Visas, safety & can’t misses – our first timers guide to Israel
Israel is the ultimate mix of vibrant culture and ancient history. The Middle Eastern country may seem isolated or hard to get to, but it’s quickly becoming a tourist hot spot. Here’s our ultimate know before you go Israel travel list.
What currency does Israel use?
Israel uses the Israeli New Shekel (NIS). Exchange rates vary but $1 AUD is around 2.5 NIS, $1 USD is around 3.5 NIS, and £1 Sterling is around 4.7 NIS.
To exchange money in Israel you must have your passport with you, as many places will ask for it to verify you are a traveller. ATMs are very common too and so are credit card facilities, so there’s no need to carry large amounts of cash.
Do I need a visa for Israel?
Good news, you probably don’t! You can stay in Israel for up to 90 days, and all you need is a valid passport with at least 6 months until expiry, and proof of a departure ticket within the 90 days. There are some countries who are not eligible for this, but it doesn’t include Canadians, Australians, Americans, British or South African. You can see the full list here.
Is Israel safe for travellers?
You’ve probably heard a lot about Israel being dangerous or unsafe over the years and there’s no point in denying that there are no-go areas in the country, but there are still plenty of safe places to holiday and it shouldn’t stop you from travelling there full stop. Politics aside, every day life for locals is peaceful and there is often a large security presence in cities, airports and places of interest.
Like any time you travel, you should always be aware of your own personal safety. Use your common sense, same as you would at home, and be careful in isolated areas or late at night. You can also check your country’s travel recommendation status for any travel warnings.
Language Basics for Israel
Hebrew is the official language of Israel, with Arabic and Russian being the next two most common languages. The Hebrew alphabet is quite different to ours so deciphering words will be challenging. English speakers fear not, as more and more Israelis are learning it as a second language and many signs and labels are in English. Here are some key phrases to get you started:
Hello/Goodbye/Peace – שלום (Shalom)
Thank you – תודה (Toda)
Please – אנא (Bevakasha)
Where should I go in Israel?
Tel Aviv – beautiful beaches, modern city and known as the ‘Mediterranean Capital of Cool’ thanks to NY Times.
Dead Sea – epic salt lake on the border of Israel and Jordan, a must to swim (AKA float) in.
Jerusalem – known as the City of Gold, it’s a beautiful city with ties back to Biblical times and a very interesting history.
Galilee – a rich city for religion, history and nature. Be sure to visit the spiritual site of Nazareth.
Eilat – the gateway to the truly breathtaking Wadi Rum desert and Red Canyon, plus it’s also a beachside resort.
Can I drink the water in Israel?
Yes! Tap water is perfectly safe in Israel so no need for plastic bottles. The only place it isn’t is the Dead Sea, where the high mineral content will make you feel sick.
What should I pack for a trip to Israel?
Loose clothing – Israel can be very hot, so pack lightweight, loose clothing so you feel easy breezy in the heat.
Casual clothes – Israelis are very casual so there’s no need to bring your fancy wear. A pair of heels and a nice dress/shirt for going out in Tel Aviv is all that’s needed.
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses – Israel is hot guys, protect that skin!
Beach towel – Being a coastal country there are plenty of opportunities to swim and relax on the beach, so best come prepared.
A cover up – dressing modestly is important in Israel, especially at religious sites, so bring a scarf, shawl and longer skirts/trousers so you don’t have to miss out on seeing any ancient wonders.
Waterproof jacket – in winter it can rain, so a lightweight but properly waterproof jacket will save if that’s when you’re travelling.
Birkenstocks – any sandals will do but just a heads up that Birkenstocks are extremely popular, so why not join the craze!
Eating pants – food is so, so good in Israel that you don’t want to miss out because your pants are too tight. Go for something loose and flowing.
What are some big no-nos in Israel?
Showing skin at religious sites – Israel is a deeply religious country and out of respect you should cover your shoulders and knees (you too boys!).
Joke about security – Israel has known conflict and they take safety and security very seriously. A joke about concealing a weapon will land you in very hot water. You will see soldiers around a lot, so be cool.
Wandering off in certain area – be careful and observe any warning or danger signs in rural areas (including the Dead Sea). There are land mines in some places and wandering off on your own is a big risk.
Ask for non-kosher food – Jewish diets are kosher, which means they don’t eat pork or shellfish, it also means dairy and meat aren’t eaten together, so if you’re at a kosher restaurant and don’t see cheese, pork or shellfish on the menu, don’t ask for it! An honest mistake for travellers, but it may offend the restaurant at the worst, and make you look silly at the least.
Make physical contact with an Orthodox Jew – Orthodox Jewish law is very strict and there can be no physical contact with members of the opposite sex that aren’t close family. Don’t be offended if people move seats on public transport or move right out of the way on the street.
Not leave a tip – tipping is customary and common in Israel. 10-15% is the standard amount and many of the staff live off the tips rather than the low wage, so don’t be surprised if they ask you why you didn’t tip.
How do you get there?
The easiest question yet! Check out Contiki’s Israel & Jordan Uncovered trip for 11 days of non stop adventure, insight and tasty, tasty food.