I made aliyah with my husband, 3 kids and 3 dogs nearly 4 and a half years ago.
We’ve had our ups and downs, but overall, it’s been good for us all. There are some things, however, which I wish I’d known before we made the big leap. Even now, over 4 years on, I’m still finding things out which I wish someone had told me sooner. With this in mind, I decided to write a blog to help those in the same position as me.
Below is a list of things which no one tells you when you make aliyah. It’s by no means exhaustive, although I’ve tried to include as much helpful information as possible for everyone, regardless of where you’ve come from. Much of this information has been gleaned from my own experiences and those of people who have been kind enough to share theirs with me.
The list is divided into sections for ease of reference. Towards the end you’ll find a section called ‘random stuff’ which contains some of the weird and wonderful things which you’ll discover or need here in Israel.
I’d like to thank each and every one of you who has contributed to this blog by sharing your experiences, both good and bad, with me. It’s very much appreciated.
If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the article and I’ll do my best to help you or alternatively, point you in the right direction.
Finally, for all of you who have recently made, are in the process of making or considering making aliyah, good luck or ‘B’hatzlacha’ as we say here in Israel!
- Dealing with bureaucracy… expect it to take twice as long as you’d expect and then expect to be told you’re missing something and you have to go back. Be pleasantly surprised when something goes right but don’t expect it.
- Be prepared to do only 1 thing in a day etc as everything official can take an age, although in fairness there have been significant improvements in recent years.
- No is an opening suggestion, not a final answer. In government offices, no means ask again, maybe means yes and yes means I’ll do it wrong!
- You’ll often be called by your middle name instead of your first name in official offices.
- Government agencies such as Bituach Leumi (social security) and Misrad Hapanim (Interior Ministry) often don’t work together. The right hand won’t know what the left hand is doing…unless you owe them money!
- Municipal offices, for example where you get your driver’s license in Netanya are often tucked away in little malls that have gone out of business.
- You’ll be given an identity number (teuda zehut or t”z) when you arrive. Learn it by heart as you’ll be asked for it all the time.
Health and Medical Service Providers (Kupat Cholim)
- This is your medical service provider. The 4 main providers are Maccabi, Clalit, Leumit and Meuhedet. The level of service provided by each varies from city to city, so do your research to see which is best for the area you live in before you make your choice.
- If you’re not happy with your kupat cholim you can change, so don’t panic.
- Try and find an English speaker who you can go to in your kupat cholim. Life will be easier that way.
- Preventative medicine is practised here, so don’t be surprised if your GP wants you to have blood tests every so often.
- The medical system here is excellent and relatively cheap, so take advantage of it. Even the most basic tier of your Kupat cholim will afford you a wide range of excellent medical services. Dental/orthodontic services may require a higher level so do your research before deciding which tier is the best for you.
- You can book appointments directly with some specialists as you don’t need a referral from your GP. These include gynaecologist, dermatologist etc… If you need to see someone, make enquiries first to see what the position is in order to save yourself time.
- Bring as much as you can with you as it takes time to sign on with a doctor and you’ll need a prescription for many meds which you previously bought OTC. Regular painkillers eg. paracetamol (acamol) and ibuprofen are also very expensive here so stock up before you arrive. Antihistamine is also very costly and you might need it if, like me, you spend your first summer picking up allergies which you never even knew existed due to the change in the environment (I came from rainy Manchester which is a far cry from the hot and humid middle east!)
- How to find a job? Vitamin P or ‘protexia’ is a thing here in Israel. If you have connections, use them as they could prove to be invaluable, not just when looking for a job, but for everything!
- On the whole, wages are low here…even for professionals, like doctors and lawyers. Generally, high tech is thought to have the highest wages.
- Job interviews…call afterwards to let them know you want it (I wish I’d known that 2 years ago!).
- Many have found age discrimination to be an issue so please bear it in mind.
- Many UK and professional qualifications from other countries are useless here. Check before you come to see what the position is and whether you’ll have to take more courses or exams etc. before you can work here in your chosen field.
- Sadly, many have to give up their chosen careers when they move here as requalification can be prohibitively expensive and extremely difficult unless your Hebrew is excellent. Many simply take any job which they can find in order to make ends meet.
- Certificates…marriage, birth etc. Bring all in hand luggage and copies in your case.
- Get everything notarised before you come if you can.
Tech and Communication
- Fax machines are in common usage here in Israel.
