The national languages in Israel are Hebrew, English and Arabic, while in the Palestinian territories the language is Arabic. Most signs are marked in Hebrew, Arabic as well as English. Many natives know English.
The Israeli currency is the New Israel Shekel (NIS) or shekel for short. A shekel is made up of 100 agorot. Bank notes are distributed in denominations of 200, 100, 50, and 20 NIS. Coins are available in 10, 5, 2, and 1 NIS. Agorot are available in 10 and 50 agorot. To see the current exchange rates see here (http://www.xe.com/ucc/). Money can be exchanged at most banks in Israel and exchange stores can be found throughout the country in most major cities. We recommend you check the daily exchange rate before exchanging your currency.
In Israel, the workweek is Sunday to Thursday. Shops and businesses are normally open on Fridays but close early afternoon for the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath lasts from after sundown Friday to after sundown Saturday. Many shops that are open on Friday are closed on Tuesdays for the shop owners to rest. Shops closed Saturdays for the Sabbath tend to open up Saturday night. Muslims and Christians observe their own Sabbaths on Friday and Sundays, respectively.
In Israel, electricity is mostly 220 volts, 50 cycles. In most major hotel rooms you can find a built-in 110-volt electric razor transformer. Electrical sockets tend to be three-pronged but are still different than those used in Europe and the USA. Packing an adapter set is very useful to those bringing in electrical appliances.
The weather varies from hot and dry in the summer (April- October), to cool and rainy in the winter (November-March) throughout the Holy Land. Depending on where you are in the Holy Land the weather can be very different. In the north and the center of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the summers are hot and occasionally humid with cooler evenings. Generally, hilly areas are chillier (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Golan, etc.). Throughout the winter, the north and center of Israel and the Palestinian territories are prone to a lot of rainfall; whereas desert areas (the Negev, Eilat etc.) receive very little rain. In winter desert areas can become cold at night.
Weather extremes in the region include slight snowfall in Northern hillier areas of Israel and the Palestinian territories in winter as well as occasional humid heat waves throughout the summer and fall.
During the workweek (Sunday through Thursday), stores and shops are open from around 9.00 am until 7 pm in the big cities. Most shops in Jewish areas are not open on Saturdays, though there one can find many boutiques, wineries, restaurants, etc open in the non-religious moshavim as well as non-religious areas of the country. Many shops in neighborhood areas are closed from 2-4 pm for the traditional afternoon siesta. There are a large number of malls throughout the country which have more flexible hours, and some of the retail tenants are open on Shabbat. For supermarket needs, the grocery chain Tiv Taam is opened throughout the country and the drugstore brand Superpharm is open as well in particular areas.
In addition there are also many smaller markets that sell everything from fruits and vegetables to arts and crafts. Local supermarkets can be found scattered throughout the residential areas of most neighborhoods and these sell most essential items including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fresh breads, personal hygiene items, meats, etc. There are several major outdoor markets located throughout the region. The two most famous of these, Mahane Yehuda and the Carmel market can be found in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, respectively, and are open most of the week. Exceptionally fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as homemade local food specialties such as humus, tahini, grape leaves, shnitzels, olives, nuts, cheeses, breads, pastries and other prepared food items can be found amongst the numerous vendors. In addition, clothing, household items, cleaning supplies, etc are also available throughout the markets, known locally as the “shuk”. Other worthwhile “shuks” to visit include the Jaffa Gate and the Damascas Gate markets in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Nahalat Binyamin crafts market on Tuesday and Friday in Tel Aviv, the Dalyiat HaCarmel market in the Carmel mountains outside of Haifa, the Jaffa “Shuk HaPishpishim” which is an antique market as well as adjacent Jaffa shuk. Several other smaller shuks can be found in several other towns throughout the region as well.
Dress and Clothing
When packing for your trip, it is important to consider the season and climate in which you are visiting Israel. Although most of the year is hot and sunny, the winter can be cold especially in the mountains, and at night. It is also very rainy in the winter so it is important to bring rain gear. Keep in mind that most of the buildings are made of stone which keeps the interiors cool for the hot summer, but also makes it particularly cold inside in the winter too. Comfortable shoes are very important when walking through Israel’s many cities. There are many stone sidewalks which can be uneven and stairs or steps are quite commonplace as well. For those who may be slightly uneven on their feet, bringing a cane can be reassuring.
