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Just under half a million international passengers in 2020

Jökulsárlón - Glacial Lagoon, summer 2020. Photo: Hildur Helga Pétursdóttir
Jökulsárlón - Glacial Lagoon, summer 2020. Photo: Hildur Helga Pétursdóttir

Departures of international passengers* from Iceland via Keflavik Airport were close to 480 thousand in 2020 or roughly 1,5 million fewer than 2019, according to figures from the Icelandic Tourist Board and Isavia. The annual decrease is 75.9%. We need to go back 10 years to see similar figures in departures of international passengers.

Seven out of ten departures in 2020 were in the months January-March and about a quarter in the summer months.

The decrease in departures of international passengers was found in every month of the year compared to the year before and was more than 90% in seven out of the twelve months.

Departures 2020 as many as in 2010

Departures of international passengers from Iceland were close to 480 thousand last year or 75.9% fewer than 2019.

We need to go back ten years to see similar figures or to the year 2010 but departures of international passengers that year were 459 thousand.



Looking at the departure figures in 2020 we see that roughly seven out of ten departures were in the months January-March or around 333 thousand. This is about 124 thousand fewer departures than 2019 or a decrease of roughly a quarter.

Departures in the summer months were about quarter of the years‘ departures or 115 thousand, a decrease of 562 thousand or 83%. Roughly 6% of the departures were in the seven month spell of April-June and September-December.



Departures by months 

In the table here on the right we can see a more detailed breakdown of departures by months. The annual decrease was 10-15% in January-February, more than 50% in March, around 80% in July and roughly 75% in August. In the other months the annual decrease is more than 90%.






Most numerous nationalities 

Looking at nationalities, most departures in 2020 were British or 101 thousand, roughly one third of the number from 2019. In 2nd place were US passengers with 52 thousand departures in 2020, down 88.7% from 2019. In 3rd place were Germans with 43 thousand departures, 88 thousand fewer than 2019 or down 66.9%. Those three nationalities comprised over two fifths of the total number of departures (41.4%). 


Next came Polish departures (7.6% of total), French (5.8% of total), Chinese (5.0% of total), Danish (4.9% of total), Baltic (3.3% of total) and Dutch (2.6% of total).



Most numerous nationalities by months

Here is the breakdown of departures of the seven¹ most numerous nationalities by months:

  • 92.2% of British departures were in January-March.
  • 95.1% of US departures were in January-March.
  • 44.8% of German departures were in January-March and 50.4% in July-September.
  • 44.8% of Polish departures were in January-March, 37.6% in July-September and 17.6% in other months.
  • 68.7% of French departures were in January-March and 27.8% in July-September.
  • 97.7% of Chinese departures were in January-March.
  • 65.5% of Danish departures were in July-September and 25,9% in January-March.

¹The departures of the seven most numerous nationalities comprised 64,8% of the total number of departures.

Further information

A breakdown of the nationalities can be seen in the table below, and further information is under Research & Statistics / Numbers of foreign visitors here on the website.

*Estimated number of international visitors in Iceland is based on departure counting. Until October 2020 all international departure passengers were counted but since then the counting has been based on a carefully selected example of passengers, before they enter the departure zone at the Keflavik airport. The results should be regarded as additional information to the passenger figures from Isavia. The goal is to be able to break down the number of passengers by nationalities. The results should be viewed, bearing in mind the limitations caused by this method. It should be reiterated that most transit passengers are excluded from these figures.
The Icelandic Tourist Board emphasises that the number of departures of international passengers gives an idea about the development in visitor numbers to Iceland. To make assumptions about changes in visitor numbers, we need to consider other figures as well, for example the number of overnight stays and tourist expenditure.