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Can You Bring a Drone to Iceland? (What You Need to Know)

Iceland brings to mind extreme and stunning scenery unlike anywhere else in the world, so if you’re planning a trip there, it’s absolutely natural that you would want to bring your drone along to capture some of these iconic sights from the air. But before you pack up your drone, you want to know if it is allowed to fly a drone in Iceland.

Drones are allowed in Iceland, but there are a number of rules that govern their use. For example, you cannot take photos of government or military facilities in Iceland using drones or camera drones. You also cannot fly drones above any buildings in Reykjavik. 

As you’re deciding whether or not it’s worth it to bring your drone to Iceland, we’ll help you make that decision, and give a few further details about the rules concerning the use of drones in Iceland. 

Drone rules in Iceland

The basic rules for flying a drone in Iceland are really not that different from the rules that you’ll come across in the US or in most of Europe for that matter. They have to do with basic safety and with respect for others’ privacy and property. 

Here are the basic rules for drone flight in Iceland:

  • Fly below 400 feet (120 meters). This is to prevent drones from interfering with flights of manned aircraft. You will need to get permission from the Icelandic Transport Authority for drone flights above 120 meters. 
  • Don’t fly within 1.5 miles (2km) of an airport. This specifically applies to international airports. If it’s a regional airfield, you still need to stay at least 1 mile (1.5km) away. Aerodrome operators can grant permission to fly drones within a certain distance from their boundaries if a special request is made. 
  • Keep the drone at a reasonable height. Drones are not required to have special permission to fly as long as they do not exceed the height of the highest structures near the drone’s flight course.
  • Keep visual contact with your drone at all times. This means you cannot fly around mountains or down three miles of twisty road. Visual contact with your drone is essential to preventing accidents and ensuring your drone, others, and their property are not put at risk.
  • Stay away from populated areas. Do not fly your drone within 160 feet (50 meters) of residential buildings or 500 feet (150 meters) of dwellings in rural areas – unless expressly granted permission by the owner. 
  • Don’t fly over crowds. This is a safety rule, as well as a courtesy as a tourist. 
  • Label your drone. The Icelandic Transport Authority requires that you clearly mark your drone with your name, address, and telephone number on your drone. You should visit the ITA drone page if you don’t know where or how you should fly in Iceland.
  • Keep it light. Drones must weigh less than 6 pounds (3kg) in urban areas, and less than 55 lbs (25kg) in rural areas. 
  • Any drone weighing more than 44 lbs (20kg) must be insured.
  • Don’t be obnoxious. Your drone flight must respect the privacy and property of people nearby, and also must not interfere with air, vehicle, or shipping traffic. 

What else do I need to know about drones in Iceland?

Not surprisingly, you can only fly drones in certain areas in Iceland.  There are lots of unpopulated, wide-open spaces in Iceland, but not all of those places are fair game for flying your drone. 

According to Icelandic laws, a number of locations are drone-free, so you cannot fly there without a permit. In many of these places, drone flights are prohibited because the local environment is delicate, and drones can negatively impact wildlife. 

Also, some popular tourist spots in Iceland include the Gullfoss waterfall, the Thingvellir National Park, and the Reynisfjara black sand beach. In many of these popular tourist locations, you will see signs that state the use of drones is prohibited. 

If you’re looking for special permission to fly a drone in one of these off-limits locations, there is some confusion about how to go about it. Overall, the Icelandic Transport Authority governs drone use, but the Icelandic Environment Agency has set several restrictions regarding drone use in certain places. It may not be immediately obvious who to contact to request an exemption. 

However, some national parks do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Environment Agency, and are operated independently. In this case, the park would need to be contacted directly to request an exemption, rather than the Transport Authority or the Environment Agency.

If in doubt, your first stop should be the Icelandic Transport Authority’s drone page if you don’t know where or how you should fly in Iceland. If you need to acquire an exemption from the Environment Agency, check with them first, or they may instruct you to work with a Park’s management directly. 

