Moving to Israel
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A comprehensive guide to moving to Israel
Israel is a popular destination for expats, both Jewish immigrants and professionals in search of new career opportunities in the Middle East’s high-tech hub. Take a look at the InterNations GO! Guide for advice on safety, visa types, and expat hotspots.
Relocating to Israel
At a Glance:
- Due to its unstable history and reputation, there are strict security regulations for moving to Israel, and it’s important to keep up to date with political developments in your daily life.
- There are different visas available depending on the purpose of your visit — most expats will require either a visitor visa or a working visa.
- Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv are the main expat destinations in Israel. They have quite different characters, so it’s important to think about your priorities before choosing one to move to.
Prior to their arrival, many expats are probably concerned for their personal safety in Israel, due to the negative image of the country often painted in the media. News headlines paint a harrowing picture of this troubled nation, but so long as you are careful, there is no reason why you can’t lead a relatively peaceful life in Israel.
A History Fraught with Strife
The “Holy Land” of three world religions looks back on a long history of strife between different peoples and faiths, under various rulers and empires, from Roman antiquity to the British colonial mandate after World War I. It hardly comes as a surprise that the ancient city of Jerusalem has been destroyed twice and attacked over 50 times since its foundation.
The modern state of Israel has also been fraught with warfare and political controversies in the international arena. Military campaigns have been a part of life in Israel ever since the first Arab-Israeli War, or War of Independence, in 1948.
However, once you move to Israel, you’ll soon notice that for most Israelis, daily life simply goes on, regardless of any crisis. The country’s political climate is definitely unpredictable, and for the sake of your personal safety, it’s important to stay up to date with the news.
Preparations and Entry Procedures
As a foreign national new to Israel, you should adhere to some basic safety rules. Once you have settled in, you’ll probably follow the example of your more relaxed Israeli colleagues and neighbors.
It is important to remember that Israel is unfortunately a potential hotbed of conflict. All expats should find out where their nearest embassy or consulate is, if it has an emergency number to call after office hours, and whether it offers an enrolment list for the citizens under its jurisdiction. Check the embassy’s security updates regularly.
You should also be prepared for strict security checks in the immigration queue. Carrying laptops, video cameras, or other technical equipment can cause further delays, both upon entry and departure.
If you are, among other things, a Muslim moving to Israel, a person of Arab descent, a missionary, or a political activist, if you have visas from Arab states in your travel document or wish to have no Israeli stamps in your passport, the interview with immigration officials may take even longer.
Visitors and expats with a Palestinian ID number (or anyone listed in the Palestinian Population Registry) are required to carry a Palestinian passport, even if they are citizens of another country, and cannot enter Israel without advance permission. If this applies to you, get in touch with the closest Israeli Embassy or Consulate and ask them about necessary documents and travel arrangements, including your point of entry and departure.
Basic Safety Advice for Israel
After you have gone through the immigration checks required for moving to Israel, security will be more laidback in everyday life. Just stay away from prohibited military areas and be careful around all political demonstrations, huge crowds, or groups of soldiers. Should you decide to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem, it’s recommended to avoid them on holy days and to wear modest clothing.
While many tourists choose to visit East Jerusalem or some places in the West Bank, especially Jericho, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, it is strongly recommended to do so only in company of a local guide. You should also be careful in the border areas to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.
As of October 2017, both the US State Department and the UK Government warn against travel to Gaza or the regions around the Syrian and the Lebanese borders if possible — of course, some expats or visitors (e.g. foreign correspondents, humanitarian workers) may be required to do so by their profession. There may also be official travel restrictions for some expatriates, for example US government staff moving to Israel.
Both governments recommend exercising care on public transport and on Jewish high holidays, when the risk of violence increases. It is also important to learn the location of your nearest bomb shelter and to take note of your embassy’s emergency numbers.
However, general crime rates in Israel are fairly moderate. Foreign visitors and residents mainly report minor incidents like car break-ins or purse-snatching. The emergency phone numbers are 100 (police) and 101 (ambulance).
How to Get Your Visa for Israel
Before departing for Israel, you must obtain the right visa after having selected it from the appropriate visa category. The basic distinctions differentiate between visitors and people with a long-term visa, as well as between expatriates and Jewish immigrants.
Aliyah: Visas for Jewish Migrants Settling in Israel
You have the right to apply for an immigrant visa if you either have a Jewish mother or are an official convert to Judaism, which means that you are covered by the Law of Return (aliyah). The aliyah legislation harks back to the early days of Zionist settlement in Palestine and its plan to end the Jewish Diaspora. The first wave of aliyah immigration took place in the late 19thcentury when Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe fled persecution in their home countries.
Today, the Israeli government is pursuing an active immigration policy to support Israel’s position as the only majority Jewish state worldwide. If the Law of Return applies to you and you are interested in settling in Israel, you should contact the Global Service Center at the Jewish Agency for advice. They can help you with the application process for a temporary resident visa for new migrants at the nearest Israeli Embassy or Consulate.
Obtaining a Visitor Visa for Israel
As a regular traveler, for example on a short-term business trip or a fact-finding excursion for your future foreign assignment, you can stay in Israel on a visitor visa for up to three months. A visa extension may be possible, but you have to apply for it at one of the regional Ministry of Interior offices within the country.
