Via Verde Travel (A Division of Plaza Travel)
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  • July 16, 2019
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The Extra Dimension

There are so many reasons why people are attracted to Israel. For some, it's the sun-drenched climate. For others, it's the rich variety of sites and sights - historical, archaeological, religious, or just beautiful. For still others, it's the fascinating contrast between the ancient and the modern. But for absolutely everyone, Israel has a special hard-to-define something - an extra dimension - that turns every visit into a truly memorable experience. 

Airports

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Most of the international airlines operate flights to Israel. El Al, operates many direct flights from the United States, Europe, the Far East, and Africa. Other Israeli airlines such as Arkia and Israir operate flights from central locations in Europe. There are no direct flights to Israel from distant locations such as Australia or South Africa, or from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. It is therefore a good idea to reserve a connecting flight from these places, or to arrive in Europe and then purchase a ticket to Israel.

Flight times to Israel from some cities:

From London - about 4 ½ hours

From Los Angeles - about 14 hours non-stop and 17 hours with one stop 

From New York - about 11 hours

From Singapore - about 11 hours

Most international flights land at Ben Gurion Airport, which is located near the town of Lod - approximately a half hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion airport has recently opened a new, modern terminal with a large variety of duty-free shops, restaurants, and coffeehouses. Some flights from Europe also land at Sde Dov in north Tel Aviv or atOvda Airport near Eilat.

Clothing

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Israel is a modern, developed country, and you can purchase virtually anything you need during your stay, including clothing, cosmetics, and hygiene products.

If you are visiting Israel during the summer you will need lightweight clothing - short-sleeved and sleeveless shirts, shorts, sandals, beach shoes and a bathing suit. It’s also a good idea to pack a sweater or jacket, since nights in the mountains and the desert can be cool.

If you are visiting Israel in the winter, you will need warm clothing, a coat (preferably a raincoat as well), good shoes, an umbrella, gloves, a scarf and other warm clothing. Weather in Israel is not cold as it is in Europe, but days can be rainy and cold.

It’s a good idea to bring a small bag for day trips. If you are traveling to Eilat or the Dead Sea, it’s a good idea to bring a bathing suit, since it is warm enough to swim there even in the winter.

Sunscreen, a sun hat, and sunglasses are essential items throughout the year.

If you are planning on hiking, you will need good shoes and a lot of water, either in a canteen or in several bottles. You will need a sleeping bag, tent, and camping equipment only if you are planning on sleeping outdoors. Most youth hostels supply sheets and blankets.

Currency

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Israeli Currency

The State of Israel’s currency is the New Israel Shekel (NIS) or shekel for short (pluralized as shkalim in Hebrew or shekels in English). There are 100 agorot (agora in singular) in each shekel. Bank notes are in denominations of NIS 20, 50, 100, and 200; coins are in denominations of NIS10, NIS5, NIS1 and 50, 10 and 5 agorot.

Changing Money

Unlimited sums of local and foreign money may be brought into Israel as cash, travelers’ checks, credit cards or State of Israel bonds. Foreign currency of all kinds may be exchanged at the airport, banks, post offices, most hotels or licensed exchange agencies in large cities. A passport is required when exchanging travelers’ checks. The rates vary from place to place, and banks charge a commission. It is recommended, though not obligatory, to carry a small amount of US dollars, since certain tourist sites, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, take payment in dollars.

Cash Withdrawal

Holders of international credit cards can withdraw local or foreign currency at banks which accept their credit cards. There are Automated Teller Machines outside most banks.

Major credit cards – American Express, Diners, Visa, Mastercard/Access/Eurocard – are widely accepted in Israeli restaurants, stores, hotels, museums, etc.

Banks

Various banks have branches in the large cities and in smaller communities. Most banks are open from 8:30 am until 12 noon Sunday to Thursday, and 4–6pm on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. On Fridays and Jewish holiday eves, banks are open from 8:30 am until 12 noon. All banks are closed on Shabbat. Most of the large hotels have banks which often offer additional, more convenient hours.

Opening Bank Accounts

Tourists may open local currency accounts or special non-resident and foreign resident accounts at any bank.

Exchanging Shekalim for Foreign Currency

Shekels can be converted back to foreign currency at Ben Gurion Airport banks, up to US $500 or its equivalent in other currencies. Any remaining shekels over this amount that were acquired during a single visit to Israel (up to a maximum of US $5,000) can be reconverted with bank receipts proving the original conversion of the foreign currency.

Language

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Hebrew, the language of the Bible, and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel. Hebrew (and Arabic too) is written from right to left.

It was less than a century and a half ago that Hebrew was still considered a language solely for prayer and completely obsolete on a day-to-day basis. The restoration of Hebrew was a vastly significant factor in the success of the Zionist dream. Updating a “dead” language was a task led virtually in its entirety by one man, Russian-born Eliezer ben Yehuda, and it is a story of extraordinary vision and drama. His biography, Tongue of the Prophets, by Robert St. John, is utterly fascinating and a perfect read for visitors to Israel.

All Israeli school children learn Hebrew, Arabic and English, and good English is spoken by virtually everyone in the country. Israel, a country peopled by many who have come from some 120 countries, is a multi-lingual country, with vast numbers of Israelis also speaking Russian, French, Spanish, Yiddish and tens of other tongues.

