Visiting the Doctor & Filling a Prescription in Reykjavík

Published: 5 Mar at 11 AM
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Filed: Healthcare,Iceland

Local Expert Series: Visiting the doctor in Reykjavík, Iceland by Larissa

Since I’ve moved to Reykjavík, I’ve found that it is not necessarily the most complex operations and procedures that are the most difficult to find out how to manage, but the most basic ones. This is not to say at all that something like getting your national ID number (kennitala) doesn’t present a myriad complications, simply that since this process is understood to be one which is of unique importance for foreigners, there is a wide range of available information about it in English and other foreign languages.

Visiting a doctor in Reykjavik, Iceland
Visiting a doctor in Reykjavik, Iceland
But what about something like going to the doctor? This is a pretty basic process for someone in their native country, but it is extremely complicated for a new expat, particularly when she isn’t fluent in the local language, and more particularly, when she is feeling under the weather. No one handles bureaucracy well when sick!

So here are some pointers for managing this process in Reykjavík, Iceland, gleaned from my very recent experience going to the doctor and filling a prescription here.

Some background on the Icelandic Social Insurance (Health Care) System

Everyone who lives in Iceland for six months—regardless of nationality—automatically becomes a member of the Icelandic social insurance system. (If you are from a non-European country, you’ll need to purchase six months of private Icelandic insurance to cover this period of non-coverage before you will be granted a visa.) Once you become part of the social insurance system, the payment process at any neighborhood clinic (more on these below) is rather simple. At the clinic, you give the person at the front desk your national ID number, she will confirm you in the system, and you will pay a very nominal fee (like a co-pay in the US) to see a nurse or doctor. The health benefits granted to anyone covered by the social insurance system are extensive (free hospitalization! free maternity care!); see the link below for a full list of services that anyone in the Icelandic system is entitled to.

Prior to becoming part of the Icelandic social insurance system, however, you are responsible for furnishing your own private insurance and, in some cases, paying for the doctor’s fee up front. Anyone coming from Europe should have a fairly easy time of this—Icelandic health clinics will accept European insurance directly and the patient is not expected to pay for the full doctor’s visit out of pocket. Individuals coming from a non-European country will be asked to pay the full fee for the visit up front and then will have to deal with reimbursement from their home insurance themselves. Luckily, the full fee for a doctor’s visit comes to about 6,000ISK, or about 48USD.

The Doctor’s Visit

For regular doctor’s visits—anything that is not a medical emergency and does not require immediate care at a hospital—you can visit one of the many neighborhood health clinics operated in the capital area. According to the website operated by the government-run Primary Health Care office, “The health care clinics offer various medical and nursing services, general medical service, general nursing care, infant and maternity service, school nursing, vaccinations for adults, health care for the elderly etc.” For many issues, you can just go in without an appointment during the walk-in hours that each clinic has every day. In these cases, you will most likely meet with a nurse practitioner. If you need to meet with a doctor—to request a prescription, for example—you’ll probably need to make an appointment.

A few easy steps and you’re done:

  • Find the clinic closest to your home, and refer to their website (listed here) to see what the walk-in hours are each day. The clinic websites are all in Icelandic, but don’t despair! Just look for “þjónustutími” or service hours in the blue box on the homepage.
  • If you do not need an appointment, just head to the clinic. If you do need an appointment, it’s easiest to call the clinic to schedule, since booking online requires a passcode that needs to be acquired from another office. The phone number will be listed just to the left of the service hours, also in the blue box.
  • If you are not sure if you need an appointment, or have a question that you’d like answered beforehand, you can send an email to the general health care office via the online form. (It’s okay to send the message in English.) When I did this, I received a response and even follow-up responses within the same day. It turned out that I needed to speak to a doctor, who called me back the next afternoon. So it is actually a rather quick process.

Getting a Prescription Filled

If you are prescribed a medication at the health clinic, you will not be given a paper script. Instead, the doctor or nurse will enter your prescription into the system under your national ID number. (This works even if you are not yet covered by the Icelandic social insurance system.) Then, you go to the nearest pharmacy (apótek), give your ID number to the pharmacist, and pick up your medication there. You will be charged another nominal fee, but again, it is very reasonable (especially when compared to American medication fees). You will also be given a card by the pharmacist that shows how long your prescription is valid and how many refills you have remaining.

Useful links in English

Icelandic Health Insurance:

Health Clinic Main Page (English Information):

About the author

Local ExpertA native Arizonan turned New Yorker, Larissa Kyzer left her adopted home of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn in August 2012 and moved to Reykjavík to begin studying the Icelandic language at the University of Iceland. With time (and lots of hard work), she aims to become fluent enough in the language that she can translate contemporary Icelandic fiction into English. A freelance writer and librarian, Larissa hopes to one day divide her time between translating, writing, and working as a youth librarian. For the time being, she spends her free time haunting public libraries around Reykjavík, cooking, and blogging about expat life and language-learning at Eth & Thorn (won Expat Blog Awards 2012 Gold for Iceland!)

If you have anything to add about your own experience relating to this article, or perhaps have a question for Larissa please leave her a comment below!
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