ATMs ATMs are the fastest, easiest way to change money at the best rates. Look for ATMs adorned with international flag decals that accept foreign debit cards; you’ll often need a 4-digit PIN. There are fewer international ATMs in smaller towns and in the countryside, and ATMs are not restocked during Shabbat or on Jewish holidays.
Area Codes The telephone country code for Israel is 972. Telephone area codes are 02 for Jerusalem; 03 for Tel Aviv; 04 for Haifa, Caesarea, and the Galilee; 08 for Eilat, the Negev, The Dead Sea, and Rehovot; 09 for Netanya.
Bugs & WildlifeScorpionsare always something to be aware of in desert and Mediterranean regions. If bitten by a scorpion, get emergency medical treatment immediately. Scorpions do not go out of their way to attack, but they love damp, warm places, and you can get bitten if you happen to put a hand or foot where one of them is resting. Check carefully when entering showers, bathrooms, or other damp places. Always shake out towels at the beach or pool before drying yourself; shake out shoes and socks before putting them on. If you’re staying in simple places in the desert, shake out your sheets before getting into bed. Orange groves may look inviting, but big, mean snakes think so, too; avoid the temptation to stroll or picnic in them. In the Jordan Valley, there is a rare but very ugly skin infection called “Rose of Sharon” that’s hard to control and will scar unless you get medical treatment—don’t hesitate to see a doctor about any unusual or persistent bug bites or skin eruptions.
There is rabies in the countryside, and wild animals should be avoided. Keep away from stray dogs and cats, no matter how friendly or hungry they may seem.
When snorkeling or diving in the Red Sea, remember that many coral formations are not only sharp, but can burn. It is illegal to touch or walk on any coral—not only for your safety, but for the protection of the coral, which can be easily broken and killed. Spiny sea urchins, covering the underwater floor in many parts of the Red Sea, are the bane of swimmers and snorkelers. It’s best to wear foot coverings and try to avoid stepping anywhere near a sea urchin—and note that it’s very easy for a wave or current to glide you right onto one. Study photo charts of fish before snorkeling, and memorize those that are poisonous to touch, especially the stonefish or rockfish, with their billowing, diaphanous fins that appear to be so delicate. From June through August, stinging and burning jellyfish plague Israel’s Mediterranean waters. Do no swim on days when there is evidence of jellyfish on the beaches.
Business Hours Government offices are open on weekdays, usually from 7:30 or 8am. Most are closed to the public on Friday, and all are closed on Saturday. In summer, they are open until 1 or 3pm; in winter, they remain open until 2 or 4pm. Banks are open Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday 8:30am to 12:30pm and 4 to 5:30pm; on Monday and Wednesday 8:30am to 12:30pm only; and on Friday 8:30am to noon. Remember that in Jerusalem’s Old City and in places such as Nazareth and Akko’s Old City, Muslim-owned shops are closed either half the day or all day on Fridays, and Christian-owned shops close on Sunday.
Customs You can bring $200 worth of tax-free gifts into the country. You can also bring in 250 grams (8 3/4 oz.) of tobacco, one bottle ( 4/5 quart) of liquor, and a reasonable amount of film. When you leave, you can convert up to $3,000 back into foreign currency at the airport, so keep your bank receipts. Note that you cannot take antiquities or archaeological artifacts out of Israel unless you have a certificate identifying the object, which will be provided to you by any licensed antiquities dealer.
Disabled Travelers Inside Israel, there’s been an ongoing effort to provide access for visitors with disabilities—even at sites famed for their inaccessibility, such as Masada. Atop the dramatic plateau of Masada, a network of wheelchair-accessible pathways was completed in 2000. At least some trails in a number of Israel’s national parks and nature reserves (www.parks.org.il) have also been made wheelchair-accessible.
Street crossings and public restrooms throughout the country rarely offer easy access. Some institutions located in difficult sites, such as the Israel Museum and Jerusalem Cinémathèque, have provisions for handicap access, but you must call in advance to be able to use these facilities.
Yad Sarah (tel. 972/2-644-4633 from outside Israel; www.yadsarah.org) is Israel’s largest voluntary organization. It lends medical equipment, crutches, and wheelchairs; arranges airport and intercity transportation; helps prepare and equip hotel rooms for special needs; and offers advice for travelers to Israel with special needs. All services are free, although deposits are required for equipment. Advance planning and reservations are required to get the most help from Yad Sarah, but it’s also a great resource for sudden or last-minute emergencies.
Doctors All Israeli doctors speak English. Your hotel can refer you to an appropriate physician or the nearest Magan David Adom (Red Star of David, Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) emergency station.
Drinking Laws The legal age for purchase of alcoholic beverages is 18; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it’s always a good idea to bring ID when you go out. There are no closing times for bars inside Israel. Alcohol is forbidden and considered abhorrent by Islam and so is generally not available in Arabic communities inside Israel or in Jordan or the West Bank except at hotels for tourists. Do not drink or carry alcohol in public in these areas. Carrying open containers of alcohol is against the law in Beersheva and Jerusalem. A 25 percent tax was placed on alcoholic drinks in 2013, making alcohol comparatively expensive.
Electricity The electric current used in Israel is 220 volts AC (50 cycles) as opposed to the 110-volt system used in America. If your appliance doesn’t have the right plug, you can buy a plug adapter in Israel quite easily for approximately NIS 3, or your hotel may have one to lend to you.
Embassies & Consulates The American Embassy is at 71 Ha-Yarkon St., Tel Aviv (tel. 03/519-7575). The U.S. Consulate-General in East Jerusalem is at 27 Nablus Rd. (tel. 02/628-7137; http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov).
The Australian Embassy is at 23 Yehuda Ha-Levi St., Tel Aviv (tel. 03/693-5000).
The Irish Embassy is at 3 Daniel Frish St., 17th floor, Tel Aviv (tel. 03/696-4166).
The New Zealand Embassy is served by the British Embassy.
The British Embassy is at 192 Ha-Yarkon St., Tel Aviv (tel. 03/725-1222). See http://ukinisrael.fco.gov.uk/en for consulates in Jerusalem and Eilat. The British Consulate-General in East Jerusalem is in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood at 19 Nashashibi St. (tel. 02/671-7724 or 02/541-4100).
The Canadian Embassy is in Tel Aviv at 3 Nirim St., Beit Hasepanut, Yad Eliahu (tel. 03/636-3300).
Health ConcernsSunburn and dehydration are problems throughout the region, but especially in the desert during summer. Although the air is dry, paradoxically, you often don’t feel thirsty. Force yourself to drink a minimum of four 1.5-liter bottles of water a day as you travel the area in summer, more if you are in the desert. Sunscreen is a must, though you need less of it at The Dead Sea because the thicker atmosphere screens out the sun.
Internet & Wi-Fi Downtown West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are heavily covered with free We-Fi zones filled with cafés and restaurants where you can bring your laptop and connect without charge, as well as Internet centers and cafes. Most budget and moderate hotels offer free Wi-Fi. More expensive hotels charge at least $20 per day to connect. Hotels in non-urban areas generally offer Wi-Fi, either free or with a charge. Haifa has a free Wi-Fi zone along the Dado Beach Promenade and in Central Carmel.
Language Official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. English is very widely spoken and understood in all hotels and most restaurants. In big cities and on major roads, most signs are in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
LGBT Travelers Israel has come a long way since the 1980s, when laws regarding homosexual activity were removed from the books. A decision by the government to award pensions of deceased military officers to their surviving partners, regardless of sex or marital status, was a landmark in changing attitudes. However, an open, lively gay scene has only really emerged in trendy Tel Aviv, which Out has called the “most gay-friendly city in the Middle East”. For the past several years, Eilat, somewhat like Tel Aviv, has developed a general attitude of tolerance; mild-mannered Haifa stands somewhere between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The best resource organization is the Association for GLBT in Israel (tel. 03/620-5590; www.glbt.org.il. It offers advice, counseling, and updates on the social scene.
Note that in the Palestinian/Arabic communities throughout Israel, and in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan, and Egypt, any kind of openly gay or lesbian behavior is completely forbidden both by custom and by law. Extreme caution and the lowest-possible profile are advised. Similar discretion must be observed in the ultrareligious Jewish and Hassidic neighborhoods of Jerusalem north of Jaffa Road (such as Mea Shearim); in the Old City of Jerusalem; in Safed, which has a largely religious population; and in small, less-touristed Israeli towns.
Mail The Israeli Postal Service is dependable. Postal rates are similar to those in the United States and the U.K. Packages must be brought to the post office unsealed for security inspection, and you must present your passport to the postal clerk.
Mobile PhonesA number of companies will rent a phone to you for use in Israel at lower local rates, shipping it to you in advance of your trip. They include Amigo (www.amigo-us.com) and Cellular Abroad (www.cellularabroad.com/israel). Saving vary, and depend on how often you use the phone and whether you’ll be using it primarily for local or international calls.
At the main Arrivals Concourse at Ben-Gurion Airport, you’ll see the Telecommunications Center, where all major mobile and satellite phone providers have desks. Major providers include Cellcom (tel. *123; www.cellcom.co.il/cultures/he-il/roamers_info); Pelephone (tel. *166; www.pelephone.co.il); and Orange/Partner (tel. 800/054-054; www.orange.co.il). The special deals and packages you can buy or rent are constantly changing, so it’s best to scout around ahead of time. Orange offers a special local plus international card for NIS 130, that gives you NIS 120 of calls at an excellent per minute rate plus NIS 200 minutes of free calls to other phones in the Orange 054 network.
Two other possibilities are Israel Phones (www.israelphones.com) and Tikshoret Besheva (tel. 972/2-652-2353; firstname.lastname@example.org). Both companies will deliver a cellphone to your hotel or apartment. Daily rates (subject to change) are approximately $1 a day with an optional additional charge for insurance. With Tikshoret Besheva, incoming calls are free; calls within Israel to Cellcom or land phones begin at 25[ce] a minute; calls to the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. begin at approximately 40[ce]. Prices are lower after 9pm and, with some plans, on the Sabbath.
Note: In the Jordan Valley and The Dead Sea area, which are the lowest points on earth and far below sea level, cellphone communications are not usually optimum.
Money & Costs Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions provided were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/currency/converter to check up-to-the-minute rates.
***PD: Please place the following table on the same spread as the Money & Costs subhead.
The Value of the Shekel vs. Other Popular Currencies
NIS Aus$ Can$ Euro€ NZ$ UK£ US$
Israeli Shekel (NIS)1A$ 0,25 C$0.25 €0.20 NZ$0.31 £0.16 US$.0.25
Currency: The basic unit of currency is the New Israel Shekel (NIS). The shekel is divided into 100 agorot. The smallest denomination you will encounter are 10-agorot copper-colored coins, and larger, copper 50-agorot (half-shekel) coins, all useful for bus fares, but both may soon be phased out. The 1-shekel coin is a tiny silver buttonlike object that is extremely easy to lose. There are also 2-, 5- and 10-shekel coins, as well as 20-, 50-, and 100-shekel notes. Note: The new, small 10-shekel coins are not popular, as counterfeit 10-shekel coins abound. The real ones have fine, regular groves on the rims. If the rims are smooth or only irregularly grooved, it’s bad. Get to know which is which, otherwise, you can be out a lot of money (US $2.50) for such a small coin.
Don’t wait until you’re down to your last shekel if you’re using ATMs to keep yourself funded. International ATM connections sometimes go down, and Israeli banks have a way of having sudden 1-day wildcat strikes. Remember that ATMs will not be restocked during Shabbat, and there’s usually a run on ATMs on Friday, so stock up on Thursdays, before the Israeli weekend, and stock up a day before holidays.
What Things Cost in Israel NIS
Taxi from the airport to downtown 250
Double room, moderate US$240*
Double room, inexpensive US$140*
Three-course dinner for one without wine, moderate 70
Bottle of beer 18
Cup of coffee 8–14
1 liter of premium gas 8
Admission to most museums 25–50
Admission to most national parks 25–35
*Israeli hotel rates are quoted in dollars.
Packing Tips Israel is a very informal country, so casual, practical clothing is acceptable everywhere. In winter, warm socks and sturdy, rubber-sole walking shoes are helpful. A folding umbrella, and fleece liners and medium-weight jackets that can be layered are essential. Women should pack a multiuse, easy-to-carry shawl for chilly nights in mountain cities such as Jerusalem, and to wrap over shorts, bare shoulders, or short sleeves when visiting holy sites. Men won’t need ties; sport jackets are not mandatory at expensive restaurants or at performances. Sun hats are necessary, and men must cover their heads when entering Jewish religious places; if you don’t have a head covering, most synagogues will have some at the door to lend.
Passports It is important to check that you have at least 6 months left before your passport’s expiration; without that cushion, you won’t be allowed into the country.
Pharmacies Pharmacies are well-stocked, and you’ll encounter many international name brands, but drug prices outside of Israeli insurance plans—even for nonprescription medicines—are comparatively high.
Police -- Dial 100.
Safety -- Israel is a low-crime country. Some of the major dangers you will encounter are car-related. Israeli drivers aren’t renowned for sound driving practices. Blatant tailgating is the unnerving way of life here. Car theft and theft of belongings from rental cars is also a problem. Some rental-car companies require you to use a steering wheel lock, and it is never a good idea to leave valuables in your car.
When traveling in Jordan or in East Jerusalem and Arab cities inside Israel, travelers should not carry or drink alcohol (which is forbidden by Islam) in public, and modest dress is expected of both men and women. Women traveling alone must realize they are visiting Muslim societies, and the fact of being unaccompanied by a man can be regarded as suspicious and provocative. Extremely modest dress is essential.
Security Terrorism is a consideration everywhere in the world, and Israelis have become experts in dealing with it. Despite the news of the past few years, the chance is actually greater that you’ll be involved in a traffic mishap while in Israel. In Jerusalem, security guards now prowl the bus stops, checking and intercepting suspicious-looking people before they can board a bus. Guards conduct bag and body checks at the entrances to shopping malls, markets, shops, cafes, restaurants, transportation hubs, and hotels. You’ll find security guards at most major restaurants. Always keep alert and be aware of suspicious persons, especially if they are well bundled in coats or jackets when the weather is not cold.
Note: Get away from and immediately report any suspicious or unattended bags or packages! Any Israeli will know how to summon the police.
Senior Travel Mention the fact that you’re a senior when you make your travel reservations. Some Israeli hotels, especially those in international chains, still offer lower rates for seniors, especially during off season.
Smoking Smoking is against the law in all public places, including restaurants, trains, buses, and taxis.
Student Travel Israel is a student-friendly country. There are all kinds of student flights and discount airfares to Israel, and if you’re from a Jewish-American family, you may even be eligible for a free trip to Israel under the Birthright (Taglit) Program (www.birthrightisrael.com), which provides the gift of first-time, peer-group, educational tours of Israel (airfare included) to Jewish adults ages 18 to 26. More than 40,000 people have taken advantage of this program, which is designed to encourage Jewish identity and connection with the State of Israel (waiting lists are long).
Even for independent travelers, there are discounts for students at museums, national parks, and railroads, although train discounts are minimal. Check out the International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC; www.istc.org) website for comprehensive travel services information and details on how to get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which qualifies students for substantial savings. It also provides students with basic health and life insurance and a 24-hour help line. The card is valid for a maximum of 18 months. You can apply for the card online or in person at STA Travel (tel. 800/781-4040 in North America, 132-782 in Australia, 0871/2-300-040 in the U.K.; www.statravel.com), the biggest student-travel agency in the world. If you’re no longer a student but are still under 26, you can get an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) from the same people, which entitles you to some discounts. Travel CUTS (tel. 800/592-2887; www.travelcuts.com) offers similar services for both Canadians and U.S. residents. Irish students may prefer to turn to USIT (tel. 01/602-1904; www.usit.ie), an Ireland-based specialist in student, youth, and independent travel
Taxes At press time, there is a value-added tax (VAT) of 18 percent. This does not apply to Eilat, which is a tax-free zone. Unless otherwise noted on the price tag, all prices automatically include the VAT. Hotel bills (including food and services charged to your room) are not subject to the VAT if you are a tourist with a tourist visa, and if you pay your bill in foreign currency or with a foreign credit or debit card.For single purchases of over $100, certain shops will give you a form you can use for refund of your VAT as you leave the country at Ben-Gurion Airport. In order to complete this transaction, you have to get to Ben-Gurion well ahead of your flight and hope that the Refund Office will be open and that the lines will not be too long. If the VAT you’ve paid is substantial, it could be worth the effort.
Telephones Israel’s public telephones are mostly for phone cards only. A few public phones take 1-shekel coins, and 1-shekel coins are needed for pay phones in neighborhood groceries and restaurants. Post offices, many hotels, and many convenience groceries and newsstands sell prepaid calling cards in denominations ranging from NIS 20 to NIS 200.
Phoning From Within Israel: The major city or area codes inside Israel are:
02 (for Jerusalem)
03 (for Tel Aviv)
04 (for Haifa and the Galilee)
09 (for the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa)
08 (for the Negev and Eilat)
For calls made within the area code you’re calling from, omit the area code, and just dial the local 7-digit number. For calls within Israel that are not within your area code, you must add the 2-digit city or area code to the local number (for example, from Jerusalem to Haifa, dial 04, plus the local Haifa number).
Major cellphone prefixes are 050; 052; and 054. To call a cellphone, always use the 3-digit prefix, followed by the 7-digit number.
Phoning from Overseas: The international dialing prefix from Australia is 0011; from the U.S. or Canada, 011; from Ireland, New Zealand or the U.K., 00.
The country code for Israel is 972.
To call a number in Israel from overseas, dial the overseas access number (in the U.S., 011) plus 972 and then the Israeli number, omitting the initial 0 in the area code. Thus, to phone a hypothetical number in Jerusalem, you would dial 011-972-2-555-5555. To call a cellphone in Israel, again you must omit the initial 0 in the prefix. So, calling 054-666-6666, would entail dialing 011-972-54-666-6666.
Phoning Overseas: The international dialing code from Israel is 00. Then dial the country code, area code, and local number.
The country code for Australia is 63; for the U.S. and Canada, 1; for Ireland, 353; for New Zealand, 64; for the U.K., dial 44.
For local Israeli directory assistance (“information”), dial tel. 144; 1-700 and 1-800 numbers are toll-free. All operators speak some English and if necessary will connect you to a special English-speaking operator.
Time -- Israel is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. When it’s 7pm in Israel, it’s noon in New York.
Daylight Savings Time Warning: Because Israel has its own unique dates for going on and off daylight saving time, there is often a period of 1 or 2 weeks in the spring and a month in September or October when there’s only a 1-hour difference between Israel and Greenwich Mean Time and a 6-hour time difference between New York and Israel. Palestinian areas, Jordan, and Egypt keep to their own dates for daylight saving time, and those areas of the West Bank not under direct Israeli control also keep to Egyptian/Jordanian time. This can make border crossings a disaster if both countries are not synchronized. Jordan, Palestinian areas, and Egypt are normally 7 hours ahead of New York time, and 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. In the past, because of religious and political considerations, the decision about when to begin and end Israeli daylight saving time has sometimes not been made until the last minute. For this reason, it is very important to reconfirm schedules at these times of year—you could miss your flight, or worse.
