Iceland may not strike you as the first place to go for volunteering, but boy oh boy should it be on your list. If not only for the famous Blue Lagoon, black sand beaches that look like they’re from another planet, and the highly sought-after Northern Lights (yes, you can see those in Iceland if you’re lucky!), but for making a big impact to small communities.
The country is just full to the brim with incredible landscapes, making it a nature lover’s dream and the perfect place to escape urban life!
However, no country is perfect, and Iceland has its fair share of the pot when it comes to social and environmental issues. If you’re seriously thinking about volunteering in Iceland, there are a ton of opportunities just waiting for you out there! We’ve got to look at this situation like a glass half full, right?
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- Top 3 Volunteer Projects in Iceland
- What You Need to Know About Volunteering in Iceland
- Why Volunteer in Iceland
- Before You Volunteer in Iceland
- Costs of Volunteering in Iceland
- Choosing a Volunteer Project in Iceland
- Top Volunteer Projects in Iceland
- DIY Volunteering in Iceland
- What to Expect When Volunteering in Iceland
- Final Thoughts
Top 3 Volunteer Projects in Iceland
Cultural Exchange and House Maintenance
- > Maintenance
- > Reykjavik
Help to Create a Queer Art Residency
- > Social Media, Content Creation, General Help
- > Neskaupstadur
House Help in a Rural Home
- > Light House Work
- > Southern Iceland
What You Need to Know About Volunteering in Iceland
There are so many awesome volunteering opportunities in Iceland, particularly for those who love to work outdoors and get their hands dirty. I am mostly talking about conservation and farm placements, but there are a few community projects for those who want them!
The thing a lot of people don’t seem to realize about volunteering, is that it really isn’t just your average vacation. In the age of volunteerism (which has its own draw, don’t get me wrong), many people snap a few pics of them hard at work before heading out to the beach or lounging around the city. Real volunteering however is hard fucking work. You will be tired, grumpy, and probably fed up at some point. But don’t let that deter you! It’s also highly rewarding and has so many more things to love than being a bit tired.
If volunteering sounds like something you’d be interested in, you’re in luck. In the age of the internet, finding ethical and worthy placements couldn’t be easier. We recommend checking out Worldpackers and Workaway! These sites are easy to use, upfront, and based on a review system, so you know what you’re getting yourself in for.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
Why Volunteer in Iceland
Apart from spending time in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, why else should you consider volunteering in Iceland? Let me give you an idea:
- Volunteering is one of the best ways to experience the inner workings of a country. You’ll be around loads of locals, living with them in some cases, and eating local food. It doesn’t get more authentic than that.
- Alright, I just mentioned this, but I wanna hammer the point home… THE FOOD. Most people aren’t aware, but Icelandic food is super healthy and delicious. I’m talking grass-fed livestock, locally caught fish, and fresh vegetables. Repeat after me: “my body is a temple”.
- Volunteering will challenge you. Forget going all “eat, pray, love,” and finding yourself. Learn about yourself through volunteering! See how you handle the good days, the bad, interacting with new people and new environments. You’ll be a better person for it, trust me.
- “Yeah, I spent last summer volunteering in Iceland”… Is that impressive pub talk or what?! Better yet, it is a great thing to add to your CV or applications for college.
Before You Volunteer in Iceland
Before you get packing and hopping on a plane, there are a few important things you may need to consider. We’re about to have the V&V (visas and vaccinations) talk. While this may seem a tad boring, you’ll thank me later!
Iceland, like many other places, does not have a volunteering visa per se. People coming from outside of the EEA or EFTA, who plan on staying in Iceland for longer than three months, will need to acquire a resident permit. These are only for volunteers who plan on working for a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. Those within the EEA or EFTA can volunteer visa-free!
For anyone planning to volunteer for less than three months who are outside of the EEA or EFTA, we advise contacting your organization to get more information on relevant visas.
This, of course, applies to a COVID-19 free world and the pandemic has very likely affected things.
Oh, the dreaded vaccines…
At the moment, Iceland does not have any mandatory vaccinations to enter the country, however, we recommend you to visit your local doctor or travel clinic 6-8 weeks before you travel to get their recommendations. They will probably advise you to get COVID-19, Hep A, and Hep B on top of your routine vaccinations.
