We’ve been living in Reykjavik for just over a year and a half now, and I still can’t get over how stupid expensive it is…even more so than London. And it doesn’t help that the US dollar seems to be plummeting compared to the Icelandic kronur (ISK). Last spring we hit a high of 130 ISK per dollar, which was great. A couple weeks ago, it was down to 107. Today, the exchange rate is 110. I know that probably makes no sense without knowing how much they actually charge for things. So I’ll give you some examples.
My car was on empty this morning, so I filled up at the local N1 on the way to drop A off at school. My hubby had the frequent-flyer discount card, so I paid the full price for my 51.9 liters (13.7 gallons) of gas at 197.9 ISK per liter for a total of $92.75.
Yesterday I was whinging about the cost of food at a restaurant I wanted to try. We never go out for dinner as it’s more expensive than lunch. And we used to eat lunch out fairly frequently until our schedules changed a bit. Lately I’ve been shocked at how much more money I have every month now that we’re bringing a sack lunch, but I really shouldn’t be.
The restaurant we were thinking of going to is a little gastropub downtown called Sæta Svínið (Sweet Pig). It’s nothing fancy, and certainly not much more expensive than other places. But the thing that got me was the add-ons. Most of the restaurants charge for every little extra thing…you want to add bacon to your burger? That’s 450 ISK…that’s $4 extra…to add a couple strips of bacon. You know how much your burger is to start with?? 2,790 ISK. That’s $25 for a CHEESEBURGER…not a steak…because that’s 4,990 ISK ($45)…about the same as a steak dinner from room service at the airport Hilton in Seattle.
A taxi from Reykjavik to the international airport in Keflavik, a 45-minute drive, is $120-150 USD depending on the exchange rate. That’s double the cost of a similar ride when we lived in Denver. A set of snow tires is about $800. A $25 oil change is over $100.
And don’t even get me started on alcohol. Every country has different rules for us diplomatic types. In Belize, we had a convenient duty-free store where we could go any time we needed to pick up a nice little bottle of wine. In London, you could only get duty back during your last three months at post, so we never bothered…but you could also pick up a decent bottle of wine at the grocery store for $8.
(Interesting side note, we’ve been doing some post research since we’re bidding this summer, and I discovered that in Australia, they have convenient duty-free stores, but OMSs and other Specialists aren’t allowed to use them, as we don’t get the same diplomatic privileges there that the Officers do. Always fun to have that thrown in your face.)
Here, you cannot buy booze at the grocery store…but from the state-run liquor store (Vínbúðin) or directly from a distributor. The cheapest bottle of white wine I’ve seen at the state store was $12; a bottle of Jack Daniels is 7,299 ($65) ISK. They don’t sell beer collectively by six pack or case but per bottle. A bottle of “imported” Budweiser is 299 ISK ($2.69). A bottle of the tasty local beer like Einstök Arctic Pale Ale is 459 ISK per bottle…that’s 2,754 ISK ($25) for a six pack. That same bottle of beer is 990 ISK at a restaurant. Also at the restaurant, a SINGLE bottle of Skaði Farmhouse Ale from the Ölvisholt Brewery is 2,190 ISK ($19.70). Needless to say, we don’t drink much beer here.
If you’re willing to run the gauntlet of paperwork, we do qualify for duty-free though. Forms have to be filled out in triplicate then approved by the local governing body, which can be a two to five-day turnaround…every time you want to buy something. The life of a government employee is already fairly regimented, and that one kind of gets under my skin…so again, most of the time I don’t bother.
As much as I love living in Europe, it might be time to start looking at more economical parts of the world in the upcoming bid season. In the meantime, I’ve turned into a boxed wine kind of a girl…since you can essentially get four bottles of wine for the price of three. So much for being a classy diplomat. 😉