Falling ill on a holiday is no one’s idea of a good time. When I went to South-East Asia I had been planning my adventure for a long time and was obviously very much looking forward to it. A few days before my departure I got really sick and I had a high fever (40°C) and all the typical, and oh so annoying, flu symptoms. The day I left I was still sick and it took me 4 full days to get better. 20+ hours of those 4 days were spent on planes and when I finally arrived in Bangkok I slept for almost 24 hours straight. I’ve looked and felt better than I did that first day.
Thankfully it was just the flu so I didn’t need to see a doctor. Considering that I had problems with simple tasks such as finding food (disoriented from the flu and the jet lag) I’m not sure I would have found a doctor had I needed one.
Through this blog and our Reykjavík walking tour, I’ve often had to figure out how to help our guests that have needed medical attention. We have this info on hand at our office but since I got an e-mail yesterday where it was suggested that I’d write a post about this I thought I’d just share what I know about the subject. I hope you never need this info but if you do, I hope it helps!
Question: How can I see a doctor in Reykjavík?
112 – The Icelandic (and European) emergency number
First of all, in a case of emergency, it’s always best to call 112. It doesn’t matter whether or not your phone works in Iceland or if you can only find a phone that is password protected: you can always call 112. It’s free of charge and works anywhere where you have cell reception or a landline.
When you call 112 it’s a good rule to tell them who you are, where you are and what the problem is. The reason you get the address or location in early on in the conversation is so they can send an ambulance right away if it’s needed.
I have had personal experience with calling 112 when I once encountered an unconscious and unresponsive man on our tour and they walked me through everything in a calm and helpful manner. So don’t be afraid to call, the people on the other end are trained to help you.
BTW – the ambulance was there probably 5-7 minutes after I called and as we walked away they had managed to wake him. I have never been as happy to have gone through First Aid training as that day and I cannot recommend it enough for basically anyone because you never know when you will need it. I did a lot of things wrong that day, which I have used to learn from, but the things I did do right could have saved him if he would have been in serious danger.
The emergency room(s)
Serious illnesses and injuries – Bráðamóttaka Fossvogi
If you break your arm, cut yourself badly or have an injury or illness that needs immediate attention but doesn’t require an ambulance you can go to the Emergency Room at Landsspítali in Fossvogur. You don’t need an appointment but patients are triaged based on the seriousness of their illness/injury. The emergency room is very busy so if your condition is not serious it might be better for everyone if you seek help elsewhere.
The emergency room in Fossvogur also has a special rape unit where rape victims can go to receive specialized medical and phycological care from trained professionals.
The emergency room in Landsspítali in Fossvogur is on the first floor in a smaller attached building to the left of the main building. Please keep in mind that with some injuries, for example where the spine or neck of the person has been affected, it’s important not to move the person. If you are ever in doubt what is the best course of action when faced with a serious injury, it’s always best to call 112.
Heart-related emergencies – Hjartagátt (Bráðamóttaka Hringbraut)
If you have symptoms (chest pains etc) that suggest you might be having a heart attack or other acute problems with your heart there’s a special heart emergency room in Landsspítali in Hringbraut. Like the emergency room in Fossvogur this is located in a smaller attached building behind the main building and to get there you turn into the parking lot from Eiríkssgata. If you have symptoms that suggest you’re having an acute problem with your heart, it’s always best to call 112 for directions on what to do.
Seriously ill children and teenagers (up to 18 years of age) – Bráðamóttaka barna
There’s a special children’s emergency ward at Landsspítali in Hringbraut where you can take sick (not injured) children that possibly need immediate attention. You can and should call the children’s emergency ward on +354-543-1000 (open 24/7) and get advice on whether you need to bring the child in. If it’s an emergency, or if you are in doubt whether it’s an emergency, you should always call 112.
