By in Country Guides July 29, 2013

Does the land of milk and honey, promised land, or the Holy Land sound just like the right place for you? There are so many faraway countries that are beautiful and intriguing, but often we do not get a chance to visit them. If you are lucky enough to be moving to Israel, stay tuned to find out more about this incredible country.

From the latest events and visa issues to the cost of living and places to visit – we’ve covered all the bases to make your international relocation as smooth as it can be.

Starting fresh in the Holy Land is the dream of many.

Why Move to Israel?

Many would assume that only Jews or religious people would wish to leave everything and move to Israel in the 21st century. But that is far from true. You don’t have to be Jewish or into religion at all to want to relocate to the Holy Land. Although many associate this country with religion, modern-day Israel is so much more than synagogues, mosques, and churches. Mediterranean climate, cultural heritage, and a vibrant, tech-oriented economy are only some of the reasons why so many expats make the decision to move here.

As the birthplace of Christianity and Judaism, this place is essential for the history of religions and multiple empires that ruled over it. Once David defeated Goliath, the rise of his Kingdom started, and Jerusalem was at its center. After David came King Solomon, then the Assyrian Empire, Babylonian, Persian, Alexander the Great – and all that before the birth of Christ. Every empire in the Old World wanted to rule the Holy Land, from the Romans and the Islamic Empires to Christian Crusaders.

Located on the shore of the Red and the Mediterranean Sea, this state has two main centers. Tel Aviv is the leading technological and economic hub, while the proclaimed capital, Jerusalem, is the seat of the government. But the status of this city is a bit controversial because Palestinians also claim the Holy City as their capital. And of course, in the middle of that conflict is the old part of the city, where all the main sanctuaries are located.

What Is Life Like in the Holy Land Today

Modern-day Holy Land is home to almost 9 million people, of which 75% are Jewish, while the other 25% are mostly Arabs. This nation attracts many startups, tech companies, and digital nomads, while around 3 million tourists go there every year. And although it is such a small nation, it has the highest number of museums per capita in the world. Official languages are Hebrew and Arabic, but English is also widely spoken, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the language barrier when relocating here. However, if you do want to learn a foreign language, there is no better way to do it than here, so take a look at our guide to learning a language abroad.

However, we cannot look at everything through rose-colored glasses and ignore some things. There are certain things about the Holy Land that are not so holy. Although this nation is beautiful and has a rich cultural heritage, keep in mind the current political situation. It is, generally speaking, very safe for tourists and expats here. Life in cities like Tel Aviv is safe, while problematic areas of Gaza, West Bank, and Golan Heights are probably not on your wishlist anyway. Additionally, the nation uses the Iron Dome system for protecting its citizens and infrastructure.

Can you spot the Holy Land on the map?

Important Information for Non-Jews Moving to Israel

If you are an American looking to start a new life here, you probably have numerous questions and doubts going on in your mind. But let’s start with the basics. Have you ever been here before? If possible, it is always better to visit your destination before relocating. Otherwise, the culture shock might be too overwhelming. There are several direct flights from the US to Tel Aviv, but keep in mind that the shortest ride from New York takes about 12 hours.

Visas and Work Permits for Working and Relocating to Israel

There are several types of visas for those who are not Jews, but a permanent residency can be hard to obtain unless you are looking to invest a lot of money in a local business. For those willing to apply for a work visa, the process of application can differ depending on the type of job you plan on getting. In most cases, you will have to pass a medical exam, visa interview, and get approval from the Ministry of Interior.

In case you are looking to work for less than 30 days, you do not need a work permit, just an appropriate visa. For both, you have to apply in the state of your residence, and you can do it at the same time. The cost of an Israeli work visa for six months is currently $2,740, plus the submission fee of $337.

As a US citizen, you do not need a visa for stays up to 90 days. If you have the most important documents needed to travel abroad, a passport that is valid for at least six months from the day of your return, you are good to go.

