21 Things to Know Before Moving to Israel
If you’re strongly considering moving to Israel, מזל טוב (congratulations)!
This religiously important land is full of stunning landscapes, awe-inspiring historical monuments, and glorious beaches.
Tens of thousands of Americans have already made the move, so you’ll have a ready-made community when you move to this sunny wonderland – but nevertheless, there are some things you should be aware of before you arrive.
Fill in the form at the top of this page to receive up to six free shipping quotes, and find out how much it would cost to make the move of a lifetime – chances are, it’ll be less than you think.
The Bahá'í Gardens in Haifa shows that Israel is more than desert and beaches
1. It’s tiny but geographically diverse
Israel is an extremely small slice of land that connects Asia and Africa, and sits less than 200 miles from Europe.
Because of its placement, this country that’s 473 times smaller than the US, with a maximum width of 71 miles, has an astonishing number of different climates and landscapes.
From north to south, you can go skiing, hike in the mountains of Galilee, appreciate the fertile farmland and verdant hills around Jerusalem, and pass through the awe-inspiring Negev desert that makes up the majority of Israel – and that’s not all.
You can float on the extremely salty Dead Sea, which is the lowest natural feature on the planet’s surface, or swim in the Mediterranean or Red Seas without worrying about the salt water stinging you.
2. The weather is hot, dry, and sunny
You can expect around 3,300 hours of sunshine per year in your new home, putting Israel on par with American cities like Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Miami.
Summers see temperatures hit 90°F or higher, depending on where you live, and rain is nowhere to be found.
There is rainfall in the winter, but still not often, meaning that Israeli authorities have had to work hard to create enough water sources for the increasing population.
On the plus side, the heat means that you can swim in the Red Sea or Mediterranean Sea all year round – and you’re going to want to.
The temperatures of these seas don’t drop below 63°F, and from May to December, they range from 68°F to 83°F.
3. You can expect an excellent level of healthcare
We recently ranked Israel as the fifth-healthiest country in the world – and its healthcare system has a large part to play in that achievement.
A 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ranked Israel’s healthcare 35th in the world – just six places below the US’s system.
The National Health Insurance Law guarantees universal coverage for all citizens and permanent residents, but you’ll still have a choice of four competing nonprofit healthcare plans – Clalit, Leumit, Maccabi, and Meuhedet – which all provide a set benefits package.
And the private insurance options are fantastic, with some of the best specialists in the world ready to treat any medical condition under the sun.
4. Israel is both extremely new and old
The State of Israel declared independence in 1948, which places it among the newest nations on Earth – but it’s also ancient.
Tribes settled there 3,500 years ago, building cities and infrastructure before the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah rose up about 3,000 years ago.
Since then, the land has been controlled and given up by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, Persians, Byzantines, Rashidun Caliphs, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Egyptians, Ottomans, and finally, the British.
There are countless sites that exist in the exact same state they were in thousands of years ago, including many religious locations.
5. This is the only Jewish state
There are more than a dozen countries where the state religion is Christianity, more than two dozen that are officially Muslim nations – and just one that’s Jewish.
This is part of the reason why Israel, which is in the smallest 25% when it comes to nation size, has such an oversized impact on global politics.
Officially Christian nations like Costa Rica, Greece, and the UK aren’t viewed as representing Christianity on a larger scale, but Israel doesn’t enjoy the same privilege.
This increases the pressure on Israel and its Jewish inhabitants, whose nationality, religion, and ethnic background all mix together to create a complex, usually intense relationship with their homeland.
Coming from the US, you’ll know only too well how tricky it is to combine religion and politics. Now imagine the political atmosphere if America was the only Christian-majority nation in the world.
This site in Jerusalem is incredibly important to many Jews and Muslims
6. This land is holy to many different groups
But of course, Israel isn’t just religiously important to millions of Jews – it’s also a crucial site for both Christians and Muslims.
Jerusalem is an incredibly holy city. Every year, millions of Jews visit the 2,000-year-old Western Wall, which is the last remaining structure of the Second Jewish Temple.
Behind this wall is the Foundation Stone, which is generally considered to be the holiest site in Judaism, and is also extremely important in Islam.
Both religions believe that the stone marks the spot where the creation of the world began, where God created the first human, and where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac under God’s orders.
In Judaism, it’s also the location where God’s divine presence manifests more than any other, and in Islam, it’s where Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven began.
