Know Before You Go: Greece
Know Before You Go: Israel and The Holy Land
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Most hotels in Israel have connections for laptops, and most have wireless access. Ask about the price, as some charge for the privilege. You can also find Internet access in most cafés. Large swaths of Tel Aviv have free Wi-Fi, and Jerusalem has free Wi-Fi in the downtown area, in the German Colony, and Safra Square. Ben Gurion and Eilat airports also have free Wi-Fi. Cybercafes lists over 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide: www.cybercafes.com.
Israel’s landline phone numbers have seven digits, beginning with a two-digit area code, and mobile phone numbers have ten digits, beginning with a three-digit prefix. Toll-free numbers in Israel begin with 177, 1800, 1700, or 1888. Many toll-free customer service numbers begin with an asterisk followed by four digits. When calling an out-of-town number within Israel, be sure to dial the zero that begins every area code.
The country code for Israel is 972. When dialing an Israeli number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code. The country code for Jordan is 962. When dialing from Israel, dial 00962 and the area code 3 before landline numbers in Petra; for Amman, use 00962 and the area code 6. When dialing within Jordan, include the initial 0 from the area code.
CALLING WITHIN ISRAEL
Making a local call in Israel is quite simple. All public telephones use phone cards that may be purchased at newspaper kiosks and post offices. Pick up the receiver, insert the card in the slot, dial the number when you hear the tone, and the number of units remaining on the card appears on the screen. One unit equals about two minutes. From 7pm to 7am, calls are much cheaper. The area codes for dialing between cities within Israel are Jerusalem (02); Tel Aviv (03); Netanya and Herzliya (09); Haifa, Galilee, Tiberias, Tzfat, and Nazareth (04); Eilat and the Negev (08).
Dial 144 for directory or operator assistance. Operators all speak English. Dial 188 for an international operator.
CALLING OUTSIDE ISRAEL
When calling internationally direct from Israel, first dial 00 then the country code. The country code for the United States and Canada is 1.
You can make international calls using a telecard from a public phone. A call from Israel to the United States costs 2.5 units a minute, or about 40¢ per minute.
If you have a multiband phone and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. Overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call.
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone to allow a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell-phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
Depending on your cell phone provider’s global roaming rates, it could be cheaper to rent a cell phone at Ben Gurion Airport or order a rental phone to arrive at your address before leaving for Israel. Rental booths are in the airport arrivals hall.
Customs and Duties
For visitors with nothing to declare, clearing customs at Ben Gurion Airport requires simply following the clearly marked green line to the baggage claims hall. There are generally no lines and customs inspectors rarely examine luggage. The red line for those with items to declare is next to the green line. Those over 17 may import into Israel duty-free: 250 grams of tobacco products; 2 liters of wine and 1 liter of spirits; ¼ liter of eau de cologne or perfume; and gifts totaling no more than US$200 in value. You may also import up to 3 kg of food products, but no fresh meat.
The electrical current in Israel is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
If your appliances are dual-voltage, you need only a small adapter plug. Most large hotels provide 110-volt outlets marked for shavers, but don’t use those outlets for high-wattage appliances such as blow-dryers. Most laptops operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts and so require only an adapter.
The currency in Israel is the New Shekel (NIS). Israel is a moderately priced country compared to Western Europe, but it’s more expensive than many of its Mediterranean neighbors. Prices tend to be cheaper in smaller towns. To save money, try the excellent prepared food from supermarkets, take public transportation, eat your main meal at lunch, eat inexpensive local foods such as falafel, and stay at hotels with kitchen facilities and guesthouses. Airfares are lowest November through March, except for the holiday season at the end of December.
Sample prices: cup of coffee, NIS 12; falafel, NIS 12; beer at a bar, NIS 25–30; canned soft drink, NIS 14; hamburger at a fast-food restaurant, NIS 30; short taxi ride, about NIS 35 to NIS 45; museum admission, NIS 50; movie, NIS 38.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.
CURRENCY CONVERSION (USD/NIS)
ATMS AND BANKS
ATMs—called kaspomats in Hebrew—are ubiquitous all over Israel. Look for machines that have stickers stating that they accept foreign credit cards or PLUS, NYCE, or CIRRUS signs. All have instructions in English. Almost all ATMs now have protective shields around the keypad to prevent anyone seeing your PIN.
With a debit card, the ATM gives you the desired amount of shekels and your home account is debited at the current exchange rate. Note that there may be a limit on how much money you are allowed to withdraw each day and that service charges are usually applied. Make sure you have enough cash in rural areas, villages, and small towns where ATMs may be harder to find.
The main branches of all the banks—Hapoalim, Leumi, Discount—are in Jerusalem’s downtown area but are arguably the last resort for changing money. Several times a week they have morning hours only (different banks, different days) and give relatively low rates of exchange. It usually involves waiting in line and having the clerk fill out paperwork.
Your own bank probably charges a fee for using ATMs abroad, but some apply no foreign transaction fees. The foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than in a bank. Extracting funds as you need is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PIN codes with more than four digits aren’t recognized at ATMs in Israel. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if going abroad and not traveling internationally often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity. Keep all your credit-card numbers and phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen in a safe place. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost.
All hotels, restaurants, and shops accept major credit cards. Plastic is also accepted at banks for cash advances. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. Most credit cards offer additional services, such as emergency assistance and insurance. Call and find out what additional coverage you have.
Passports and Visas
Israel issues three-month tourist visas free of charge at the point of entry when a valid passport is presented. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your travel date or you won’t be permitted entry. No health certificate or inoculations are required. Many Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East, except Egypt and Jordan, have long refused to admit travelers whose passports carry any indication of having visited Israel. But that shouldn’t be a problem now for tourists: Israel doesn’t stamp passports anymore, only issues entry and exit permits on small slips of paper. Keep your entry permit paper in your passport during your visit.
U.S. Embassy (71 Hayarkon St., Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, 6343229. 03/519–7575. israel.usembassy.gov.)
Public restrooms are plentiful in Israel and similar in facilities and cleanliness to those in the United States. At gas stations and some parks, toilet paper is sometimes in short supply, so you might want to carry some with you. Few public sinks, except those at hotels, have hot water, but most dispense liquid soap. Occasionally you may be asked to pay one shekel at some facilities.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for tipping in Israel. Locals do not tip taxi drivers. In other situations, a gratuity for good service is in order. If you’ve negotiated a price, assume the tip has been built in. If a restaurant bill doesn’t include service, locals tend to tip 10% to 15%—round up if the service was particularly good, down if it was dismal. Hotel bellboys should be tipped a lump sum of NIS 10 to NIS 20, not per bag. Tipping is customary for tour guides, tour-bus drivers, and chauffeurs. Bus groups normally tip their guide NIS 30 to NIS 40 per person per day, and half that for the driver. Private guides normally get tipped NIS 100 to NIS 120 a day from the whole party. Both the person who washes your hair and the stylist expect a small tip—except if one of them owns the salon. Leave NIS 10 per day for your hotel’s housekeeping staff, and the same for spa personnel.