When you start your expatriate life in Israel, you will join the circa 8 million people currently living there. The majority of the population has settled in the coastal plain, along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Considering the country’s urbanization rate of over 90%, it shouldn’t surprise you that the most populous areas are the three metropolises of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, and Haifa. We have briefly introduced these cities in our guide on moving to Israel.
Israel being a self-defined “Jewish and Democratic state” and the only predominantly Jewish nation around the globe, about 75% of all residents living in Israel are Jewish. The spectrum of religious beliefs among Israeli Jews encompasses a wide range from secular atheists to the ultra-orthodox Haredim. The remaining 25% of the population are mainly Arabs — both Christians and Muslims — as well as several minorities such as Druze, Circassians, and Samaritans. The official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. Lots of Israelis have good English skills, though, making life in Israel easier for foreign residents.
You will soon notice that many Israelis have foreign roots. Among the Jewish population, roughly two-thirds are so-called Sabras actually born in Israel, while the other 27% chose life in Israel as immigrants. Most Jewish migrants come from Europe or the United States, but there are some with an African — especially Ethiopian — or Asian background, too.
In addition to the Jewish immigrants making aliya, i.e. returning to the Promised Land, life in Israel attracts poor migrant workers from countries like China, Nigeria, the Philippines, Romania, or Thailand. The living and working conditions of disadvantaged laborers have led to renewed media attention and public debates in recent years.
Israel is a fairly small state. If you exclude the occupied territories in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, whose status has been hotly disputed for the last few decades, the nation is about as large (or little) as the US State of New Jersey. Much of the territory is desert or steppe, which accounts for the high degree of urbanization described above.
As the country is wedged in between the Mediterranean coast and the Arabian Peninsula, the landscape you’ll see during your life in Israel mainly consists of semi-arid regions and areas with a typical desert climate. In the hills and mountains, the heat is mitigated by rather rough winters, and the coastal cities profit from the maritime influence that brings a bit more humidity and slightly milder temperatures.
All in all, though, expats living in Israel should be ready to literally face the heat. Medical conditions such as heat stroke or dehydration are common among visitors and new residents, and you wouldn’t want to start out with a trip to the doctor, would you?
While living in Israel, expatriates should take the time to explore the country’s rich heritage and culture. Jerusalem in particular welcomes thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year. Cultural life in Israel is by no means limited to its countless historical and religious sites.
Camping and hiking are popular activities, among sporty visitors and outdoorsy Israelis alike. If you prefer to enjoy your athletic activities on the living-room sofa rather than in the Eilat Mountains, soccer and basketball are the nation’s favorite spectator sports — an ideal small-talk topic for any expat.
Moreover, you can have a look into modern literature and media. Hebrew novelists and poets like Amos Oz or Yehuda Amichai have been translated into numerous languages, and recent movie productions such as Waltz with Bashir, The Band’s Visit, and Or (My Treasure) garnered heaps of international acclaim for Israeli film-makers. If all that is a bit too dull and high-brow for your taste, Tel Aviv’s many venues for clubbing and partying should make sure that life in Israel never gets boring.
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