Minor illnesses and injuries, drug prescriptions and so forth
Public Primary Health Care Centers (open 8:00 to 16:00 Mondays to Fridays) – Heilsugæslan
If you just need to see a doctor because of the flu or a rash or anything you would normally bring to your GP or your family doctor you can visit one of the Primary Health Care Centers which are located in every neighborhood in Reykjavík. Although it can be impossible to get an appointment with a GP (without waiting for three weeks that is) they always reserve a certain amount of appointments during the day for matters that can’t wait.
If you are staying in downtown Reykjavík it would make the most sense to contact the Downtown Primary Healthcare Center in Vesturgata. It’s open from 8:00 to 16:00 for pre-booked appointments only. If you have an issue that can’t wait, you can always try calling them (+354-585-2600) at 8 am to see if they can fit you in. If they can’t fit you in, you can ask to talk to the nurse on call who will evaluate your case through the phone and if needed – get you an appointment with a doctor on the same day.
The Downtown Healthcare Center also has and afternoon walk-in appointments between 16:00 and 18:00 Mondays to Fridays on first come first serve basis.
If you are staying outside of the city center – here you can see a list of Primary Health Care centers in the Reykjavík area.
Private Health Care Center (open 17:00 to 23-30 on weekdays, 09:00 to 23:30 on weekends) – Læknavaktin
If you need to see a doctor after 17:00 or on the weekend there’s a private Health Care center in Kópavogur that is open during those hours. It’s a first come, first serve kind of service and no pre-booked appointments are offered. The doctors that work there often work at the Public Health Care Centers during the day.
If you are not sure whether you need to see a doctor, you can call them and talk to a nurse on weekdays between 17:00 and 08:00 and 24/7 during the weekend. Their number, if you need them, is 1770. If the person that is sick is too sick to travel they can also send a doctor to you but if you call them they’ll give you advice about on which cases this is applicable.
Private Children’s Health Care Center (open 17:00 to 22:00 on weekdays – 11:00 to 15:00 on weekends and public holidays – same day appointments only) – Barnavaktin Domus Medica
If you have a sick child and you would like to see a specialized children’s doctor you can go to the Children’s Health Care Center located in Domus Medica. An appointment is necessary and you can only get a same-day appointment. They start taking bookings at 12:30 on weekdays and 10:30 on weekends and because it’s a very popular service you should try to call early so you don’t miss out – +354-563-1010
Dental services (toothaches, broken teeth etc.)
There is no official or public dental emergency service in Reykjavík but for serious dental injuries, you can visit the Emergency room in Fossvogur (see further up in the article).
The Dentist Association of Iceland offers a dentist on call on the weekend (between 10:00 and 12.00) and you can find information (in Icelandic only) on who’s on call through their website.
There seems to be a private service, Tannlæknavaktin, that is open from 8:00 to 22:00 on weekdays and 10:00 to 22:00 on weekends for limited service to urgent conditions. Appointments are scheduled on a day-by-day basis and availability The location depends on the day and you can get more information by calling them on +354-426-800. Please be advised that this service is quite a lot more expensive than the service offered by the Dentist Association.
There are not a lot of pharmacies in the downtown Reykjavík area but as soon as you get a little bit out of the center you’ll find plenty of them.
Pharmacies in Reykjavík tend to follow normal business hours (09:00-18:00 or thereabout) but there are a few that are open till midnight (like Lyfja Lágmúla and Lyf og Heilsa in Austurver).
Please note that laws around pain medication and such are quite strict in Iceland so you may need a prescription for many drugs that are sold over the counter elsewhere.
Map with all locations mentioned in this post
Healthcare in Iceland is heavily subsidized for Icelandic citizens by the government through our tax system and we only pay a fraction of the actual costs. As a foreign citizen, unless you are European in which case you always need to carry your E111 European Health Insurance Card and bring it with you, you will have to pay the full price for all medical services. Therefore I strongly recommend you look into getting travel insurance that covers such costs when you travel. Usually you have to pay out of pocket and then claim the amount from your insurance company when you return home but of course, this differs depending on the insurance company and different policies.