You must have heard that Israel is an expensive country. And yes, it’s true. So, one of the most important things you need to understand before coming to Israel is the value of the Israeli banknotes and coins and what can you buy with them. At the end of this post, I’ll also cover some ways to know if the money you have is fake. But let’s begin with the basics of money in Israel:
The local currency is the Israeli Shekel (ILS) or New Israeli Shekel (NIS). Its sign is – ₪
There are four banknotes: 200 ILS, 100 ILS, 50 ILS and 20 ILS.
There are six coins: 0.1 ILS, 0.5 ILS, 1 ILS, 2 ILS, 5 ILS and 10 ILS.
Basically, one Israeli Shekel equals about 0.30 dollars or 0.25 euros. To see the exact exchange rates, check out this site and convert shekels to your local currency.
More about Israeli money
200 shekel banknote
A new 200 shekel note was issued in December 2015, but you might still find the old banknote wandering around. Before I introduce you to the old note, let me introduce you to the new one (the blue one). The 200 shekel banknote has the highest value in terms of money in Israel.
On the front of the note, you will find Nathan Alterman’s face. Alterman (1910 – 1970) was one of Israel’s greatest poets, who produced many significant modern Hebrew poems. In 1968, Alterman won the Israeli Literature Prize for his great poetry pieces.
On the back of the note is a line from one of Alterman’s poets, “Morning Song”: “We love you, homeland, with happiness, song, and hard work.” The leaves on both sides of the note are also not there by mistake. The designers of the note thought of another of Alterman’s poems, “Endless Meeting” when they added the flora. To be honest, I read the poem and didn’t understand where they found the flora in it, but everyone interprets a poem differently.
The old 200 shekel banknote
And now I want to introduce you to the old 200 Shekel note (the red one), which you might still stumble upon. It is still accepted widely in Israel:
On the front of the note, you will find Zalman Shazar’s face. Shazar was Israel’s third President between 1963-1973. Shazar was one of the Zionists leaders and also a great poet, author, and historian.
On the back of the note, you can see an illustration of a street in Zefat and a part from Shazar’s diary, describing his visit to Zefat.
What can you buy with 200 Shekels? A night in a dormitory in a VERY cheap hostel + lunch and dinner in a street food restaurant + transportation inside the city
100 shekel banknote
A new 100 Shekel note was issued in November 2017, but you can still find the old one here and there. Before I introduce you to the old one, let me introduce you to the new one (the yellow one).
On the front of the note, you will find the face of Leah Goldberg. Goldberg (1911-1970) was one of the greatest Hebrew poets, an author, and a professor of literary theory. Many Israeli children have been raised with her stories, such as the famous children’s book, “A Flat to Rent”. In 1970, Goldberg received the Israel Prize for Literature. In the background, there are the blossoming flowers of an almond tree, which are part of Goldberg’s poem, “In the Land of my Love, the Almond is Blooming” (in Hebrew: בארץ אהבתי השקד פורח).
On the back of the note, you will be able to see a group of does, connected to Goldberg’s famous poem book, “What Do the Does Do?” (in Hebrew: מה עושות האיילות). There is also a quote from one of her poems, saying: “Long, white nights, like the sun rays in the Summer”.
The old 100 shekel banknote
The old 100 Shekel note (the brown one) was replaced in November 2017. On the front side of the old note, there is Yitzhak Ben-Zvi’s face. Ben-Zvi (1884-1963) was the second and longest-serving President of Israel. He was chosen three times as President. He also made many pieces of research in the field of Jewish studies.
On the back of the note, there is an illustration of the Old Synagogue in Peki’in
What can you buy with 100 Shekels? A night in a dormitory in a VERY cheap hostel or lunch and dinner in a mid-range restaurant.
50 shekel banknote
A new 50 Shekel note was issued in September 2014, but you can still find the old note here and there. Before I introduce you to the old note, let me introduce you to the new one (the green one).
On the front of the note, you will find Shaul Tchernichovsky’s face. Tchernichovsky (1875-1943) was one of the greatest Hebrew poets, influenced greatly by Ancient Greek culture. Next to his face, on the front, is an illustration of the citrus tree and its fruit, which represents Tchernichovsky’s poem, “Oh, my land! My homeland!” in which there is a reference to citrus.
On the back of the note, you can see an illustration of a corinthian Greek column, meant to denote Tchernichovsky’s work in translating Ancient Greek literature. On the top appears a line from Tchernichovsky’s poem, “I believe”: “Because I shall still believe in the man, in his spirit, strong spirit.”
The old 50 shekel banknote
The old 50 Shekel note (the purple one) has Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s face illustrated on it. Agnon (1887-1970) is usually called Shai Agnon in Israel because we don’t like long names. Agnon was one of the most beloved authors in modern Israel.
On the back of the note, there is an illustration of Agnon’s glasses, pen, and notebook. Behind them, you can barely see, but there is an illustration of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
What can you buy with 50 Shekels? A nice lunch in a mid-range restaurant or a ticket to the Israel Museum.
20 shekel banknote
A new 20 Shekel note was issued in November 2017, but you can still see some old notes here and there. Before I introduce you to the old one, let me introduce you to the new one (the red one).
On the front of the note, you will see the face of Rachel the Poetess, whose full name was Rachel Bluwstein Sela. Rachel was one of the most beloved Israeli poets, who immigrated in 1909 to the Land of Israel-Palestine. She had lived near the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) and worked in a women’s agricultural school before leaving to study agriculture abroad. When she came back, she was deadly sick and had to move to Tel Aviv, where she lived in isolation from the people. But, she had always dreamt of the beautiful Sea of Galilee. Next to her face, you can see the leaves of a palm tree. Palm trees can be found near the Kinneret.
