Despite Iceland’s reputation as an expensive country preceding it, with a little planning and a willingness to trade some of your spare time it is possible to visit this staggeringly beautiful land without emptying your bank account.
We examine realistic options for saving money by taking a volunteer role in Iceland, or even making some with a paid one.
Paid Work in Iceland
Some opportunities do exist for working in Iceland. The tourist industry is booming with numbers rising to a point where the new coalition government is considering limiting tourist visitors to protect its natural wonders. These numbers, combined with low unemployment amongst a small population, mean foreigners are often welcomed to take tourism jobs, particularly in remote areas where it can be tricky convincing Icelanders to fill these positions.
From glacier walks to ice cave tours and whale watching, these 10 trips to join while in Iceland give a good idea of the adventurous flavour to Icelandic tourism and the types of work that may be available. We suggest using the official tourism website, Inspired by Iceland, to find contact information for businesses that may be hiring.
An agency called Ninukot is able to arrange work in the hospitality sector for three to six months through its partner agencies in Europe. The jobs, in country hotels or holiday farms, pay around €2000 per month with €15 deducted per day for room and board. They also recruit for farms, the horticulture industry, and au pairs.
Iceland is part of the European Economic Area and EU citizens are entitled to work here for three months before requiring a residence permit. For Americans and other non EU native English speakers teaching English is usually the best bet in most places for fixing up employment, but that is not going to be the case in Iceland, where almost everyone is fluent already.
Saving money through volunteering may instead be a better option. While gap year companies can guide you effortlessly into a volunteer programme it is possible to save on their fees and arrange volunteer work by yourself. We list some options for volunteering in Iceland on our Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work website but we also recommend exploring the websites of the major help exchange platforms.
Help Exchanges in Iceland
Regular readers will be familiar with the concept, but for those new to The Working Traveller a help exchange is a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours arrangement, where hosts provide food and lodging to volunteers in exchange for help with their home, business or pet project. Money rarely changes hands and volunteers tend to pay their own travel costs.
Whether work or volunteer visas are needed is debatable and varies from country to country. Most help exchange platforms promote themselves as cultural exchange or learning experiences but we suggest not debating this issue with immigration if you are arriving on a tourist visa.
Most help exchanges are found through websites such as Workaway or HelpStay, who charge a small yearly membership fee to provide access to host contact details but otherwise allow users to poke about their websites for free.
Iceland has a good number of hosts for its size, the majority wanting help in remote areas with their horses, sheep and cattle. We list our favourite projects in Iceland below:
Help with an annual Festival in Húsavík
A seemingly random mix of Vikings, polar explorers and astronauts are the subjects of the exhibits on display in this museum in northern Iceland. Húsavík was the first Viking settlement and is the closest town to an area where Apollo astronauts trained before flying to the Moon. See, it all makes sense now. Museum staff are looking for help from enthusiastic, responsible, and versatile volunteers for the next festival in September.
Campsite ranger in Reykjavik
A billion stars as seen from your canvas accommodation is the reward offered here. This patch of green close to the city is temporary home to up to 900 people at a time and needs a handyman gardener to keep the place in shape. Applicants should have decent English, an EU passport and be aged 19 to 36.
Volunteer opportunity with DogSledding Iceland
Dog sledding is not a job, it is a lifestyle, say the Icelandic/French couple who own this dog sledding company. The hosts are very open that this position is not for everybody and the reviews we read point to hard work, uncompromising service and fairly basic living conditions, none of which seems to put off the countless applicants they receive each year. It should be noted the next placements aren’t available until 2018.
Help the family of a reality television show in Borgarnesi
I can’t say I’m a big fan of reality TV but this story of a young chef who moves from the city to the countryside is on to its third series. They are looking for someone to join their filmmaking family and are want someone who can cook, clean, feed the animals, and occasionally babysit.
A cattle farm and dog hotel needs some help
It was the words ‘dog hotel’ that caught our eye here. The place might just be a kennels but we imagine something far more grand and wish the hosts had carried on the illusion a bit more in their description. We prefer chambermaiding to cleaning, and Instead of walking the dogs, think doggie tour leading. Reassurance that this place could be a bit eccentric is provided by a photo of a cow being driven around in a car.
Help at a camp for 9th graders two hours from Reykjavik
Owned and run by an Icelandic youth and culture organisation, this camp in the country near the capital welcomes 75 14 year olds each week to enjoy hiking, biking and other sports. Volunteers help with tasks as varied as taking photos and videos, cleaning around the house, and helping farmers get their sheep down from the mountain. Perks aside from a bed and getting fed include access to a 25 metre swimming pool with two hot tubs (plus a natural hot tub just below the mountain side).
Experience Icelandic farm life in Eyjafjallajökull
This host breeds the Icelandic horse – one of the purest breeds in the world, bred in the country for a thousand years – on an isolated farm near the Atlantic Ocean in southern Iceland. Volunteers must have experience with horses or be keen to learn.
A group of creative people in Stöðvarfjörður are looking for skilled people for carpentry and construction help
Experience of carpentry is important for this non profit cooperative and the latest owners of a run down fish factory on the east coast of Iceland. They have been working hard to turn the factory into a concert hall, workshops, recording studio and other facilities for artistic creation in the east of Iceland. Volunteers skilled in plumbing, cabinet making, electrics, concrete work and general construction work are also appreciated to help towards their goal.
Get to know small town life in west Iceland and experience a wide spectrum of art and culture at this hostel
This hostel, on the opposite coast, is also housed in a renovated fish factory and has attached a theatre, culture centre and international artists residence. The building work is done though so here instead help is needed with cleaning the premises, meeting travellers and getting involved in the art and culture programmes, which can include working on theatre shows, helping out with festivals, and running the cinema.
Images courtesy www.iceland.is