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How to save money as a tourist or oleh (immigrant) in Israel

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I wrote this guide because I get asked about these questions all the time. 
Unfortunately, Israel like many places have lots of grifters and scammers... Please use this as a guide to enjoy your vacation, save money, and not leave on a bad note.

Convert your money to shekels before spending cash at the Shuk or for a Cab, many of these vendors do not take credit card. Also note that most standard cards are accepted but often US AMEX cards are not due to the fees the merchant has to pay. 

What to bring מה להביא

Traveling to Israel for a short or long haul, here is what you should bring or buy before you arrive! 

  • Unlocked Smartphone (more on phone plans further down in the article)
    • Cheaper and if you buy via a US credit card, often times you get purchase protection.
    • Make sure it supports GSMA and the carrier that you want to use in Israel for 4G, 5G, etc. 
  • Laptop and other electronics
    • First, make sure it supports 220V. Most laptops do support it. Other electronics may or may not. Either way due to Israel's 17% VAT on items, costs start to rise. Electronics and most products from abroad are way cheaper than buying local... and you have a much better selection.
    • Travel adapters 
      • Worth buying a few before you come, especially since you will need to charge your devices.
    • Battery pack/power banks
      • Must have for trips! Note that you need to put them in your carry-on luggage.
      • In addition the TSA and ElAl have rules about maximum wattage and the quantity of Li-On batteries you can travel with (around 100 watt hours) due to the hazard that they are flammable. 
  • Clothing
    • Shoes
      • If you are hiking, pack the right type of boots, quality running shoes and sandals.
      • Buying locally is fine, just note that they often don't have larger and wider sizes at most stores... and the ones that do have, will charge a lot for them. 
    • In the summer and spring, dress light as we are in the Mediterranean overall. 
    • It does rain here on occasion, mainly in the fall and winter... it rarely snows here though.
      • an umbrella cannot hurt and neither can a rain jacket. 
      • You can buy these things locally too.
    • Large and Big Sizes:
      • You can certainly shop for clothing locally, but note that the size system is much closer to European standards than American ones... 
      • Often times, a Large US Sized Shirt will be XL or 2XL locally... Similar thing goes for pant sizes... as they don't have the metric system .. so your US size isn't equivalent.
      • If you can, it will be best to either buy clothes from abroad or bring them with you. It is possible to pick up clothes in these sizes but often a challenge. Thankfully, some popular online stores ship here from the US!  
  • Medicine and health products
    • First, make sure to have travel and health insurance. Next, depending on the length of your stay it might be easier to bring medications with you rather than go to a local pharmacy (and doctor first). 
    • Prices tend to be reasonable and you can get generics for many medications as well. 
      • If you have a health insurance plan that is connected to an Israeli קופת חולים (Health Company)... you can go to their official pharmacies and often get decent rates... מאוחדת, כללית, מכבי , etc. all have pharmacies in major cities. 
    • Sunscreen and bug spray
      • It gets very hot here and at night the bugs come to bite... Try to bring both with you to save money and not have to worry about where to source them here. 

Budgeting תקציב

Whether your child is in Israel, you are touring, etc... It is always best to plan ahead of time and know how much you are going to spend. 1) You can limit yourself to eating out at restaurants to once or twice a week. 2) Reduce the amount of times you order delivery or take out. 3) Even though there might be a deal or discount if you buy in bulk... unless you are in dire need of that item... it isn't usually worth spending money out of pocket.

Subscriptions מניות

Subscription services should also be counted towards your budget... Try to reduce the amount of monthly payments in addition to cutting out services you don't need (such as Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Disney +, Office 365 etc.). Often times, there is an alternative cheap or free service which practically provides the same services. 

