Traveling to Israel in the COVID Era

Navigating Israel’s new entry regulations

This post is intended for those who are planning to travel from the US to Israel for the Shiloh dig in January

Traveling to Israel has gotten a lot more difficult since the advent of COVID-19. I know that a lot of you who are planning to come to Israel for the Shiloh winter dig probably have questions about how to navigate all of Israel’s new entry requirements.

Since I just went through the process, I thought I would share a step-by-step list of what I had to do in order to enter the country. I realize that the regulations are changing fast, and this information might be obsolete by January, but I thought it was worth a try.

At the bottom of this page, I’ve included a list of links to websites that you should find helpful. I’ve also linked to pertinent pages where I reference them throughout.

Before Departure

You must have current COVID immunity (with one exception).

According to the Ministry of Health‘s Entry to Israel page, Israel recognizes two forms of immunity and one exception to the rule:

  • Vaccination
    • If you go this route, you must have had two doses of the vaccine (or one dose of Johnson and Johnson) within the past six months. If it has been more than six months since you have been vaccinated, you must have had the booster shot as well.
    • Your latest vaccine dose must be taken 14 or more before your departure.
    • In the US, they will not give the booster to anyone who has been vaccinated within the past six months. What this means is that there is a two-week window of time in which you cannot travel to Israel (this is the two weeks that follow the six month point after your original dose). Make sure that you plan ahead to time your vaccination doses so that the trip doesn’t fall within this time window!
  • Recovery
    • Israel also recognizes recovery from COVID. Since I didn’t go this route, I don’t have first-hand experience. It appears that you have to take a NAAT test at least 11 days before departure, and no more than 190 before your departure.
    • However, I’m not 100% sure that simply taking the test is enough, since the website mentions a digital certificate of recovery, and the United States is not on their list of countries that offer an acceptable certificate of recovery. If you’re hoping to go this route, you’ll have to look into it further.
  • Exception to the Rule
    • There is one exception to the vaccination/recovery rule. If you travel with a group of 5-40 people of which the group leader has has filed the proper paperwork, people who have had at least two doses of the vaccine (or one does of Johnson and Johnson) more than 6 months ago may enter the country even if they have not had the booster shot/recovered from COVID.
    • In this scenario, you are technically required to quarantine for seven days, but you can move about with your group as long as you have had a negative PCR test within the past 72 hours or a negative rapid test within the past 24 hours.
    • As of now, it appears that those who have not recovered or had any vaccine may not enter the country, although it is possible that they may enter and quarantine for 14 days. The regulations are unclear.

Within 36 hours before departure, you must take a PCR test

  • Make sure that you get the right type of test. It must be the PCR test.
    • You cannot take the test earlier than 36 hours before departure, but you must have the (negative) results by the time you check in for the first flight of your journey. Make sure that you get a test that will get you the results soon enough.
    • A digital copy of the results is sufficient.
  • Your passport number must appear on the test results. Make sure that you get tested at a place that will put your passport number on the test results.
  • There is one exception to the 72-hour rule: If you have tested positive for COVID no more than three months and no less than 11 days before your flight, you can present those positive results instead of taking a test within 72 hours of departure.

Within 48 hours before departure, you must fill out this entry statement form.

  • Good news: the form is in English, and it’s fairly straightforward and easy to fill out.
  • You will need to let them know your quarantine location in Israel and a valid Israeli phone number (you can give them Scott’s number or mine if you don’t have one). Make sure that you have this information by the time that you need it.
  • Once I filled it out, they sent me an email in Hebrew along with two attachments in English.
    • Make sure that the email, along with both attachments, are easy for you to access.
    • Either print them out or save them on your phone to a place where you can easily find them. Better yet, do both.

Book a COVID test at the Tel Aviv Airport

  • This is not required, but it is a good idea. You can book the test and pre-pay for it here (it costs 80 shekels if you pre-pay. I think it costs more at the airport). This will save you time and money in the airport when you arrive. They will email you a receipt. Make sure to print it or save it to a place on your phone where you can find it easily. Preferably both.

Initial Departure

When I arrived at the airport to check in for the first leg of my journey, they requested four documents, without which I could not check in. I hadn’t been aware that I would need all of these for the first leg of the journey, but since they checked me through to my final destination, they wanted to see them there.

  • Passport
    • Make sure that you have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your return from Israel.
  • Entry Statement
    • This is the email that you should receive after filling in the entry statement form. I showed them the email in Hebrew – not the attachments.
  • Vaccine Card
    • If you are going the vaccination route, you will need to show your vaccine card. Make sure that you have it with you. I suppose that this is where you would show the NAAT test results if you are going the recovery route.
  • Negative PCR COVID test results
    • You must show your negative COVID test results (and it must have your passport number on it).

Before Boarding the Direct Flight

If you are like me, and have a connecting flight, make sure that your connection is not too tight. You will need time to take care of a couple of things before you board your direct flight to Israel.