The stone lies in the middle of the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, which is the oldest existing Islamic monument.
Jerusalem is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits on the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified, and also contains Jesus’s empty tomb, where he died and was resurrected.
In the West Bank, you can find Jesus’s biblical birthplace of Bethlehem and the Valley of Elah, where David defeated Goliath, while the Sea of Galilee in the north is where Jesus enlisted four of his apostles and performed miracles.
7. Living costs are high
Israel consistently ranks in the top 10 of the most expensive countries to live in – well above the US – so be prepared to carefully monitor your spending.
It also doesn’t help that $1 will currently get you around 3.20 shekels – the worst exchange rate for Americans since 1996. So if you’re looking to get a beer at your local bar, for instance, it’ll typically cost $9.
The good news is that public transport is widely available and affordable, both in cities and between them, as long as you don’t mind being in a sherut (shared taxi) with around eight other people.
But clothes, food, and utilities – to mention just a few items – are expensive, so make sure you negotiate yourself the highest wage possible.
8. Be aware of the Israel-Palestinian conflict
If you think there’s a simple solution – or a good and bad side – to this ongoing struggle, you need to educate yourself before you come to Israel.
The conflict, which originated even before the establishment of Israel in 1948, has extremely complicated psychological, religious, and cultural roots.
Since just 2008, it has claimed more than 6,000 lives, and touched the lives of every single Israeli and Palestinian.
The important point to remember is that both peoples want peace – a fact supported by polling from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research – and both deserve freedom and security.
Multiple leaders on the two sides have let their people down over the decades, to the extent that there is currently no end in sight to the conflict.
So be sensitive, try to ignore people with extreme opinions, and learn as much as you can before venturing an opinion.
9. LGBT people can feel safe here – mostly
Israel is by far the most LGBT-friendly country in the region.
Same-sex marriages are recognised – though not performed – same-sex couples are allowed to adopt, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 1992.
Adults can also receive gender reassignment surgery and treatment for gender dysphoria for free through the national healthcare system, though they must first spend a year convincing the Gender Reassignment Board that they are transgender.
Transgender people also don’t have to undergo reassignment surgery to change their legal gender on ID cards.
Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of equality for same-sex couples, with 73% of respondents in a 2021 poll saying that they should have the same rights as straight couples. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem host annual pride parades that attract tens of thousands of attendees.
Watch out for strictly religious people of all faiths, though, as many are intolerant of anyone expressing their LGBT identity.
But hey, that’s often true in the US as well.
10. The food is outstanding
Hopefully you’ve already experienced the joys of Middle Eastern cooking – but if not, you’re in for a glorious, unending treat.
Grab some mouthwatering falafels from a street cart, either in a pocket-sized pita or the thicker, larger laffa bread, and prepare yourself for an intense, rapid-fire question and answer session about your salad and sauce preferences.
If you don’t like spice, make yourself clear. If they ignore your English, say לא חריף (“loh harif”).
Wander further down the street and order yourself a shawarma laffa, before watching as your delicious meat is gently coaxed from the vertical rotisserie into its soft, bready home.
Another excellent meal that fits in a pita or laffa is sabich, which involves slices of fried aubergine and hard-boiled eggs, topped with tahini sauce and Israeli salad, which is made from chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
For a snack, grab a couple of bourekas – a light pastry with a variety of fillings like feta cheese and mashed potato – and consider dipping them in hummus or baba ganoush, a spread made of mashed, roasted eggplants.
Next, find a restaurant that serves shakshuka, a delicious combination of tomato sauce and poached eggs.
And for dessert, order some rugelach, a delicious pastry that’s usually filled with chocolate.
Shakshuka is the delicious breakfast you never knew you needed
11. People are welcoming, not polite
Israelis are generally extremely hospitable – most households you visit will ply you with food and drink, demand you stay for dinner, and possibly try to marry you off with a family member.
This direct approach to social situations has a flip side, though: Israelis won’t hesitate to speak their mind, or disregard your input if they think you’re being circuitous or silly.
So get ready to be interrupted, talked over, or told your ideas are stupid by everyone from business partners to waiters, and cut off while you’re driving and waiting in line (queuing in Israel is a fantasy).
There’s only one solution: be assertive. Express your needs and opinions in all situations, without apologising for them. People will expect it, and welcome it.