  • A note about VPNS and streaming services:
    • Virtual Private Networks are a way to access resources from another computer (or server). Many companies have popped up to provide access to their servers throughout the globe. 
      • Here's a basic rundown of how it works: For simplicity let's call the VPN vendor "V", Streaming service is called "S" and the user, "Bob"
        • Bob wants to watch a movie on S which is only available in the US but he lives in Israel. He buys a subscription from V and installs their app. Now, as he activates it, his phone sends all it's traffic to V's closest server in or near Israel. Now, V re-routes (or tunnels) from their server near Israel to their server in the EU which then does another hop to their one in the US. Now, Bob's TV show can start loading! 
        • Many streaming services detect that there are way too many users accessing their app from one specific IP address (or internet location). They know something is up, and they decide to block it. Some VPN companies then move around their servers, change IP addresses, etc. in order to overcome this block... Doing that is often expensive and has diminishing returns as the service could play cat and mouse with the VPN company till there are no more places to hide... 
    • Netflix has a "global" subscription which means that you can access your account from nearly every country in the world. 
      • Unfortunately the catalog of content does depend on your geolocation.
      • My Nord VPN account doesn't fool Netflix :( 
    • Disney+ is not like Netflix, the account needs to be made in the country of use... a US account will not work in Israel without a VPN. 
      • and an Israeli account will not work in the US either... for a slightly different reason - the Israel account does sign in VIA phone number... and if you are in the US, you are not going to want to be roaming on an Israeli SIM card (it's expensive)... so you won't usually have access. 
    • Prime Video falls in the same category as Netflix! But note that prime accounts are domain specific, meaning if you have it on the US .com site, it doesn't pass over to the UK .co.uk site...

Discounts הנחות

Going off of the previous tip, if you need or want to purchase items... always ask if there is a student or soldier discount. 

Shuk שוק

You can always bargain with the sellers at these markets... It is part of the experience, don't accept something based on face value. Before closing time, the sellers might be willing to drop prices on fruits for example due to the potential of them getting spoiled.

You can also go to a regular supermarket which has set prices... 

Cabs/Taxis מונית

The drivers can tell you are a foreigner in an instant. I am living in Israel for over 5 years and speak the language... but they can still pick up an accent... and then try to trick you... Try to pay via Gett or the meter... Most people do not tip cab drivers at all... as anyways they are expensive and are working against you. There's an app by Yango which lists the price before the ride! Which is great for transparency. 

Public Transportation תחבורה ציבורית

Often it is an experience, especially in Jerusalem. The trains and light rails are worth a try... Busses are also inexpensive relatively. 

You can buy and load up a Rav-Kav at their kiosks (for the photo ID one), or you can get an anonymous one from many different stores with loaded value. The benefit to getting a personal card is that if you lose it or it gets stolen, you can recover the funds. In addition, it is better for students and commuters as you can load longer term plans. 

Alternatively, you can pay via app! It gets annoying at first and might be difficult to connect with a foreign credit card... The apps that work with this are Moovit, Hop-On both work on the iOS app store and Android app store. Essentially, you scan the QR code and select the route, and it adds the ride to your monthly "tab", then at their payment period, it automatically gets charged to your credit card. The MoT (ministry of transportation)'s website has more information in Hebrew here

Also, starting August 1st, 2022: people 75 years or older can travel for free!! That's what I call a deal.

SIM Cards כרטיסי סים

Don't buy a sim card at the airport... Make sure your phone is unlocked before arriving to the country. Buy what the locals get, phone service is relatively cheap if you know what you are doing. I am using a 30 NIS plan with 150 GB of data (4G LTE and nearly unlimited calls and texts). For calling abroad, I opt to use Google Voice (free) or WhatsApp over WIFI or Data. Do not try to send SMS's abroad as they may charge you extra.

Also, the best way to get a good deal and not get ripped off is by doing what the locals are doing... they often times know what's best here as they've been in the country for years. This brings me to my next point (TLDR Israelis most often use local phone providers and not a 3rd party/reseller). 

Usually a local plan cuts it! I use Golan*, but Hot, Cellcom, Pelephone, and Partner (Orange) are the main cell companies that proved phone service to the country. No need to go through a re-seller who upcharges. Note that on many gap year yeshiva or seminary programs have a deal with a re-seller and get a kickback for promotions... I dislike this due to lack of transparency... When they recommend a carrier, ask what do they use themselves and what is the phone provider paying them ;) Be Israeli, have Chutzpa.  

Going to the US? Try a carrier like Google Fi or Mint mobile (or the previous carrier you used)... In addition, when you reach the US make sure to sign up for google voice for a free us VOIP number (Call, Text, Voicemail). Some Israel plans offer foreign data and calling but usually for a premium. 

For many carriers they set an introductory price for a period of about 2 years, then if you don't switch plans the price will increase 2 fold if not more... So if you are hear for a while, make sure to take note of that when you sign up, and set a calendar notification about a month before the fees go up so you can switch in time. 

Buying products לקנות מוצרים

VAT is 17%, as a tourist, if you keep receipts you are supposed to be able to get a refund at the airport before leaving (if you spend enough). 

