Preparing for extended stays
The foreign students dorm at Naale Elite Academy. (photo from IMP Media Ltd.)
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, the United Kingdom, the European Union, South Africa and Russia because of its innovative educational programs.
Two of the world’s Top 100 universities, Hebrew University and Technion, are located in Israel, as are respected secondary 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 best physical and fiscal transition to Israeli society, here are some steps you can take so that your day-to-day experience will be as pleasant and fruitful as it can be.
Step 1: The right visa
To visit Israel, whether it is for a short- or long-term stay, you must have 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; for example, working, voting, 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, Israel’s Ministry of Interior, within the first few weeks of your arrival,” said 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: Health insurance
Bituach Leumi, the National Insurance Institute of Israel, provides basic medical coverage to all Israeli residents. For non-residents such as students, diplomats, et al, 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 enrol in your choice of kupat cholim (health maintenance organization, HMO). Students can apply for subsidized enrolment 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 than banking in most countries. From cheques, 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 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,” he said. “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: Transportation
Israel’s public transportation is the preferred method of transportation in the country. 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.
Schwartz also recommended downloading the Moovit app. “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,” he said.
For tourists or temporary residents who will be driving, whether via a rented or purchased car, they can use a valid foreign driver’s licence for up to one year following their entry date.
Step 5: Phone plans
Having a smartphone is a must. Aside from allowing you to stay in touch with family and friends, smartphones are necessary for navigating your way through an unfamiliar area, for accessing your email, social media and numerous messaging platforms, and for keeping abreast of the latest news and alerts. All you need to sign up for one of the many phone plan options in Israel is your passport and a credit card.
Catherine Green is a freelance reporter and PR expert.