Living in Europe | Day care, schooling & family related issues | Iceland

Please find below information related to children, i.e. day care and the educational system, as well as family matters like maternity/paternity leaves, child benefit payments and more. 

Icelandic pre-schools operate according to laws passed in the Alþingi. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture lays down the framework and policy for pre-school education, while local municipalities have the responsibility for implementing the law on pre-school education. Parents pay a monthly fee to have their child in pre-school. The fee depends on the amount of time your child is in school everyday, if meals are included, and whether or not the parents are single, working or enrolled in university or college. Parents that have more than one child in pre-school get a reduced fee for siblings.

Pre-schools are to be available to all children who have not reached compulsory school age, i.e. in the autumn of the year in which the child turns 6. Some pre-schools accept children at one year old, but the youngest children are usually 2 years of age. In municipalities where there may be insufficient room to accommodate all applicants, the children of single parents and students are often given priority. Parents may apply for a pre-school when the child is 6 months old. Application forms can be found in all nursery schools and the relevant nursery school head offices. In Reykjavik applications in 14 languages are on the web site, As there are often waiting lists for pre-school places it is a good idea to get the application in when the child is 6 months of age. Children of parents that speak a language other than Icelandic may be eligible for priority placement.

If your child cannot be placed in a Pre-school (Leikskóli) immediately, or your child is between 6 months and 2 years old you may wish to find a day care parent. Day care parents take care of children in their own homes and this service is administered by the social services of the local municipal authority. Those who take care of children in their own homes must fulfil certain requirements and the supervision of day care parents is the responsibility of each local municipal authority.

Most neighborhoods in the capital area have playgrounds. These can be used free of charge.

A fundamental principle of Icelandic education is that everyone should have equal opportunities to acquire appropriate education, irrespective of sex, economic status, residential location, religion, possible handicaps, and cultural, social or ethnic background. The parliament and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture are legally and politically responsible for the education system and determine its basic objectives and administrative

framework. There are few private schools in the system and almost all private schools receive public funding.

The school system has recently been decentralized and since 1996 local municipalities manage the schools and are responsible for implementing education laws. The municipalities are therefore responsible for providing access to preschool and compulsory school facilities and also for all financial support of these facilities.

The education system is divided into four levels:

  • Pre-School (leikskóli) - for children between the 2 and 6 years of age.
  • Compulsory (grunnskóli) - 6-16 years of age.
  • Upper-Secondary (framhaldsskóli) - For those that are 16-20 years of age or anyone that has completed compulsory education or has turned 18 years of age.
  • Higher Education or University (háskóli) – For those that have completed upper-secondary school and have a "students" degree or the equivalent.

For children up to the age at which compulsory school begins which is in August/September of the year which the child turns 6 years old. For more information go to the chapter about day care.

School attendance is compulsory from the age of 6 to 16, i.e. in the autumn of the year in which the child turns 6. Parents are obligated to ensure that their children of compulsory school age are registered and attend school. Pupils are in school for 180 days during the months of August - June. Compulsory education, including textbooks and materials is free of charge. Children living in Iceland that speak a language other than Icelandic have a legal right to special teaching in Icelandic. According to Icelandic law all students with a different mother tongue than Icelandic have the right to two hours a week of special teaching in Icelandic while they are getting a grasp of the language. In each school the headmaster and the special education teachers see to the organisation and the implementation of the teaching. The special teaching may vary depending on the mother tongue of the student and how different it is to Icelandic.

Children that have another mother tongue than Icelandic may request exemption from Danish. This exemption is considered on an individual basis and those requesting exemption must prove that it is in the best interest of the child. This exemption is never given to younger children. With this exemption it usually follows that the child is also exempt from taking the National Standardized Examinations in Danish. This decision should be taken very seriously as not having credits in Danish may have an effect on what area of study students may pursue

in college. For further information contact your child's head master, or the Ministry of Education.To register your child in school you may go to the school that is nearest you. If you are not sure which school that is, contact

your local school administration office. The Reykjavik Education service Centre, has registration forms available in 14 different languages.

When you register your child for school you should have the following information:

  • Name and ID number of the child
  • Previous school records
  • Proof of a medical examination
  • Proof of having received all necessary vaccinations

The transition into the Icelandic school system may take time, and may be difficult. It is important to remember that children may experience culture shock just as adults do. Parents are the best advocates for their children, so do not be afraid to ask questions or express concerns. It is a good idea to be in regular contact with your child's teacher and headmaster. If communication is restricted because of language, ask that an interpreter be provided. The schools are not legally required to provide interpreters although they often do so if needed. The Reykjavik education service center has recently published an information booklet about the school system in 14 languages.