Here are some visa options you can consider:

if you are an export looking to work for less than three months, you can also get a B/1 visa, but you have to have a minimal Israeli salary. When applying for a visa, bring all your academic certifications translated into Hebrew and notarized, together with other required papers like the medical report, higher salary requirement, police clearance, three passport photos, etc.

in case of working for more than three months, you can apply for a visa and file all the necessary documents if your salary is higher than the average. The maximum you can stay on this visa is five years and three months.

in case of working for more than three months, you can apply for a visa and file all the necessary documents if your salary is higher than the average. The maximum you can stay on this visa is five years and three months.

expats of certain nationalities, including the US, are eligible to apply for a visa to work in high-tech and cyber companies. However, their salary has to be higher than the average, at least double.

besides holding a Ph.D., applicants must have an approval from the Council of Higher Education, a recommendation from a university, and a signed affidavit that guarantees that the candidate will work only for that uni.

this case is specific because journalists can apply for a work visa once they cross the border as tourists. First, they will ask for a temporary journalist card and later apply for the visa at the Ministry of Interior.

researchers and lecturers who hold an MA degree and want to work here in an institution recognized by the Council of Higher Education must have a recommendation from the uni. They can extend their visa for up to 63 months.

besides those who are not planning to stay longer than three months, holders of B/1 work visas can bring their children and spouse along.

Israeli Innovation Visa

Since there are no work visas for self-employed individuals, there is an option called Innovation Visa, which could help those in certain professions. The innovation visa is also known as a startup visa for expats, and it allows them to stay in the country initially for two years. During that period, they can receive help from the Innovation Authority, in terms of space, technological infrastructure, logistics, etc.

Foreign entrepreneurs can choose among twelve Landing Pads that will expose them to the local tech community. The primary purpose is to help expat entrepreneurs develop their projects, and eventually, obtain a work permit to stay for another five years and contribute to the national economy.

The laws are strict when it comes to visas and work permits.

Aliyah – the Law of Return

If you have been researching this nation or you are Jewish, then you have certainly come across the word aliyah. Aliyah is a term that refers to the law of return, or the right of every Jew on the planet to come back here to live and obtain Israeli citizenship. Those who use this privilege are called oleh (immigrant). They will get an official certificate that allows them to stay in the country as oleh for three months, and then decide whether or not they want to stay or go.

Many who decide to come back do that because they have a strong feeling of belonging, finding their identity, reuniting with other family members, etc. Around 14.6 million people across the globe identify as Jews, but the number of them in the US is questionable due to the counting methodology. But, roughly speaking, there are around 5.7 million Jews in the US.

The Extension of the Aliyah Law

This law was first introduced in 1950, and in 1970 it was extended, allowing those who converted to Judaism, family members, and Jewish ancestors to also use this right. Jews who converted into other religions cannot use this right. However, this is not the only way to obtain citizenship, but it is the easiest one for those who are Jews or have Jewish ancestors.

Jews from all over the globe are encouraged to come back to the nation of their origin.

Cost of Living in Israel

When moving across the world, everyday expenses are usually our biggest concern. If you thought that life in this nation is not expensive, you are wrong. In fact, Tel Aviv is one of the most expensive cities for expats living in the Middle East. But that does not mean you cannot afford to stay there. Higher expenses are usually offset by higher salaries and standards for expats. And of course, it all depends on where you decide to settle, and how much you spend as part of your lifestyle. Urban areas will always be more expensive than some small rural towns, as in most countries in the world.

According to Numbeo, prices can vary a lot in comparison to what you’re used to in the US. Below, you’ll find the approximate prices of some basic groceries and daily expenses in USD.

1 gallon of milk$6.30
12 eggs$3.60
Apples, 1lb$1.30
Oranges, 1lb$0.80
Potato, 1lb$0.50
Chicken breasts, 1lb$4.50

The increase in average wages leads to improved standards of living, but also to a rise in consumption, higher prices of groceries, and housing. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Tel Aviv can be found for $1,500, while for a three-bedroom place, you will have to add another $1000. Jerusalem is slightly cheaper, so for an apartment for one in the city center, you would have to pay $1,000. Outside of the center, the prices are more affordable, and you can find an apartment of the same size for $850.