  • Travel Ready Stamp
    • About 2 hours before my direct flight boarded, I heard an announcement on the airport loudspeaker directing Tel Aviv passengers to get a “Travel Ready” stamp on their boarding passes. The airport loudspeaker was the only place that I received these instructions. If I hadn’t been paying attention, I wouldn’t have known to do this. I had to go to a specified gate (not the boarding gate, but one nearby it). I stood in line, and when it was my turn, they asked for five documents:
      • Passport
      • Boarding Pass
      • Incoming Statement (this is one of the attachments on the aforementioned email)
      • Vaccine Card
      • Negative PCR COVID test results
    • Once I showed them the documents, they stamped my boarding pass with “Travel Ready.”
  • Entering the boarding area
    • From my past experience with traveling to Israel, I knew that flights to Israel require additional security screening to enter the boarding area. About 1.5 hours before the flight time, they opened the boarding area. It’s a good idea to use the bathroom before entering the boarding area, because there isn’t usually a bathroom there. I also dumped out my water bottle before entering getting in line because they usually don’t allow liquids (beyond the prescribed quart of 3-oz bottles) through security.
    • First, I encountered an agent who wanted to see my passport and boarding pass. She specifically looked for the “Travel Ready” stamp on the boarding pass.
    • I have to say, this was by far the quickest and easiest boarding security that I can remember. I’m not sure if it was due to the location (Newark) or the carrier (United), or if they have just streamlined their process since the last time I traveled to Israel. I could tell horror stories of gate security that I’ve gone through while flying El Al Airlines. Here’s what happened this time:
      • When it was my turn, they directed me to place my carry-on on a table. There were a whole row of tables, so they could process multiple people at the same time.
      • They directed me to a security agent (there was a row of them, as well), who wanded me down. I didn’t even have to take off my boots.
      • Meanwhile, they ran a wand over my bag. They didn’t open it or anything.
      • The whole thing (apart from waiting in line) took less than two minutes. I entered the boarding area, and boarded the flight.

Arrival in Tel Aviv

Those of you who have traveled to Israel before are probably aware that passport control can be a hassle. They have made a few changes since the last time I was here, so I’ll describe the process.

  • After deplaning and entering the airport, I headed down the hall toward passport control. The airport is set up as a circular area with spokes. Departing passengers are in the lower level, while arriving passengers are upstairs. Just before I arrived at the central circle, I came to a row of machines. Each passenger had to scan his or her passport, then it took a photo of the passenger and printed out a blue border control slip (don’t lose this slip – keep it with your passport the whole time you are in Israel). The machine wouldn’t read my passport, and I had to go to a customer service desk to get my border control slip. I suspect that it was because I entered on a student visa rather than a tourist visa.
  • Once I had the border control slip, I proceeded around the circle, and down the famous ramp toward border control. You should stop to take a selfie on the ramp to prove that you’ve arrived in Israel.
  • Passport control was about like normal. You find a line for foreign passports and stand in line. Typically, when you get to the desk, they ask questions about why you are coming into the country, where you are staying, how long you will be there, etc. This time, they didn’t ask me any questions. Again, I suspect that was due to my student visa.
  • After passport control, you go through a little gate where you have to scan your border control slip. Make sure to put it back into your passport – you don’t want to lose it!
  • Next, collect your luggage at the baggage carousel.
  • After this, you can head toward customs and the airport exit. I always go through the green “Nothing to Declare” exit, because I don’t bring the kind of things that I would need to declare at customs.
  • After this, signs directed me to the left, toward a COVID testing area. I had already paid for my COVID test, so I didn’t have to stop and pay. I stood in line, and when it was my turn, I had to show my passport and my proof that I had paid for the test. They did a quick swab and sent me on my way.
  • According to Israel’s entry website, officials in the airport may conduct random document searches. This didn’t happen to me, so I can’t comment on it.

Quarantine

Upon my arrival in Israel, I was required to quarantine for 24 hours or until my test results came back negative, whichever was sooner. Here are a few things you should know:

  • You are allowed to use public transportation to get from the airport to your quarantine location.
  • Make sure that you quarantine at the location that you specified in your entry statement form.
  • You should get an email once the test results come back. Assuming that they are negative, you are free to leave quarantine.
    • There is one caveat, however. Some places in Israel (such as restaurants) require that you show a Green Pass to enter. My Green Pass, which was one of the attachments on the entry statement email, was not valid until the day after my arrival. So even though I wasn’t in quarantine, I couldn’t go anywhere that required a Green Pass until the next day (It didn’t actually make any difference in my case, though, because it was Shabbat, so nothing was open).
  • Ministry of Health: this is the first website that you should consult. They keep it up to date and it is fairly comprehensive. Here are several of their pages that will be particularly helpful:
    • Entry to Israel: This page provides a comprehensive list of entry requirements.
  • Entry Statement Form: You must fill out this form within 48 hours of departing for Israel.
  • Test & Go: You can save time in the Tel Aviv airport by pre-paying for the required COVID test.

One response to “Traveling to Israel in the COVID Era”

  1. […] may also want to read this post I wrote a few months ago. A lot of the COVID information is outdated, but I included other, more […]

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