Most visitors arrive in Israel via Ben Gurion Airport. Major airlines tend to arrive at the newly built Terminal 3 while some budget airlines use Terminal 2. Ramon International Airport, in Eilat, is scheduled to open in 2018.
Airports & Airlines
Israel’s main gateway is Ben Gurion International Airport, 50km northwest of Jerusalem and 18km southeast of central Tel Aviv. The airport handles about 20 million passengers a year. For up-to-the-minute details on arrivals and departures, go to the airport's English website.
Ramon International Airport, situated in the Arava Valley 18km north of Eilat, is scheduled to open sometime in 2018 as Israel's second international airport. It replaces Eilat's city-centre airport (no more turboprops swooping in low over North Beach), handling the low-cost flights that previously used Ovda (Uvda) airbase. Ramon International AIrport will also be used by flights to Ben Gurion that have to be diverted, eg because of the threat of missiles.
Israeli airport security is very tight so international travellers should check in at least three hours before their flight – when flying both to and from Israel.
Israel’s privatised flag carrier, El Al (www.elal.co.il), has direct flights to several dozen cities in Europe, as well as long-haul services to the US and Canada, South Africa, India, Thailand and China.
Known for having the tightest security in the business, El Al's aircraft – like those of other Israeli airlines – are reportedly equipped with technology to foil heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
The only Middle Eastern cities with direct air links to Tel Aviv are Amman, served by Royal Jordanian (www.rj.com); Cairo, served by Air Sinai (a low-profile but astonishingly expensive subsidiary of Egyptair); and Istanbul, served by Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com).
There is no departure tax when leaving Israel by air, only at land crossings with Egypt and Jordan.
It is relatively easy to enter Israel from Jordan and Egypt, but procedures, prices and timings at the four crossings (one with Egypt and three with Jordan) regularly change – be sure to check with your hostel or hotel before you leave. Israel issues visa on arrivals at all of its crossings, but going the other way visitors may need to apply for Jordanian visas in advance. You will need cash, in both currencies, and infinite patience.
Israel may be at peace with two of its four Arab neighbours (Egypt and Jordan), but its border crossings are still heavily militarised and can be intimidating and challenging places to enter and exit the country. They can also be surreal: at the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan, for example, visitors take a bus across a desolate no-man's land, passing through minefields littered with bombed-out buildings and abandoned military vehicles. Most visitors receive a visa on arrival when entering Israel by land from Jordan and Egypt, but regulations going the other way (particularly entering Jordan from Israel) change frequently. It's always best to check with your hotel or hostel before turning up at the border. It is not possible or advisable to cross by air, land or sea into Lebanon or Syria.
- Peaceful Borders
The borders between Israel and the two countries with which it has signed peace treaties, Egypt and Jordan, are open to both tourists and locals. Note that most Western governments advise against all travel to northern Sinai because of recent attacks against tourists by radical Islamists.
- Blue, Purple & Green Lines
The UN-certified international border between Israel and Lebanon is known as the Blue Line; the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line of 1974 is known as the Purple Line; and the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank is known as the Green Line.
- Border History
Britain and France determined the future borders of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (Jordan) and Iraq in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.
Planning Your Crossing
Visas, Security & Entry Stamps
Israel no longer stamps tourists' passports – instead, it issues you with a playing card-sized slip of paper. If you lose this slip, it can make life very difficult when leaving the country. Tourists with multiple stamps from Arab nations should expect a robust grilling when entering (and leaving) the country.
Land Crossings: Your Options
- Israel–Jordan: Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein crossing, south of the Sea of Galilee; Yitzhak Rabin/Wadi Araba crossing, just north of Eilat/Aqaba
- West Bank–Jordan: Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, just east of Jericho (controlled by Israel)
- Israel–Egypt: Taba crossing, on the Red Sea just south of Eilat
Fees for land border crossings (not including visa fees, if applicable) are as follows:
|Israel||None||101NIS (175NIS at Allenby/King Hussein Bridge)|
|Rest of Egypt||US$25 visa fee||None|
|Jordan||JD42||JD8 at Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein, JD10 at Allenby/King Hussein|
- Yom Kippur All Israeli land borders and airports closed.
- Eid Al Hijra/Muslim New Year Land crossings with Jordan closed.
- Eid Al Adha Taba crossing with Egypt and Palestinian wing of the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge closed.
- Ramadan All crossings may close early.
Unless you’re a UN peacekeeper, Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon are shut tight.
