data Usage)
Option 5: Introducing eSIM options for Iceland
eSIM is a new technology built into maybe of the newest cell phones. It allows you to add a virtual SIM card to your existing phone. Here is a list of phones that support eSIM technology; the list includes the last 5 generations of iPhones (X, 11, 12, 13, and 14.)
There are a couple of downsides here. First, you need to have an unlocked phone. Since only newer phones support eSIM technology, it’s less likely that you’ll have a phone that is both unlocked and supports eSIM.
But if you have a phone that will work, this is looking like an amazing option. I tried to use this eSIM for Iceland from Airalo. At the time, I didn’t realize I needed to have an unlocked phone. Airalo support was steller; they responded in just a few minutes, helped me troubleshoot, and then offered me a full refund once we figured out the issue was with my locked phone.
I was recently in Iceland for 9 days. I paid T-Mobile a total of $35 for high speed data (1 week for $25 plus 2 extra days for $5 each.) Had I brought an unlocked phone that can handle eSIMS, I could have paid just $13 for 5 GB of data, good for 30 days. For a shorter trip, you could pay as little as $4.50.
Airalo just introduced an easier way to install the eSIM on iPhones. The company seems great, and the price seems right. My guess is this will move up the list and become the default option for many people in a year or two. Let us know in the comments how it worked for you!
Options 3 and 4 might have you at the 10/11 convenience store in the Keflavik airport, which is open 24/7. It’s past security and to your right as you leave the secured area. Find it on the map here; it’s the yellow #2 circle. Here’s what it looks like:
When I visited in the summer of 2019, the convenience store had SIM cards from all 3 Icelandic providers: Siminn, Vodafone, and Nova.
Update March 2022: The 10-11 store is back open for your to pick up your Trawire device, or buy an Icelandic SIM card!
Duty Free has always stayed open in the airport, and you should be able to find a Nova SIM card there. Most gas stations should have SIM cards, or is a Siminn store and a Vodafone store in Reykjavik, a bit outside of the walkable downtown area.
If you buy a Nova SIM card and need to top up online (if you need more data) be sure to not select a monthly top up! This has happened to some people, and they end up paying a monthly fee to Nova long after their Iceland vacation.
The best option depends on your current cell provider
Below you’ll find information specific to each of the 4 major carriers in the US: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and TMobile. After that, we’ll cover the details of purchasing an Icelandic SIM card, should you decide to go with that option. On our recent trip, we chose to purchase Icelandic SIM cards so we didn’t have to worry about data usage.
AT&T in Iceland
Will my phone work in Iceland? Almost definitely. AT&T uses the GSM network, which is also what Iceland uses.
How much will I pay without a plan? A lot. $2.00 a minute for calls, $0.50 for each text sent, and $2.05 for each megabyte used.
International plans: You have two options to add an international plan and avoid the outrageous data fee. First, you can pay for a Passport plan for a month. $70 gets you 2 Gig of data, or $140 gets you 6 GB. (Both the prices and the amount of data have increased since 2020.) Calls would cost 35 cents a minute, and texts are free. You can make a one-time purchase of a Passport plan, which will be good for a 30 day period of your choosing; no need to worry about your billing cycle.
Second, you can purchase an international day pass. For $10 a day ($5 a day for each additional line,) you can use your existing plan as if you never left home. So if you have a good data plan and a trip that isn’t several weeks, this can be a good option.
Unlocking your phone: If you purchased your phone from AT&T, it is almost certainly locked. That means you can’t use the phone with another carrier until AT&T unlocks it. AT&T won’t unlock a phone until you have finished paying for it; your monthly bill may include an installment payment for the phone itself, separate from the cellular service charges. Once the phone is paid off you can request an unlock.
If you have a prepaid plan and purchased the phone from AT&T, you can unlock the phone after 6 months of usage on AT&T.
Recommendation: Unlock your phone if you can, or buy an inexpensive unlocked Android phone, and use an Icelandic SIM card. Or pay the $10 a day to AT&T and keep your current plan. Just remember that any text or phone call you receive will abroad, even if it’s junk, will mean you pay $10 for that day!
Sprint in Iceland
(Sprint has merged with T-Mobile, but for now we’re keeping our coverage separate. If the links below stop working, head to the T-Mobile section for information for your plan.)
Will my phone work in Iceland? Probably, but you should check at willmyphonework.net, especially if your phone is a couple of years old and is not an iPhone. Sprint uses the CDMA network, but Iceland uses GSM. Most newish phones can handle both, though.
How much will I pay without a plan? Almost nothing! Calls are $0.25 a minute, and texts and (slow) data is free. Sprint is clear that “all sprint plans include” Global Data, so this should work on a prepaid plan as well.
Update June 2023: Sprint ONE and SPRINT MAX plans come with 5 GB of high speed data for free. After the 5 GB allotment, you’ll be downgraded to very slow data, though it’s still free. (5 GB is usually plenty as long as you don’t stream videos!)