Generally speaking, Tel Aviv is more expensive. If you plan to move with children and you are scouting for schools and kindergartens, the cost of international primary schools doubles in Tel Aviv compared to Jerusalem, for example. Essential utilities such as electricity, cooling, heating, garbage, and water, can cost from $180 to $230 per month. The local currency is called shekel, and it breaks down into 100 agorae. For comparison, 100 Israeli shekel is around 30 USD.

Cost of Moving to the Holy Land

The cost of international moving is never negligible, especially when you are relocating to a country so far away from home. A lot of times, people are not even aware of how specific international relocation is. It requires much more planning in advance and logistics to get everything done on time. If you have never moved overseas, it is essential to know that overseas vehicle shipping can be a convenient service, as well. Especially when relocating to countries where there’s so much to see and visit but where imported cars are pricey, and you have to pay for duties, etc.

When packing your life into boxes, make sure to count on the costs of boxes and moving supplies. If you do not have the time to deal with packing, you can hire a reputable company that offers packing services and custom crating for your precious belongings. If you have a budget for your relocation, and you need to calculate everything, you can do a free home estimate that will give you all the numbers that matter.

Donate the Things You Do Not Like

One of the easy ways to save money when moving internationally is not to move the things you don’t use. By that, we mean everything from old clothes, books, and even some pieces of furniture. Furniture and other bulky items can increase the cost of shipping significantly, and for that money, you could buy new items for your future home. You don’t really have to pack your entire life into boxes, do you?

If you wish, you can donate stuff that is in good condition, organize a garage sale, or place them in storage if you don’t want to get rid of them. We often tend to get attached to material stuff, so we understand that it can be hard to say goodbye to the things you shared your living space for so long. However, relocating abroad is an opportunity for a fresh beginning, a fresh start. It is a perfect occasion to refresh your wardrobe, furniture, etc. So instead of wondering what to pack when moving abroad, perhaps it is better to think about what not to pack.

Waking up in the Holy Land comes at a price.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Relocating to Israel

Relocating to another continent far away from your friends and family and having to adjust to a different culture, laws, customs, climate, etc. is something that can make anyone question the decision to come here. It is not the same as relocating across the state. The Middle East offers a different lifestyle that some may not fancy. And that is ok, too. That is why it is essential that you are aware of where you are going and that you have explored the country well before moving internationally from the US.

If you don’t know anyone there, try searching for expat communities online. You will get much needed first-hand information about everyday life and job-hunting. Do not idealize your life there and try looking at things from a realistic perspective. Not everything will go as planned, but that is how things go in this life. So take a look at some of our recommendations and try not to overlook some costs or laws that might affect your stay.

Job Opportunities for Expats

The expat population in this nation is concentrated mainly in bigger cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa, which are commercial and cultural hubs of the country. Most people come here due to international assignments or company transfers. Finding a job on your own can be challenging because the market is very competitive, and a university degree is a must for most jobs. Expats usually work in the fields of medicine, education, technology, marketing, and law. One significant advantage of many expats is the knowledge of additional foreign languages.

If you are looking for a job from the US, you can search through websites such as Jobs-Israel, Israemploy, Biotechjobs, etc. If you have Jewish roots, you can contact an aliyah organization to help you find the best option.

However, most good job offers can never be found online. Companies prefer to hire people internally, meaning that if you already know someone who works here, that could get you a job faster than sending 100 emails a day. In case you can’t find a position alone, contact some employment agencies. If nothing else, they can probably help you start working as a teacher of English since they are always looking for native speakers, but you will have to hold TEFL or TESOL teaching certificates.

Experimenting With Food Options

When it comes to food, you are probably a bit worried. But there are no reasons for that. You can easily find some typical American dishes and fast food options. So your cravings for burgers, chicken wings, donuts, and fries can all be satisfied. But it would be a shame not to give a chance to their local traditional cuisine. Local cuisine here represents a unique blend of dishes brought by Jews from the diaspora and some typical local meals.

