In Pursuit of the Elusive Kennitala: Part Two

Dalvegur Bus Stop, Kopavogur

As I explained in great, painful detail in a previous post, in order to live–and do basically anything–in Iceland, you need a kennitala (government-provided ID number). In order to get this magic number, you are supposed to present yourself at the Directorate of Immigration (the Útlendingarstofnun, which we’ve figured out literally means “foreigner office”) and have your picture taken. No picture and the process is indefinitely stalled. Continue reading

International Apartment Hunters: Iceland

We’re apartment hunting! And, surprise! It’s hard! I’m not going to try and explain all the complexities of the Icelandic real estate market (I don’t understand all of them, certainly), but for a nice little mini-crash course on this, see a recent article from the Reykjavik Grapevine (in English): “A Black Box: Post-crash realities of the housing market explored,” by Anna Andersen. For the time being, though, I can provide some basic context:

  • The percentage of people (including young people) who own their own homes in Iceland is extremely high: “about 75-85% of the housing stock” is privately owned homes or, 83% of households  owned their own home, as of 2007 (those are pre-crash numbers, but still).
  • As follows, there is not much of a rental market in Iceland, even in Reykjavik.
  • There are basically no real estate agents in Iceland who deal in residential properties, unless those properties are incredibly expensive, luxury rentals. As one of my scholarship advisors explained, if you want to rent an apartment, you “usually rent from a family member or someone you know.” Otherwise, there are about four or five small ad and classified websites where people post the apartments, rooms, and houses they have to rent. People also post want ads when they are looking for apartments on the same sites.
  • As an útlendingur, it can be difficult to get locals to rent to you, or even just answer your email inquiries.

Now, Mark and I have been google-translating real estate ads and using my pidgin Icelandic to parse through the not insignificant number of rental ads on all of the websites that seem to exist for such purposes. We’ve told everyone we’ve met–our temporary landlord, my advisors at Fulbright and Arni Magnusson, fellow expats met through Facebook groups, our friends who know people in Iceland, our one friend in Iceland–that we are looking for a place. We’ve reconsidered what we thought our budget was, per the apparent demands of the market. And, although we’ve gotten very few responses (save the multiple negative replies saying that a place has been rented or that it is not “suitable” for two people), I’m fairly confident that we’re doing it right because pretty much every informational site/ advisor/neighbor gives you the same advice: check the classifieds, tell everyone you know you need an apartment, be patient.

Normally, I could be patient. We’ve only been here five days, after all. But the thing is, until we have a residence–until someone will sign a lease and a housing certificate for us–Mark can’t get his ID card, or his kennitala–and we know what you can do without a kennitala in Iceland. (This is not actually a pressing issue for me, paperwork-wise, because I was given an address to use by Fulbright while I look for a permanent place to stay.) Besides the more practical day-to-day reasons to get our housing taken care of (it’d be really nice to unpack; we’d like to check out some of the many video rental places in the city…), there’s also a bigger deadline looming: according the the information from the directorate, you have two weeks to register a domicile before…well, we don’t know. But it’s not good. So we’ve got to be diligent.

So far, we’ve seen four places–every place that we’ve gotten an even mildly positive response from and where the landlord was willing to show the apartment. None of them have been ideal, and they’ve all had some rather insurmountable problems–even with us being pretty flexible, given our constraints at this point.

Anyone for a mini-version of International House Hunters: Reykjavík? (BTW: I have not been able to find either one of the two Reykjavík episodes of that show anywhere on the internet at all. This confuses me.) Continue reading

Day Two: Guardian Spirits and the Search for the Elusive Kennitala

Thus continues the First Week in Iceland Recap…

Day 2: Monday, August 27

Our first order of business on our second day in Reykjavík was to head over to the Directorate of Immigration, or Útlendingastofnun, to have our photographs taken so our ID cards could be printed, and, more importantly, so our kennitala (Iceland’s version of a social security number) could be processed and issued.

Let me take a moment to describe the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration because for any of us who have stood in line at the DMV pretty much anywhere in the US (extra horror points for the Brooklyn location at the Atlantic Center), the whole bureaucratic process here is kind of astounding.

Firstly, the building is–like pretty much every point of interest/natural wonder/tourist site/governmental building in Iceland–not really all that easy to find. It’s located behind a stand of trees just off a large highway, behind a residential neighborhood. Once you get a hand of navigating Reykjavik’s rather nicely maintained pedestrian pathways, it’s not hard to get there on foot (the bus would have been easier, but we hadn’t yet conquered the bus), but there’s definitely not a big, neon arrow pointing down and saying “CONFUSED ÚTLENDINGURIN: THIS IS WHERE YOU GO!” Continue reading