When visiting Iceland, be sure to bring a credit card — and an iron stomach if you plan to try the fermented shark meat.
My weeklong trip to Reykjavik and the southern coast of Iceland offered some amazing experiences, nearly all of which could be paid for with a credit card. From my initial bus ride from Keflavik Airport into the city of Reykjavik to a relaxing Blue Lagoon excursion to a delicious lamb hot dog (with ketchup, mustard, onions and remoulade sauce) at Bajarins Beztu, plastic proved to be the payment method of choice. The only time cold, hard kronur was required was when paying for a parking meter on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in downtown Reykjavik.
Considering the convenience, it’s no wonder Icelanders seem to love their plastic. Of course, locals aren’t charged the additional foreign transaction fees that make paying by credit card in a foreign country somewhat less pleasurable for visitors.
I had wanted to avoid those fees, too. Despite applying (and getting approved) for a foreign transaction fee free Schwab credit card in advance of my trip, dealing with that bank’s customer service left a worse taste in my mouth than the fermented “cheese shark” (or hakarl in Icelandic) I sampled at the Reykjavik flea market fish counter. Apparently, a mix-up on the bank’s end meant that while it was noted in Schwab’s computer system that the card had to be mailed ASAP to arrive in time for my trip, nobody at Schwab followed up on my request and sent the card. Two days before I left for Iceland, I was told apologetically over the phone that my credit card wouldn’t arrive before my Icelandair flight departed.
That meant bringing along my existing Citi card and paying a 3 percent fee for charges made while in Iceland. Still, I avoided charging any more than necessary while on my trip. Traveling with a friend who paid upfront for some of the bigger trip expenses (hotel rooms, whale watching trip, car rental, etc.) with his fee-less credit card — combined with a small stash of Icelandic kronur in my wallet — helped me avoid some transaction costs. As for those kronur, they were easy to obtain both in the airport when I arrived and later on at a bank branch in Reykjavik. There wasn’t any added fee for currency conversion.
Despite local prices that have come down since the country’s recent bankruptcy (and the free shark samples), visitors to Iceland will need to pay for purchases one way or another. And it’s preferable to not carry loads of cash in your wallet or pay ATM fees to take out cash abroad. That’s why having a credit card while traveling to Iceland — or anywhere else in the world — makes sense.
See related: Iceland trip preparation provides education on travel, money