10 things you need to know before traveling to Israel
Although Israel is a very beautiful and diverse country, people don’t travel much to the country. Some people would love to explore Israel one time, but find it difficult to say if it’s, for example, safe enough. Because it’s such an unique country, there are definitely some things you need to know before you will travel to Israel. In this article I will tell you some more about these things.
1: Safety issues
Like we all know, Israel has its periods when it’s a little less safe than other periods. It’s already for such a long time that Israel is dealing with issues and I think it won’t be over any time soon yet; but never say never! When I travelled to Israel, many people asked me the same question: “aren’t you scared? Israel is an unsafe country, right?”. Although there can be times when it’s less safe, I don’t walk away from it when I’m interested by a country. However, I can totally understand when people hesitate to go to a country like Israel. If you would love to visit the country one time, but aren’t sure about the safety; look around at the internet! There are many up-to-date websites which tell you more about the safety at that particular moment when you’re travelling. And more important, know which areas of the country you can better avoid.
If you find it scary to travel individually through Israel, there is always a possibility to travel in an (international) group. With travelling in a group, there is always a local travel guide with you who knows everything about the safety of the country. I have to say, I wasn’t scared at all during the whole trip and felt very safe. But definitely keep an eye on the happenings when planning a trip to Israel.
Before I travelled to Israel, I always thought that it was a cheap country where you could have diner for the lowest costs. However, one of the most important things to know before you travel to Israel, is the fact that the country isn’t as cheap as you think it is! It really surprised me. Most of the time, I had dinner in the hotel; but for lunch we always ate outdoors. The prices are very high; they’re a little to compare to the most West-European countries (like my home country The Netherlands) or maybe even more expensive in some parts of the country. Because Tel Aviv is a very popular city, it can be even more expensive. Take into account that it’s not a cheap country.
3: The Israeli have Shabbat
Unlike the rest of the world, the Israeli working week starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. For the Israeli, the weekend days are Friday and Saturday. On Friday evenings, the Jewish Sabbath comes in at sunset; which means that a lot of businesses are closed, especially in the religious areas (of course less in the more touristic places). Also the public transportation and some stores will be closed for the Jewish weekend. Most of the businesses will reopen on Saturday evening at sunset.
4: The New Israeli Shekel (NIS)
Take into account that Israel has its own currency, namely the New Israeli Shekel. It’s good to take some money when you arrive in Israel, so you will have some cash for busses, cabs and other stores where paying with cash is better. It’s also very important not to forget your credit card, which is the most easiest way to pay with around the bigger places in Israel.
5: The people are very friendly
Israelis are very friendly and hospitable people. They love to invite you for social events, like the Shabbat dinner on Friday night. It’s actually really nice to accept this invitation, because this is a great way to meet the local people and to try some delicious local dishes at the same time.
6: The English language
I can imagine you’re thinking about the question if the Israeli people can speak English. Good news for you! Around 85% of the Israelis can speak English, so it wouldn’t be a problem to travel around and to sometimes ask an Israeli how you need to travel to go to a certain place. They would always like to help you and even in the English language, which makes it easier.
7: Israel is a small country
Although Israel is a very diverse country (for example different weather conditions in certain areas), it is a small country. If you haven’t that much time to explore, you can easily see a lot of the country in a week (however, more than a week is always better!). The north and middle part of the country is the most-visited part. Here you can find, among other places, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea area. The distances between these areas aren’t that big.
8: Israel and The West Bank
Honestly, I keep finding this conflict between Israel and Palestine very difficult to understand, but let’s say it’s for some people not that easy to go from Israel to the West Bank, where most of the Palestinians live. In Palestine, which start just at the border of Jerusalem, you can find the city Bethlehem; where you can find the Church of the Nativity. For us tourists it’s allowed to go across the border, but there are people who aren’t allowed. It’s very impressive to see how there’s such a strong security at the border and how there are only a few entrees to Palestine. Keep into account when you’re travelling to Israel and would like to visit Bethlehem, that it isn’t that easy to reach the city.
9: Prepare for strong security on the airport
Although it didn’t surprise me, there was a strong security on the airport of Tel Aviv, when arriving in Israel, but also when leaving Israel. When we arrived in the country, we needed to get a visa. However, before we got one, we first needed to ask many questions, like what we came fore in Israel, for how long we were staying, where and with who we were.
At the way back to The Netherlands, again it was time for many questions. They asked what we had done in Israel, if there was anyone who have touched my bag besides me and if there was anyone from who I took something and put it in my suitcase. Besides, we weren’t allowed to lock our suitcases, because the security needed to look into the suitcases before it could go in the plane.
10: about that visa..
If you’re planning a trip to Israel, you don’t need to fix a visa beforehand. However, be aware that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you enter the country. You will get a visa (tourist card) when you are arriving in Israel. Nowadays, Israeli immigration no longer stamps your passport; you’ll get a loose paper visa instead of a stamp to avoid any other issues when travelling to other countries. In that case, you don’t need to have the confusion whether you are banned or not from certain countries if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. When you are leaving the country, you get another loose paper. Just be sure to keep this paper (visa) in your passport until you leave Israel!
Are you planning a trip to Israel and have some questions left? Maybe you can find the right blogposts by clicking here or feel free to ask more in the comment section below and I’ll be happy to answer them!
This is such a detailed and informative post, I love how you’ve listed information about visa’s and security at the airport which can often be overlooked when planning a trip. I would love to visit Israel, it looks and reads like a beautiful country with so much ti do (&eat of course)
This is a very helpful and detailed post. I’m an American Jewish woman so I have always been interested to visit Israel. It is interesting to know that Israel is not that cheap. I think I will probably go with a group tour when I do go.
I have also been with a group tour during my time in Israel and I can definitely recommend this. Not only does it make you feel more safe, the tour guide also can tell so much stories about the beautiful history of Israel!
I’m glad I came across your post about Israel. My husband and I want very badly to go there and some of the issues you address here are very important to us, like safety, for instance. It’s also good to know you can get by with English in Israel. When you say “expensive” what do you mean? About how much is a dinner for two?
Well, it’s not that expensive, but I always thought before I was travelling to Israel that it was a cheap country. I guess a dinner for two persons costs around € 50 – € 60,-. I think you can compare it a little with other West European countries.
Israel is definitely a place I’d like to visit, but I haven’t got round to it yet. Security always does seem to be a problem, although I know from travelling in Latin America it is always portrayed worse in the media than it actually is! I had heard about the tough security at the airport though, my friend went and said he needed to be at the airport 3 hours before departure.
Thelittlelai: Beyond limits
Wow, reading this made me realized that Israel is truly an interesting place to visit. I love all your useful tips here and I learned a lot about Israel. Knowing that their week ends in Thursday and their weekend is on Friday and Saturday is really interesting and amazing. I also thought Israel is cheap, but your post says its not. This is something that we really need to know about before traipsing our feet here. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.