If you plan on going to Eilat (southern Israel), there is no VAT charge which means that generally prices are more reasonable...many Israelis travel there just to buy new iPhones and Computers... You would benefit from joining our group for this!!

Returning products להחזיר מוצרים

Shoppers have a right to return products! Usually within 7 days of purchase the store is required to take them back. Note that this depends on the type of product and if the store has their own return policy (on a visible sign in store). 

Make sure to be assertive and tell them you know the law! I will try to make another post going into more detail but for now you can look on the consumer rights site

Selling used electronics מכירת יד 2 למוצרי חשמל

Surprisingly due to the 17% VAT, people value used products like iPhones and Macs  more than their American counterparts. I helped an individual sell a used Macbook locally for more expensive than a new MacBook at the apple store in New York... The person then went to the US and bought themselves a new computer with better specs! 

Just be careful when posting on Yad2 and Facebook Marketplace as there are a few scammers, it's best to check their reviews before proceeding. 

Utilities שירותים

Electricity: We put our air conditioner on a shabat timer, so if you are sleeping.. it can go off for a bit then back on as you please. This way you stay comfy and save money.

Arnona: Olim get a discount on city property tax, make sure the municipality is aware of your status to get the discount. Make sure the contract for lease/rent is in your name or else you won't be eligible. The discount is for a 12 month period within the first 2 years of Aliyah and it can range from 70-90% off depending on how many square meters are in your property. 

Water: The number of individuals living in a house/apartment impacts the cost of water. Make sure all your children living at home are registered and appear in your Teudat Zeut Sepach (The paper that comes with your Israel ID). 

Home internet אינטרנט ביתי

Ask your neighbors who they use for their ISP and their experience. Internet provider quality really depends on city and even neighborhood. Certain providers provide better service and speed in different places. 

Overall, if you have a plan, you usually need to rent/buy their router-modem (it's a single device that does both). And then your bill is split between the תשתית Infrastructure and שירות service. Your service provider deals with the infrastructure company usually and they may "combine" the bill so that you only get charged once a month.

This distinction was both made for technical reasons in addition to trying to prevent a monopoly/oligopoly. 

Fiber is making a roll-out country wide... but it has yet to hit many areas. Their primary focus is on big cities and apartment complexes (so they reach the most people at the lowest cost). 

Overall the monthly cost varies based on the speed you pay for, the hardware you rent/buy and the package... An average package is usually 200 MB down and 5 MB up for around 90 NIS a month. 

Download speed is used for watching a movie, downloading music or video, for example. Often times, this is more critical to people than uploading is. 

Upload speed is used when posting a video or photo online usually. Even if you go for a higher end plan, in Israel the upload speeds are rarely parallel to the download speed. 

You can try to bargain with the ISP to get their best sales rate, some may comply but others might not, and as I said with the phone plan... you can switch before the price hike... Or you can call them up and tell them you want to switch to another company, often times they will lower their price to keep you as their customer. 


*Technically, Golan is a MVNO of Cellcom. Basically, they provide service through Cellcom's network and offer front-end support and kiosks etc. The funny thing is that they really revolutionized the low phone plan prices here... going against the grain... and forced their competitors to drop prices... Now they have reportedly been acquired by Cellcom. 

Other

Do you have a fridge with an ice maker? If so, you should find the official part number for the water filter... and when you need to swap it out, go with an off brand one for much cheaper than the official one. 

Come join our deals group to never miss out on upcoming sales

אתם מוזמנים להצטרף לקבוצת דילים שלנו

Comments

  1. Returning things: the most important thing to realise is that the right to return is only a default. If there is a posted return policy, that's what applies. So before arguing (ideally before buying in the first place) look for the return policy, and if there is one, read it.

    Internet: as of recently, in the consumer market at least, the two parts may not sold separately, for new contacts you deal with the ISP only and they handle the infrastructure you choose out of what's available, dealing with the infrastructure supplier and including that in a single charge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment!

      With regards to the ISP, they deal with the infrastructure. but it depends on which companies work together, we do get separate charges and bills.


      And with regards to the return policy, we will certainly provide a more in depth article on the ins and outs!

      Delete
  2. I wrote specifically "for new contracts" (had a typo there) - if you currently have separate contracts with ISP and infrastructure, you will continue getting separate bills. However if you ask about changing anything, even your existing suppliers will only offer you a bundle, as I experienced recently when checking my options.

    ReplyDelete

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