Iceland Will Offer Free COVID-19 Testing To Tourists (For A Limited Time)

Filed Under: Icelandair

Iceland will soon be opening up to tourists from around the world by providing COVID-19 testing upon landing, and we now have a better sense of what that will look like.

Iceland’s plan to reopen to tourists

Iceland is planning for a summer tourist season as of June 15, 2020, and the country seems to be going about it in a rather responsible way (to the point that I’ve been pondering a trip to Iceland next month).

Most notably, visitors will have to do one of the following:

On top of that, all visitors will have to install a tracing app on their phone.

The country was still ironing out the details surrounding COVID-19 testing, and we now have a better sense of what that will look like.

How Iceland’s COVID-19 testing will work

The Reykjavik Grapevine shares the plan that Iceland’s government has for testing tourists:

  • COVID-19 testing will be available upon arrival as of June 15, 2020
  • For the first two weeks the government will be covering the cost of the testing; it’s estimated that each test costs 50,000 ISK, or 350 USD
  • Samples will be sent to a lab, and analyzed within five hours (visitors can already enter the country, and will be contacted regarding their results)
  • The country plans to take roughly 1,000 samples per day, though it sounds like that limit is based on the maximum number of arriving passengers due to the limited flight schedule, rather than some arbitrary limit
  • After two weeks the process will be evaluated, and if the project is successful, the country will start charging people for tests
  • Many hotels will have to set up “isolation corridors” in the event that guests test positive for COVID-19, so that they’ll have somewhere to stay safely

Bottom line

Iceland is really being the guinea pig when it comes to responsible tourism, or at least tourism that’s as responsible as it can be. I’m curious to see how it works out. It’s very generous that they’ll offer free testing for the first two weeks, though the big question is what happens after that.

The cost of a test is apparently ~350 USD, so that will be a significant expense for those who visit Iceland after the free testing period. As a point of comparison, in early May Vienna Airport became one of the first airports in the world to offer COVID-19 testing to passengers, though the cost is 190 EUR.

For many, traveling to Iceland may just be the best way to get a COVID-19 test… 😉

What do you make of Iceland’s plan to offer free COVID-19 testing?

  1. It’s not going to pick up if I’ve caught it in the last couple of days / on the way over though… so realistically it’s of limited use.

    Also, what happens if I did test positive and I was planning on staying for less than 14 days? I assume I’d be out of pocket for any additional quarantine time?

  2. @Richard The contact tracing app should solve most issues with people who develop Covid after arriving but tested negative on arrival. You probably would be out of pocket on quarantine.

    The great thing here is going to Iceland is optional– if you’re not happy with this setup you can stay home.

  3. I can see this being the international norm moving forward, every country allows foreign visitors from other countries in, if they are willing to do COVID-19 tests upon arrival. I will happily pay for the peace of mind and for the privilege of being allowed in and being able to travel. 350USD is pricy, but now a reality of the cost of traveling – I am sure it will get cheaper and cheaper.

    I would go as far as saying i do not mind even being tested everyday while on my trip to another country if it allows me in.

    The fact is international borders are going to have to open and the faster the better, some countries are going to be absolutely screwed if they miss out on this year’s tourism and international trade.

    Corona is here to stay for a long time, I know for a matter of fact if my South African company misses out on the tourism this year, we will have to close and sadly get rid of all our 356 staff members currently laid off and close shop for good, the thought is beyond terrifying.

  4. @ Ben — This is seriously the cheapest way for you to get a COVID test? You CAN get an antibody (not virus) test at Quest for $119.

  5. I can already see poor countries who depend on tourism like Turkey to offer fake ‘tests’ to calm potential tourists.
    And then after a while people will get home sick and wonder what has happened.

  6. @Gene – COVID testing is free here in the US, so not sure what Lucky means by that statement. While testing was very constrained, most test sites have opened up to everyone as well. As a 30 year old, I can now go to a drive-thru Rite Aid and get tested, even without symptoms.

  7. A person tested negative entered Iceland and exited Iceland a few days later tested positive upon returning home. Who is responsible?

  8. Got a month long trip to Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland starting early July.
    Looking forward to it.

    This all looks like health security theater, but, whatever, if it lets me in the country and I don’t have to do anything else, fine. I’ll comply.

    Gotta placate the masses!

  9. “It’s kind of sad that as an American the cheapest and best way I can get a COVID-19 test is by hopping on a plane to Iceland, eh?”


    The CARES Act requires most all insurance plans, Medicare, and Medicaid (for the uninsured) to cover COVID-19 testing costs in full. Free is as cheap as it gets.

