Living in Israel?
Transport and Education in Israel
Traveling through the Air
Most expats arrive in Israel via the international terminal (Terminal 3) of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Home to Israel’s flag carrier airline, El Al, Ben Gurion is the country’s busiest airport, with 18 million passengers passing through every year.
Ben Gurion has good transportation connections to Tel Aviv, by train, bus, taxi, and shuttle services. The latter is a cheap and convenient way to reach the city, as they run hourly and a ticket is only around 20 USD. When planning your journey, you should account for additional delays and waiting periods due to security checks and interviews in the immigration queue.
Rather Stay on the Ground?
Since Israel is a rather small country, it is fairly easy to get around. The national railway company is called Israel Railways, and Egged offers inter-city bus services. Public transportation in larger cities is often limited to bus lines, an important one being the Dan Bus Company, which is active in Gush Dan, i.e. in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and beyond. Jerusalem has city buses and a light railway, while light rail services are also under construction in Tel Aviv. The city of Haifa has Israel’s only subway system, the Karmelit.
As you’ll soon notice, there are often no buses or train connections whatsoever on Shabbat (which begins at sunset on Friday night), as well as on Jewish holidays. On these days, you can take a taxi, although you need to pay a slightly higher rate. Taxi fares are standardized by the Ministry of Transport. An average ride within a city center costs about 25 ISL (plus an extra 25% at night, on Shabbat, and during national or religious holidays).
Exchanging Your Foreign Driver’s License
If you’d prefer to drive yourself, be aware that Israel has crowded highways, frequent traffic jams, and parking shortages in metropolitan areas, as well as a high rate of traffic accidents. So, in order to get used to local traffic conditions, you might want to take a few driving lessons first.
Tourists and short-term visitors can simply use their valid driver’s license from their home country. Temporary residents and new immigrants are also allowed to use a foreign license, although they must exchange it for an Israeli one within a set time period — temporary residents must do this within a year, and new immigrants have three years.
In order to exchange a valid permit from abroad for an Israeli license, you must be at least 17 years old and fulfil the following criteria:
- You have a foreign driving license which was issued six months or more before you came to Israel
- You have passed a general medical check-up and an eyesight exam
- You have a valid passport
- You have passed a brief ‘vehicle control capability test’ with an official driving instructor
The Israeli School System
If you are an expat with kids, you might want to gather some basic information on the Israeli school system before your stay. It consists of four different tracks: secular state schools (Mamlachti), religious state schools (Mamlachti dati), independent Haredi schools (Hinuch Atsmai), and Arab schools (in which the language of instruction is Arabic).
One mandatory year of pre-school/kindergarten is followed by six years of primary education. Secondary school then includes three years of intermediate school (middle school) and another three years of upper secondary school (high school).
Secondary education leads up to the te’udat bagrut graduation exam in compulsory subjects like Hebrew, English, math, history, literature, scripture, and civic studies. The bagrut scores, together with the results of the standardized Psychometric Entrance Test (PET) , determine admission to one of Israel’s nine public universities, many colleges, or teacher-training institutions.
Schooling for Expat Kids
If your child isn’t fluent in Hebrew or Arabic and too old to pick up a foreign language as quickly as younger kids, it might be worth considering a private international school. There are several international schools in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, most of them catering to the Anglo-American or French communities, e.g. the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel (in Tel Aviv) or the Anglican International School of Jerusalem. As a last resort, you may consider home-schooling, for example, with a long-distance learning program in your mother tongue. Home-schooling is legal in Israel as long as you have permission from the Ministry of Education.
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