To & From Jordan
While the two land crossings between Israel and Jordan are quick and efficient, the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing between the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Jordan is not always as smooth.
Israeli exit fees can be paid at the border in a variety of currencies or by credit card. To save a handling fee of 5NIS, pay in advance at any Israeli post office (cash only) or online (http://borderpay.co.il).
Jordan River & Sheikh Hussein Crossing
Generally far less busy than Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, this crossing is in the Jordan Valley 8km east of Beit She’an, 30km south of the Sea of Galilee, 135km northeast of Tel Aviv and 90km northeast of Amman. Jordan issues on-arrival visas for many nationalities. The crossing is open from 7am to 8.30pm Sunday to Thursday and 8.30am to 6.30pm Friday and Saturday, but it's closed on Yom Kippur and Al Hijra (Muslim New Year).
The Israeli side lacks an ATM, but you can get a cash advance at the currency-exchange window, whenever the terminal is open.
For travellers heading to Jordan, getting through Israeli border formalities usually takes no more than half an hour. You then have to take a bus to cross to the Jordanian side of the river (walking across is forbidden).
Taxis that wait at the border can take you to Beit She’an and destinations around Israel, including Tiberias, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Kavim bus 16 connects Beit She’an with Kibbutz Ma'oz Haim (11 minutes, five or six daily Sunday to Friday), a walkable 1km west of the crossing.
On the Jordanian side, regular service taxis travel to/from Irbid’s West bus station.
Nazarene Tours links Nazareth with Amman via the Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein crossing on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Departures are at 8.30am from the company's Nazareth office, near the Bank of Jerusalem and the Nazareth Hotel (not to be confused with the office of Nazarene Transport & Tourism in the city centre) and at 2pm from Amman’s Royal Hotel (University St). Reserve by phone at least two days ahead.
Yitzhak Rabin & Wadi Araba Crossing
Located just 3km northeast of Eilat, this crossing is handy for trips to Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum. But Jordanian visas are no longer issued on arrival here, so get it in advance. Most hotels and hostels in Eilat offer day trips to Petra. The crossing is open 6.30am to 8pm Sunday to Thursday, and from 8am Friday and Saturday.
You can take a 10-minute taxi to/from Eilat. If you’re coming by bus from the north (eg Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or the Dead Sea), it may be possible to get off on Rte 90 at the turn-off to the border or at Kibbutz Eilot, but from there it's 2km on foot through the desert (along Rte 109).
Once you're in Jordan, you can take a cab to Aqaba, from where you can catch a minibus for the 120km ride to Petra; minibuses leave when full between 6am and 7am and 11am and noon. Alternatively, bargain for a taxi all the way from the border to Petra.
Allenby & King Hussein Bridge
Linking the Israeli-controlled West Bank with Jordan, this busy crossing is 46km east of Jerusalem, 8km east of Jericho and 60km west of Amman. It is the only crossing that people with Palestinian Authority travel documents, including West Bank Palestinians, can use to travel to and from Jordan and the outside world, so traffic can be heavy, especially on Sunday, around holidays and on weekdays from 11am to 3pm.
Try to get to the border as early in the day as possible – times when tourists can cross may be limited and delays are common. Israeli citizens (including dual citizens) are not allowed to use this crossing.
Jordan does not issue on-arrival visas at the Allenby/King Hussein crossing – you'll have to arrange a visa in advance at a Jordanian embassy, such as the one in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. However, if your visit to the Palestinian Territories and/or Israel started in Jordan, you won’t need a new visa to cross back into Jordan through Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, provided you do so within the period of validity of your Jordanian visa – just show your stamped exit slip.
The bus across the frontier costs JD7, plus JD1.50 per piece of luggage. Jordan has doubled the cost of Jordanian visas from JD30 to JD60.
Bring plenty of cash (Jordanian dinars are the most useful) and make sure you have small change. There are no ATMs, but both sides have exchange bureaux.
This crossing can be frustratingly delay-prone, especially if you’re travelling into the West Bank and/or Israel. Chaotic queues, intrusive security, luggage X-rays (expect to be separated from your bags) and impatient officials are the norm; expect questions from Israeli security personnel if your passport has stamps from places such as Lebanon or you’re headed to less touristed parts of the West Bank. There are separate processing areas for Palestinians and tourists.
The border is (officially) open from 8am to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 8am until 3pm on Friday and Saturday, but arrive after 6pm and you risk not being able to cross.
