Israel has an extensive network of buses run by several different companies depending on the area of service. Bus service can be somewhat confusing to American visitors. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Duplicate line numbers – Sometimes two different lines, from two different companies will share the same number. Make sure you have the correct line number as well as bus company.
- Make eye contact with the driver - If you are standing at a bus stop and the bus is approaching, don’t assume it will stop automatically. The driver will often be scanning the bus stop to see if anyone looks like they want to get on. If you don’t make eye contact with the driver and signal for him to stop, he may very well assume nobody is waiting for his line, and pass you by.
- Baggage – Almost all buses between cities have a baggage compartment under the bus. The driver will not necessarily open it automatically. If you need it open, approach the driver and ask him to open it.
- Payment – Within a city, you can pay cash on the bus for your travel. The driver will make change. Between cities, you can usually pay cash on the bus as well. Some lines that go very far (Jerusalem to Eilat for example) require that you purchase a ticket in advance at the bus station.
- Don’t be loud on the bus – Americans tend to talk more loudly on their cell phones in public than Israelis. If you speak loudly on your phone on the bus, you may get shushed. Don’t forget many Israelis use the bus as their form of commuting to and from work. The bus ride is an opportunity for them to catch some rest.
To plan your route by bus, try this website. Bus.co.il
I have also recently been playing with an app called Moovit which will actually plan your route for you based on your location and destination, but you need to know some Hebrew to use it properly.
There are several companies in Israel that will rent you a cell phone or SIM card for your phone for your use in Israel. Most of them will offer you several options such as mailing the phone to you in advance of the trip, delivering it to the airport or your hotel.
I have had good experience with IsraelPhones (I am no longer recommending Israel Phones because several clients have complained about hidden fees and poor service. I hope to have a new recommendation soon.)
Contrary to what you would think, I do not suggest changing your money at a bank in Israel. They will usually charge you high fees and give you a poor rate. Licensed money changers are pleantiful in major cities in Israel. They will give you a much better exchange rate than the banks.
High speed internet is available in all parts of Israel. Most hotels charge to use the WiFi in their lobbies and rooms. Most cafes have WiFi available for their customers.
If constant internet access is important to you, I would suggest renting a USB modem for the duration of your trip.
IsraelPhones offers reasonably priced plans for cellphone and modem rental.
Kashrut is much more complicated in Israel than in the US. Many restaurants and products in Israel are certified kosher by the Rabbinate of the city or region. This certification may be standard or “Mehadrin” (Glatt). In addition, there are dozens of private organizations that certify restaurants, hotels, etc.
Each community has its own standards and lists of which Rabbinates and which private organizations it accepts. For this reason, if Kashrut is important to you, I recommend that you check with someone in Israel who is knowledgeable about these matters. I also recommend that you check out Jerusalem Kosher News for more info about Kashrut in Israel.
Power in Israel is 220V/50hz. Also the outlets are shaped different that in the US. There are two kinds of converters you may need depending on what you are converting. If you are plugging in a laptop, cellphone charger, iPad charger or similar device, you will probably only need a converter that adapts the shape of your plug to fit the Israeli plug. You will probably not need to adapt the actual current.
To be sure, look at the small writing on your plug. If it says “Input 100-240V” that means that it is already made to accept a range of different power levels and it will work with the simple adaptor. Such adaptors should cost about 5-10 Shekels. Also the desk at your hotel will most likely have them available to borrow.
If it only accepts 110-120V you will need an adaptor which is a transformer as well. Check to make sure you purchase the right one to work with the amount of power your device uses.
Do not use transformers to plug in any kind of device that creates heat, such as an iron, toaster oven, hotplate etc. You will need to purchase such items in Israel.
The situation with public Toilets in Israel is improving all the time. Most major cities have public toilets around the city. Also, all major tourist sites have them. Every gas station in Israel is obligated by law to have clean, free public toilets. In most cases they do.
I highly recommend that you keep a roll of toilet paper with you wherever you go in Israel, since it is not uncommon for the restrooms to be out of paper. I pull the cardboard tube out of the roll to make it fit better in my bag.
There is 18% value added tax (VAT) on goods and services in Israel. This tax is almost always already included in the price. In theory, you as a tourist, are exempt from this tax. In most cases this means you will have to pay it and then try to get it back at the airport. Merchants that cater to tourists will often display a sign in the window to let you know they have the paperwork to streamline this refund if you purchase from them.
When you purchase more than $100 at a certified store, you will be able to fill out a form and get it stamped for your VAT refund. This only works for purchases over $100 at certified merchants. At the airport there is a desk where you will show your receipt, stamped form and THE ACTUAL ITEMS. Do not pack theseitems in your luggage. They should be kept in your hand luggage along with the special VAT forme to show at the airport.
Tourist services, such as hotel rooms, tour guides and meals, payed for with foreign currency are exempt from VAT. You will be asked for your passport number when booking these services so the merchant doesn’t have to charge you VAT.
Bus Drivers: If you are on a guided tour, it is appropriate to tip the bus driver a few dollars at the end of the tour. $3-5 per person, per day is usually considered a reasonable tip for the driver.
Hotel Staff: Hotel staff will expect to be tipped for service rendered. A few shekels for bags carried or help from the concierge is standard.
Restaurants: Tipping at restaurants is similar in Israel to the US. 10-15% is standard, based on the level of service received. Make sure to look at your receipt, sometimes it will say, “10% service fee included”. In such a case, a tip is not necessary.
Taxis: Israelis never tip taxi drivers. Nevertheless, taxis that server tourist destinations have become accustomed to being tipped by tourists. If the driver hints that he wants a tip, something symbolic like 5 shekels is more than enough. Do not give in to pressure to give a large tip to Taxis.
Tour Guides: Tour guides make a significant portion of their income from tips. Tip your tour guide based on how long you spent with him, the level of service provided, and how many other people were on the tour.
Most tourists find travelers checks to be a hassle to use in Israel. Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are accepted at most establishments in Israel. I suggest bringing a reasonable amount of cash as well as a Debit/ATM card from your bank. You will be able to take cash out at almost all ATM machines in Israel. Some business will accept US checks as well so it is worth bringing a check book with you.
Most tourists to Israel stay in Hotels. I would like to suggests that you consider vacation rentals as well. Vacation rentals can have several advantages over staying in a hotel.
Price – you can often book a vacation rental for much less than a hotel room.
Space – Most vacation rentals are small apartments where you will have much more space than a hotel room
Location – Hotels are centered in the main tourists areas. Vacation rentals are usually available in these areas as well, but are also available in off the beaten track places that you may want to visit on your trip.
Experience – In a hotel you will be together with a lot of other tourists. In a vacation rental you will more likely be living among locals, giving you a more authentic Israel experience.
Of course it’s not for everyone, many people prefer the streamlined experience of a Hotel, but if you would like to try something different, I highly recommend trying to find a vacation rental. Today there are many websites that make it very easy to find one that meets your needs and budget. I love AirBnB.
Tap water in Israel is very high quality. You can feel safe drinking tap water anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, some people prefer to buy bottled water because of the high mineral content in the Israeli tap water.
Make sure to drink a lot more water in Israel than you are used to. The total solar radiation in Israel is among the highest in the world. This causes your body to consume a lot more water than you may be accustomed to.