Comparing the Cost of Living in Israel to America

As an oleh chadash from the USA, I am often asked the same question from Israelis. Why choose to come live in Israel from the USA?  Why would you leave America?  Israelis have a skewed opinion of the USA. They are certain that the grass is greener — that all people do in the USA is sit around and drink coffee. My theory is that the Israeli understanding of American culture comes from watching the television series “Friends.”

But what I have come to learn is that these Israelis aren’t really asking me why I left the USA. These Israelis aren’t at all interested in listening to me. They are just looking for an opportunity to complain to somebody about their life in Israel. Mostly it is about how expensive everything is. I listen. I am a new immigrant and I don’t have many friends. It is nice just to have somebody who wants to talk to me.

But now that I blog, I have my own audience. So I want to take the opportunity to share what I have learned are the real differences in the cost of living between Israel and the USA. This can serve as a guide for other olim chadashim.

The first thing to note is that while whiskey is very expensive in Israel, arak is quite affordable. It takes time to develop a taste for either beverage. But if you are living in Israel, it is worth the investment to develop a taste for arak.

Next, over the counter medications are more expensive in Israel but prescription drugs are less expensive. So if you have a headache in Israel, you should go to a doctor and get him to prescribe you aspirin. Or you should just drink more water, because you are probably just dehydrated from all the arak you are drinking.

Which leads me to health care. I have nothing funny to write about health care in the USA. It is not funny. Health insurance is just way too expensive in the USA. If you don’t qualify for medicare, you better stay healthy.

Housing is expensive both in Jerusalem and in New York City. I don’t know how you can afford to live in Jerusalem if your last name isn’t Strauss. I don’t know how you can afford to live in Manhattan if your last name isn’t Trump. I know how the Strauss family makes their money, there are more ice cream stands per square foot in Israel than there are hot dog stands in Manhattan. (statistics from my imagination) I still don’t know how Trump makes his money. I keep reading about Trump partnerships going bankrupt.

If you want to find an inexpensive home in Israel, live in the Negev. In the USA, you can live in the equivalent of the Negev and find cheap housing. The USA equivalent is called Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Colorado. Although, since marijuana has recently been legalized in Colorado, expect things to get high there. Surprisingly, the cheapest place to get a home is in the most beautiful state of the USA, Tennessee. Tennessee has the Smoky Mountains and beautiful lakes and waterfalls but nobody wants to live there because it is full of people from Tennessee.

Child care is much less expensive in Israel than in the USA. Also, in Israel, child care continues past age 18 in the form of army service. Not only do Israelis have the government teaching your teenager responsibility, he or she gets a small stipend along with free room and board. In the USA, we spend a fortune to send our children to college where they may learn responsibility but are sometimes equally likely to learn how to party. Besides, I don’t know where it is more dangerous for your child, the Israel Defense Forces or a college campus in the USA. If you want to learn more about college life in the USA, watch the documentary film, “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

Bathroom fixtures and electrical appliances are all less expensive in the USA. But plumbers and electricians are much cheaper in Israel. In the USA, when the appliance breaks, it is cheaper to just go ahead and buy a new one. In Israel, appliances get passed down from generation to generation.

In the end, it comes down to choices. In Israel, I don’t get to drive a big car or live in a big house. But my wife promises me that size doesn’t matter. She says that she is happy living in Israel.

Keeping my wife happy is worth every shekel.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.