Education at the upper-secondary level is free but students pay a registration fee and the cost of textbooks. Students in vocational education also pay a materials fee. Education at this level is not compulsory but all students that have completed this level of education have the right to enter university. The school year is 9 months long and is divided into autumn and spring terms and traditionally takes 4 years to complete. Some schools offer summer school programs, evening programs and adult programs. Recently there was a change in the system and there are no longer certain schools assigned to certain neighborhoods, so students are free to apply to whatever school they choose. It is possible that an applicant does not get accepted for their first choice, so it is a good idea to have a few choices in mind. When choosing a school, shop around, ask questions, visit the school and take a tour, and then decide which one best suits your needs. Note: At the time of writing this only one school in the Reykjavik area Iðnskóli offers special programs for new immigrants. Schools in the Reykjavík area do not have dormitories while schools in the countryside offer room and board for enrolled students. There are about 40 of these schools in Iceland.

There are no loans available for students in upper-secondary school. There are however tax discounts available to parents. This discount is not automatic like child benefits. Parents must fill out the appropriate information on their tax forms. The amount of the discount is affected by any income that the student claims. For more information contact the Tax Office. Parents are obligated by law to financially see to their children until they are 18 years of age. Students between the ages of 18-20 years old that are studying or learning a trade may apply for an extension of support. The student makes this request at The State Social Security Institute.

The Icelandic higher education system dates back to 1911 with the foundation of the University of Iceland. In the past decade there has been an increase in the amount of institutions of higher learning. At the time of writing this there are 8 universities. Except for 3 of them they are all run by the state. Universities differ to the extent to which they engage in research and the number of programs they offer. While universities are free to set their own admissions criteria, in most circumstances a matriculation exam or its equivalent is necessary. Registration of 1st year students takes place from late May until early June. The application for foreign students, other than Nordic citizens is the 15th of March. Some of the universities also admit new students in the

spring. There are no tuition fees at state-run universities, only registration fees. Students must purchase their own books and materials. Students attending institutes of higher learning may be eligible for a loan from the Icelandic Student Loan Fund. The amount of the loan depends on the income of the student and if they have children. These loans must be paid back 2 years after graduation or discontinuing your studies. The Ministry of Education grants scholarships once a year to foreign students to pursue studies in Icelandic language and literature at the University of Iceland.Contact the ministry for more information.

The following individuals are eligible for a student loan:

  • Citizens of the EU and EEA-EFTA countries, who have worked at least 1 year in Iceland.
  • Students from Nordic countries who are permanent residents of Iceland, are registered students, and are not already receiving help from their own country.
  • Students that are from countries that have a reciprocal agreement with Iceland.
  • Foreign immigrants, legally residing in Iceland for 1 year that have worked here, or within the EU for at least 5years are eligible for a loan providing the course of study they are applying for is work related. The same applies for spouses and children under 21 years of age.


Universities and Colleges in Iceland

The University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands)

Suðurgötu, IS-101 Reykjavik

tel: (+354) 525-4000 fax: (+354) 525-5850


The University of Akureyri (Háskólinn á Akureyri)

v/Norðurslóð, IS-600 Akureyri

tel: (+354) 463-0900 fax: (+354) 463-0999


The University of Iceland - School of Education (Menntavísindasvið Háskóla Íslands) 

Stakkahlíð, IS-105 Reykjavík

tel: (+354) 525-5950


The Agricultural University (Landbúnaðarháskólinn á


IS-311, Borgarnes

tel: (+354) 433-7000 fax: (+354) 433-7001


Iceland University of the Arts (Listaháskóli Íslands)

Skipholt 1, IS-105 Reykjavik

tel: (+354) 552-4000 fax: (+354) 562-3629


Hólar University College (Hólaskóli)

Hólar Hjaltadal, IS-551 Sauðárkrókur

tel: (+354) 455-6300 fax: (+354) 455-6301


Bifröst School of Business (Viðskiptaháskólinn Bifröst)

IS-311 Borgarnes

tel: (+354) 433 000 fax: (+354) 433 0001


Reykjavik University (Háskólinn í Reykjavík)

Ofanleiti 2, IS-103 Reykjavík

tel: (+354) 510-6200 fax: (+354) 510-6201

All eligible parents have the right to certain family benefits in the case of childbirth or adoption. In order to support equality between men and women in the home and in the labor market and to ensure the welfare of children, both parents have equal rights to maternity/paternity benefits and leave. This law affords both men and women the reality of coordinating family life and work outside the home. The benefits are linked to the birth of the child and are to replace income during the leave. The law also provides for a 13-week parental leave during the child's first 8 years. For students and those not active in the labor market it is possible to receive a grant.