    At least in my area, there is no difficulty being tested when one’s doctor orders it based on an evaluation of your symptoms.

  10. It’s a smart move by Iceland to manufacture a new flow of tourism. In the end they will not get back to where they were if this is left in place long term. I wouldn’t count on any vaccine developed as being 100% effective so risk will always be there. COVID-19 test is only a test for that point and time.

  11. “It’s kind of sad that as an American the best way I can get a COVID-19 test is by hopping on a plane to Iceland, eh?”

    Umm…what? Not sure where you live but here in South Florida Wal-Mart is offering free tests to anyone now. Walgreens has has free tests if you provide health insurance info. But yeah, flying to Iceland sounds like the best way.

  12. How about you stop with the uninformed politically motivated and completely dishonest assertions? The only reason you could possible have an issue getting a free of charge test in the US is because you’ve made absolutely no effort.

  13. @Ben(not Lucky): are you sure? Have you tried? Why would it be free? Does it depend which state you are in? If that is correct what you are saying, that would be fantastic.

  14. Lucky I hope your testing remark about US was somewhat sarcastic. There have definitely been issues and inequities remain but the idea that a person currently living in a major US city and reasonably well off cannot get tested…is just a politically motivated statement and not based on reality.

  15. Testing is available to anyone who wants one in many regions now. I was able to get both a COVID test and Antibody test for free, no symptoms required, no questions asked last week. So that statement is somewhat disingenuous although I get your sentiment. Plus, no where in the US are they charging really anything to be tested let alone 190-350 Euros which is insane. A Quest antibody test isn’t even that much…

  16. To everyone who says US has free test for everyone.

    FAKE NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It depends on your location. Each state has different policy. Not everyone can get tested anywhere in the US, pay or not.
    Many states will still turn you away if you do not have symptoms.
    Many states will need doctors’ order.
    Many states will pay for it, many states your insurance does.
    There are many private testings out there too. People can pay to get tested, NOT FREE.

  17. @Lucky you have clearly created a drip campaign to support your eventual announcement that you are going to Iceland. Why don’t you just announce it?

  18. @ CF Frost — Because I haven’t actually made a final decision, so I have nothing to announce!

  19. So this is to be the 2020 equivalent of a fruit platter/ chocolates/wine in the room….a COVID test free with every tourist arrival. They must be really desperate for $$$ to be engaging in this lunacy. The haste is indecent.

  20. @Daniel You are absolutely correct, and I wont be. Will be a long time before I’m comfortable stepping foot in an airport again. Last time I travelled there were just a handful of infections outside of China / Italy and it was already a very stressful experience.

    I’ve seen what this virus can do to otherwise very healthy people in my age range, and I’m in no rush to experience it.

  21. All utter nonsense. Who is gonna swab you? Have you seen a proper swab done? Takes ten seconds, hurts and the thing is jammed half way to your brain. Will they change their gowns between each passenger or will they keep the same one on? Antibody blood test? Useless in this situation.

    And then, how about that group of four? What if one tests positive?

    And a certificate that u are negative? Do U have to get that within 24 hours of departure? Whose “certification” would count?

    All this sounds like BS to make it seem safe by Iceland in an attempt to get tourist cash

    Repeat after me: international leisure travel is essentially dead for the summer.

  22. For all those who would be shocked at having to fork over $350 to pay for the testing…

    In Iceland, $350 is the tip you leave after having a modest lunch. Plan your budget accordingly.

  23. Ak –

    Decode Genetics in tiny Iceland is one of the best medical testing companies in the world. Presumably they are planning to use a cheek or saliva test with a very short turnaround, not a nasal swab for an entire plane. Given the capacity for testing, the small size, and the fact that most tourism sites are outdoors, Iceland is probably the best equipped place in the world to trial something like this.

    Of course, it would be much be better if the airports *outside* of Iceland ran the rapid tests, and we all just showed up a few hours early for our flight – clearly better than risking quarantine on arrival. There is always the risk that you got infected the day before your test, don’t have enough virus to detect, but then get sick after arrival. That said, by mid-June, the reported rate of new infections most places is going to be on the order of 1 per 100,000 per day. 317000 people get on an international flight every day in the US during normal times. If the test misses people in days 1 and 2 of infection (when the person is not infectious, so it won’t matter for the flight), then 6 people will fly abroad from the US with Covid each day. We will catch people roughly between day 3 and 12 of the infection, so 30 people per day would be turned back before getting on their flight (and this assumed, of course, that those who are infectious and symptomatic show up, which they won’t).