12. Prepare yourself for an expressive culture
You can also adapt to this way of communicating by adopting the Israeli speaking style, which is typically loud, concise, and accompanied with continuous hand gestures.
Remember that Israelis aren’t mad at you or anyone, they’re just talking in their normal fashion.
And be ready for locals to use physical contact as a means of showing affection or agreement – if you get a punch on the arm, you’ve made a friend.
13. Israelis love the US
We’re not sugarcoating this: Israelis really are gigantic fans of America.
A world-leading 83% of people in Israel have a favorable view of the US – which is higher than the 81% of Americans who view the US favorably.
That doesn’t mean people will automatically love you, but the odds are in your favour.
14. Multiple political parties govern together
No single party has ever won a majority of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
The country uses proportional representation, rather than the US’s first past the post system, meaning a government must have a majority.
This necessitates a coalition between multiple parties who hold at least 61 seats between them. In recent years, this has meant anywhere from four to 10 parties governing together.
Sometimes this means the smaller parties have a disproportionate amount of influence over new legislation, but at least it means that your vote will never be wasted.
15. Scientific innovation is a source of pride
Israelis have won more Nobel Prizes per person than the US, France, and Germany, with 12 winners overall – half of which have been awarded for excellence in chemistry.
An emphasis on innovation in science has led to Israelis creating inventions that prompted significant advances in their fields.
Israelis invented the flexible stent, medications that treat Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, and an augmented reality headset that gives surgeons a real-time, 3D, x-ray view of a patient’s spine.
Israel is mostly desert – which has made constant scientific innovation necessary
16. Israel has the military draft
Since 1949, all Israelis have had to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including permanent residents who weren’t born in the country.
That means that if you’re under 28 years old when you arrive in Israel, you may well have to serve in the military.
Expats don’t have to spend as long in the IDF as citizens do, but you’ll still have to serve for 18 or 24 months, depending on your age.
However, the number of people joining the IDF has dropped sharply in recent decades, as the military pivots away from boots on the ground to technological methods to combat terrorism.
Strictly Orthodox Jews and Arab-Israelis are excluded by law, but even among those who are legally compelled to serve, less than half end up actually joining the military.
17. Shops aren’t open on Shabbat
There are exceptions to this rule, but in general, don’t plan to go to a restaurant, bar, or shopping complex between Friday and Saturday’s sunsets.
And because of Shabbat, Friday and Saturday form the weekend in Israel for most companies – so if you’re planning a weekend event, avoid the Shabbat rush and buy your party supplies on Thursday.
Sunday will mark the beginning of your week, and you’ll start saying “thank goodness it’s Thursday.”
18. The new year begins in September
Rosh Hashanah (translation: head of the year) marks the Jewish new year, and is a national holiday in Israel.
It’s marked with synagogue services, family meals, and by eating sweet things in the hope for a sweet new year. The most common practice is to dip apple slices in honey.
If you’re invited to a party, we’d encourage you to attend.
And don’t worry – the January 1st new year that you’re probably more accustomed to is also widely celebrated in Israel.
19. Yom Kippur is incredibly quiet
The Jewish day of atonement, which happens 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, is also a national holiday – and whether or not you observe it, it’s extremely peaceful.
If you don’t join the millions praying and fasting in synagogue, it may feel like a tranquil apocalypse has taken place – like the rapture happened, and you’re the only one left.
You can use this time to visit any free tourist sites that are usually too crowded, walk through the almost completely empty streets, and generally pretend you’re the only person in your city.
20. This is an entrepreneurial nation
Israel has long been dubbed the Start-up Nation, and the moniker still applies.
This country of nine million people is home to more than 6,800 start-ups, and many of them – including Waze, WeWork, and Gett – have become massive break-out successes.
Of the 810 unicorns (start-ups valued over $1 billion) worldwide, 18 are Israeli. That means Israel has produced 2.2% of all unicorns, despite its population making up just 0.1% of the number of people on Earth.
21. Israelis love getting outdoors
Depending on where you live in Israel, people will ask you to come along for one of many different types of outdoor activity, from hiking and cycling to windsurfing, scuba diving, and other water sports.
If you like your exercise to be competitive, get involved in the two most popular sports in the country: soccer and basketball.
Go see professional matches and soak in the passionate, occasionally aggressive atmosphere, and jump into local games. It’s a great way to make friends.