Travel tips – Israel
To optimize your experience in Israel, there are several details to plan and options to consider. A lone tour or planning a tour with a few friends and family involves a proactive approach. We have compiled a few tips to streamline your planning process and a few factors to add to your checklist so that no detail is forgotten, particularly in the last minute rush of packing and preparing passports, reservations, insurance, etc.
Knowing the weather in each region of Israel during the season you plan to visit will help you know what to pack and what to leave behind. The summer months in Israel are between June and September, but will be quite warm even between April through October, and there will be a heat wave during December most years. The rainy season is between October through April. Most tourists will find Eilat and the Negev region too hot during the summer months and pleasant during the winter. Jerusalem will be cooler than the rest of the country regardless of the season, however, the winter months will be cold, windy, and wet while Jerusalem is hot and dry during the summer. The coast and northern regions, such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Tiberius, will be extremely hot and humid during the summer while cold and wet during the winter. During the summer season, plan to start particularly early when visiting hiking spots during the summer months, such as Masada, where visitors are not allowed up Masada after 10:00 AM. During the winter, some areas will get snow and most years there may be skiing on Mount Hermon.
What to Bring
Regardless of the season, you will need good walking shoes, walking sandals and/or hiking boots during the summer and water-proof walking shoes during the winter, also, you would do well to bring a hat, a water bottle carrier, a secure pouch for your money and passport, and a small backpack for day trips, allowing you to leave your larger bags in your hotel room or car. For the winter, you will need warm clothing and a jacket, and you should plan for rain. During the summer you will need a sun hat, strong sunscreen, water shoes, lightweight clothing as well as long trousers, long skirts, and long sleeves for visiting many religious sites. Warmer clothing is also very useful while traveling in the desert, as the nights cool down considerably in the summer.
In addition to packing for the weather, Israel uses different electrical appliance plugs than the United States so be sure to bring travel appliances that are convertible to single phase 220 volts at 50 Hertz with an Israeli plug adapter — such as for your hair dryer, shaver, travel iron, phone charger plug, etc. Most European plug adapters will fit into many but not all sockets, and run on the same electrical current.
Passports and Visas
The majority of passports do not require an additional tourist visa and are issued an automatic three months or short visa. However, Israel requires that each passport is valid for at least six months at the time of travel, even if your trip is less than three months. If you plan to remain longer than intended, you will need to apply to the Ministry of Interior.
There is a 24 hour tourist information service that you can reach from your mobile phone at *3888, called “Tourphone.” In addition to English tourist information, this number gives you access to the police, the Ministry of Interior, and airport services. Local pay-as-you-go SIM cards can be purchased at the airport as well as at any cell phone retailer. Be sure to check that your handheld device is unlocked for Israel.
Travel for the Disabled
You can contact Access Israel for tourist information on disability access throughout Israel. Most tourists’ sites have disability access, including Masada and Caesarea, but it is recommended to check before your visit. Additional disability information can be found from Milbat (The Israel Center for Technology and Accessibility) in the Sheba Medical Center at (972) 3-530-3739. Israel has a loaning center that provides disability equipment free of charge (a deposit is required) called Yad Sarah; it can be reached by calling (972) 2-644-4555.
Immigration & Customs
Prior to arrival into Ben Gurion Airport, complete your landing card provided during your flight. Following baggage collection, tourists go through security and may be required to pay a deposit on items not otherwise allowed through customs. If you have something to declare, take the red lane. Failure to declare is fined, can incur prosecution, and your item(s) may be confiscated. Any deposit you may have to pay is returned when you leave—as well as any VAT (value added tax) you were charged on purchases made in Israel (just be sure to keep your receipts). You may go through the green line if have only duty free items such as:
• Personal clothing
• Up to 1 liter of alcohol
• Up to 2 liters of wine
• Up to 250 grams of tobacco
• Personal presents and other commodities under $200 total
• 3 kilograms of food when each type is less than one kilogram
• Most personal items such as typewriters, personal computers, cameras (but not video cameras), radios, tape recorders, binoculars, jewelry, musical instruments, baby carriages, recreational equipment, and bicycles.
The important point here is volume; your volume of each item should not exceed what is considered for personal use. You must have a license to bring weapons of any kind, plants, and any raw meat or other raw materials. The same is true for land crossing at the Israel Egypt and the Israel Jordan borders. Furthermore, if you are visiting any other Arab country after Israel then you may request that your passport is not stamped upon your arrival to Israel.
Israel shuts down for Shabbat and holidays. So you will need to check for visiting hours and check in and check out times for all hotels or hostels, particularly over the Shabbat (between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening). This also applies to holidays, which may occur during the week so check here if there are holiday dates during your trip between 2011 and 2012. The major holiday seasons are spring (Passover is around Easter) and the fall (usually October, fluctuating around the Hebrew Lunar calendar).
While traveling in Israel, you will be able to communicate relatively easily. Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, however, most signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and many in Russian. All tourists’ spots, hotels, and most restaurants accommodate English. Often Israelis will be able to speak English so you should not have difficulty shopping, buying food in shops, asking for directions, or speaking with the various interesting people that you will meet along your tour.
Internet Hot Spots
If you are traveling with your personal computer or access Internet over your phone, most hotels, cafes, and other locations offer wireless Internet access in major cities and hotspots are often free. There are also numerous Internet cafes in most cities.