So what’s the catch? The speed is 2G; given that 5G is (maybe?) going to become more common in 2021, 2G is several generations behind. The speeds may be as slow as 64 kbps. Not only is that not fast, it’s probably about 15 times slower than something you would consider fast. I’ve seen mixed reviews from people who tried it; it’s probably enough to send and receive e-mails (and texting should be great), but it might be frustrating for web browsing. It’s tolerable, but you’ll definitely find yourself using your phone less. Maybe that’s a good thing?
You may consider trying it for yourself, and then purchasing a fast data roaming plan if you find it unbearable. That’s what I did.
Paid international data plan:
Sprint should send you a text when you first turn on your phone in Iceland. It will provide instructions for how to activate high speed data. (They assume you’ll hate the free plan, and will pay to upgrade!) But the price is very reasonable: Pay $5 a day, or $25 a week for unlimited high speed data. This is the best option you’ll find among the major carriers. Pay $25 for a week for unlimited data and texts; calls are 20 cents a minute. That’s even better than an Icelandic SIM card, and you get to keep your phone number.
Unlocking your phone: You can of course still consider an Icelandic SIM card. Sprint has a baffling page describing their phone unlock policy, and a separate page listing the unlock requirements. That second page boils down to “We’ll automatically unlock your phone once it’s paid off.” Unfortunately, the special option for customers traveling internationally is now gone. The unlock policy used to say “For Sprint customers traveling abroad for a short period of time, often their Sprint service can be provisioned to allow for international roaming.” but that language was removed in August of 2017. You can always call and ask if they can “provision” your phone to allow you to use an international SIM card, but that doesn’t appear to be an official option any more. Let me know what happens if you call and ask, though!
Recommendation: Try the free slower speed option, and pay Sprint the $25 for high speed data if it’s not good enough.
T-Mobile in Iceland
Will my phone work in Iceland? Almost definitely. TMobile uses the GSM network, which is also what Iceland uses.
How much will I pay without a plan? It depends. All current include free texting and $0.25 per minute calls. (Older plans like ONE, Simple Choice, New Classic or Select Choice plan should also have this benefit, but you should check!)
The new Go5G and Go5G plans include 5 GB of international high speed data for free. If you have a T-Mobile Magenta or Magenta Plus plan, calls are $0.25 a minute, and texts and (slow) data are free. On any other plan, you’ll still pay $0.25 a minute for calls. But outgoing texts are $0.50 each, and data is $15 per megabyte if you’re not on a Magenta or Magenta Plus plan. That data rate is so high that in my opinion, it should be illegal. Make sure you check which plan you have!
Free High Speed International Data Plan: 5 GB of high speed data is included with the new Go5G and Go5G plans. After the 5 GB allotment, you’ll be downgraded to very slow data, though it’s still free. (5 GB is usually plenty as long as you don’t stream videos!)
Free Low Speed International Data Plan: Included ONLY with T-Mobile Magenta plans. If you have one of those, you get free slow data, though at 128kbps (256 kbps for Magenta Plus,) it’s not as slow as Sprint’s free offering. Otherwise, you pay the absolutely outrageous cost of $15 per megabyte. Make sure you are absolutely certain you have the right plan!
Paid international data plan: You have several options for speed boosts, ranging from modest to dramatic. For $15 a month (or $10 a month or less if you upgrade more than one line), you can pay for T-Mobile Magenta Plus. One of the features included boosts your international service to 256 kbps. Let’s not call that fast, but rather less-slow. You’ll have to add this to your plan and then remove it once you get home.
And as of June of 2019, T-Mobile has introduced new International passes. These are the first high speed options T-Mobile has offered that work in Iceland. For $35, you get 5 GB of high-speed data to use over 10 days, plus free phone calls. Or for $50 you get 15 GB to use over 30 days, plus free phone calls. See the details here.
Unlocking your phone: In general, a device you bought from T-Mobile is probably locked. Once your phone is paid off (or after 18 months of service under some plans) T-Mobile will unlock it for you. You’ll have to contact support.
Recommendation: If you’re not a heavy data user, and just want e-mail and occasional web browsing, try the 128 kbps data for free and see what you think. Otherwise, you can pay the $35 for a generous allotment of high-speed data. With the new International Passes, there seems to be little reason to opt for an Icelandic SIM card.
Verizon in Iceland
Will my phone work in Iceland? Probably, but you should check at willmyphonework.net, especially if your phone is a couple of years old and is not an iPhone. Verizon uses the CDMA network, but Iceland uses GSM. Most newish phones can handle both, though.
How much will I pay without a plan? A lot. Calls are $1.79 a minute, sending a text costs $0.50, receiving a text costs $0.05, and data costs $2.05 per megabyte. $2.05 a megabyte is offensive and should be illegal.
International plans: Just like AT&T, if you don’t sign up for a plan, you’ll pay an offensive $2.05 per megabyte used. And (again just like AT&T) you have two options here. First, you can add an International Plan. A steep $70 a month gets you 100 minutes, 100 outgoing texts (incoming are all free) and 500 MB of data. Or a steeper $130 a month gets you 250 minutes of calling, 1000 outgoing texts, and 2 GB of data. And you can’t prorate these prices, so you pay $70 or $130 even for a shorter trip.