Also, there are many holy cites in Israel it is important to wear modest dress (not shorts or sleeveless, and sometimes a head covering) when going to visit these places of interest. During the summer, we recommend that women keep a small sweater packed in their backpacks, or even a wrap skirt. These items can be particularly easy to slip on at a moment’s notice if necessary. People of different religious belief dress differently, from long skirts and head coverings to shorts and no head coverings so dress can depend on where you plan to travel. Israel’s overall dress is very casual so unless you are coming on business, it is very unlikely you will ever need a suit or tie.
You luggage should be sturdy and light-weight. Current security regulations do not permit you to lock your luggage. At the present time, liquids, including cosmetics, are note permitted on the aircraft. However you may bring on an empty water bottle and ask to flight attendant to fill it when you are in the air.
What women should pack:
Bring your Bible – 3 or 4 pair of slacks – 1 pair of jeans if you wear them; 1 skirt, in summer 2 pairs of shorts; 1 dress; 4-6 tops, combination of T-shirts, short & long-sleeved blouses, turtle-necks; 2 sweaters (a cardigan is more useful than a pullover) &/or 1 blazer; underwear & stockings (bring liquid soap to wash these items in hotel sink); 1 or 2 nightgowns; accessories: scarves, jewelry (not expensive, please) shawl, belts, pajamas; 2 pairs of good, well-broken-in walking shoes (sore feet can ruin a trip!); 1 pair of dress shoes, not formal or very high heels. Sandals are good.
What Men should Pack
Bring your Bible – 3-4 pair slacks or slacks & jeans; 1-2 pair shorts; 4-6 shirts (combination of short or long-sleeved, dress, knit, turtlenecks, etc.); 1 sports jacket, if desired, not necessary; 1-2 ties (not necessary unless you enjoy wearing them); 2 sweaters and/or sweater vest; underwear & socks (laundry soap); 2 pairs of comfortable walking shoes- tennis shoes are good; an extra pair of old tennis or sandals handy for walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel & on rocks at Dead Sea. Pajamas.
Credit Cards/ATM Machines
Most major hotels, restaurants and retail shops accept all major credit cards such as Visa Curopcard/Mastercard, Diners Club and American Express. Many of the smaller Christian guest houses, bed and breakfasts and boutique shops prefer cash. ATM Machines are widely available throughout Israel and can be used with most credit cards. Most machines give you Israeli Shekels, but in the big cities and the airport you can also get US$. Check with your bank as to what they charge you per withdrawal (approximately 1-2%).
Most banks are open every week-day from 0830 – 1230/1300 (Friday – 1200) and twice a week from 1600/1630 – 1830/1900 (they are closed on Saturdays). They will do most monetary transactions for you although slightly slowly. You will need your passport.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
The VAT in Israel is 16.5% and unless otherwise noted, all bills are inclusive of VAT. However, Non- Israelis paying in foreign currency are exempt from VAT payment at hotels, car rentals, on the purchase of goods priced at more than $100 at shops listed by the Ministry of Tourism and they are able to receive a VAT refund at the Ben Gurion Airport upon departure with proper documentation.
There are many different modes of transportation available. Within Israel there are buses which travel Sundays through Friday afternoon and Saturday nights after the Jewish Sabbath. The Arab neighborhoods in Israel as well as the Palestinian run areas provide bus services on Shabbat. To view bus schedules click: EGGED or DAN . There is also the option of train transportation through Israel Railways. The rail service which operates between Israel’s main cities. To view routes, fairs and schedules go to ISRARAIL. Private taxis are available in all cities and drivers are required to turn on their meters. Some smaller cities do have set rates for rides within that city so inquire first. It is not necessary to tip a taxi driver at the end of a ride, though it is customary to tip a tour guide and driver if you are satisfied with their service. Shared taxis, known locally as sheruts, are available at the airport and are also available for hire in the downtown areas and/or close to the central bus stations in most major cities.
Most Israeli roads, nature parks and other attractions are well-marked and as a result, those preferring to rent a car are able to manage quite well as long as you have a detailed road map. Carta publishes an excellent map in English that is available in most book stores.
While the roads tend to be very good, in some areas such as the road to Eilat (known as the Arava) are reputed for courting accidents. Watch out for drivers that are passing in both directions and stay alert to the lanes which can weave back and forth. Israeli drivers are not the most patient so driving defensively is your best bet.
When parking your vehicle, it is advisable to keep your belongings out of view and in the trunk. Watch the speed limits which can vary between cities.
Israel’s only toll road, Route 6 opened a few years ago and is an excellent north south artery for those wishing to bypass the busier Highway 2 which runs along the coast north from Tel Aviv. If you have a rented car, the rental company will send you the bill. Currently the toll road offers unimpeded driving from Kiryat Gat in the south going to north to Road 65. Additional extensions to the north and south will be added in the future.
