Iceland is a country that is remote, exotic, developed, and European all at the same time. In general, volunteering in Europe means work camps, marketing placements, and helping in a social welfare project in an urban setting. Iceland is no exception; volunteering in Iceland at work camps and in marketing volunteer placements is common, but Iceland also offers an additional twist, the environment. Iceland is where the North American plate and the Eurasian plate meet in an often violent intersection. The Norse culture and Viking heritage make Icelandic culture interesting and appealing to any traveler, but it is the geology and geography of Iceland that will captivate any volunteer.
Active volcanoes, geysers that make Old Faithful look lazy, and ancient glaciers dot this sparsely populated island nation, and Aurora Borealis provides a nightly show through the winter and the summers when sunlight extends into the wee hours. Although Iceland is not above the arctic circle, some of its islands are, which make it one of the most unique nations on Earth. The nation’s tumultuous environment provides an added incentive to volunteer in Iceland.
This European Union Member has a population of less than 400,000 citizens, and 200,000 of them living in Reykjavik, while the rest are spread out in small hamlets and rural settings surrounded by mountains, fjords, and fierce rivers. It is possible to find opportunities to volunteer in Iceland across the nation’s diverse landscape.
Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland. At 64 degrees latitude, it is also the world’s most northern capital. The city is believed to have been established as the first settlement in 870 AD by Norsemen. While Reykjavick is one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world, it still suffers from many urban challenges facing every city in the world, which means there are volunteer opportunities in Reykjavick working in drug abuse rehabilitation and with both elderly and disadvantaged youth.
Skaftafell is a preservation area in southeast Iceland and part of Vatnajökull National Park, most notable because it has been carved by millennia of glacier movements and erupting volcanoes. Once a farming settlement, the volcanic eruption of 1362 wiped out the population and it was renamed Öræfi, or wasteland, but volunteering in Skaftafell will most definitely not be a waste.
Akureyri, nicknamed the capital of the north, the city is the fourth largest city and the second largest metropolitan area in Iceland, with a staggering population of 17,000. The city was granted city status by the King of Denmark in 1778, only to lose the status in 1836 when its population of 12 wasn’t showing any signs of growing.
Borgarnes is a larger town by Icelandic standards, nearing 2,000 residents with amenities including a gas station, restaurants, and shops. This beautiful coastal town is often a staging place for environmental projects in western Iceland.
Volunteer Abroad in Iceland
Imagine volunteering on a dog sledding team or helping with organic food production in the village of Sólheimar, these are just two of the many unique volunteer placements in Iceland. But that is not to say that more traditional volunteer programs don’t exist in Iceland. There are also opportunities for volunteering in Iceland in everything from elderly care to environmental conservation.
Work Camps often include a set project that may or may not be completed during the program and are great options for group volunteering. Work Camps are also a great way to connect with other like minded travelers, have a firm and structured project, and feel like your contribution can be measured in real world terms like walls constructed, trails cleared, or children taught!
Environmental projects are probably one of the most common draws to volunteer in Iceland. Ten percent of this island nation is covered by glaciers, dotted with seismic activity from geysers to volcanoes, and unspoiled and untouched, so there is much work that can be done to preserve Iceland’s natural beauty. Icelanders are also among the most environmentally dedicated populations on earth, so environmental volunteering in Iceland is truly ideal.
Youth work in Iceland is typically located in Reykjavick, although some opportunities exist in other smaller towns. Projects volunteering with Iceland’s youth include big brother/big sister programs, camps, after school programs, tutoring, and very specific projects, like environmental education programs.
Festival Workers. Unique opportunities to volunteer at multiple festivals throughout Iceland are also available, including at the Saga Festival in south Iceland, the French days in Fáskrúsfjörður, and the Neistaflug in Neskaupsstaðu.
Costs & Affordability
Iceland has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. A major economic success story, recent years have brought about a banking and economic crash that has stifled growth and changed the optimistic trajectory of past years. Aside from the economy, Iceland is still a remote Island that requires much of their consumer goods from abroad, which means many things are very expensive, including fresh fruit and vegetables. Limited local resources including housing, which makes the cost of living in Iceland more expensive than many other European countries. Iceland has benefited in recent years from a booming tourism trade fueled in part by low cost Atlantic carriers Wow Airlines and Icelandair, however.
Volunteering abroad in Iceland is still one of the most affordable ways to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture, especially since you will usually pay a program fee that includes housing and often meals. Program costs range from no cost to work camps for $1,000 to six month projects for several thousand U.S. dollars. In the end, the opportunities to volunteer in Iceland and work with locals is priceless.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodations vary depending on the organization and location of your volunteering work in Iceland. Often work camps are housed in hostel type accommodations or camping arrangements, while urban projects may include housing in homestays or shared, basic flats.
As a member of the European Union no visas are required for European travelers to volunteer in Iceland, and many other nationalities are not required to have a visa for stays of up to three months. Be sure to inquire with your volunteer program provider as to the visa requirements for your specific situation.
Benefits & Challenges
Prospective volunteers are typically drawn to destinations with the greatest needs, which usually means developing countries. However, there is a large population of volunteers who want to give back but also want to travel to a European destination. This usually limits volunteer options to work camps and urban placements, with an occasional sprinkling of “I need someone to manage my social media, but I can’t pay you and there is no internship credit.” While these are also great opportunities to volunteer abroad, Iceland provides a very unique situation for prospective volunteers that includes being able to say you volunteered in Europe. Those who volunteer in Iceland will be happy to travel to a nation where English is widely spoken and amenities of the first world are widely available, yet still be able to volunteer in a remote, exotic, and hard core volunteer abroad destination.
For individuals who want to volunteer with street children India may be a better destination and for those wanting to work with elephants Thailand is still a more realistic option, but for those interested in volunteering abroad near a pristine glacier or in a remote village, or even on a dog sled team, no other place compares to volunteering abroad in Iceland. Iceland is truly an unforgettable volunteer abroad destination.