However, Israel has visa exemption agreements with many countries, meaning that nationals of these states don’t need a visitor visa for a brief stay in the country. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a helpful list on their website.
If you still require a visitor visa, you need to present the following documents at your nearest Israeli Embassy or Consulate:
- your valid passport (original and copy)
- your completed visa application
- proof of sufficient financial funds
- a return ticket
- two passport photographs (5×5 cm)
- payment of the visa application fee
Applying for a Work Visa
If you are an expatriate on an intra-company transfer or with a job offer in Israel, you require both a work permit and a work visa in order to take up employment. To obtain these documents, follow those four steps:
- First, you must submit an application for a work permit with the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry. Since your employer acts as your sponsor, the company will often take care of the paperwork for you. The HR staff has to prove that there is no Israeli national suitable for the job, and they must provide information on the position, the proposed salary, your professional qualifications and background. The ministry will then issue a work permit recommendation for the Ministry of Interior (MOI).
- With the work permit, you can apply for a visa recommendation from the Office of the Population Registrar at the MOI. During this step, it’s important that you begin to arrange health insurance for the duration of your stay. This can often be done through your employer, although you may require a (additional) private healthcare plan.
- After getting the recommendation from the ministry, you can start the visa application at the nearest Israeli mission. Don’t forget to provide a certificate of good conduct, a medical exam (if required), two passport photographs, and a completed application form. You must also agree to have your picture and your fingerprints taken.
- With this work visa, you are allowed to enter Israel. However, the visa itself is usually valid for 30 days only. Make sure to go to the local MOI office and extend it on a yearly basis. A work visa usually enables you to live in Israel for up to five years. Your dependent family members normally get a secondary visa for the duration of your stay, but such visas do not include a work permit.
Israel’s Major Expat Destinations
Expats settling in Israel will probably move to one of the three largest cities. Out of Israel’s 6 districts and 15 sub-districts, the metropolitan areas of Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv attract the highest numbers of new residents. No wonder, since about 50% of Israel’s territory consists of steppe or desert! However, except for comparatively high population figures, the major cities don’t have all that much in common. Their different characters are best described by a popular proverb: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays.”
Haifa — The City on Mount Carmel
Located 90 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, Haifa is the biggest city in northern Israel and the third-largest in the country, with almost 300,000 inhabitants: 80% of these are Jews, many from the former Soviet Union, and the remaining population is made up of Christians and Muslims.
As an important port city, Haifa used to be the major gateway for overseas immigration to Palestine and the state of Israel, with the first Jewish immigrants arriving from Romania in the 19thcentury. Due to the port, its industrial areas (mainly oil refineries and heavy industry), and its railway station, Haifa was also a booming industrial city, known as “Red Haifa” with a staunchly left-wing and secular labor force.
Nowadays, the city has lost much of its influence to Tel Aviv, where the international airport and the center of Israel’s high-tech sector are located. Nonetheless, Haifa’s industrial zone around the Kishon River, the Matam Business Park, and its two renowned universities still play an important part in education and employment in Israel.
The city also boasts Israel’s only subway system, the Karmelit. It is named after Mount Carmel, the local landmark — older residential areas cling to the mountain slopes, while you can find the most exclusive neighborhoods near the top.
Jerusalem — The Holy City
Jerusalem (Hebrew: Yerushalayim; Arabic: al-Quds) is Israel’s largest city and capital, although it is not internationally recognized as such. The city is rather rife with religious and socio-political tensions.
The Israeli government claims the entire city as its national capital, whereas the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem is considered the capital of the state of Palestine (which is, however, not officially recognized by Israel and various prominent member states of the United Nations).
All of Israel’s government branches and institutions are located in Jerusalem, with the exception of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Agriculture. However, unlike the many Israelis working in the public sector, there are few expats from the diplomatic service around here: the foreign embassies in Israel are based in Tel Aviv.
Expatriates in Jerusalem are likely to be employed in education, health or welfare, in the few local high-tech industries, or the tourism sector. Due to its status as a World Heritage Site and the destination of countless pilgrims, Jerusalem’s tourism industry is booming. The Old City, with its Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarter, is especially popular among visitors. However, residents prefer to live in one of the many neighbourhoods of the New City.
Tel Aviv — The City That Never Sleeps
In contrast to the spiritual and slightly old-fashioned city of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo — the center of the sprawling, urban Gush Dan area — is a secular, liberal-minded and cosmopolitan metropolis, with about 60 residential neighborhoods and a growing population of over 400,000 residents.
Tel Aviv is an economic hub and the seat of Israel’s stock exchange, as well as numerous high-tech businesses, and therefore it can offer excellent job opportunities in commerce (wholesale and retail), finance (especially venture capital), and IT start-up companies.
If you’ve had enough of working hard, there are many ways to spend your free time in Tel Aviv. In and outside Israel, the metropolis is famous for its arts and entertainment scene, its beaches and its reputation as a green city, and the local nightlife. Make sure to explore the trendy neighbourhoods of the city, like Florentin and Jaffa, and spend a sunny day unwinding on the beautiful shores of the Mediterranean.