Photographed all over
An honest insight into what living an expat life in Iceland really is like.
As I am writing this, there is yet another storm raging on the peninsula. The clouds are hanging low, so low in fact, that they meet with the fog that's covering the ground. Combined, that makes for a thick soup of wet and grey, a veil of mist covering all life outside the windows. While the rest of the northern part of the world seems to be drowning in snow this year, we have 8°C plus and hurricane-like storm. (All "thanks" to the Gulfstream.)
You might not be aware of this, but Iceland is the third stormiest country on earth - with the other two hardly inhibited. People don't seem to believe me when I tell them about hurricanes, but as we speak, the weather alert for some parts of the country is an overall 'orange condition,' meaning "Violent storm - wind gusts more than 40 m/s. No traveling conditions. Loose objects will be blown away, and structural damage is possible." Up in the north-west, they are currently hitting a 12 on the Beaufort scale which means more than 118 km/h or 74mph. Translating to: a hurricane is yet again tormenting shores of the land of fire and ice. It's not as bad here on Reykjanes peninsula, but the howling indeed is so loud that it keeps distracting me and I had to put on headphones. So while I am typing, I'm listening to Début by Mélanie Laurent which fits the scenario outside quite beautifully.
It's been a strange winter, so far. (Perfectly matching the super lousy summer we had last year.) No snow, way too warm and out of seven days a week, at least two to three bring storm and rain. Combine those conditions with merely four hours of daylight, and you have an idea of what my days currently look like. Dark.
An honest impression of what living in Iceland is like.
What a way to start an article about living in Iceland, right? By now, you might be under the impression that me moving here wasn't the best possible decision, but that's not at all where I wanted to go with this. It's just me being honest, giving you a glimpse into this very moment of my life. How I am sitting at my desk at four in the afternoon, lights on, candles lit, some hot tea next to me, one of my cats sleeping on the close by armchair and outside nothing but darkness, howling wind and the sound of raindrops hitting the window. To me, this isn't bad at all, though. On the contrary - it's as cozy as it gets.
This morning I've been out to "town" for an appointment, the 40min walk there was tolerable with a tailwind and only drizzle, but when I headed back home I had to fight strong headwind gusts. Listening to a mix of favorite songs via headphones I tried to motivate myself through yet another grey and windy dawn. When I finally entered the warmth of my apartment, I felt slightly exhausted. But even more so - alive. My cheeks were burning, my winter coat soaking wet, my hair a massive, tangled mess.
When it comes to weather and daylight conditions, you have to know what you are in for. Iceland is not just pretty epic it's also pretty wild. Unpredictable. Harsh and raw. I love that about my new home - just as much as the incredible sunrises and roaring waterfalls. (Not every day, of course. When the wind keeps me from getting out for a walk the third day in a row cozy can quickly turn into annoying. But for the most part - I love it.)
Pretty epic, pretty wild. Unpredictable.
The truth about living in a country like Iceland is that you have to commit to functional clothing fully, accept the fact that winter does not automatically guarantee snow, summer can easily range within the 5-15°C range and bring more rain than sun. It means that you have to invest in dark curtains to get some sleep during those neverending summer nights and lots of artificial light to get you out of bed on the pitch black winter mornings.
This time of year, the sun starts to rise between 10:00 and 10:30 am and hits the horizon around 11:00 am. The time in between is either filled with a thick grey fog when clouds are covering the sky or a one-hour pastel daydream when they don't. I have never seen sunsets like this, before. When I look out the windows of my apartment on a bright winter morning what I see is the following: moss covered lava, a few family houses, the ocean and in the very distant, the mountains — overarched by the entire span of colors. The spectrum is from a dusty blue to purple, to pink, to fiery red and orange, to yellow and then finally an intense turquoise. It's so damn beautiful that I sometimes do nothing but sit here in awe, sipping my coffee while watching the sky.