A second option seems better to me. You can pay $10 a day for a TravelPass, and use your data allotments from your regular plan. The first 512 MB per day will be at 4G speeds. You’ll be downgraded to 2G after that. But 512 MB is a lot of data per day, unless you’re streaming lots of video.
You need to activate TravelPass on your account; log in online or use the Verizon app. You’ll only pay for days you use data in another country. It might be best to just leave it active on your phone to avoid the possibility of a huge data charge in the future.
Unlocking your phone: Some good news for Verizon customers: Your phone is probably already unlocked. Which means you can pop a SIM card in it once you are in Iceland it will work. Verizon generally doesn’t lock devices. If you have an older Verizon phone and you are prompted for an unlock code, it’s either 000000 or 123456. If you have prepaid service, you need to call Verizon after 12 months and they can unlock your phone.
Recommendation: Buy an Icelandic SIM card, since your phone is likely unlocked. Check to make sure it handles GSM by looking at willmyphonework.net. Or pay $10 a day for TravelPass.
A quick interruption: Enjoying this post? You may want to take a look at our new book, Iceland With Kids. It’s full of more detailed advice for your trip. And it will help you whether you’re going to Iceland with kids or not! Or consider our new Driving in Iceland video course if you’re renting a car in Iceland!
Okay, back to cell phones.
Icelandic SIM Cards
Let’s take a look at the logistics if you’ve chosen to use an Icelandic SIM card in your unlocked phone. This is the option we chose for our 2016 trip, and we didn’t have any issues. Make sure you know how to remove and reinsert a SIM card into your phone. Most iPhones require a small paperclip (or SIM card removal tool, which is just a thin metal rod, like a paperclip) to be inserted in order to pop out the SIM card slot.
Consider purchasing a cheap SIM card storage pouch to put your existing SIM cards into. They also come with a SIM card removal tool, so no paperclips necessary.
The three main Icelandic carriers, sorted from best coverage to worst, are: Siminn, Vodafone, and Nova. Of course, that’s also sorted from price, highest to lowest.
If you are flying to Iceland on Icelandair, I think the choice is easy. Buy the Vodafone Starter Pack from sagashop.is. (Covid-19 update: Icelandair has stopped offering products for sale on board the aircraft to minimize contact.) You can order it ahead of time—give them your flight number and they’ll bring it to you on the plane. For 21 Euros ($24 or so, and 2 Euros cheaper than last year!) you’ll get “2 GB of data, unlimited Talk&Text domestically and 50 minutes for overseas calls.“ It also includes unlimited calling and texting within Iceland. It’s a good deal, and you can install it in your phone while you’re still on the plane. Once you land, you’ll be good to go.
All SIM cards kits from all companies here can be adjusted for the size your phone needs. So don’t worry if you need a micro or nano-sized SIM card. The cards in the kits are perforated so you can “punch out” the size you need. Take the card out of your phone to see what size you need; then be careful to create that same size with the Icelandic SIM card.
If you’re not flying Icelandair, then you can buy a Siminn SIM card from the 10/11 store in the Keflavik airport. (Update July 2019: The 10/11 store has 2 SIM card types from Siminn, 1 from Vodafone, and 1 from Nova.) You should also be able to get them in the Duty Free store, but they only had Nova cards there.
Note that there is an Elko electronics store the secure area, but they do not carry SIM cards, as this store is meant for departing passengers only. It’s easier to buy at the 10/11 anyway; it’s outside of the secure area. I didn’t even think about buying a SIM card until we had already passed through security and customs.
There should be two Siminn options there, though check that link to see the latest offerings. The main card is the Prepaid Starter Pack. For 2900 krona (around $29) you get 5 GB of data, 50 minutes of calling and 50 texts. The calling and texts are good for Iceland or International calling to 54 countries. That should be plenty of data for most trips, though you can always add more.
The other option is a Siminn Prepaid Data card, which gives you 10 GB for the same price. But you don’t get voice minutes or texting options, and there is no way to add them. This could be a valuable option for some travelers, but it’s a whole lot of data. You could use it as a hotspot and stream video to use up some data! (If this is the only card you can find, you can use Skype to make calls and other apps such as Whatsapp to fill in for texts.)
Don’t forget that paperclip if your phone needs one!
Problems with your Icelandic SIM card
When you put in an Icelandic SIM card, your phone should just work. If your phone doesn’t connect, you may need to update your settings manually. Check out the APN Settings web site for Iceland. Click through the carrier you’re buying a SIM card from (Siminn, Vodafone, Nova, etc.) and print out the instructions, or save them to your phone. It’s unlikely you’ll need to do this, though anecdotal evidence suggests Verizon users are more likely to have an issue.
A few years ago, getting the Icelandic SIM card was the best choice in many cases. And you still can’t go wrong with any of the Icelandic SIM card options, should you choose that option. But all of the major US carriers have improved their offerings for international travel. On Sprint in particular, I think I would pay the $25 for high speed data. If keeping your phone number during your vacation is important, you now have options. And Trawire has improved their offering as well, and it’s now a viable option that doesn’t involve messing with your phone.
Let me know what you think in the comments! Do you have a different cell phone provider? Do you agree with our recommendations?
Other posts you may enjoy: