Throughout the last three years, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people planning their trip to Israel. So now I’ve decided to put all my answers in one post. Here is all you need to know before your trip to Israel. If I forgot something, let me know.
Passport & Visa:
You must arrive in Israel holding a passport that is valid for at least six months from the expected departure date from Israel. If you are only visiting Israel, you can stay up to three months in Israel. Will your passport be stamped when entering Israel? No. Israel no longer stamps people’s passports at airports and most land crossings. Instead of a stamp, a paper slip with your photo is issued, called an “Electronic Gate Pass”, and you must keep it throughout your entire stay in Israel. Even though, I recommend you officially request the border control clerk to not stamp your passport if you’re planning to visit an Arab or Muslim country, just to make sure. Keep in mind that you will probably face a longer and more strict security check if you have a stamp of an Arab or Muslim country in your passport.
Many countries have a Visa Waiver Program with Israel, allowing their citizens to enter Israel without a prearranged visa. Some of the nationalities that do require a visa pre-arrival to Israel include: Armenia, Bolivia, China, India, Ethiopia. Check if you need a visa here.
When to come? Israel is a year-round destination and you’ll find things to do here in every season. If you’re looking for the low season, then it’s from around November to March. Those months can be a bit chillier than the others and rainfall might happen, but it is still quite rare. Best time to come weather-wise is between April and June.
How many days to visit? If you want to see the classics, like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea I would recommend staying for at least 5 days. For a more detailed visit, I would recommend staying at least 8 days in Israel.
What to pack? In the summer (June-September) – bring light clothes and maybe a jacket just in case it gets chilly. Don’t forget sunscreen, hat, walking sandals, flipflops, sunglasses and a swimsuit if you plan to chill out on the beach. In the winter (November-February) – bring short clothes as well, but also a jacket and a coat, in case it gets cold, especially if you plan to visit Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. It’s also recommended to bring an umbrella in case it rains. Other than that, you can get almost anything in the Israeli stores, so if you forget something, no worries.
How to travel within Israel? There are many types of transportation inside Israel. Israel is a very small country, only 470 km long and 135 km wide, so you can drive from south to north in about 8 hours. Inside most cities, you can walk from one site to another. When travelling between main cities, buses are quite comfortable. If you plan to visit national parks or more remote places like the Negev and the Galilee, you might want to consider renting a car (prices later in this post).
Shabbat and Jewish holidays: It is very important to know that there is no public transportation on Shabbat and major Jewish holidays, including from and to the airport (so try not to book a flight that lands on Shabbat). Shabbat is the holy day of rest in Israel and takes place every week from sundown on Friday to Saturday night. In major cities, most attractions are open, and many restaurants are open as well. In Jerusalem there are also some attractions that are open, but most restaurants will be closed.
Language: The main language in Israel is Hebrew, but almost everyone understands English as well, so don’t worry about it. There are also many who understand Arabic (there is a large population of Muslim people living in Israel). Learn Hebrew basics here.
Safety: Israel is one of the safest countries in the world for tourists. As we have seen in recent years, terror attacks can happen almost anywhere. In Israel, we have a well-trained army and police force, that guards the borders, the border crossings, the checkpoints and any important public areas. Most attacks are prevented before they even happen. Also, there is no everlasting war going on in Israel. Sometimes there are tensed times, when rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, but that rarely happens and when it does happen, it rarely gets to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv area. There’s also the Iron Dome air defense system, that destroys most rocket attacks. Oh, and crime is very low here, so… yeah, Israel is safe and a great place for families, solo travelers, women and everyone.
Electricity: Israeli electrical appliances run on 220 volts AC, single phase, 50 Hertz. Most of the Israeli sockets are three-pronged, but you can usually put the European two-pronged plugs into them.
Health: There are no major health problems in Israel. Tap water is drinkable.
Food: You can find all sorts of food in Israel. Keep in mind that most restaurants in Israel are Kosher, which means that they won’t serve diary products and meat products together. That means you will find some restaurants that are only diary-based and some that are only meat-based. Fish and diary products can be mixed together. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options in Israel.
- Free accommodation – You can get free accommodation by using Coachsurfing, which is very popular in Israel, or by volunteering in one of the kibbutzim or hostels. Another option is to camp in the free camping sites throughout Israel, but then you need to keep in mind that they do not have any facilities in them (no lighting, no showers, no security and in many places no flowing water) and that most of them are far from most attractions, which means you’ll need to hike or to rent a car.
- Paid camping –There are many camping sites which have a camping fee, most of them handled by the Nature and National Parks Authority of Israel and usually located inside or nearby the parks. Camping generally costs about 50 ILS per adult (about 13 USD). If you’re looking for a cool experience, I would also recommend checking out the khans in the Negev and Arava. They might be a bit more pricey, but they offer a special Bedouin-style experience.
- Hostels – The hotel industry has been developing nicely in Israel, and it is a great way to socialize with other travelers. Today you can find over 30 hostels throughout Israel, especially in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and major cities. A bed in a dorm will cost about 70-110 ILS per night (about 18-30 USD), depending on the number of beds in the dorm and the location of the hostel.
Buying food in the grocery – If you’re planning to make your own food, here are the average costs of the main food products in the Israeli supermarkets:
- Bread -6-10 ILS
- Tomatoes – 5 ILS per kilogram
- Milk – 5-10 ILS
- Eggs – 11 ILS
- Plain cereal – 15 ILS
- Pasta – 6 ILS
- Rice – 6-11 ILS
- Yellow cheese – 10-14 ILS (it is best to ask for a specific amount at the dairy stall).
Eating out – There are many restaurants in Israel, some more pricey than the others. If you want to save on cash, try eating out at places that sell Israeli street food. This way, you’ll be able to experience the Israeli street food as well as save money. Here are some of the top street food items in Israel and how much they should cost:
- Falafel – 7-20 ILS
- Sabich – 10-20 ILS
- Shawarma – 15-30 ILS
- Burekas – 0.2-0.5 ILS per gram
- Humus bowl – 25-30 ILS
There are also cheap restaurants that sell pastas, salads and so on. One of the most recommended is Pasta Basta, there you can get a great plate of pasta starting at 23 shekels. They have a chain throughout Israel. Mid-range restaurants will cost you about 30-50 ILS for a meal.
It is important to acquire a Rav Kav Card for public transportation when you land in Israel. If you are landing in Ben Gurion Airport, there is a selling point in the Arrivals Hall. If you are coming from other places, you can acquire a card at the Central Bus Stations throughout Israel. To learn more about the Rav Kav, read this.
Transportation inside the cities:
- Buses – 6 ILS
- Trains (in Tel Aviv and light-rail train in Jerusalem) – 6 ILS
- Taxies – The minimum cost is 12 ILS, an addition of 0.3 ILS every 11 seconds according to the taxi counter. You can bargain on the price before beginning the ride and then the price will be fixed. Usually prices within the cities are between 25-60 ILS. By the way, we don’t use Uber in Israel, only Gett.
- Sheruts (Shared Taxi) in Tel Aviv – Minimum of 7 ILS, an addition of 0.4 ILS every km above 6 km.
- Bike Rental in Tel Aviv – You can rent the Tel O Fun bikes that can be found all around Tel Aviv. Daily access fee is 17 ILS and you need to pay for the usage time (about 6 ILS for every half an hour). I’ve been told that Mobike is also an option.
Transportation outside of the cities:
- Renting a car – You can rent a car for about 100 ILS per day. Recommended rental company is Shlomo Sixt. Each liter of fuel costs about 7 ILS (in Eilat 6 ILS).
- Buses – The line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem costs 16 ILS, the line between Jerusalem and Haifa costs 37.5 ILS, the line between Tel Aviv and Haifa costs 21.5 ILS, the line between Jerusalem and Eilat costs 70 ILS. You can check prices through the Egged site. Also, read my guide to buying a bus ticket to and from Eilat.
- Trains – The line between Tel Aviv to Haifa costs 28 ILS, the line between Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva costs 27 ILS, the line between Haifa and Be’er Sheva costs 53 ILS. You can check prices through the Israel Railways site.
- From the airport – Read Entering Israel By Air – All You Need to Know.
Free activities – There’s a lot to do for free in Israel. You can get ideas from my posts:
- Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem.
- Top Free Things to do in Tel Aviv.
- Top Free Things to do in Eilat.
Hiking is also free and there are plenty of hiking trails throughout Israel!
Museum tickets – Prices vary from museum to museum, but you can expect to pay around 20-50 ILS to enter each museum. Israel Museum, for instance, is about 50 ILS per adult.
National Parks – Prices vary from national park to national park, but you can expect to pay around 14-39 ILS to enter each national park. Caesarea National Park, for example, costs 39 ILS per adult. If you are planning to visit a number of national parks, I recommend you check out the Israel Nature and Parks Authority Money Saving Tickets.
Daily guided tours – Short daily tours of about 1-3 hours (for example, walking tours) usually cost around 100-150 ILS.
Local sim card:
If you would like to acquire a local sim card, I recommend purchasing one in one of the phone stores within the cities. Check with your hosts which store is recommended. The sim will cost around 40 ILS and a plan for 30 days with 14GB and unlimited calling Israel – around 50 ILS. WiFi is available in the airport, in many of the restaurants and in almost all the hostels and hotels in Israel. Read a more detailed explanation here.
To learn more about Israeli money, read my post – Understanding Israeli Money.
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