Iceland is the least populated Nordic island country and is located in the North Atlantic Ocean. The country consists of a central volcanic plateau ringed by mountains. Lava fields and glaciers cover about the same extent of the country. It has many lakes, snowfields, hot springs, and geysers and most rivers are short, and none are navigable. Fjords provide good natural harbours.
Iceland has a population of approximately 336,000. Although itis, not an EU member, it has access to the EU internal market through its membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area. It is also a member of the UN, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Arctic Council.
Economically, Iceland was hit hard by the global financial crisis. The government and IMF rescued the economy which has steadily recovered, thanks to a great extent to a surge in tourism.
Iceland follows the Nordic Welfare System Model, characterised by an elaborate social safety net, free education and universal healthcare, largely funded by tax. It encompasses strong property rights, contract enforcement, and overall ease of doing business, public pension plans, free trade and little product market regulation. Low levels of corruption are experienced, and a high percentage of workers belong to a labour union.
Iceland has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Þingvellir National Park is a cultural Heritage site while Surtsey is a national site. Surtsey is a volcanic island along the southern coast of Iceland formed out of volcanic eruptions that took place from 1963 to 1967.
Iceland as a destination is a realm of stark contrasts and striking landscapes, where rivers run through deserts and fire erupts from ice. The Volcano Hekla is among the most active volcanoes on earth. Reynisfjara is a black sand beach surrounded by roaring surf and the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjall mountain. This is not a place to swim, though. Bláa lónið, or the Blue Lagoon, is a geothermal spa believed to have natural healing powers.
Nature enthusiasts enjoy Husey in East Iceland, which lies between two glacial rivers; Iceland’s fourth largest lake, Mývatn; Hornstrandir in the northernmost part of the Westfjords, is a colossal cliffside which is the perfect habitat for among the world’s greatest seafowl colonies and Asbyrgi Canyon.
Iceland is a member country of the Schengen zone, but is not a member of the European Union. Of the Schengen countries only Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are not EU members. All Schengen countries are subject to the same regulations regarding entry to the Schengen zone, Iceland is therefore also subject to the ETIAS which is expected to be in operation in 2021.
Australians, EU citizens and nationals from all countries enjoying the visa liberation policy, may travel to Iceland with just a valid passport at present. The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will impact these travellers. The process involves an online application similar to Australia’s own Electronic Travel Authority (ETA).
Once ETIAS is implemented, Schengen Area regulations will remain in place, with travellers having to apply online for pre-authorisation before leaving for Europe. A Schengen Visa will still be necessary for visits exceeding 90 days. ETIAS authorisation is electronically attached to the passport within minutes of approval and remains valid for three years or until the passport expires.
The EU Commission have altered the Schengen zone’s migratory system by the proposed ETIAS because of risks associated with terrorism and uncontrolled immigration into Europe. This pre-authorisation system will safeguard and secure Europe’s external borders by identifying potential risks before they reach the borders.
Australia and Iceland are signatories of a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in geothermal technology. Two-way merchandise trade has seen recent growth driven largely by a steep increase in Australia’s alumina exports to Iceland. Iceland’s cheaper renewable energy prices are a major drawcard. Australian imports include medicaments (including veterinary), animal oils and fats, miscellaneous manufactured articles and civil engineering equipment and parts.
Icelander youths have petitioned for access to Australia’s popular working holiday visa program which would allow those aged 18 to 30 to live and work in Australia for up to a year. The visa grants easy access to Australia who gains valuable labour. Most working holiday visa programs are reciprocal, and Australia’s working holiday visa program is currently open to citizens of 19 countries.
Almost 1,100 Australians claim Icelandic ancestry.
Australians wishing to travel to Iceland need only a valid passport at present. Once ETIAS is implemented, Australians will have to apply online for pre-authorisation. Nationals from Iceland need to apply for ETA to visit Australia.