A Student's Primer: Four Steps to Surviving an Extended Stay in Israel

Written by Catherine Green on . Posted in Travel

While Israel draws substantial numbers of tourists due to its rich history, diverse culture, and range of naturally beautiful locations, the country also plays host to thousands of high school and college students from North America, U.K., EU, South Africa, and Russia because of its innovative educational programs.

Two of the world’s top 100 universities, Hebrew University and the Technion, are located in Israel, as are highly touted high school programs, highlighted by Naale Elite Academy’s free (i.e., scholarship) Jewish high school program, which provides students with a unique opportunity to actually “touch” the Technion during their teen years.

In order to make the proper physical and fiscal transition to Israeli society, there are some steps that you should set up for yourself, so that your day-to-day experience will be pleasant and fruitful.

Step 1: Obtain the proper visa 

In order to visit Israel, whether for a short- or long-term stay, you must, first and foremost, obtain an entry visa. For a tourist planning a long-term stay in Israel, there are different types of visas available. An extended visa allows for more benefits (e.g., working, voting, and health insurance).

“If you are coming on an educational program, the school will likely set up a visa for you to pick up from Misrad Hapnim, Ministry of Interior Israel, within the first few weeks of your arrival,” revealed Michele, a mother with children studying in Israel and a student there herself. 

If not, tourists can obtain an entry visa (usually for up to three months) which can then be extended for an extra two years. Temporary residents and students can apply for a further extension for up to five years. 

Step 2: Set up an affordable health insurance plan 

Bituach Leumi, the National Insurance Institute of Israel (akin to Social Security in the U.S.), provides basic medical coverage to all Israeli residents. For non-residents, such as students and diplomats, there is legislation allowing them to register for the same coverage as Israeli citizens. 

After being in Israel for six consecutive months, you can go to the regional Bituach Leumi office with documentation of your temporary status in order to enroll in the Kupat Cholim (Health Maintenance Organization [HMO]) of your choice. Students can apply for subsidized enrollment with a stamped letter from their accredited educational institution. 

Alternatively (or additionally) there are private healthcare options available to tourists, students, and temporary residents. 

Step 3: Banking 

Banking in Israel is very different from banking in most countries. From checks to credit cards, fees, and transfers — even Israelis find the system challenging.

The two major issues that non-residents face with banking in Israel are: opening an account and/or transferring money from their country of origin.

Dr. Robert Lubin, managing director at the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, has been working with students on long-term programs in Israel for many years. He explained how what was once a sore point for students managing their finances in Israel has changed for the better. “A service called OlehPay has been a game changer for most of our students. Between them and the cooperation of our local Bank Discount branch, transferring money from the U.S.A. is easy and practically seamless — that was not the case just a few years ago.” 

Step 4: Getting around — public transportation and driver’s licenses

Israel’s public transportation is the preferred method of transportation in Israel. According to Sammy Schwartz, a student from abroad studying at Naale Elite Academy’s Aniere program, “Getting around Israel is really easy even if you’re struggling with the language.”

Almost every Naale and Technion student who frequents the public transportation system in Israel uses the Rav Kav “smart card” that can be loaded with a variety of travel fare options. There are many benefits to getting a personalized card, such as being able to access the money on it if it gets lost or stolen, as well as the discounts that apply to students and senior citizens. The card is free and can be obtained at any Rav Kav station with a passport. Sammy also recommended downloading the Moovit app. He added, “Moovit tells you how to get exactly where you need to go in real time, with bus, cab, and train options. That combined with Rav Kav makes traveling around Israel really simple.”

For tourists or temporary residents who will be driving, whether via a rented or purchased car, they can use a valid foreign driver’s license for up to one year following their entry date. 

Step 5: Phone plans

Having a smartphone is a must. Aside from using them to stay in touch, smart phones are necessary for navigating through an unfamiliar area, accessing email, social media, numerous messaging platforms, and keeping abreast of the latest news and alerts. Israel is known for its innovation in apps, but it’s also known for excellent phone plans and service! And all you need to sign up for one of the many options in Israel is your foreign passport and a credit card.

By following these helpful tips, you will be one step ahead and prepared for an exciting, life-changing experience in Israel.

By Catherine Green