In summer, I wake up super early, never sure if it is 4:00 or 7:00 am. Sometimes you get out of bed to grab a glass of water or so around midnight, and a bright orange sun is illuminating every corner of your home. I know that a lot of people still think Iceland means lots of darkness, but while that holds true during winter, it is the exact opposite in summer.
The downsides / The upsides
I did some research on what you would like to know about living an expat life, asked what you are most interested in, and I kept reading and hearing: What it is like to live abroad. The ups and downs. The everyday life. I scanned Pinterest and blog articles from other expats and what I found were a lot of posts mapping out the downsides, what people were regretting or wish they would have known before moving. So I had a good long thought about how I could split up today's article in truths and up- and downsides, regrets, and wish-I-would-have-knowns, when I realized ... there are none.
I want to give you an honest insight into what living in Iceland is like - with all the negative and positive aspects to it. But well, there are no negative sides worth mentioning. Not the weather, not the darkness, not the midnight sun, not being this secluded, not even the fact that I don't (yet) speak the language. There isn't a thing I wish I would have known before I moved as I am loving the fact I am continually learning NOW. On the go. So there are no confessions to make, ugly truths to share.
I read somewhere that if you only share the positive, you are most likely lying to yourself and others, maybe even try to convince yourself it's all awesome, even though it's not. What can I say? If I would come up with something oh-so-awful, just for the 'authenticity' of it, THEN I would be lying.
Of course, I miss my family, but we speak on the phone at least once a week and visit each other several times a year. Those visits are extra special to me and mean more than an occasional dinner together, that's my "ugly truth." I furthermore am incredibly lucky to have my best friend right here with me. With Caro living just 20 minutes away, I never feel like I left everything behind, since I took so much with me, as well.
Sure, the wind can be annoying, but it also makes me feel so very much alive. There isn't as big of a tea selection in Iceland as in Germany. Or bread. But the vegan product range is more extensive than back home, and besides, we can always order from specialty stores, if we have to. By now I am pretty good at finding my way around the slightly smaller selection in supermarkets. I find the darkness to be romantic and the sunny nights to be magical.
Icelanders might be a bit reserved when you meet them but once you get to talking they open up quickly, are interested in who you are, where you are from and what brought you here. Maybe there is no theme park on the island (nature is the better theme park, anyway) or a large selection of clothing and furniture stores, but well, I mostly need sweaters and jeans, so all fine by me. I can dig as deep as I want - there is nothing that would make me say "I regret moving" or "I wish I would have known."
This corner of the world just smiles at me.
A peek into my personal everyday life up north.
I get up when my husband leaves the house, around 6:45 am. I make coffee; I tidy up the kitchen, do laundry, and then sit down at the desk and start working. I write, edit, design, plan, and schedule. I study. Around lunchtime, I get out for a run if the weather allows it. Afterward, work continues, then I cook. We have dinner and when we're finished eating I tend to call my parents or Caro, I read, I write some more, I go to bed. The days are slow. I fill them with work and cat cuddles and fresh air. I don't meet a lot of new people - my social life is reduced to my husband, Caro and Logi, and the cats, mostly. I don't mind that, at all. At the weekends we go for walks or on a road trip, in summer for a hike or a camp night.
I quite regularly visit my family and loved ones in Germany. And that's about it, really - a slow and steady life. What makes it exceptional to me are the people I love, the air I breathe and the incredible views I get to marvel at, every day. The photos I can take, the sentences I can write, the books I read, the conversations I have. Breakfast with Caro. Series marathons when we have a sleepover. (We do that, still, just like back when we were 12. Buy tons of food and then lay in bed, snack, talk and watch something. I love those weekends!)
My daily life is remote, quiet, peaceful. It barely has anything in common with the busy city life I used to live. Less hectic, fewer (or no) crowds, hardly any traffic and well, lots and lots of space. Literally and metaphorically. It's not just my daily view, the mindset of the locals (and especially my husband), the clean air and the endless, vast landscape in front of my door that makes it easier for me to breathe, expand, unwind - it ultimately is me, as well. I changed when I moved, and I am changing ever since. I am becoming this less stressed, calmer, healthier version of myself. I feel happier, more balanced, more at peace with myself and everything around me.