In most cases, the food is influenced either by the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisines. Hence you will often find dishes like falafel, hummus, couscous, or msabbaha, along with some typical Jewish foods, such as malawach, hamin, or challah. Jewish holidays also influence their dining habits because certain foods are prepared during specific holidays. For example, braided bread challah is made for Shabbat, charoset for Passover, sufganiyot doughnuts for Hanukkah, etc.

There is no such thing as a national dish here, although falafel could be considered one because it used to be the favorite street food of many. It is still common nowadays, but not so much as a separate meal. It can rather be found as a mezze or along with hummus on pita bread. In general, they eat healthier than Americans and other Westerners because they include a lot of veggies and fresh ingredients in pretty much every dish. Local street food is not expensive at all.

This Is Something Different

Adjusting to a new country after the relocation is an exciting process here. Before you rush into job-hunting, there are some things you should know about Israeli laws and work policies.

The workweek lasts from Sunday to Thursday, usually including Friday mornings. The law does not allow them to have more than 43 work hours per week. Business hours are usually from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, and in most cases, employees work 8 or 9 hours, including an hour for a lunch break.

Noticed something strange? It is not a mistake. Their workweek actually begins on Sunday. If you always hated Mondays, here is a twist. Monday is not the first working day, because the Biblical or Jewish Shabbat begins with the sunset on Friday, and it lasts till the full dark on Saturday. Hence, their weekend includes Fridays and Saturdays, and Sunday is the first day of a new work week.

Colorful and flavorful local cuisine is something you have to try.

Historical Destinations to Visit

Due to its rich history, Hebrew heritage, and religious pluralism, this is a popular destination for everyone who is into arts and culture. But if you’re looking to live here permanently, you will have more time than an average tourist to explore and visit all its sightseeing spots. Israeli people are very proud of their history, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to research and learn something before you leave.

Here are some places that should be on your must-see list:

probably one of the most important locations for Christians from all over the world, since it is considered to be the home village of Virgin Mary, and the place where the Annunciation occurred. Hence, tourists flock to this small town to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation.

this charming coastal town with a port was once home to Crusaders, Ottomans, and a variety of other cultures, which left their marks on the stunning architecture and streets of this town.

although it is called a sea, it is actually a lake. The largest freshwater lake in the region is also known as Kinneret. Tourists visit this area to relax and partake in water activities, but this place also comes with its biblical background. According to the New Testament, this is the place where Christ performed several miracles, including walking on water.

this is a vibrant, multicultural city with plenty of things to do. Whether you are in the mood for walking along the port, enjoying surfing, or visiting the famous Bahai garden, it is a lively city that has a lot to offer.

a favorite location for relaxing after days of sightseeing is Eilat, a coastal city with plenty of hotels, resorts, and leisure options. You can dive around the coral reef, swim with dolphins, or just enjoy the sun and relax.

being 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on land. You have probably seen pictures of people reading newspapers while floating in the sea because, due to the high concentration of salt, they cannot sink. Besides being fun, this is also healthy, and so is the mud that you can use to cover your entire body and treat yourself to an outdoor pampering session.

located in the Negev Desert, this is the largest erosion crater in the world, 25 miles long and 6 miles wide. For visitors, jeep and segway tours around the crater are organized daily, as well as hot air balloon flights above it.

it is hard to count all the places you should visit here, since pretty much every stone in the old town is important for one of three main religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The old town is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Armenian, Jewish, and Christian, but don’t forget to go outside of the city and climb Mount Olive to enjoy a stunning view over the city.

probably the most open-minded city in the whole nation that attracts the majority of expats. Beautiful beaches, markets, vibrant nightlife, events, and a multicultural environment are only some of the reasons why so many expats opt to settle down here.

The Holy Land has to offer something for everyone.

The Bottom Line

Relocating to the Holy Land is so much more than just relocating abroad to some foreign place. It is an entirely different world, so prepare for a culture shock if you haven’t been there before. Although bigger cities are in a way westernized, it is still a country in the Middle East, which has its pros and cons. But if you are willing to try something different for a few years, to add international work experience to your CV, adapt to different cultures and customs, learn Hebrew, learn how to keep in touch with friends after moving abroad, and find some new ones, then this could be the right decision for you.