All the Money
So you’re all set for your big adventure, traveling to Israel, and you need to decide how you’re going to pay for everything you need while you’re there. This is my short guide so you can be confident you’ll have everything you need, the right balance of cash, credit cards, atm cards, and traveler’s checks (don’t use these!). For the quick answers without explanation just skip through and read the “SUMMARY” sections. Or skip to the ‘Checklist’ at the bottom of this page.
On travel forums the question is usually framed as, ‘How much cash should I bring?’ But really the answer to that depends on something else, credit cards. Almost everywhere in Israel accepts credit cards. There are two major credit card processing companies in Israel and they both accept Mastercard and Visa, so you can pay with these at almost any business. One accepts Amex and the other Diner’s, so it’s fine to bring these and ask to use them, but you’ll need backup. Amex is more commonly accepted than Diner’s. So go ahead and bring your Amex card but also bring a Visa or Mastercard. With those you can pay for almost anything and in a pinch you can even take out cash from a ‘Change’ place for a fee using your credit card.
Even if you plan to use only Visa or Mastercard, bring at least two cards with you. Sometimes a credit card company will see foreign charges on your card and block the card. To avoid this you should contact your credit card company before the trip and inform them of the dates you will be in Israel. Even so, sometimes a card will get flagged and you will want a backup. It may take as much as a full day before you get a chance to call your credit card company, and best to avoid needing to do so urgently.
SUMMARY: Bring at least 2 credit cards. Be sure at least one of them is a Visa or Mastercard. Inform your bank and card company about your travel dates and destination.
How Much Cash Should I Bring?
Most tourists in Israel will need very little cash during their stay. As mentioned above most stores, restaurants and all national parks and most attractions accept credit cards. However you will need cash for tips, which most restaurants do not accept on the credit card. If you are hiring a tour guide or other independent service provider check with them to see if they accept credit cards (I do). If not you will want to bring enough cash to pay them with you to avoid having to stop at ATMs multiple times to take out large amounts of cash. For more on how much to tip see my article on that subject here. If you plan to buy from artisans or street fairs you will also need cash in many cases.
Other than large expenses you know about ahead of time you don’t need to bring much to start, I suggest about $200. Because…
There’s Always an ATM
We have lots of ATMs, and they accept internatinal bank cards. You will be able to take cash out in any city in Israel. In a pinch you can also get cash from a hotel’s front desk or a change place, both of which give inferior rates.
There is one big exception to this. If your bank/debit card has a pin code that is more than 4 digits our ATMs will not accept it. Some American banks now have 6 digit pin codes and this is a problem. If this is the case for you I suggest charging a disposable card to use for this purpose during your trip.
SUMMARY: Bring about $200 in cash, plus any cash you know you’ll need for large expenses (tour guide in some cases, wedding photographer, etc.), and a bank/debit card with a 4 digit pin code.
Why So Little Cash?
Israel is a relatively safe place to travel. The cities are not swarming with pickpockets like the shuks (bazaars) in many of our neighboring countries. But nonetheless it does happen here sometimes. Of course, this wouldn’t happen to you because you’re so responsible, but someone in your group may misplace or forget a wad of cash somewhere along the way as well. In any case you don’t want to be in a position where you have to both report a bunch of lost cards and be out large amounts of cash and be stuck in a foreign country with an empty bank account. In an emergency you can have cash sent by your bank instantly by Western Union and pick it up from any branch of the Israeli postal service.
So, why not bring some travelers’ checks just in case? Because nobody will accept them, changing them for cash is a pain, and they’re just as likely to get stolen as your credit cards. That is, credit and debit cards can fill the same role of making money available to you in a way that cannot be easily stolen (because you can cancel/freeze them) without the added costs of travelers checks.
SUMMARY: Bring minimum cash in case of loss or theft. Do not bring travelers checks.
Before you head out to the airport, do or bring:
- $200 in cash, plus cash for any large expense you know of (guide, photographer, etc.).
- 2 credit cards. At least one of which should be a Mastercard or Visa.
- Bank/Debit card with 4 digit code (if your card uses a 6 digit code get a ‘disposable’ one to charge and bring with you)
- Contact your bank and credit card companies to inform them about the dates of your trip
Do not bring:
- Travelers checks
- More cash than necessary
Get in Touch
If you’d like to find out more about my tours, ask a question, or get in touch for any other reason feel free to get in touch via the form below. Enjoy your trip!