Iceland at a Glance
- Official Language – Icelandic
- Currency – Icelandic Króna | 1 USD = 129.84 IKS (November, 2021)
- Capital – Reykjavik
Costs of Volunteering in Iceland
Stop the press! Volunteering can actually COST you money. Yep, seems crazy right? You not only work for free, but you have to pay? But once you let me explain why, this new revelation will be a lot less outrageous.
Where exactly does the money go?
The contribution you make will help to make a big dent in the daily overhead expenses such as paying rent, staff wages, buying equipment, and more. Lots of NGOs, grassroots organizations, and nonprofits don’t get adequate funding from the government, and without these financial contributions, they wouldn’t be able to keep up.
The silver lining in all this, is that you won’t end up with nothing to show in this partnership. Most placements will provide you with somewhere to stay, food to eat, and, if needed, transportation while you’re working on-site.
Just remember to budget for your own flights, visas, airport transfers, and any spending money.
Speaking of spending money… We 10/10 recommend having some set-aside. Any placement you find will give you some days off (if they don’t, run a mile), so you will want to have a budget for days out, weekends away, and souvenirs. You can’t go all the way to Iceland without bringing back a cozy wool sweater for Grandma!
Choosing a Volunteer Project in Iceland
If I’ve done my job right, you should have a good idea of what volunteering in Iceland is all about. So, it’s time for us to delve deeper and get to the fun part (aside from the actual volunteering), and that’s… drum roll pleeeease, choosing your project!
Try not to rush this part, as it’s super important to consider practical things like your skill-set, availability, and likes and dislikes.
Here are the kinds of projects that you can expect to find:
- Environmental Projects – There are so many environmental placements in Iceland, you’ll be blown away. These are largely focused on conservation – think reforestation, cleaning up coastlines, and maintaining hiking trails.
- Farm Work – This is another outdoorsy volunteer project, and will be hard work. These kinds of placements are normally on small, family-run farms, and you could be asked to pitch in around the house and/or garden, too.
- Sustainable Living – As you may already know, Iceland is a very “green” country. If you’re interested in learning about permaculture, green energy, and all things sustainable, this will be the best type of project for you!
Every organization is unique, so I can’t give you a one size fits all answer for how long you’ll be expected to stick around. I can let you know that in general, placements found on sites like Worldpackers or Workaway will probably ask you for at least a two-week commitment.
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Top Volunteer Projects in Iceland
We’ve finally got to the juicy bit!
Here they are, our list of epic Icelandic volunteer projects that will have you packing your bags faster than you can say Klofalækjarkjaftur!
Cultural Exchange and House Maintenance
- Opportunity: Maintenance
- Location: Reykjavik
If you’re handy with a paintbrush, it’s your turn to get excited as this could be your ideal placement!
This family in Reykjavik is looking for someone to come and help them with their yearly house renovations (Icelandic winters are HARSH, so yearly maintenance is a must). You will find yourself painting, repairing the building, and helping in the garden! They’ll ask you to help out for 32 hours a week, with two days off to explore the city.
In exchange, you’ll get somewhere to stay, three free meals a day, and access to laundry facilities and bicycles. If you’re new to Iceland, Reykjavik is a fantastic jumping-off point for your trip, and has a lot going on for those who love urban environments!
Help to Create a Queer Art Residency
- Opportunity: Social Media, Content Creation, General Help
- Location: Neskaupstadur
Come and help this couple run their non-profit, which aims to create a queer art residency and queer festival in a small town in Eastern Iceland.
You will be asked to work for 4-5 hours a day, with two days off a week, in exchange for a private room and three meals a day. They would prefer volunteers who can commit over one month to their cause, so if you have a bit of time, maybe this placement is for you!
You will be helping with a range of things, many of which are creative in nature – think, blogging, content creation, helping the contributing artists with their projects, and more. Other than that, some other tasks will include helping with cleaning and cooking, gardening, and some social media work.
Help on a Sheep Farm
- Opportunity: General House Help, Help with the Sheep Farm
- Location: Þistilfjörður, near Raufarhöfn
This placement is absolutely PERFECT for those who want to decompress in the beautiful Icelandic countryside, and be surrounded by mountains, rivers, beaches, and waterfalls. Note, liking sheep is a must!!!
You will be asked to put in five hours a day, five days a week, in exchange for a private room, three meals a day, and two coffee/snack breaks. This is a farm, so there’s no need to worry about going hungry!
