With Ben Gurion Airport re-opening (along with businesses and restaurants!!), here's what you need to know about Israel if youre thinking about traveling to the Holy Land for the first time!
(***Please note: As of the writing of this blog (March 8, 2021) Israel is still closed to tourists. But, the country is re-opening internally and as more countries get vaccinated, the borders will re-open to tourists...so this is a plan ahead kind of blog...fingers crossed it opens soon!!***)
1. Get ready to be interviewed at the airport. Airport security will be more intense than most are used to...before you even check your bag you will have to answer questions about yourself, your personal life and your trip to Israel. It will definitely be like this in Israel and you will also experience this in your place of origin if you fly El Al (Israel's national airline) and perhaps with some other airlines as well. No need to worry about it...just be honest and give a bit more time at the airport knowing you will probably have a slower line than usual!
2. Once you arrive in Israel, it's important to know that the work week here is from Sunday-Thursday. So it's a day off from most of the rest of the world, which could have implications for your travel plans.
3. On that same note, most of Israel strictly observes Shabbat. This means from Friday
at sundown to Saturday at sundown, most of the country closes. This includes trains and buses. These observances will be more or less strict depending on where you are in the country (ie in Jerusalem, most everything will be closed, whereas in Tel Aviv you will find bars in full swing as well as a newly approved Shabbat bus!) But no matter where you are, you will absolutely notice a difference on these two days, so definitely plan ahead! If you are planning on traveling, make sure you check if your destinations are open on Shabbat! (If you check opening hours and they are listed in Hebrew, the letters for Friday and Saturday are: ו ש)
4. You cant pay for the bus with cash. You need to have a pre-paid card called a Rav-Kav (yes, even tourists). You can get one at the airport or at any of the Tel Aviv train stations (and other places throughout the country!) You will need to pay 5 shekels to purchase the card and then put money on it to use on the bus or train. You will swipe this card when you get on any public transportation. Check out my post on Apps to Download Before Arriving for really helpful apps pertaining to reloading your Rav-Kav and alternative ways to pay for the bus!
5. Military service is mandatory for both men and women in Israel.
Because of this, you will see a lot of soldiers around...some with weapons on them. It may be a bit weird if youre not used to it...but no need to be alarmed! They are highly trained and are super friendly! My family has asked for plenty of pictures with fully dressed soldiers when theyve visited and the soldiers are always happy to do so!
6. In order to be respectful of local custom, you will want to bring some modest clothing options. If you plan to visit the Old City in Jerusalem (which you 100% should), you will want to ensure that your knees and shoulders are covered. You can always just bring a sweater to throw on, but you'll notice at all the religious sites, locals are dressed accordingly and it's best to be respectful of that!
7. The rainy season is from November-March. The winter isnt necessarily a bad time to come visit, but just know to plan accordingly. It can rain heavily for days at a time during this season. Once summer arrives (around April-October), it will never rain, so you can expect bright sunny days, everyday! In my humble opinion, the best times to visit are April-May and September-October simply because its slightly less hot and its slightly less touristy. But, every season has its pros and cons!! Also, before traveling, make sure you know when the Jewish holidays are. If you come on certain holidays, the country will shut down (which again, isnt necessarily bad, and can be a wonderful cultural experience) but its important to know about it beforehand and plan ahead!
8. Iced coffee isnt the same thing as in America. If you order an ice coffee here in Israel you will get a (delicious) coffee smoothie/frappe situation. Think along the lines of a slushy in America, that sit in those big plastic machines and swirl around...it's that, just coffee flavored. They are seriously delicious (and you can find vegan versions [shoutout to Anastasia]) but if you are expecting a normal coffee over ice cubes, you will need to order a Cold Coffee (pronounced "café car" in Hebrew).
9. Speaking of coffees, tipping at restaurants is customary. The usual amount is around 10-15% but unlike America, you have to tell the waiter in advance. When you hand your credit card to
the waiter with the bill, you will need to tell him you want to pay the bill + 15% tip. If you wait until after he already took your card and processed the bill, you will have to tip in cash. There is no such thing as writing in the tip on the bill after you paid like in America!
10. On that note, you have to request the check at a restaurant or they will never bring it! Unlike in the U.S. where once the waiter sees you are finishing up, they will bring you the bill and tell you to pay when you are ready...Israelis will never bring you the bill. You can sit at the table for hours and no bill will ever appear. You must request the check when you are ready for it!
That's it for the time being...you can now arrive with confidence and ease! Hope to see ya'll soon! If you have any other questions feel free to reach out!
And remember to check out some of my other blogs about short term travel in Israel:
Happy travels friends!