Shared taxis run by Abdo (02-628 3281) and Al Nijmeh (02-627 7466), most frequent before 11am, link the blue-and-white bus station opposite Jerusalem's Damascus Gate with the border (30 minutes, 40NIS); the charge per suitcase is 5NIS. Private taxis can cost as much as 300NIS, with hotel pick-up as an option.
Egged buses 948, 961 and 966 from West Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station to Beit She’an (and points north) stop on Rte 90 at the turn-off to Allenby Bridge (12.50NIS, about hourly, 40 minutes). Walking the last few kilometres to the crossing is forbidden, so you’ll have to take a taxi (50NIS).
To get to/from Amman's Abdali or South bus stations, you can take a servees (shared taxi) or minibus (JD8, 45 minutes); a taxi costs about JD22. JETT (www.jett.com.jo) runs a daily bus to the border from Abdali (JD8.50, one hour, departure at 7am).
To & From Egypt
Taba crossing, on the Red Sea 10km south of Eilat, is the only border post between Israel and Egypt that’s open to tourists. The crossing is open 24 hours. There’s an exchange bureau on the Egyptian side. Check travel advisories before taking this route as the security situation in Sinai is changeable.
You can get a 14-day, Sinai-only entry permit at the border, allowing you to visit Red Sea resorts stretching from Taba to Sharm El Sheikh, plus St Katherine’s.
It's no longer possible to travel overland to Cairo via Sinai because of the security situation. One option is to travel to Sharm El Sheikh and then fly to Cairo, but you will need to get an Egyptian visa in advance, either at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat or the embassy in Tel Aviv.
Getting There & Away
Local bus 15 links Eilat’s central bus station with the Taba crossing (30 minutes, hourly 8.10am to 9.10pm Sunday to Thursday, 8.10am to 4.10pm Friday and 9.10am to 7.10pm Saturday). On the way back to Eilat this line is known as bus 16; departures are 50 minutes later. A taxi costs about 30NIS.
Banned: Israeli Passport Stamps
Arab and Muslim countries have widely varying policies on admitting travellers whose passports show evidence of their having visited Israel. Jordan and Egypt, with which Israel has peace treaties, have no problem at all, and the same goes for Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and many of the Gulf emirates, as well as for Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the other hand, Lebanon and Iran have been known to put travellers on the next plane out if they find even circumstantial evidence of travel to Israel, for example a passport freshly issued in Amman or a chewing-gum wrapper written in Hebrew. Saudi Arabia is also known to be very strict on occasion.
If there’s any chance you’ll be heading to Arab or Muslim lands during the life of your passport, your best bet is to make sure that it shows no indication that you’ve been to Israel. Simplifying matters is the fact that Israel no longer stamps tourists' passports, instead issuing a loose-leaf visa, and Jordanian officials generally do the same. Egypt, however, is not so flexible, although an Egyptian stamp from Taba is as much a testament to your having visited Israel as an Israeli one. If you need to get from Eilat to Sinai without a Taba stamp, one option is to cross to Jordan and then take a ferry from Aqaba.
Some countries, including the United States, allow their citizens to carry more than one passport: one for Israel and its neighbours, the other for the rest of the world.
Israeli Border Control
Israel's rigorous entrance procedures are a source of annoyance for some and a breeze for others. Don't be surprised if you are asked questions about your reasons for travelling, trips you've recently made, your occupation, your acquaintances in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and possibly your religious or family background.
If you are meeting friends or family, you might want to have their full name, address and phone number handy (a letter confirming you’re staying with them is ideal). If you have hotel reservations, a printout may help – or be completely superfluous.
If border officials suspect that you’re coming to take part in pro-Palestinian political activities or if you have an Arab or Muslim name, they may ask some probing questions; on occasion they have even searched laptops. Sometimes they take an interest in passport stamps from places such as Lebanon or Iran, but often they don't. The one sure way to get grilled is to sound evasive or to contradict yourself – the security screeners are trained to try to trip you up. Whatever happens, remain calm and polite.
Israeli airport security is the strictest in the business. It unabashedly uses profiling, but not necessarily in the way you think. In 1986, a pregnant Irish woman, Anne Mary Murphy, almost boarded an El Al 747 in London with Semtex explosive hidden in her luggage – it had been placed there without her knowledge by her Jordanian boyfriend, Nezar Hindawi, who is still in prison in the UK. Ever since then, Israeli security officials – at Ben Gurion Airport and at airports abroad – have been on the lookout for anyone who might unwittingly serve as a suicide bomber, with young, unmarried Western women near the top of the profiling list.
It is not possible to get to Israel by sea.