Your duties will change depending on the season, but you will be needed to help around the house, do some general maintenance, and, of course, help with the sheep. This can look like herding the sheep down from the mountains, feeding them, or helping with lambing season.
If you have experience shearing sheep, this is a huge bonus. It is a paid position, so make sure to double-check your visa requirements.
Ecosystem Development Camp
- Opportunity: Wide Range of Duties
- Location: Between Selfoss and Flúðir
For those interested in learning about permaculture and doing a cultural exchange, this is a fantastic opportunity. You will be working under a well-known permaculture educator in Iceland, helping to test and improve his techniques on a small eco-development site.
This is an off-grid experience, with a free campsite available so B.Y.O.T. (bring your own tent!) Don’t worry, there is sufficient electricity to charge devices, so you won’t be totally cut off from the modern world.. Unless you want to be.
Duties range widely depending on your skills. There are five crews (building, land, nourishment, art, and organization), each tasked with a different set of jobs. However, these are very loosely followed, so you can freely move between groups. You’ll find yourself not only learning about permaculture and sustainability, but Icelandic folklore too.
House Help in a Rural Home
- Opportunity: Light House Work
- Location: Southern Iceland
We think a cultural exchange is an excellent introduction for beginner volunteers.
With this opportunity, your main duties will take up a maximum of 25 hours per week, of light housework and occasional house and pet sitting when the family goes away. In exchange, you will get free accommodation in a private studio with a private bathroom, and food – top tier!
If you’re a keen and experienced horse rider, the non-working farm has several horses, and you will be welcome to join your host family for rides during your free time! Otherwise, the area is fantastic for hiking and outdoor exploration. It is quite remote, ideal for people looking for a breather from city life.
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DIY Volunteering in Iceland
If you’ve seen the organized placements, but still a little unsure, not to worry! The amazing volunteering opportunities in Iceland aren’t limited to those. You can always do a bit of good old DIY-ing, and find yourself the perfect project.
Where to start? Well, thanks to the internet, a quick type into any search engine will show you a ton of mega volunteering opportunities! Often NGOs, nonprofits, and charities use their own websites to source help – this, and sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (hello totally justifiable social media binge).
You can also check out your go-to travel blogs for their recommendations! Of course, being your fave travel blog, we have put together some baller DIY projects so you can save yourself that extra hassle, and give yourself more time to practice your Icelandic! Kíkja!
Thórsmörk Trail Volunteers
Wow, have I found you the MOTHER of all Icelandic volunteering placements. This project is in coordination with Iceland’s Forest Service (Skógræktin) and, get a load of this, has no fees! That’s right… NO FEES. Application for these summer placements begins the winter before, so get iN early to avoid disappointment!
Your main duties will be in trail maintenance, tree planting, GIS mapping, and landscape restoration. The project runs between 5 and 7 weeks long, with accommodation on a volunteer campsite, food, and even an organized (and totally optional) hiking week to discover the Laugavegur hiking trail. If you don’t want to attend the hike, you are welcome to organize your own activities during that time.
SEEDS is an Icelandic non-governmental, non-profit volunteer organization with a large focus on promoting understanding, awareness, and environmental/social/cultural projects. They have several projects running throughout the year that mainly focus on environmental/social issues, with activities ranging from renovating community centers, cleaning up coastlines, assisting in ecological research, reforestation, and more.
Projects generally run between 2 and 3 weeks, with accommodation at a volunteer house in Reykjavík, basic facilities and a shared dorm. Volunteers will receive vegetarian food supplies, and be in charge of cooking and cleaning up after themselves. We love this placement for those keen to meet other like-minded people, who are eager to explore the city on their days off, and have a passion for the environment!
Another fantastic environmental volunteering placement! Biodiversity Vision aims to help the environment with global campaigns that demand governments create green corridors to allow safe migration of species, spread awareness of scientific campaigns, and encourage governments to set aside funds for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity.
The position has varied duties, including manual help, social media, and graphic design work, project management and communications, and lots more. The site has a stunning mountain view, and depending on the time of year, you may be lucky enough to spot the midnight sun or northern lights!