    That is, with proper testing, international leisure travel from non-outbreak locations does not seem at all insurmountable.

  24. This project all depends on the Schengen Zone reopening to non-European tourists. Let’s see if that happens on June 15th. The cost of a test sounds a bit outrageous, although I guess you can get one before you leave.

  25. @ James — That’s an interesting point. Can anyone confirm for sure that’s the case? I know Iceland is part of the Schengen zone though not part of the EU, so is visiting Iceland from the US contingent upon the EU actually opening borders on June 15?

  26. I believe that (formally, at least) the current Schengen travel restrictions are recommendations and not requirements for the individual member countries. Iceland could choose not to follow them, but they have followed so far.

  27. @Max

    Not sure why you’re targeting Turkey… you sound quite ill-informed. I’ve been stuck in Istanbul since January, and I can tell you the response here was quicker and (in my opinion) more effective than in most parts of Europe and the US. Very strict policies on quarantine and going outside, malls and the like are closed till at least start of June. Price of masks was capped at 1 lira (about 0.15 USD), very readily available. Overall, your attack is based on completely incorrect assumptions. Btw I’m an American-European, so I have no ties to Turkey personally, just impressed by the response.

  28. Unless something has changed you can choose an option of 14 day quarantine, COVID test at the airport, or bring proof a COVID test from US.

    Also, there are plenty of places in US especially in large cities like New York to get a free COVID or antibody test

  29. @Jordan
    That’s exactly the problem, they are showing-off some measurements that don’t help at all or are poorly executed.
    Masks for 0.15 USD? The UK just rejected a big load of masks from Turkey because of the poor quality without any filter-effect. For 0.15 USD you can expect to receive the same garbage.
    And just have a look at the Mosques, at the Ramadan celebrations in the communities and big families. That’s hardly helping containing the WuFlu.

    The response in the EU was generally quite good (exceptions only incompetent staff in Italy’s Lombardy region, some French departments and 2 cities in Spain).
    Funny how media only reported about the disaster in Italy’s Lombardy region (which was caused by corrupt incompetent officials and stupidity like sending patients from hospitals to nursing homes), but spared the success in the neighboring Venetia region which was initially hit equally hard but responded perfectly.

  30. Only doing it if it’s not the nose test. Too squeamish to put myself through that unless I absolutely must lol.

  31. @James and @Ben: It does not look like the Schengen zone will open up as a whole. There will be “bubbles”. Currently, there is already one including the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). Another one, from 15 June, will be Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. However, it’s less likely that countries like Italy or Spain will be included, or at least not entirely (perhaps, the Balearic islands might be included but not mainland Spain).

    Yet another question is when will those bubbles open for US visitors. As it looks this depends largely on the US opening for Europeans, i.e. reciprocity. Again, I think it will be by “bubbles” …

  32. Plan a trip (have ticket-refundable) to Iceland mid-August. Looking forward to seeing what constitutes an acceptable negative recent COVID-19 test certificate (approved by Icelandic authorities). If it is possible to get a test lets say 48-72 hours before departure would be best and cheapest way to go. Paying $350. USD for an on arrival test would be unacceptable to me in that the test (costing about $100. would then be financially profitable. Also if one would somehow test positive just how much would the isolation corridor cost plus inflated food prices. Unless the rules are clearly laid out and not invented along the way would then opt for Alaska as similar environment and less risk.

  33. What is the timeframe prior to arrival to Iceland that you would need a negative test? 10, 15, 30 days? What qualifies as “recent”?

  34. That was my question. Very interested in specifics on before arrival and what qualifies as a certifiable test, who must sign the certificate. Any test beyond a week would think be not valid. 72 hours prior to departure sounds reasonable. Understanding that it’s imperfect but does lower risk.

  35. I doubt that these $350 tests are a sustainable way for Iceland to entice large numbers of tourists coming forward.

    Iceland has evolved into a destination for ordinary, middle-income tourists who likewise would spend their non-lavish holidays in budget destinations such as Portugal, Austria or France.

    Were a family of 4 to travel to Iceland then, COVID-19 tests alone would on average make up roughly 20% of the overall budget. It’s highly unlikely that the mass of tourists typically coming to Iceland would be willing to put up with that.

  36. Are the saliva tests available? I have a deviated septum that has been waiting for the all clear to be fixed. So, if swab goes up open side, I do not k ow for how long, I cannot breathe through other nostril.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.