Iceland without Cash

A visit to Iceland is expensive, but priceless. And cashless. For a German the widely use of plastic cards for literally every payment is either a cultural shock or a big simplification — or both.

No skyscrapers, but a modern city in it’s own way: Reykjavik, Iceland.

As a frequent traveller I have seen a lot of cities and countries. This piece for example, I am writing at the Hlemmur Mathöll in Reykjavik, Iceland — on purpose. Being around in this beautiful land for a few days now, I have explored a black beach, two big waterfalls, some geysirs and other wonders of nature. But what really inspired me (besides the amazing people) is the complete absence of cash.

Of course you can pay with your credit card in every restaurant in Reykjavik. You can also pay the elevator to the rooftop of Hallgríms Church with your credit card. And the parking lot in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Skógafoss waterfall): Yes you pay it with your credit card. Want to visit a pubic toilet next to glacier? Yes, they exist — and yes: you pay the fee by card.

I cannot think of anything in Iceland, where you are forced to pull out cash. This is not only convenient, but also very wise.

A beer (which is a reference price for any Bavarian) will cost between 800 and 1800 ISK, which is between 6 and 14 Euro. And the delicious fish soup at Salka Valka (Fish & More) is about 2900 ISK — 23 Euro. It doesn’t matter if you live here or if you are a tourist: To get the most out of Iceland, you have to spend a lot of money. And the cashless philosophy makes it really easy to do so.

I own a MasterCard with wireless functionality. So most of the time (the limit in Iceland for entering a pin code is 4500 ISK) I just wave it over the card reader and in 2 seconds the payment is done. I love it.

Did I spend too much money? I don’t think so. But if you have to calculate, if your paper and coins sum up to the ridiculously high price of a simple sandwich, your appetite is gone very soon. Instead, I started this trip with the idea to have a good time, not buying any souvenirs, but spend the money on experiences and good meals. It flows as it goes.

In 2014 an average German made only 40 payments per year via card (debit and credit cards). About 80 % of all payments are done with cash, says the German Federal Bank.

In two days I will travel back to my home country with its too many venues, where no plastic is accepted at all. One of the last civilized places on this planet without Apple Pay. A land held in custody by mostly retrogressive financial institutions. A society, where hard cash is king (“Nur Bares ist Wahres”) and where I cannot buy lunch, if I haven’t found an ATM before. Germany, where the old school banking mindset flourishes.