- Printers are cheap here but cartridges are expensive.
- Phone tariffs are very reasonable, but it’s important to shop around for the best deals.
- Make sure you do your homework before signing up with one of the TV and internet providers, like HOT or YES otherwise you could end up paying for things for a very long time without even knowing (as we did)!!
- The facebook group LFSII Recommendations is helpful when you’re looking for recommendations and help for this sort of thing.
Facebook and Apps
- Use Facebook as much as possible to contact places such as customer services as very often they’ll get back to you.
- There are some extremely helpful Anglo facebook groups where you can find out information about almost anything and everything. Join as many as you can and don’t be afraid to ask if there’s something you need to know or you’re not sure about. Fellow Anglos will always be willing to help you.
- PANGO is an essential app if you have a car as you’ll need it when you’re parking.
- WAZE is another essential app…without it, you’ll get lost or end up sitting in horrendous traffic.
- DUOLINGO is a good app to help you get to grips with basic hebrew.
- GROO is Israeli Groupon, although it’s only in Hebrew so can be hard to navigate.
- GOOGLE TRANSLATE is essential…download it to your phone the minute you arrive!
Banks and Finance
- Banks vary from city to city. Check to see which local branch is the best in your area.
- Try and find an english speaker who you can go to in your bank. Life will be easier that way.
- Tashlomim… when making a payment, more often than not you’ll be asked ‘how many payments…?’. To my surprise this even applies in supermarkets when doing your weekly food shop. Simply put, you’ll almost always have the option to pay with split payments. These payments are generally interest free although it is always wise to double check before agreeing to split payments. Although this can be a potential financial trap, it can also help to spread out credit limits so you don’t max out at the beginning when you have to buy lots of new stuff. The number of payments are negotiable (like everything here). Be savvy.
School and University
- School uniform here comprises a plain t-shirt in any colour with the school badge and jeans, leggings, skirts, shorts etc. White t-shirts for school are needed for important days or ceremonies so make sure your child has a few of them too. Ask on a local facebook group where you can get the badge printed.
- Schools here are very informal. Teachers are called by their first names by all the kids.
- Class whatsapp groups for children, parents and teachers are very common. Use google translate if you don’t understand what’s going on.
- Don’t be alarmed if you get a call from your kid’s teacher… he or she might just want to chat or see how your child is feeling if he or she has had an off day. My eldest’s teacher called me a few years ago after the Manchester bomb to check if all of my family and friends were ok back there. The really do care!
- Most parents don’t send their kids to school when it’s raining (apart from us hardy Brits)!
- The end of year exams are called bagrut. These exams are taken during the last 2 years of school. Olim can do special olim bagrut, although this option seems to vary enormously from school to school. Check what’s available in your school and if necessary ask everyone and anyone you know how it works until you have a vague idea of how the system operates. Chances are, you’ll never fully understand it, so don’t fret.
- The middle/high school day normally starts at 8.00 and finishes any time from 12.25 until 16.00, depending on which year your child is in and the subjects he/she is studying.
- Primary schools have more regular hours, although bear in mind that they finish around lunchtime, so keeping small kids busy most afternoons is something which is your responsibility.
- If you want your kids to speak English, it’s your job to speak to them in English as much as possible. They’ll pick up Hebrew in school and with their friends.
- Join the facebook group, Anglo parents of Israeli Teens (12-20) for help and information.
- Wherever possible, try and get the money up front for your studies or paying university and all other bills could be a serious struggle.
- Make sure you know how the system works or you could end up missing out on a course you really want to do, eg. how and when do you sign up, what documents should you take etc.
- When you arrive, you can drive on your original license for up to 1 year. After that time you must either convert your original license to an Israeli one (this can be done without taking a test if you’ve held your original license for 5 years or more) or take lessons and a test to obtain an Israeli license.
- Make sure your original license has an issue date on it as you will need this date when you convert it to an Israeli license (if you are one of the lucky ones who can do this).
- Download WAZE and PANGO onto your phone…you’ll undoubtedly need them for directions and parking.
- Pink parking is another useful parking app, although as there’s no english option, I haven’t used it.
- DO NOT park on a pavement or red and white or you could end up with a hefty fine. Make sure you learn the parking rules in order to avoid some very costly lessons!
- As traffic here can be horrendous (especially at rush hour, holidays and Thursday afternoon/evening), use WAZE to avoid traffic jams and to find out the best times to travel somewhere. It also warns you when a police camera is ahead.
