Know Before You Go - Israel
Do I need a visa? Is it safe? How do I get around? We cover the essentials so you can travel like a pro, and relax while you do!
PASSPORT & VISA
United States citizens do not need a tourist visa prior to visiting Israel. In the past, travelers were encouraged to obtain a second passport if they desired to travel to certain neighboring countries near Israel, as they would not permit entry if you had an Israel entrance stamp in your passport. Today, stamps are no longer applied and instead a paper visa is issued on arrival.
HEALTH & SAFETY
The security situation in and around Israel is ever-changing. That said, Israel is actually a safe place to travel, so long as you stay away from certain high-risk areas such as the Gaza Strip. Do your research prior and up to your date of departure to remain informed of the current state of the area. Additionally, no additional vaccinations are necessary and modern medical care and facilities are available in Israel.
METHODS OF PAYMENT
The national currency in Israel is the Shekel, or ILS. US dollars may be accepted by vendors, but be weary of the exchange rate they are offering and ensure you aren't getting a bad deal. You can also use all major credit cards or withdrawal Shekels at an ATM using your debit card.
Bartering is accepted, and anticipated, at all street vendors. In fact if you don't you will grossly overpay for whatever you buy. That said, some modern shops may have fixed prices, but it can still be worthwhile to negotiate in a less dramatic way, such as asking for two items for a discounted price.
Tipping is generally expected and recommended at restaurants and bars, and for tour guides. A tip of 10-15%, where warranted, is average.
Transportation inside of Israel changes with the political climate. The important thing to remember is to give yourself plenty of time, and be patient. Some areas or sites may be open one day and closed the next, likely due to changing security situations. There are frequent checkpoints, not only along roadways but even in pedestrian areas such as prior to entering shopping malls. To help with your patience, remember that all of it is done to increase your safety, and it works.
WHEN TO GO
To give yourself the best odds for clear weather, travel during the summer months (June through August), but be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen. If you're ok with slightly cooler temperatures (which for Israel can doesn't mean cold, think pleasant), traveling during the spring (April or May) or fall (September or October) can mean better touring weather and slightly fewer tourists.
WHAT TO EAT
Israel is described as a land flowing with milk and honey, and after visiting you will realize that anything and everything can be grown there. Of course, no trip is complete without having falafel and hummus, but with so many delicious local ingredients, don't be shy about trying new things. You will also find a thriving coffee scene in this tiny country sitting between the East and West. You can find everything from standard espresso-made drinks to heavy Turkish coffee and everything in between.
Israel is the epicenter for more than a couple major world religions, and as such you should dress conservatively by covering knees and shoulders. In certain highly populated areas, such as Tel Aviv, dress is more casual. As always, be respectful, and when in doubt default to dressing conservatively.
Hebrew and Arabic are the primary languages in Israel, but you will also find that most people speak English very well, and most signage is also in English. Still, Israelis love to hear and speak Hebrew, and will likely greet you with a big smile if you begin a conversation in their language. A few basics:
Thank you: Toda
Shabbat: The Sabbath day, begins Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset
Shabbat Shalom: Greeting on Shabbat