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Flag of Iceland
Map of Iceland
Introduction Iceland
Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.
Geography Iceland
Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
Geographic coordinates:
65 00 N, 18 00 W
Map references:
Arctic Region
total: 103,000 sq km
water: 2,750 sq km
land: 100,250 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than Kentucky
Land boundaries:
0 km
4,988 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 NM or to the edge of the continental margin
territorial sea: 12 NM
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers
mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fiords
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Hvannadalshnukur 2,119 m
Natural resources:
fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Land use:
arable land: 0.06%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.94% (23% permanent pastures) (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
NA sq km
Natural hazards:
earthquakes and volcanic activity
Environment - current issues:
water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Environmental Modification, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note:
strategic location between Greenland and Europe; westernmost European country; Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe
People Iceland
279,384 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 23% (male 33,189; female 31,155)
15-64 years: 65.1% (male 91,704; female 90,199)
65 years and over: 11.9% (male 14,828; female 18,309) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.52% (2002 est.)
Birth rate:
14.37 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate:
6.93 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate:
-2.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.08 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
3.53 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 79.66 years
female: 82.07 years (2002 est.)
male: 77.42 years
Total fertility rate:
1.99 children born/woman (2002 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
0.14% (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
200 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
less than 100 (1999 est.)
noun: Icelander(s)
adjective: Icelandic
Ethnic groups:
homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%
Evangelical Lutheran 87.1%, other Protestant 4.1%, Roman Catholic 1.7%, other 7.1% (2002)
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.9% (1997 est.)
male: NA%
female: NA%
Government Iceland
Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Iceland
conventional short form: Iceland
local short form: Island
local long form: Lydhveldidh Island
Government type:
constitutional republic
Administrative divisions:
23 counties (syslur, singular - sysla) and 14 independent towns* (kaupstadhir, singular - kaupstadhur); Akranes*, Akureyri*, Arnessysla, Austur-Bardhastrandarsysla, Austur-Hunavatnssysla, Austur-Skaftafellssysla, Borgarfjardharsysla, Dalasysla, Eyjafjardharsysla, Gullbringusysla, Hafnarfjordhur*, Husavik*, Isafjordhur*, Keflavik*, Kjosarsysla, Kopavogur*, Myrasysla, Neskaupstadhur*, Nordhur-Isafjardharsysla, Nordhur-Mulasys-la, Nordhur-Thingeyjarsysla, Olafsfjordhur*, Rangarvallasysla, Reykjavik*, Saudharkrokur*, Seydhisfjordhur*, Siglufjordhur*, Skagafjardharsysla, Snaefellsnes-og Hnappadalssysla, Strandasysla, Sudhur-Mulasysla, Sudhur-Thingeyjarsysla, Vesttmannaeyjar*, Vestur-Bardhastrandarsysla, Vestur-Hunavatnssysla, Vestur-Isafjardharsysla, Vestur-Skaftafellssysla
note: there may be four other counties
1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark)
National holiday:
Independence Day, 17 June (1944)
16 June 1944, effective 17 June 1944
Legal system:
civil law system based on Danish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (since 1 August 1996)
head of government: Prime Minister David ODDSSON (since 30 April 1991)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister and approved by Parliament
election results: Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON ran unopposed in 2000 and was reelected
elections: president, which is largely a ceremonial post, elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 29 June 1996 (next to be held NA June 2004); President GRIMSSON ran unopposed in June 2000 so there were no elections; prime minister appointed by the president
Legislative branch:
unicameral Parliament or Althing (63 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
election results: percent of vote by party - Independence Party 40.7%, Social Democratic Alliance (PA, Social Democratic Party, Women's List) 26.8%, Progressive Party 18.4%, Left-Green Alliance 9.1%, Liberal Party 4.2%; seats by party - Independence Party 26, Social Democratic Alliance 17, Progressive Party 12, Left-Green Alliance 6, Liberal Party 2
elections: last held 8 May 1999 (next to be held by April 2003)
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court or Haestirettur (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice); eight district courts (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice)
Political parties and leaders:
Independence Party or IP [David ODDSSON]; Left-Green Alliance or LGP [Steingrimur SIGFUSSON]; Liberal Party or LP [Sverrir HERMANNSSON]; Progressive Party or PP [Halldor ASGRIMSSON]; Social Democratic Alliance (includes People's Alliance or PA, Social Democratic Party or SDP, Women's List)or SDA [Ossur SKARPHEDINSSON]; Social Democratic Party or SDP [Sighvatur BJORGVINSSON]; Women's List or WL [Kristin ASTGEIRSDOTTIR]
Political pressure groups and leaders:
International organization participation:
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Helgi AGUSTSSON
chancery: Suite 1200, 1156 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005-1704
consulate(s) general: New York
FAX: [1] (202) 265-6656
telephone: [1] (202) 265-6653
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador James I. GADSDEN
embassy: Laufasvegur 21, 101 Reykjavik
mailing address: US Embassy, PSC 1003, Box 40, FPO AE 09728-0340
telephone: [354] 5629100
FAX: [354] 5629139
Flag description:
blue with a red cross outlined in white extending to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dannebrog (Danish flag)
Economy Iceland
Economy - overview:
Iceland's Scandinavian-type economy is basically capitalistic, yet with an extensive welfare system, low unemployment, and remarkably even distribution of income. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydrothermal and geothermal power), the economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, providing 70% of export earnings and employing 12% of the work force. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon. The center-right government plans to continue its policies of reducing the budget and current account deficits, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, diversifying the economy, and privatizing state-owned industries. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources. Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale watching. Consumption, investment, and exports should recover moderately in 2003.
