Icelandic Language Blog

Phones and texts Posted by on Mar 16, 2012 in Icelandic culture

I have saved a few texts (SMSes) from my time in Iceland. Texting is used a lot in Iceland. The bookstore might text you if you ordered a book and it came in, same with the library, the doctor will text you to remind you about an appointment, even a pizza place might text to tell you that you can come pick up your pizza.

First things first: You can text Icelandic phone numbers for free by using – they even have an English site. Last I heard you can’t text Nova numbers, but Vodafone and whatever other brands exist in Iceland should work fine (if not, let me know and I can update this). You don’t have as large of a character limit as when regularly texting and they’ll put a small text ad for themselves at the end of the text, but this is a lifesaver if you live abroad but text Icelandic friends or if you just want to save money. Companies sometimes use this too.

Receiving calls and texts in Iceland is free, as far as I know. Even with my pay-as-you-go plan, I receive in-country things for free, and I’ve never heard of anyone with an Icelandic phone who had to pay for receiving things.

Phones (and most electronics, if not all) are extremely expensive in Iceland. I paid about $50 for a super-basic cell phone that is exactly like my $15-$20 one that I bought years ago in America. It’s not a flip-phone, it doesn’t have any sort of internet, no options for customizing ring-tones… and it can’t be set in Icelandic or send texts with Icelandic characters (it can receive them though). More expensive phones have Icelandic.

So maybe it’s because of this, but often from companies you’ll get texts that don’t even use Icelandic characters in them. Here’s what people tend to do:
t or th instead of þ (personally I always use th)
d instead of ð
a, o, u instead of á, ó, ú etc.
ae instead of æ.
ö is sometimes still used (if you have french/german/etc options) but people also just put o.
# – (the pound sign) stands for “(phone) number” sometimes, just like in English.
kv. – kveðja (regards)
kl. – klukkan (time/hour/clock)

(from “HverHringdi” / “WhoCalled”)
Eftirtaldir reyndu ad hringja / The following number tried to call: +354(Iceland’s country code)(phone number goes here),29.01.12 -05:34

This is the text I get when I have a missed call. Curiously, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone try to leave me a voice-mail message in Iceland. In Iceland the day comes first, then the month, then the year in dates. Many people use 24-hour time, most often in writing, but people also use 12-hour time.

(from +1414)
Innstaedan tin er nu 87,89kr. Tu getur hringt kollekt med tvi ad sla inn *888*simanumer# og velja hringja
Your balance is now 87,89 crowns. You can call collect by putting in *888*phonenumber# and choosing call.

You can buy phone credit by going to any convenience store cashier and asking for x-crowns amount (typically 500, 1.000, 2.000…) of credit in the phone company of your choice (“2.000 Vodafone, please” for example). They will literally print a “receipt” that is actually your phone credit! It says on it to do a similar thing as above, put in *something*number# (no spaces!) and pressing call. Then you should get a message saying your credit balance has changed. You can also go online and buy phone credit using your debit card on the phone company website, although I’ve only done that when I really couldn’t get to a store.

I’ve asked an Icelandic cashier what they call “phone credit” and he didn’t actually know, he just said he would probably say just “500 Vodafone” and not mention that it’s phone credit. If you know, and as always if you think anything I’ve said is wrong, just tell me and I can correct it!

Edit: icelandiclanguage says it’s probably “inneign – credit balance” that’s used for “phone credit”.

When I bought my phone I had to activate it somehow. But since I couldn’t understand any of the Icelandic on their website, and my friends couldn’t get it to activate either, I just had to call them and tell them I couldn’t figure it out and they did it for me. My friend at the time complained that they only did it for me because I spoke in English, but if this is true or not I have no idea.

When I visited Sweden in December they texted me after the plane landed!

(from Vodafone)
Velkomin til Svithjodar. Thu naerd gjaldfrjalst i thjonustuver Vodafone i *111*1414#hringja. Sparnadarrad ma finna a Goda ferd.
Welcome to Sweden. You get free Vodafone customer service by *111*1414#call. Savings rates(?) you may find on Have a good trip.

(from Vodafone)
Almennt minutuverd fyrir simtol innanlands og heim til Islands er 72,8kr.Minutuverd fyrir mottekid simtal er 22,78kr.
Universal minute-price for in-country calls and home to Iceland is 72,80 crowns. Minute-price for receiving calls is 22,78 crowns.

Lastly, at the Nordic House (basically a library and cultural center for all the Nordic Countries, right next to the University of Iceland, books are mostly not in Icelandic but in other Nordic languages) once I was waiting for a book to come off hold and they texted me about it:

Bokin Faroese: a language course sem tu pantadir bidur i bokasafni Norræna hussins. Kv.bokaverdir
The book Faroese: a language course that you ordered awaits in the Nordic House library. Regards librarian.

Bokasafn Norræna hussins minnir a ad skila bokum/dvd diskum……Kv. bokaverdir
The Nordic House’s library reminds you to return your books/DVD disks…….regards librarian

(Rarely, from the Nordic House you will get things in Scandinavian. They have at least one Dane working the checkout desk right now, most of the library employees speak at least basic Scandinavian, and their online library system for knowing who has what checked out is actually in Scandinavian too. I’ve gotten Emails in Swedish from them in the past, although I don’t know if that’s because I’m always visiting there with a Swede or not, but rest assured most are in Icelandic.)

As a parting note, places in Iceland almost never have machines answering the phone. In fact the closest thing to a machine that I can remember is just people having a recording of the opening times, and that plays if you call when the place is closed. (The Swedish embassy has one of these.)

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.