Tipping Tip 10 percent in restaurants or cafes, unless a service charge is already added to your bill. Taxi drivers do not expect tips unless they have helped you load or carry luggage. An extra NIS 5 per bag is fair. Leave NIS 5 per person per day for your hotel maid, more if she has given you extra help. Barbers in Arab sectors do not expect tips; hairdressers should get 10 to 20 percent, depending on service
Toilets In Israel, public toilets on the street are rare to nonexistent. Try hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons. In each quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, there are scattered public restrooms, marked w.c., a tradition from British Mandate times. They’re not 21st century, but they’re better than nothing.
Visas Visitors from most English-speaking countries will receive a visa for Israel on the spot at Ben-Gurion Airport or at any land border crossing. There is no charge for the visa, however, there is an exit fee if you leave via a land crossing into Jordan.
Citizens of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand are issued visas good for up to 3 months upon arrival at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. For security reasons, visitors whose passports indicate extensive travel to countries that are politically unstable or technically at war with Israel (such as Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, or Lebanon) may be taken aside for questioning upon arrival in Israel, and in some cases denied entrance. Travelers with Israeli visa stamps in their passports may enter Egypt and Jordan, which have peace agreements and diplomatic relations with Israel, however, an Israeli visa stamp or any evidence of travel to Israel will generally preclude entrance into any other Arabic countries, except for Morocco and Tunisia. Travelers entering Jordan by land from Israel are issued a visa at the border for a fee. Travelers entering Sinai by land from Israel will receive a Sinai Only visa at the Taba border crossing. If you wish to travel into Egypt beyond Sinai, you must obtain an All Egypt visa from an Egyptian embassy or consulate ahead of time. If you’re spending time in Eilat, the Egyptian Consulate in Eilat is most convenient. Note: Visas to Jordan are given on the spot at the Sheikh Hussein Crossing from northern Israel and at the Rabin Crossing from Eilat (southern Israel); however, you must obtain a visa in advance from a Jordanian embassy if you plan to enter Jordan via the Allenby–King Hussein Bridge in the West Bank.
The governments of most Western countries have advised their citizens NOT to travel to the West Bank, which includes Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem; however, depending on day-to-day political conditions, many travelers do take pilgrimage or group tours to visit Christian holy places in Bethlehem.
Travelers with Arabic-sounding surnames may also be stopped for questioning. There are some cases of travelers being turned back at the border for reasons of security or without further explanation. Such travelers are not compensated for plane tickets or for canceled hotel reservations. Unfortunately, Israel has no provision for pre-clearance visa interviews before visitors embark on their journeys.
Water Tap water is safe and drinkable in Israel, except at The Dead Sea. There, even luxury hotels have special taps on each floor that provide drinking water. Although Israeli water is safe, the presence of various minerals in the water may make you a bit queasy. For this reason, bottled water could be a good investment, though in small amounts and for brushing your teeth, local water is fine. In Jordan and Sinai, tap water is not drinkable. Bottled water is essential.
Women Travelers It’s important to remember to dress modestly when visiting holy places or ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. The penalty for immodest dress can be getting spat on, pelted with pebbles, or worse. The police generally do not take action against religious Jews who attack “immodest” visitors to their neighborhoods. The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv suburbs of Beit Shemesh and B’nai Brak should also be avoided unless you dress with extreme modesty. In Jerusalem, on the Number 1 and 2 bus lines, which serve Mea Shearim and the Western Wall, women are relegated to the back of the bus (so as not to tempt the gaze of ultra-religious men in the front rows). Failure to obey this rule may be met with violent protest from religious passengers.
East Jerusalem, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the West Bank are largely Arabic societies, and unless women travelers are guarded in their dress and behavior, there’s a good chance there will be insults and unwanted advances. Women in Islamic societies do not venture far from their houses unless they are in the company of a husband, relatives, or at least one other woman; women travelers may seem to be breaking the rules of propriety simply by being alone. It is always best to try to have at least one traveling companion, male or female, with you if possible. Modest dress and behavior also helps to avoid unwanted attention. In Arabic communities, a woman alone, dressed in shorts or a bare midriff is not respectable, and will often not receive common courtesy. In Israel, except in religious neighborhoods, revealing dress is more common.