On the back of the note, you can see a typical landscape of the Sea of Galilee’s surroundings as well as a line from one of her poems, saying: “Oh, my Kinneret, Did you exist or did I dream a dream?”
The old 20 shekel banknote:
The old 20 Shekel note (the green one) has Moshe Sharett’s face illustrated on it. Sharett (1894-1965) was the second Prime Minister and the first Foreign Minister of Israel.
On the back of the note, you can see an illustration of Jewish volunteers during the Second World War and of a watch-tower, which represents the “Wall and Tower” method of settlement. The Zionist settlers used this method during the Arab Revolt (1936-1939). In those days, there was a Turkish Ottoman law stating that a building with a roof on it, which has a wall and watch tower around it, cannot be destroyed. The settlers got all the construction materials ready beforehand and built the settlements quickly, within a night. That’s how they expanded the Zionist Jewish settlements in Israel.
What can you buy with 20 Shekels? Three rides in public transportation inside the city.
10 shekel coin
The 10 Shekel coin is my favorite. Its frame is made from nickel and its center is made from golden bronze. On its back, there is a palm tree with seven leaves and two baskets on each side. The Emblem of Israel is also seen on the frame of the coin. The writing on the frame says: “For the redemption of Zion” in nowadays Hebrew and in ancient Hebrew (the upper writing).
What can you buy with 10 Shekels? One ride in public transportation inside the city.
5 shekel coin
The 5 Shekel coin is made from 75% nickel. On its back is a Proto-Aeolic column and above it, the Emblem of Israel.
What can you buy with 5 Shekels? A snack bar (maybe).
2 shekel coin
The 2 Shekel coin is made from steel and covered nickel. It was issued only in 2007 and can make life much easier when you need to pay 10 Shekels and only have 1 and 2 Shekels (you can use five of the 2 Shekels instead of counting out 10 single Shekels).
On its back are two cornucopias, tied with ribbons and holding instead them different fruits. Between the two cornucopias, you can see a pomegranate. This coin’s design was influenced by the coins which were issued by John Hyrcanus, one of the Maccabean leaders during the 2nd century BCE. The Emblem of Israel also appears on the coin, of course.
The truth is that you can barely buy anything with this coin alone. Maybe four bubble gums, but I’m not sure about it anymore with all the prices going up.
1 shekel coin
The single Shekel coin is made from 75% copper and 25% nickel. On the coin, you can see a lily, taken from a coin that was issued during the period in which the Persians ruled the land. Under the coin, diagonally, the work “Yehuda” is written in ancient Hebrew. The Emblem of Israel also appears on the coin, of course, at the right hand of the lily
This coin is very handy for using public toilets that charge 1 shekel to enter.
0.5 shekel coin
The half Shekel coin is one of the favorite coins amongst tourists (at least amongst those whom I’ve met). It’s worth only half a Shekel but is the biggest coin of them all. The coin is made from 92% copper, 6% aluminum, and 2% nickel. On the coin, you can find a carving of a harp, maybe David’s beloved harp. The Emblem of Israel also appears on the right hand of the harp.
This coin can make a shop clerk very happy because they give it out a lot.
0.1 shekel coin
The 0.1 shekel coin – called in Hebrew “Eser Agorot” – is made from 92% copper, 6% aluminum, and 2% nickel. It is a copy of the coin that was issued by Antigonus II Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king of Judea. On it, you can see a seven-branched candelabrum and the word Israel in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The Emblem of Israel appears above the candelabrum.
This coin can also make a shop clerk very happy because they give it out a lot.
*All pictures of money notes and coins are taken from Wikipedia.
Is Your Money Real or Fake?
I haven’t experienced getting fake money in Israel, but anything can happen, so if you want to make sure that the money people gave you isn’t fake, here are some things you can look for on the money note:
When you look at the money note in a straightforward way, you won’t see it. But if you raise the note towards the sun or some light, you can see a portrait on the left side of the note, which is almost identical to the main picture on the note.
The pierced value of the note
Again, you need to raise the money note to some source of light and check if there’s the value of the note (20, 50, 100, 200) pierced by very small holes at the top-center of the note.
The Perfect Menorah
On the top side of the note, both on the back and the front, there are some strange lines and a dot at the top. If you raise it to some source of light, you can see that more lines are appearing and creating a perfect “menorah” with the existing lines.
To the right of the portrait, you’ll see a shiny transparent line crossing the note from top to bottom. If you’ll move the note around, you’ll be able to see menorahs and the value of the note.
The Golden Book
If you tilt the note back and forth, you should be able to see that the golden book at the top is changing from gold to green and back. You should also be able to see a horizontal line moving up and down as you’ll do it.
Money is very important in Israel because you’ll need to use it a lot. So, when you’re using money in Israel, expect to pay about 100-150 ILS for a hostel bed in a dorm, about 6 ILS for a one-way public transportation ticket inside a city, up to 50-80 ILS for a taxi ride inside the city (and I’m exaggerating), and about 20-60 ILS for a meal. For the full list of expenses, check out Israel: All You Need to Know Before You Go. Don’t let people fool you!
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Suggestion: enter a paragraph warning from scam using the old Shekel, Israelis will know it in an instant but tourists might think that a 10,000 bank note is real. Well it is real, but 1000 times cheaper than real 10,000 NIS…
Great suggestion. I will add about how to recognize scam. Thanks Moti ?