- BE CAREFUL on the roads. Driving here can be dangerous as everyone is in a hurry. Expect people to change lanes without indicating, beep at you if you don’t move immediately at traffic lights and pull into your lane without warning.
- Beware of electric bikes and scooters which weave in and out of the traffic, often carrying passengers!
- Be careful when crossing at pedestrian crossings without traffic lights. The cars won’t always stop for you.
- A jeep is any SUV.
- If you intend to get a car straight away get someone (parent or sibling etc) to add you to their insurance before you make aliyah so you don’t have a gap otherwise insurance becomes difficult and expensive.
- If you use your olim rights to buy a car, your kids won’t be able to drive it.
- No jaywalking…New Yorkers watch out!
- If you come here without a license and want to learn to drive once you get here, beware. It’s a very costly business. Learner drivers can’t learn on their parent’s or friend’s car (as they can in the UK). Instead learners are required to have at least 19x 1hour lessons at around 200shekels per hour, or 28x40minute lessons at 160 shekels each. In addition, an hour’s lesson is required before the test and the test itself costs in excess of 150 shekels. It’s not unusual for young drivers to fail their tests 2 or 3 times at least, so make sure you budget for this if you want to learn to drive here.
- People smoke in petrol (gas) stations. Unbelievable, I know, but most petrol stations have a small seating area tucked away to the side of the pumps where people can smoke!
- South African olim think that drivers here are careful and considerate and generally obey the road signs….I was a bit surprised to learn this, although it’s all relative, I suppose!
Goods and services
- Use price comparison sites like ZAP before buying big items such as a fridge or washing machine.
- You can call customer service, press 4 for English, wait 40 minutes and get somebody on the line who hangs up on you if you ask if she/he speaks English. Then you call again, press 1 for Hebrew, wait 30 seconds and get somebody that speaks English.
- Customer service or tech support will often have messages in Hebrew, Russian or Arabic, but often not English. Get a Hebrew speaking friend to help you…and if you don’t have one…find one!
- If you don’t like the answers from customer service just call back until you get the answer you want. Getting answers to simple processes or procedures can depend on who you ask and the time of day.
- EVERYTHING is negotiable.
- Be careful when a company cold calls you to offer you a deal. As the old saying goes, ‘If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!’
- LFSII Recommendations facebook group is often a good starting point when considering a purchase.
- Beware when purchasing anything here and don’t assume that you’ll be able to return it and get a refund or even a store credit if you need to. There’s not the same level of consumer protection here as there is in Britain or the US. Always check the store returns policy before you buy something otherwise you may be stuck with unwanted goods.
- Check the guarantee when you buy something and don’t assume that you’ll automatically get a 12 month guarantee as you would in Britain for example.
- Most cities and towns have dedicated anglo facebook groups, eg. Secret Netanya, Secret Tel Aviv etc. These groups can be helpful if you’re still considering where to live or things like schools and kupat cholim.
- Download Israeli newspaper apps so you can keep abreast with Israeli news and you’ll know what’s going on when you arrive. I have the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel apps which are both in english.
- All cereal is called cornflakes and Coke is soda but all other brands are referred to by their name.
- Signs in supermarkets for deals never apply to the things next to them on the shelves. Check codes carefully.
- 2 small packs are often cheaper than 1 large one.
- You have to pack your own groceries ( this will be a breeze for those Brits who have had the trauma of shopping in Aldi)!
- You have to pay for a trolley.
- Don’t be alarmed if you see someone vacuuming a pile of onions in a supermarket…they’re just hoovering up the loose skins.
- Israelis eat salad for breakfast.
- The fruit and veg can be a bit hit and miss…and food is generally very expensive. Berries are not readily available and expensive when they are.
- On the plus side, the rich and varied foods of the middle east are wonderful…don’t be afraid to try it!
- Try and learn as much Hebrew as you can before you come…use free apps like DUOLINGO and listen to Israeli radio stations. If you’re familiar with the language, you’ll find it less daunting once you arrive.
- Many Israelis will say they don’t speak English when they actually do…you’ll only find this out once you start trying out your pidgin Hebrew on them.
- Once you’ve gained the confidence to start speaking Hebrew in public, go for it! Don’t let the locals practice their English on you! Explain, if you have to, that you’re learning Hebrew and you want to try and speak it…most people are very encouraging.