This leave is for those parents working in the labor market, both full and part time and those that are self-employed.

To be eligible for this fund:

  • You must have been employed for at least 6 months before the day of the leave.
  • Parents that have been working in other EEA countries shall be eligible if the parent has been employed in Iceland for at least one month during the last 6 months prior to the first day of leave.
  • For new residents in Iceland a main condition for eligibility is that the parents have lived legally in Icelan for at least 12 months prior to the birth.
  • Only those parents that have custody or joint custody areeligible for benefits. Non-custodial parents may receivethe right to leave providing the custodial parent has agreed that the non-custodial parent is to have access to the child during the period of leave.
  • The right to leave expires when the child is 18 months of age.
  • You must notify your employer as soon as possible and fill out an application from the the Social Security Institute.

Each parent has an independent right to 3 months of leave. This means that the mother has the right to 3 months leave, and the father also has the right to 3 months leave. This is however not transferable. The mother may not take the whole 6 months herself if the father chooses not to take leave. It is possible however for the parents to divide the 3-month leave into shorter periods and even to arrange to take it in the form of reduced working hours. After the initial 3 months for the mother and 3 months for the father there is an additional 3 months that may be taken. These 3 months may be split between the parents or just one parent may take these 3 months, meaning that one parent may take up to 6 months leave.

To apply for leave an application from SSI is filled out and given to the employer to sign. Then either the employee or the employer forwards the application to SSI for processing. This application should be submitted at least 8 weeks prior to the expected birth of the child. It is also expected that the employee tell their employer of the upcoming leave as soon as possible. The employer has the right to request proof of custody from the parent.

For full-time workers the monthly benefits during leave are 80% of the average wages during a 12-month consecutive period ending 2 months prior to the first day of the leave. It is important to note that during these leave employees still have the right to any staff benefits or privileges that they would have gained and have already earned. For instance vacation time and seniority are still gained during leave. Upon returning to work the employee shall enter into the same or a comparable position. It is not legal to terminate an employee that is on maternity/paternity leave.

Parents that are unemployed or are full-time students each have the independent right to a maternity/paternity grant for up to 3 months in connection with the birth of their child. This grant is not transferable. Payments for the previous month are paid out on the 1st working day of each month. In addition to this grant parents have the joint right to a grant for 3 additional months, which may be exercised by one parent or divided between them.

To be eligible for this grant:

  • The applying parent must have been living in Iceland at the time of the birth and for 12 months prior to the birth of the child.
  • Parents right to the grant are conditional on the fact that the applying parent has custody or joint custody of the child.
  • The parents' eligibility expires when the child is 18 months of age.
  • You must be a full-time student, studying 75 - 100% continuously for a 6-month period during the last 12 months before the birth.
  • You must be un-employed or working less than 25%.
  • You must fill out an application at the SSI 3 weeks before the expected birth of the child.

Parents have the independent right to 13 weeks of parental leave, i.e. time off from work without any payments, in order to care for their children. The right to this leave begins when the child is born and expires when the child is 8 years of age. This right is not transferable.

In order to be eligible for leave:

  • You have to have worked for 6 months with the same employer.
  • You must notify your employer as soon as possible and at least 6 weeks prior to the leave.
  • You must fill out an application at the SSI.

During parental leave the employee will not loose any earned employee rights or privileges. Upon returning to work the employee should enter into the same or a comparable position. It is not legal to terminate an employee that is on parental leave.

The parent does not get paid during the parental leave

Parents who have custody of their children aged 16 years and younger are entitled to child benefit payments (barnabætur). The amount paid per family is determined by the status of each family, that is, the earnings of the family and the number of children aged 16 years and below. Child benefits payments help relieve the financial burdens of the family and the amount paid increases with the number of children the family has to support. Single parents are entitled to higher payments than married couples, or couples that live in registered co-habitation. Payments are made four times a year, in February, May, August and November. The amount paid in February and May are estimates calculated in advance, whilst payments made in August and November are based on the net income of the parents for the previous year. As a result, if the payments made in February and May were too high, deductions will be made from the August and November payments, and vice versa.

Child benefit payments to foreign citizens resident in Iceland, as well as Icelandic citizens who have moved back into the country, are calculated starting from the date of arrival in Iceland.