Almost every highway and street sign is in English as well as Hebrew (and Arabic), and English language newspapers, magazine and books are available everywhere.

Medical

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No vaccinations are required for visitors to Israel.

Israel is an entirely western country with an advanced level of health care, diagnosis and medicine that is the envy of much of the world and on a par with the best of North America and Western Europe. Almost everyone in the health care field – from pharmacists to physicians to nurses – understands and speaks good English.

As for all international travel, visitors to Israel should have travel insurance that covers them in case of illness or hospitalization. Pharmacies in Israel are to be found everywhere and are very well stocked with drug store items and all the over-the-counter medicines you may need.

Should you become ill during your trip, your hotel front desk can arrange for a doctor to visit you in your room, and prescribe medication if necessary. If you are staying with friends or family, they will be able to refer you to their local clinic. In case of serious illness or injury, the emergency rooms at Israel’s hospitals are western standard and you will receive the finest medical care.

Tipping

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In Israel it is customary to tip primarily in restaurants. When the bill does not include service, a 12% tip should be added to the payment. In hotels, one tips the bellhop or any other service provider. Taxi drivers are generally not tipped.

Bargaining is acceptable in Israel, but not everywhere. In the open-air markets, do not hesitate to bargain as it is part of the experience and doing so can lower the price. Storekeepers are legally required to display prices and for the most part are not open to bargaining. This is also true of restaurants and public transportation. Passengers are advised to ask cab drivers to turn on the meter, thus avoiding unnecessary haggling.

Transportation

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Israel is a small country, and it is therefore easy to get from one place to another in a relatively short time. Public transportation is convenient, and you can get to almost any destination for a reasonable price.

Israel Railways operates convenient, inexpensive train service. It is also possible to travel by taxi, but this is more expensive, particularly for inter-city trips. It’s therefore preferable to use shared service taxis.

Several companies provide internal flights between Eilat and Ben Gurion Airport, Sde Dov Airport in north Tel Aviv, or Haifa, but these flights are more expensive.

Busses are the most popular form of public transport in Israel for both local transport and intercity trips. The Egged bus company operates most of the intercity bus lines, as well as the local service in most of the large cities and towns. Local and intercity transport in the Gush Dan area (Tel Aviv and the surrounding suburbs) is provided by the Dan bus company. Bus service in Be’er Sheva and Nazareth is provided by private companies. The fare for all bus lines is reasonable, the busses are comfortable and usually air-conditioned, and there is regular, frequent service.

Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booths in the central bus station in each city or town, or from the driver. Most of the bus lines do not run on Shabbat or on Jewish holidays. Service ends on Friday afternoon and resumes Saturday evening.

Students are entitled to discounts on intercity bus lines. To receive a discount they must present an international student card when purchasing tickets.

Travel by Air

Most of the international airlines operate flights to Israel. El Al, operates many direct flights from the United States, Europe, the Far East, and Africa. Other Israeli airlines such as Arkia and Israir operate flights from central locations in Europe. There are no direct flights to Israel from distant locations such as Australia or South Africa, or from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. It is therefore a good idea to reserve a connecting flight from these places, or to arrive in Europe and then purchase a ticket to Israel.

Travel by Sea

Several shipping lines offer scheduled sailings from Europe to Haifa Port. Another option for arrival by sea is to join a Mediterranean cruise which includes Israel in its itinerary. Passengers can board in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey or Egypt and enter Israel through Haifa Port, Tel Aviv, Ashdod or Eilat. After the passengers and vessels complete border and customs clearance procedures, they can continue to any of Israel’s marinas. (Besides those mentioned, there are marinas in Jaffa, Acre, Herzliya and Ashkelon.) Arrival via private yacht is also possible and requires reservations several weeks in advance for a berth in the marina of choice.

Travel by Land

Land entry into Israel is possible through Egypt and Jordan with whom Israel has peaceful relations. Border crossings are under the jurisdiction of the Israel Airports Authority.

To and from Ben Gurion Airport

Israel has a convenient and reasonably priced public transportation system. Options for getting to and from Ben Gurion Airport include: Egged bus (the national bus company); private car/van services; railway; taxi; rented car; and limousine.

Visa Info

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All visitors to Israel must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date they enter the country. People with no nationality must hold a valid laissez passer, as well as a visa back to the country that issued it.

Citizens of the following countries will be issued tourist visas free of charge at every port or entrance terminal to Israel:

Europe: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany (Persons born after 1.1.28), Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

Asia & Oceania: Australia, Fiji Islands, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea

Africa: Central African Republic, Losoto, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland

The Americas: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, St. Kitts, & Nevis, Surinam, Trinidad, & Tobago, The Bahamas, The Dominican Republic, Uruguay, U.S.A.

Weather

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Israel enjoys long, warm, dry summers (April-October) and generally mild winters (November-March) with somewhat drier, cooler weather in hilly regions, such as Jerusalem and Safed. Rainfall is relatively heavy in the north and center of the country, with much less in the northern Negev and almost negligible amounts in the southern areas.

Regional conditions vary considerably, with humid summers and mild winters on the coast; dry summers and moderately cold winters in the hill regions; hot dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and year-round semi-desert conditions in the Negev.

Weather extremes range from occasional winter snowfall in the mountain regions to periodic oppressively hot dry winds that send temperatures soaring, particularly in spring and autumn.