In this article we describe the processes to get visas when you want to travel to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and lands under control of the Palestinian Authority. I think it’s good information to have when you plan to come to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, but please double check, because information in this article might not be accurate (anymore).
Visas and passports for Israel
Israel no longer stamps tourists’ passports (though it retains the right to do so). Instead, visitors are given a small loose-leaf entry card to serve as proof of lawful entry. It’s easy to lose but try not to as it’s your only proof that you’re in the country legally.
We’ve heard reports of Israeli authorities at Allenby/King Hussein Bridge and Ben-Gurion airport issuing ‘Palestinian Authority Only’ entry permits to travelers with family or personal connections in the West Bank, making it difficult or impossible to get past the IDF roadblocks that regulate traffic from the West Bank into Israel, including Jerusalem.
Conversely, authorities at the airport have been known to require that some travelers sign a form declaring that they will not enter the Palestinian Authority without permission from Israeli authorities.
Students require a student (A/2) visa; kibbutz volunteers must arrange, through their host organization, a volunteer’s (B/4) visa.
ON-ARRIVAL TOURIST VISAS
In general, Western visitors to Israel and the Palestinian Territories are issued free on-arrival tourist (B/2) visas by Israel. For specifics on who qualifies, visit http://www.mfa.gov.il (click on ‘Consular Services’ and then ‘Visas’). Your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry. Officials can demand to see proof of sufficient funds and/or an onward or return ticket but rarely do so.
On-arrival visas are usually valid for 90 days. But some travelers, such as those entering by land from Egypt or Jordan, may be given just 30 days or even two weeks – it’s up to the discretion of the border control official. If there is any indication that you are coming to participate in pro-Palestinian protests, plan to engage in missionary activity or are seeking illegal employment, you may find yourself on the next flight home.
To extend a tourist (B/2) visa, you have a couple of options: Do a ‘visa run’ to Egypt, Jordan or overseas. This might get you an additional three months – or just one. Ask other travelers for the latest low-down.
Apply to extend your visa (90NIS). Extensions are granted by the Population & Immigration Authority (www.piba.gov.il; generally 8am-noon Sun-Tue & Thu), part of the Ministry of the Interior, whose offices include bureaus in Jerusalem (1 Shlomzion HaMalka St), Tel Aviv (Kiryat HaMamshala, 125 Menachem Begin Rd) and Eilat (2nd fl, HaKenyon HaAdom, HaTemarim Blvd). Bring a passport valid for at least six months beyond the requested extension period, a recent photo, a letter explaining why you want/need an extension (plus documentation), and evidence of sufficient funds for the extended stay. Offices in smaller towns are often easier and faster to deal with.
If you would qualify for an oleh (immigrant) visa under Israel’s Law of Return – ie you have at least one Jewish grandparent or have converted to Judaism and have documentation demonstrating this – it’s easy to extend your tourist visa for as long as you’d like, or even become an Israeli citizen.
You can be fined if you overstay your visa. Travelers who overstay by just a few days report no hassles or fines but it’s best not to risk it.
Visitors from most Western countries are eligible to receive single-entry, extendable, two-week visas at the following places:
- The Jordan River–Sheikh Hussein crossing (visa costs JD40), 30km south of the Sea of Galilee.
- The Yitzhak Rabin–Wadi Araba crossing (visa is free), a few kilometers north of Eilat and Aqaba.
Note: on-arrival visas are not available at the Allenby–King Hussein Bridge crossing.
Contact a Jordanian embassy or consulate (abroad or in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv) for a visa in any of the following cases:
- You want to enter Jordan via Allenby–King Hussein Bridge.
- You need a multiple-entry visa.
- At-the-border visas are not available to people of your nationality.
- Single/double/multiple entry visas, valid for two/three/six months from date of issue, cost a hefty JD40/60/120.
Note: if you crossed into the West Bank and/or Israel through Allenby–King Hussein Bridge and re-enter Jordan the same way, you do not need to apply for a new Jordanian visa, provided you return while your Jordanian visa or its extension is still valid. Remember to keep the stamped exit slip and present it on returning.
Israel and the Palestinian Territories abound with volunteer opportunities. In Israel these are often on archaeological digs, at hostels or environmental organizations, while in the Palestinian Territories they often involve helping the many NGOs working to improve everyday life for Palestinians.
