Israel is a country similarly priced to Western Europe for visitors, but 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.
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 you're going abroad and don't travel 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.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 800/992–3404; 336/393–1111; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 800/234–6377; 514/877–1577; www.dinersclub.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 180/941–8873; www.mastercard.com.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 180/941–1605; www.usa.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
Israel's monetary unit is the new Israeli shekel, abbreviated NIS. There are 100 agorot to the shekel. The silver 1-shekel coin is the size and shape of an American dime, but thicker. Smaller-value bronze coins are the half-shekel (50 agorot) and the 10-agorot coin (both of which are larger than the shekel). There’s also a 2-shekel round coin (silver), a 5-shekel coin with 12 edges (silver), and a similar-size 10-shekel coin (bronze center, silver rim). Paper bills come in 20-, 50-, 100-, and 200-shekel denominations.
Dollars are widely accepted at hotels and shops, less so at restaurants. As of this writing, the exchange rate is about 3.80 shekels to the U.S. dollar.
In Israel, the best rates are at ATMs or at the myriad of currency-exchange shops (typically marked "Change") in and around the central areas of the large cities. In Jerusalem, these are around Zion Square, the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, and a few strategic locations elsewhere in the city (Jerusalem Mall, German Colony neighborhood, Jewish Quarter).