Updated: Jan 20
Smart phones get a bad rap. And if they are overused they do definitely have a downside. It is certainly true that they can steer you away from authentic experiences and some potentially interesting human connections. But they are also extremely useful in lots of circumstances. Cell phones have become such a big part of modern day life that it is sometimes hard to imagine how we did without them. Basically there was a lot more reading of maps and guidebooks and everything took a little longer. There was also a lot more confusion and gesticulating over directions. In this article we outline the benefits of carrying a cell phone with you in Iceland. We also explore Iceland mobile network and coverage and the options open to you regarding Sim Cards and providers.
What are my options for using a cell phone in Iceland?
Those travelling from within the European Union do not have to pay roaming fees (lucky them!). If you are travelling to Iceland from the United States or anywhere else in the world you will probably need to buy an Icelandic Sim Card. You will also need to make sure that you have an unlocked phone to put it in. Have a chat to your home network provider about international plans first though. There may be no need to bother with an Icelandic Sim Card.
If you do need one though there are several mobile phone network operators in Iceland. The main one and probably the cheapest is Siminn. Vodafone and Nova are the other two big carriers in Iceland. Siminn probably offers the best overall mobile coverage if you are planning on travelling all over Iceland. All three will offer reasonably priced prepaid plans.
What is mobile coverage like in Iceland?
Not bad actually. There are some areas around mountains and glaciers where mobile coverage can get a little patchy. On the whole, though you can pretty much expect at least some coverage. Do not rely entirely on Google Maps though. In the cities and towns, it should work well. But in the further reaches of the country, you will need to look out for signposting and carry a paper map (of all things!).
Why shouldn’t I go phone-free?
There is nothing wrong with traveling without mobile phones it’s just rare these days. And there is a lot to be said for having one with you, even if you switch it off and put it away for the majority of the time. Here are some of the main benefits.
Safety and convenience: If you rent a camper or car for a self-drive tour of Iceland then you should carry a charged phone with you. This is especially true during the winter months. The weather in Iceland can turn stormy at any time and in winter it often does. Roads can close and low visibility can force you to a standstill. It is a great backup safety measure to have a phone with you. You will be able to call for help if needed and track weather updates. You might also call ahead to your campsite or hotel to let them know that you are delayed.
Apps galore!: There are lots of Iceland travel Apps that are super useful to have access to. Firstly a good weather app is essential if you are on a road trip in Iceland. The weather changes so often and has such an effect on your trip. You will need to keep a sharp eye on it and plan accordingly. Knowing what the weather will bring will help you plan your activities and itinerary. There are also apps that let you know about road closures in winter, bus travel and where to find the best happy hour bar in whichever town you are in (you see? This is essential stuff).
Navigation: As we said Google Maps is not the best in Iceland outside of the urban areas. It will help give you some indication of where you are if you are lost though. In Reykjavik and around Keflavik Airport it works well though. So it is a great tool if you are picking up your hire vehicle at the airport and heading into the capital. You can also use it to help you track down restaurants in Iceland, as well as Iceland's museums and art galleries.
Restaurant recommendations: Eating and drinking in Iceland is not the cheapest so you will want to make sure you are going to the nicest spots. TripAdviser and other websites and Apps can help you make the right choices. This is especially true if you are new in town and in a hurry for a refuel.
Keeping up with the socials: Not such an important factor for some, but essential for many. Iceland is an intensely beautiful country and so very photogenic. Posting pictures to Instagram and facebook and making all of your friends envious is going to be so tempting. Talking of which, these days phone cameras are so effective that they are a really light and convenient way to snap your holiday pictures.