These websites list a selection of organizations that arrange volunteer placements: The National Council for Volunteering in Israel (www.ivolunteer.org.il), Israel Hostels (www.hostelsisrael. com/volunteer-in-a-hostel) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map-uk.org).
If you’re between 18 and 35, it’s also possible to volunteer on a traditional kibbutz in Israel. Volunteers interested in a taste of the lifestyle at these communal agricultural centers can expect to spend two to six months helping with manual labor, which could include anything from gardening to washing up or milking cows. Food and accommodation are provided and sometimes a small weekly allowance. For more information, visit http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng or read about one Brit’s personal experience at http://www.kibbutzvolunteer.com.
OVERSEAS ISRAELIS & PALESTINIANS
According to the US State Department, the Israeli government regards the foreign-born children of Israelis as Israeli citizens and therefore requires them to enter and exit Israel using an Israeli passport and to comply with the country’s military draft laws; and it treats Palestinians born in the West Bank or Gaza – and, in some cases, their children and grandchildren – as Palestinian nationals who must exit and enter using a Palestinian passport, regardless of whether they hold a foreign passport. For details, see http://www.travel.state.gov – type ‘Israel’ under ‘Learn About Your Destination’, then expand the ‘Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements’ tab.
Unless they receive special advance authorization, persons considered by Israel to be Palestinian nationals are required to enter and exit the country via Allenby-King Hussein Bridge rather than, for instance, Ben-Gurion airport. Conversely, persons considered Israeli citizens can use any Israeli airport or land crossing except Allenby-King Hussein Bridge.
Nearly every major Israeli city has a tourist office offering brochures and maps; some also organize city walking tours. The only tourist office in the Palestinian Territories is in Bethlehem.
Useful websites include:
www.goisrael.com – Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
www.igoogledisrael.com – tips on traveling and living in Israel.
www.parks.org.il – Israel Nature & Parks Authority.
www.sirajcenter.org – an NGO that sponsors cross-cultural and community tourism in Palestine.
www.travelpalestine.ps – Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities.
www.travelujah.com – comprehensive information for Christian travelers.
www.visitpalestine.ps – excellent Ramallah-based travel website.
Female travelers will generally feel as safe and comfortable in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as they would in any Western country. Thus, you should take the same sensible precautions as you do back home – for instance, don’t hitchhike or hike by yourself, and avoid dark and deserted alleyways, lanes and paths. On some beaches foreign women may attract unwanted attention.
When you plan your day, keep in mind local expectations regarding modest attire. While tight-fitting, revealing outfits are common in urban centers such as Tel Aviv, they are inappropriate in more conservative parts of Israel and the West Bank, and are likely to be met with overt hostility in Gaza and in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods such as Me’a She’arim in Jerusalem. When visiting conservative areas and when visiting all religious sites – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and Baha’i – you should wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. In Muslim and Christian areas, long trousers are OK, but in some Jewish areas – and at all Jewish holy sites – only a long skirt is acceptable.
It’s a good idea to carry a shawl or scarf with you at all times. You will need this to cover your head and shoulders when visiting Muslim holy sites (mosques, tombs and the Temple Mount), and it can come in handy if your definition of modest attire doesn’t align with that of the caretaker in charge of a religious site.
In buses and sheruts, a woman sitting next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man may make him uncomfortable. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either his problem or a local sensitivity you should respect.
Travelers used to be able to turn up in Tel Aviv and find casual work in bars and restaurants but these days the pickings are thin. One option in that city might be to inquire at guesthouses and restaurants near the beach. Working legally requires a permit from the Ministry of the Interior and, as in North America or Western Europe, these aren’t easy to get – with one exception. If you would qualify for an oleh (immigrant) visa under the Law of Return – ie if you have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent and have documents to prove it – you can arrange a working visa with relative ease.
If you do find work and discover that you have been cheated by your employer, you can get free advice from Kav LaOved Worker’s Hotline (03-688 3766; www.kavlaoved.org.il; 4th fl, 75 Nachalat Binyamin St, Tel Aviv); see its website for the times English-speaking staff are on hand.
How strange it is, there is work to find, but in the north of the country with Arab (sub-)contractors, but the work is heavy (mainly construction).