- Go to ulpan and try your best to learn Hebrew as quickly as possible. Do whatever works for you in this regard. Some say watching TV works, others listen to Israeli radio. Unfortunately, I’m not the best person to advise on this issue as I’ve been here for over 4 years and barely speak a word of it, although I do subscribe to the mantra of my ulpan teacher…’you can only live half a life in Israel if you can’t speak Hebrew.’
- For children, the best place to learn Hebrew is at school. My children went to the local Israeli primary and high schools as soon as we arrived here. Undoubtedly it was tough for them as we threw them in at the deep end, however, they were all speaking good Hebrew within a couple of years.
Modern Israeli History
Learn about modern Israeli history before you come so you can see how the country got to where it is. This will make it easier for you to adjust. It’s important to understand that Israel is a truly unique country. Many Israelis, for example, have lost a loved one to war or terrorism. Another thing to appreciate is how the country went from being a third world country with food rationing to a world leader in technology in little more than 25 years.
Living in Israel will be completely different to anywhere else you’ve lived so be prepared to be amazed, surprised, angered, frustrated….you’ll experience every single emotion, probably every single day!
- Don’t assume it’s hot all year round. Israel has proper winters. You’ll need a coat and possibly gloves and a hat (depending on where you live). Parts of Jerusalem even have snow from time to time.
- The houses and apartments get very cold in winter as they’re not built for it. I spend from October to February complaining about being cold in the house. Sometimes it’s warmer outside than in.
- The summer sun is vicious and dangerous so be careful. Sunscreen is your friend, or better still, avoid the sun if you can (while making sure you don’t end up with a vitamin D deficiency, as many have here).
- Many Israelis visit a dermatologist once a year to check for any nasties… ask around to find a local dermatologist who works with your kupat cholim (medical service provider) in your area and book direct as you don’t need a referral from your GP.
Army service is compulsory for most school leavers and young adults, so it’s important to understand what’s involved if you fit that age bracket or if you’re making aliyah with your children. I don’t intend to go into details here, but if you’d like more information, please leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to help you.
Israel and the Middle East
- Although it may sound like I’m stating the bleedin’ obvious, Israel is in the Middle East. For many, making Aliyah feels like coming home, however, it’s possible that, as a westerner, you’ll feel like an alien here. One way to ensure a softer landing is to live in an Anglo community. Don’t put pressure on yourself to live and work amongst Israelis…do what is right for you and your family.
- Try not to compare Europe, US with here. It’s the Middle East.
- You were ‘Jew’ outside, but here you’ll be Russian, American, British, French etc.…all your life.
The “Natives” (!)
- Be prepared for people to give you unsolicited advice about your body, your hair, your kids, your job…EVERYTHING!
- Many Israelis won’t understand why you came to live here. You’ll often be asked why you left your great country which they dream of living in/visiting.
- As your kids become more assimilated, expect them to adopt the shoulder shrug coupled with the tut and the wait gesture (upturned hand with thumb and first and second fingers pressed together…if you’re not already familiar with it, you soon will be) when they go into gan (kindergarten). Also the head tilt for ‘no’.
- ‘Die’ in Hebrew means enough so don’t be offended if someone says this to you.
- Israelis don’t queue, they crowd. Even when you have a number, expect someone to be sitting on top of you when it’s your turn who will try to push in front of you.
- Although Israelis may appear brusk, I have found most to be extremely welcoming and helpful. Be careful though, as some may take advantage and use your naivety as an opportunity to rip you off. Don’t be a freier (wide eyed and trusting of everyone)…don’t accept the first offer, make sure you don’t get overcharged for things and don’t sign anything in hebrew, unless and until you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for!
- Join the facebook groups ‘Living Financially Smarter In Israel’, ‘Ask an Israeli Lawyer’ and ‘What’s the Law in Israel?’. If you’re unsure about something, just ask.
- No one, apart from Brits send their kids to school when it’s raining.
- Don’t expect everyone to be polite as they won’t be. If you have a problem however, most people will try and help you.
- The facebook group called Brits Living in Israel is a fantastic group where brits living here discuss all things British. If you’re considering making or have made aliyah from Britain, you should join.
- NI number… you may need it for certain things so remember to make a note of it before you come.
Screaming and Shouting
- Scream and shout if you have to! Sometimes it’s the only way to get things done here. Don’t expect people to listen if you don’t make yourself heard. Crying also helps.