Many restaurants in Israel are kosher, however there as the country has become much of an international hub, the selection of non-kosher restaurants has grown as well. Israel’s traditional food is Mediterranean, which includes humus (made from chickpeas) tahini, falafel and pita. A comprehensive restaurant listing can be found at REST.
Most public washrooms are clean and generally well-supplied, however we do recommend you travel with tissues just to be sure. Wheelchair accessible facilities are becoming more common throughout Israel.
Most public phones can be operated by using phone cards. In addition, cell phones are available for rental from the airport as well. Another option is to rent a phone in advance through a carrier such as Israel Phones. Most of the shops, post offices and news stands sell phone cards that can be used for calls worldwide. Just ask!
Border Crossing to Bethlehem and the Palestinian Territories
It is always a good idea to find out as much as possible about the current situation before travelling to the Palestinian Territories and to check first to make sure your passport is valid for travel to both Israel and the territories. The most used crossing for tourists is the border at Rachel’s Crossing, just south of Jerusalem. It is simple to pass here as long as you have a valid American, European or other passport in hand. Arab taxis are allowed to travel freely into Bethlehem and beyond. Some travelers prefer to take an Arab taxis from East Jerusalem directly across the border and into Bethlehem. Other possibilities include taking Arab bus number 22 from East Jerusalem. Bus 32 runs from Jerusalem to Hebron as do Egged buses that go to Hebron and Qiryat Arba.
Jordanian Border Crossings
Traveling from Israel into Jordan is rather easy. However, VISA requirements have changed frequently in the last few years so we highly suggest you contact us to learn more about the requirements or check with the Jordanian Tourism site. Below is a brief description of each border crossing as well as useful web sites.
1. The Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein Crossing (near Tiberius)
This crossing links the Israeli city of Beit She’an with Jordan. You can take the 961 bus from the Tiberius bus terminal to the Israeli border city of Beit She’an in just over 1 hour at a cost of 38 NIS (approximately $10). Before crossing into Jordan, make time to visit the magnificently preserved ruins of this city which is mentioned in the Book of Joshua and was later conquered by King David.
If you are traveling from Jerusalem, you can also take the 961 bus to Beit She’an, although the trip this time is just under 2 hours and costs 42 NIS (approximately $12). From Beit She’an, it is a five minute taxi drive to the border crossing and costs 20 NIS (approximately $5.50)
Once you cross into Jordan, you can take a bus or hire a taxi for the 90 Kilometer (56 miles) to the capital city of Amman. The border is open 363 days a year from 6:30 AM until 8:00 PM Sunday to Thursday and 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. The crossing is closed on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the first day of the Muslim New Year.
Jordan requires a visa for all American passport holders. A single-entry three-month Jordanian visa needs to be obtained in advance.
A departure tax/exit fee is charged at each border crossing. An Israeli exit tax is $15 payable in Israeli, foreign currency, travelers checks and most credit cards at the “Change Place” branch in the terminal. A commission is also charged.
Please note that Palestinian-Americans cannot use this crossing to enter Jordan.
2. The Yitzchak Rabin/Arava Crossing (near Eilat/Aqaba)
This is the southernmost crossing, and you can take a shared taxi from Eilat. However, there is no other public transportation to the terminal. There is an opportunity to change money at the crossing. This terminal is 324 kilometers (201 miles) from Amman. However, it only a few miles to the Jordanian port city of Aqaba (the Jordanian side of the Red Sea) and a 2 hour taxi ride to the spectacular ancient Nabatean city of Petra.
Please note that Palestinian-Americans cannot use this crossing to enter Jordan.
3. The Allenby Bridge/King Hussein Border Crossing into Jordan (near Jericho)
While this is the closest crossing to Jerusalem, tourists are advised to use one of the other crossings instead. Since the Allenby Bridge connects Jordan to the Palestinian Territories, this is the bridge that all Palestinians must use. It is also the crossing most used by diplomats working in both countries. As a result, this crossing is very crowded and tourists can experience delays of several hours waiting to cross. However, if for some reason, you need to cross the Allenby Bridge, it can be reached either by taxi or the 961 bus which you can board either in Tiberius or the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. From Tiberius, the bus ride is just under 2 hours long. From Jerusalem, the bus ride is between 30 and 40 minutes long.. The bus stop is on Road no. 90, next to the upper entrance gate to the terminal. From this gate entrance is by taxi only.
At the terminal, you will need to present your passport, a visa for entry into Jordan and pay a passenger fee. Visas must be purchased in advance. The ride to Amman, the capital, is just under an hour.
Traveling times by car to the various areas (in hours)
The Dead Sea