Brú House – Worldwide Friends
This position is located in Hrutafjordur, which is an Icelandic fjord full of beaches, glaciers, highlands, and untouched nature. The house has a large focus on sustainability, and promoting awareness to the visitors and guests coming to the area. Like most placements, duties are varied, and you might find yourself doing renovations, cleaning, creating art of locally scavenged materials like driftwood, and planting trees.
We love this placement, as it is a learning opportunity as well as a volunteering opportunity, and you will probably find yourself a lot more knowledgeable about sustainability, green energy, and global warming when you leave! Food and accommodation are provided for the duration of the project, and (unsurprisingly) there’s plenty of great hikes in the area.
Stykkisholmur – The Secret of Snæfellsnes – Worldwide Friends
Set in the incredible town of Stykkisholmur, (which is where The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed), this project focuses on environmental work such as maintaining hiking paths, planting trees, and cleaning up the coastline. If you love being outdoors, then this is definitely the placement for you!
Volunteers get free accommodation in a local community building, groceries, and even free access to the geothermal swimming pool – three guesses where you’ll be on the weekends.. The area has some spectacular hikes too, so don’t forget to pack a good pair of hiking boots!
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What to Expect When Volunteering in Iceland
I’m sure these projects have you absolutely raring to go, but some of you out there might still be on the fence about volunteering in Iceland.
This might be a totally new experience after all, and you wanna know a little bit more before taking the plunge. Sadly, I can’t give you an exact play-by-play of what to expect when you get there, but I can give you a good idea!
In the same way that different projects may ask you to stay for different lengths of time, they will also differ in the accommodation they offer. One thing that runs true across the board (aside from no one putting you up in five star luxury) is that you can always expect to stay somewhere clean, safe, and comfortable!
Most projects, especially larger organizations, will give you a cozy bed in a dorm-style room along with other volunteers (yay to bunkmates!). In Iceland, you may also find yourself staying in a private guest room in someone’s house, especially in small, family-run projects.
Sometimes, the organization can’t afford to provide you with somewhere to stay, so it will fall onto you to find somewhere suitable. They may offer to help, or give some pointers, but if you want to go it alone, hostels are a great budget option, and AirBnbs are great for those willing to splurge. Don’t forget the long-stay option to get some sweet discounts!
Generally speaking, you’ll be asked to work for five days a week, and be expected to work for 4-5 hours daily. This is especially true for placements found on sites like Worldpackers or Workaway, with a little bit of wiggle room depending on the project. The great news is, this gives you two days off to go exploring or recharge your batteries. Your host/project leaders may even organize some fun activities for you to do together!
Some of our top things to do in Iceland are to drive the Golden Circle, go whale watching, take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, and so much more!
Arguably the best way to get around Iceland is to rent a car, and explore the country and roads less traveled at your own pace. This is a popular option with many tourists, so finding safe rentals at decent prices is pretty easy. Who can resist an Iceland road trip?!
For those of you who don’t have licenses or feel comfortable driving in a foreign country, Iceland has a few good bus services that will get you to all the main cities and sites, and even into the highlands in the summer!
Dos and Don’ts
Before I wrap up this post in a neat little bow, let me leave you with a short and handy list of dos and don’ts that I personally live by when I’m volunteering:
- Do take some time in making sure your placement is the right fit. Once you’re there there’s no changing your mind, so choose wisely.
- Do be honest and upfront about how much time you can (and want) to commit to the cause! If that’s only two weeks, no problem! Just don’t show up having committed to 6 weeks then ask to leave after two…
- Do always try your very best, and assist your team members (if you have some), and listen to your supervisors.
- Do fully embrace the Icelandic way of life, and remember that just because someone does things a bit differently to us, that doesn’t mean they are wrong!
- Don’t feel shy to voice any concerns or doubts you may be having. Your hosts and supervisors want you to have a next-level volunteering experience and will help you in fixing any problems.
- Don’t forget to enjoy every minute of your time there! You’ll be doing an amazing thing and deserve to have the most incredible time possible!
Just when I thought Iceland couldn’t be any more perfect, it amazes me by the 10/10 volunteering projects available! This country is definitely a top choice for nature-lovers, and those who enjoy working with animals or are interested in sustainable living.
If you’re still not convinced, then I urge you to do some research as your dream Iceland volunteering project could only be a few clicks away! If you’ve already got your eye on something, then that’s awesome and I wish you the best time ever.
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