It certainly all comes down to having this much space (personal and actual) and being surrounded by nature - but also to the silence. For example, I hardly ever hear sirens. Back when I lived in Cologne that was a big part of the daily background noise. Now, the sounds around me are a mix of various seabirds, waves, and rain. Plus, the occasional storm, of course. I never noticed it back then, but it makes such a difference if the world around you is quiet- no Autobahn, no honking, no sirens.
To me, being an immigrant in this wild country up north is all I ever wanted. I needed to leave the busy cities behind - the crowds, the hectic, the polluted air. I don't mind the fact that I can't swim in the ocean, there are so many swimming pools in breathtaking locations all over the country. I don't care about never being able to wear a dress or sandals and that instead, I have to opt for snow boots and wellies. My hair is always a mess, my mascara needs to be waterproof, and my legs hardly ever see the sun. But I. DON'T. MIND.
So whenever someone asks me what I miss most or what I don't like about my new home or if it is hard to deal with the weather, sunlight, language and more I am just standing there, searching for things to say. Believe me or not but this life is precisely what I want. My only wish is that my family can move countries someday soon, as well.
Might living in Iceland be for you?
Know that the language is incredibly hard to learn - almost four years and I can barely say a word. (I will make an effort and sign up for a class as soon as my nutritionist education is finished, though.) I can also tell you that finding a place to rent is absolute horror and that buying a home is expensive, even in the suburbs. I can share that food costs way more than what we are used to and that purchasing alcohol is a joke. If you have difficulties getting out of bed when it is still dark then winter could be a real struggle for you. Same for summer if you can't sleep when it is light outside. If you hate wind, then I can assure you that living in Iceland would not be much fun to you. If you are a colossal bread lover, you might have to look into baking your own. If rain bothers you, your favorite season is summer, and you only consider days to be bearable when the temperature hits 25°C then I would not recommend moving to Iceland. 🙂
When it comes to bureaucracy, the helpfulness of the locals, if it is easy to connect or not, the language barrier - I have only made good experiences. So far, everyone has been helpful, easy to talk to, speaking almost perfect English (or even German) since many attend universities abroad. There is all kinds of people living here, some grumpy, some introverted, some super outgoing - just like everywhere else in the world. The mindset of the Icelanders is different, though. I would connect it to the rough conditions, to living so close to and with nature, so secluded, with such a small population and therefore so much space that Icelanders don't stress easily, and aren't as perfectionistic as most of us Germans. I also found them to be way less judgemental and more open-minded than what I am used to from back home. (Not to tar all with the same brush, of course.)
If you enjoy all kinds of weather, are a huge fan of the outdoors, seek some solitude every now and then and an overall more remote life, Iceland might be your cup of tea. If you don't mind dialing it down with the social life for a little while, don't need an overwhelming variety of food to choose from and find 15°C to be the perfect temperature for summer then I would say:
go for it! It can never hurt to start looking into a possible change for the better.
I have no idea how other expats feel - but for me, moving here was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. When I envision my future, I envision a cabin in the countryside, a dock with a canoe, a greenhouse, lots of furry friends, hiking, paddling, reading, breathing. I do not envision endless traveling, a huge townhouse, a fancy car, a walk-in closet or anything alike. All I see for my future is a simple life. In Iceland. It always is Iceland.
To sum it all up and aware of the fact that I'm now going to repeat myself: I LOVE living up north. I made the right move at the right time and did not regret it, ever since. There are obstacles and difficulties to overcome, conditions to accept but nothing I wouldn't gladly do. So for me, there is no downside big enough ever to have any doubts about my decision moving here. It's not all peachy, all the time, either but overall, I can't complain and so I won't. I am happy, I am grateful,
I am HOME!
I'm also going to write an extensive article on how to best approach immigrating to Iceland and answer questions like how to find a job, get in contact with locals, what to keep in mind, how the health care system works and how bureaucracy is - for all those who are considering relocating. So stay tuned.
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