purchasing power parity - $7.7 billion (2002 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
-0.7% (2002 est.)
GDP - per capita:
purchasing power parity - $27,100 (2002 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 14% (includes fishing 12%)
industry: 21%
services: 65% (2001 est.)
Population below poverty line:
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
5% (2001 est.)
Labor force:
159,000 (2000)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 5%, fishing and fish processing 12%, manufacturing 13%, construction 11%, other services 60% (1999)
Unemployment rate:
2.8% (2002 est.)
revenues: $3.5 billion
expenditures: $3.3 billion, including capital expenditures of $467 million (1999)
fish processing; aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power; tourism
Industrial production growth rate:
0.2% (2001 est.)
Electricity - production:
7.549 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 0%
hydro: 83%
other: 17% (2000)
nuclear: 0%
Electricity - consumption:
7.02 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports:
0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products:
potatoes, turnips; cattle, sheep; fish
$2 billion f.o.b. (2002)
Exports - commodities:
fish and fish products 70%, animal products, aluminum, diatomite, ferrosilicon
Exports - partners:
UK 18.2%, Germany 14.9%, Netherlands 10.9, US 10.3%, Portugal 5.5%, Spain 5.4%, Norway 5.3% (2001)
$2 billion (2002)
Imports - commodities:
machinery and equipment, petroleum products; foodstuffs, textiles
Imports - partners:
Germany 12.2%, US 11.1%, Denmark 8.6%, Norway 7.8%, UK 7.5%, Netherlands 6.6% (2001)
Debt - external:
$2.6 billion (1999)
Economic aid - donor:
Icelandic krona (ISK)
Currency code:
Exchange rates:
Icelandic kronur per US dollar - 102.430 (January 2002), 97.425 (2001), 78.616 (2000), 72.335 (1999), 70.958 (1998), 70.904 (1997)
Fiscal year:
calendar year
Communications Iceland
Telephones - main lines in use:
196,984 (2001)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
248,131 (221,231 GSM, 26,900 NMT) (2001)
Telephone system:
general assessment: extensive domestic service
domestic: the trunk network consists of coaxial and fiber-optic cables and microwave radio relay links
international: satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean), 1 Inmarsat (Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions); note - Iceland shares the Inmarsat earth station with the other Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 3, FM about 70 (including repeaters), shortwave 1 (1998)
260,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
14 (plus 156 low-power repeaters) (1997)
98,000 (1997)
Internet country code:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
20 (2001)
Internet users:
220,000 (2002)
Transportation Iceland
0 km
total: 12,691 km
paved: 3,262 km
unpaved: 9,429 km (1999)
Ports and harbors:
Akureyri, Hornafjordhur, Isafjordhur, Keflavik, Raufarhofn, Reykjavik, Seydhisfjordhur, Straumsvik, Vesttmannaeyjar
Merchant marine:
total: 1 ship (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 1,816 GRT/2,500 DWT
ships by type: chemical tanker 1 (2002 est.)
86 (2001)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 13
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
914 to 1,523 m: 8 (2002)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 73
1,524 to 2,437 m: 3
914 to 1,523 m: 21
under 914 m: 49 (2002)
Military Iceland
Military branches:
no regular armed forces; Police, Coast Guard
Military manpower - availability:
males age 15-49: 71,142 (2002 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service:
males age 15-49: 62,556 (2002 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
Military - note:
defense is provided by the US-manned Icelandic Defense Force (IDF) headquartered at Keflavik
Transnational Issues Iceland
Disputes - international:
Rockall continental shelf dispute involving Denmark, Iceland, and the UK (Ireland and the UK have signed a boundary agreement in the Rockall area); dispute with Denmark over the Faroe Islands' fisheries median line boundary within 200 NM; disputes with Denmark, the UK, and Ireland over the Faroe Islands continental shelf boundary outside 200 NM

This page was last updated on 19 March 2003