If you have a specific location in mind that you want to film or photograph, and you see that it is in a “No Drone Zone” apply for an exemption before you travel, as it could take some time to process. Also, have a few backup locations in mind in case you’re not granted permission.

In general though, if the area you are wanting to shoot is not within an official ‘No Drone’ zone, you can assume that you may safely fly your drone. 

Avoid these mistakes when flying a drone in Iceland

It is especially challenging to maneuver a drone in Iceland if you’ve never flown in harsh weather conditions before. The Land of Fire and Ice is known for its breathtaking drone pictures and videos, but you don’t always consider the skill required to make it happen. 

The road to success is not straight. There’s no doubt that each pilot spent countless hours practicing before recording a video of such epic proportions. 

If you want to film your own epic video of your trip to Iceland, you’ll be well on your way if you avoid the following mistakes: 

Flying in forbidden zones 

Iceland has put rules in place for drone flights to maintain the safety and well-being of the human as well as wildlife population. A large part of the charm and appeal of Iceland is its remote wilderness and dramatic landscape, so Iceland does well to designate the most pristine places as drone-free zones. 

Many major tourist sites are off-limits to drones, and you’ll see signs asking you not to fly them. For projects that require the use of a particular location, you can apply for an exemption online from the relevant authority. 

In Iceland, flying a drone according to the rules means complying with the general regulations of the Icelandic Transport Authority and, if necessary, getting permission to fly above sensitive areas. 

Drone pilots who fly where they shouldn’t risk having their equipment confiscated and paying a fine, as well as the related embarrassment and damage to their reputations. Not to mention that it will be hard to finish filming your epic drone video if your drone has been confiscated!

Not calibrating your gimbal before flying

One of the most common mistakes in drone photography is this one. You use a gimbal to stabilize your footage and shots. It works by dampening any vibrations caused by the camera which would cause shaky video footage or blurry photos. 

Making the mistake of immediately taking off and recording for hours without calibrating your gimbal is very easy. But don’t neglect it, as calibrating your gimbal is also easy to do. It involves lining up the gimbal with the horizon within a 30-second sequence, depending on the type of drone you’re using. 

If you forget to do this or the calibration is incorrect, what happens? In short, your photos and videos will come out skewed, just as if you tilted your head to view the world. 

Since most of your videography in Iceland will be of the vast landscape, it is particularly relevant to this location. A few degrees off the gimbal will have a jarring effect. 

Since most pilots fly through their smartphones, it is difficult to spot any problems in advance, which is frustrating. You do not realize the slant of all your videos until you sit down in post-production. 

You can indeed edit this out in post-production, but if you could calibrate your footage before take-off rather than tilting your footage, wouldn’t that be an easier process? 

Disturbing people with your drone

Drones are loud and can be disruptive, as discussed previously. Their presence might be irritating to some people. It’s hard to enjoy the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon or the view at the ice cap if you hear the whirring of a drone. 

Even though people might not hear the drone buzz in one place, they are annoying in another. If you want to film in a place where your drone might be irritating to other tourists, wait until the place is relatively empty. Or film in a place where the background noise will drown out the noise of your drone.

In Iceland, waterfalls are among the loudest locations. In addition to drowning out drones, people can hear the Skógafoss roar thousands of miles away. There are a lot of photographers in these locations where the roar of the water will cover the noise of any drone.

Don’t be an obnoxious drone pilot ruining the experience of others who have come to see the beauty and tranquility of Iceland. Even if you get some awesome shots, if it came at the cost of irritating others, it’s not worth it. 

Flying in Bad Weather

It’s important to be prepared for Iceland’s unpredictable weather when planning a trip there. And it’s even more important for aerial photographers to pay attention to the weather conditions. 

99% of drones will be grounded when it comes to rain and snow. Flying in the rain is a risky proposition. Make the most of your trip by checking the weather forecast and planning your flights ahead of time. 

Iceland’s weather can often change dramatically, so keep one eye on the sky to watch for any big weather change coming. A return landing point close to your departure point or even an attempt at landing as quickly as you can under poor weather conditions might be advisable to save your drone from sustaining weather damage.