- Exotic, weird, challenging… these are some of the words used to describe dating here…
- The toilet paper here is crap (pun intended).
- If you’re travelling by bus, don’t be surprised if the driver asks you for directions.
- Likewise, if you arrive during corona times, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to make up a minyan while on a daily stroll.
- You’ll be constantly cleaning your home because of dust.
- Space is limited here so remember that when schlepping your huge dining table or king size bed in your lift.
- As soon as you make aliyah your clothes shrink.
- Expect to see soldiers (often carrying their guns) everywhere, especially on a Friday or Sunday when they’re travelling to and from base.
- Dogs are very welcome everywhere.
- Toilet paper also means tissues and napkins.
- Don’t use your thumb to hitchhike. Use your index finger instead.
- A squeegee is a mop…Israelis use huge squeegees to clean the hard floors. There’s a knack to it which, unless you’re born here, you’ll never master!
- When you arrive at Ben Gurion airport, feeling exhausted, elated and a bit scared, you’ll be ushered to the Ministry of Absorption office upstairs. All of the documents which you’ll need will be prepared there for you and you’ll actually walk out of there as an Israeli, although you won’t have the passport yet. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that while you’re going through the process, someone in the office will write your name in Hebrew and that will be it. It’s a real struggle to have it changed if a mistake is made which you only realise later once your Hebrew improves a bit (or a friend points out that it’s been spelt wrong as happened in my case). Before you come, find out how to spell your name properly in Hebrew and make sure that’s how it’s spelt on your official documents. Argue if you have to (don’t be shy…everyone argues here)!
- Don’t count on the post being anything like it is in your home country particularly if it’s Britain or the US. The postal service here is very slow and unreliable. There have been times when it would undoubtedly have been quicker to deliver a parcel on foot rather than send it by post!
- When someone says, ““yehiyeh b’Seder” (it’ll be ok), be cautiously suspicious! As a friend of mine said, it’s generally said when we’re putting our heads in the sand while kissing our a***s goodbye!
- There’s no Sunday in Israel. Sunday is the start of the working and school week so don’t expect to have a lazy Sunday ever again, once you live here. Many people, however, don’t work on Friday and schools also close early then. Its still hard to get used to Sunday being a normal day… Not sure what Lionel Ritchie would say about it!
Family, friends and separation
- One of the hardest things which no one tells you, is how hard it will be to be separated from family and friends. It’s an ache which never leaves you. Facetime and whatsapp etc help, but it’s not the same….
Olim Hadashim (New Immigrants)
When you make aliyah, you’ll be an ola hadahsa, a new immigrant. Most Israelis originate from all corners of the globe. Israel is a wonderful melting pot of jews from all over the world as well as muslims (arabic is one of the official languages here and is taught in schools), christians, Bahai to name but a few.
If you follow Israeli politics, you’ll know that the country is fraught with difficulties and division. Racism rears its ugly head from time to time and there are deep divisions here in the society as a whole which can become ugly and dangerous. Many in the south are often under attack from rockets fired from Gaza for example, making life very difficult for those living there. We all have a mamad or safe room in our houses, apartments or offices. Kids in schools are taught what to do in the event of a rocket attack.
For most Israelis, however, daily life goes on as normal and in the main Israel is a safe and wonderful place to live and bring up children. Street violence is low, people look out for each other and the children are treated like they belong to us all.
The government provides benefits for those who make aliyah, including financial benefits which is undoubtedly a big help while you’re trying to find your feet in the early days of living here.
In short, making aliyah isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. It can however, be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience if you come fully prepared and know what to expect.
Finally, I’d like to share something with you which a wise woman wrote on a group called ‘Keep Olim in Israel’,
“Your children will NOT live the same childhood you lived. No matter how many times you take them to visit your family, they will not be Olim, so LET THEM BE SABRAS (even if you raise them to be somewhat polite sabras) and love them and their culture.
You want them to fit into THEIR world, not into yours. They need to like the songs their friends like, staying up all night on Lag Ba’Omer (though you can choose at what age, it won’t be 16 i promise), etc. They will serve in the army, and might even lose friends there. They need to be proud of Israel and not hear that it is a horrible place compared to wherever you grew up.
You can and should share your life story, your teenage experiences and music, but always remember that they are Israelis. And they might just marry Israelis, or olim from a country you never knew existed.”