As already written in the intro, I’m currently planning my 3rd move to a different country in as many years, and I realised how much I appreciated it when I managed to find useful information online on all these questions that pop up in the beginning, and/or before you actually arrive: apartment hunt, how to get a mobile contract, how to get a bank account etc. So, I like to try and write some information down on these points, as I very much relied on finding some blog or the like that could give me a hint for my international moves. I’ll start with a post on stuff that might help to get settled in Jerusalem:
From September 2014 until August 2015 I am a Postdoc at the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, so, whatever I write here, is more likely for an international, not Hebrew speaking, temporary resident of Jerusalem. Some things (like mobile contract) may be helpful for anyone moving to Israel, but most stuff is Jerusalem specific. Also, keep the time frame in mind to guess how up-to-date the information actually is.
First tip: Don’t start your search too early. I like to be well organised in advance (I am German after all), but Israelis do not think about moving months in advance, that is, think weeks rather than months!
Whenever you see some ad, that will most likely be the rent only. You’ll have to add utilities (gas, internet, house) and Arnona (a tax on housing, paid by the tennants). I ended up looking mostly on facebook in several groups, mainly as I at some point decided to look for a place with roommates, possible groups:
Jerusalem is not exactly cheap, be prepared to pay 1600-2000 Shekels for a room with shared bath in an apartment.
For me looking for roommates was a good decision, in particular looking for Israeli roommates: for example when you want to pay the Arnona for the first time, you’ll have to go to the municipality, and without Hebrew or Arabic knowledge it will already be very difficult to draw the number for the correct line (yes, queues are often organised by numbers here, in the bank, at the post office, … and it is necessary ;)). And at least at the counter we ended up, Hebrew was the language option.
Arnona: you also can pay it on the phone, IF you do speak Hebrew or Arabic, and, if you happen to have a passport number (German passports have more letters than digits in the passport number, something that resulted in problems several times, see below).
Oh, and one thing about the winter here: it snows, but you might have a bathroom without heater! 🙂
Getting a mobile contract in Israel is very easy, and, in comparison, very cheap. Before I arrived I searched a bit, and opted for Golan Telecom – for 99 Shekels you get unlimited calls and SMS, 20GB, PLUS: calls to 56 countries, which, if you like to talk to your family and friends, you’ll probably value as much as I do.
Also getting the contract was very easy: The day after my arrival I went to a shop (BUGS is selling it for example), I needed my passport, an address and a credit card, and left with a new SIM card that was working about 30 minutes after activation.
As mentioned above: a lot is linked with your passport number. If you happen to come from a country like Germany, where the passport number is not only digits, you’ll have funny experiences (like in the shop for the SIM where they handed around my passport among the staff and couldn’t stop laughing), but also some problems: for some things people will just make up some number based on your passport number (mobile contract, arnona…) – try to remember it! Other things become simply impossible: paying many things in Israel online or via the phone with your credit card, like arnona, gas bills, concert tickets, … On some occasions you might get around this difficulty by simply using a 7-digit number (possibly starting with a 1).
I also went to open my bank account the day after I arrived – it was way more complicated than the mobile contract.
I did get an account, but had to wait for a card that enabled me to just access the banks ATMs for about 2 months, and for a credit card nearly 6 months.
If you want to transfer money to another country, at least at the bank I chose, Israel Discount Bank, you won’t be able to do so online, but, you’ll have to go to your branch, and your clerk will do it.
Important things first: you will have noticed by now that public transport stops running Friday afternoon, and starts again Saturday night.
For using busses and the light rail you should get a Rav Kav Card, and you can also load train tickets on this card etc.
You can get the Rav Kav Card from a bus driver. You can upload money either in cash with a bus driver or in cash or with a credit card at every stop of the light rail.
Currently, there is only one light rail line, but it is nice!
For planning a trip in Jerusalem, I came to love this app.
If you want to travel to some other parts of Israel: I prefer the trains, but the network is limited, and, in particular, the train from Jerusalem is very slow, though the ride is very scenic. You can plan your trip on the Israel Railways homepage.
Busses run way more frequent and to more places (but if you are tall, they are very uncomfortable), often it’s Egged, but if you want to include all companies in your search try http://www.bus.co.il/.
Another transport option, if you do not own a car, are taxis, for transport in Jerusalem you’ll pay something between 30 and 50 Shekels. And you can either call a taxi (also on Shabbat), or just stop one on the street.
For Shabbat, they also started a Shabbat bus this year, you have to become a member and they have a predefined route, you’ll have to look into this if it helps you from your neighborhood.
If you want to buy a bike: when I arrived I started looking in the city center’s bike shops, but my very limited (as in non-existent) Hebrew at the time, and the very limited English of people in the shops made it difficult. I eventually found a shop owned by an American Olim, Moshe, called bikewayshop, at Kanfei Nesharim st. 68. He offered to buy the bike back after a year for half the price. I ended up not getting a bike, as a knee injury got worse, and I can’t ride a bike, but I tried bikes there.
My experience is probably not that helpful here: if you happen to work or study at Givat Ram, there is the Cosell Center, with a nice pool for doing your laps. You can get a yearly or monthly (420 Shekels) membership and even pay for single visits (but with 50 Shekels that’s very expensive) when you a University ID.
In general: if you swim most pools will have seperate times each day for women only and men only swimming – beside the normal mixed swim. Be aware of that when you plan your exercise.
And if you like to swim, try to do so at the pool at the YMCA – it’s interestingly different.
The post, or in Hebrew דואר ישראל has quite a few offices all over town. I made the experience that post/packages from and to Germany take quite some time (and I do not know if that is due to the German or the Israel post), but registered mail was always very reliable, there are different versions (about 10 weekdays and cheaper, and about 3-4 weekdays and more expensive), and you can track them.
If you need to extend your visa, you have to get an appointment, and go to the office at 1 Shlomzion HaMalka Street (see map) in person. Getting an appointment is kind of difficult, if you call (*3450), you can choose in a menu without English option, if you go to the office, you might get lucky and get an appointment (a friend did), or you might not (I did not). So, the acceptable version is to fill out this form (maybe with the help of a native speaker), and then you get a call back where you can make an appointment.
Independent of how you get an appointment, it will be about 4 weeks waiting time.
You can download the necessary form for a student visa here, be sure to check which documents you’ll need.
I’ll stop for now, and add something later, in case I managed to forget sth., which I most likely did 🙂
I hope this helps someone – enjoy your stay in Jerusalem, enjoy Israel!