While I can’t imagine a trip to the DMV is fun in any country, the process of converting your foreign license to an Israeli driver’s license may be one of the most convoluted, expensive, and bureaucratic processes you have to go through when moving to Israel. It involves multiple visits to various places and getting the appropriate rubber stamp at each office. Hopefully, this post will save you some time and anguish.
First off: you’re apparently permitted to drive in Israel for a year after arrival using your foreign license. This, however, doesn’t mean that if you borrow your friend’s car, the insurance of the car will cover you. Read the fine print (in Hebrew, naturally) on the policy. After a year, you’re no longer allowed to drive without an Israeli license, and if you do it’s illegal and no insurance policy will cover you.
The first step in the process is to obtain the necessary paperwork – essentially a green form which confirms that you are medically and visually fit to drive a car. Unlike in the States, this is not done at the DMV. You have to visit a Teldor or Marmanet store in your city (the “moked” can tell you where – call either 1-559-50-20-30 and/or 03-929-8587). Show up with your Teudat Zehut and Teudat Oleh (and any other documents that might be needed, like your passport). This store will issue you the correct form and will give you an eye test. I went to store at 139 Ibn Gvirol in Tel Aviv – it took almost no time and cost 50 shekels. I walked away with my form, my photograph printed into it, stamped with the eye test results.
The next step is to take this same form to a doctor to get a stamp indicating you are fit to drive. If you don’t already have a regular doctor, just call your Kupat Cholim’s moked and ask for an appointment with any family doctor. The Kupat Cholim covers the cost of the doctor’s visit.
Be sure that at both places, you get official stamps on the form – without them the DMV will not accept the form.
Next: take the form, your foreign driver’s license, your passport(s), your Teudat Zehut, and your Teudat Oleh to the DMV. Every DMV branch is different, but my experience at Holon (the branch responsible for Tel Aviv) should reflect what you’d go through elsewhere. First thing to check is what days they deal with Hamarat Reshiyon Zar (exchange of foreign driver’s license). In Holon, this is on Monday and Wednesday from 07:30 to 13:30, but definitely double-check. The DMV has a website, though most of the information is available only in Hebrew. Once at the DMV, ask the information desk which line to get in and then wait. When it’s your turn, the person will verify that your form is filled out correctly and that you have the right to exchange your license (meaning that your foreign license is not expired and was issued during the last three years). Once they sign your form the real fun begins.
In Israel, to exchange your license, you have to pass a road test. This requires finding a driving instructor because you cannot take the test with a private car – it must be the car of a licensed driving instructor. So to find a driving instructor, go around back the DMV and look for the aging men sitting under the tree. Any one of these guys will be happy to provide his car for your test. I used a guy called Sammy – he was reliable and friendly (just ask for him). Once you’ve selected an instructor, he (naturally) fills out more forms and will then schedule a date for your test. If you do not drive stick, make sure you find an instructor who has an automatic vehicle (and note that your license will indicate that you are not allowed to drive stick in Israel). At this point the instructor will convince you to take two lessons with him. Naturally, it’s all a ploy to get you to spend more money, but I took the classes and found them useful (I learned very little, but I entered into test mode). Each lesson should cost 90 shekels for a stick, or 100 shekels for an automatic.
When you set up the time for your test, the instructor should give you a bill for 58 shekels. This sum is used to pay the tester. You have to take this to any post office and pay the sum, or else the tester won’t show up to your test.
Typically you’ll have your second lesson right before the test, and this is also when you pay your instructor for the two lessons and for using his car to take the exam. To take the exam in his car costs 350 shekels. When you are taking your test and reach the end of the examination, the tester will not tell you if you passed (unlike in the States) – apparently they don’t like to be asked, either. You can call your instructor later in the day and have them check if you want to know.
You’re almost there. If you failed the test, you’ll have to show up and get your form back and schedule another test with an instructor. You get two chances total. If you fail the second time, you have to take 28 driving lessons (at 100 shekels a pop, that’s not something you want). If you passed the test, you show up and supposedly your temporary license is waiting for you (of course, when I showed up, it wasn’t ready because the tester forgot to sign the form). Either way, you have to show up in person and go back to the same line. Once you have your temporary license in hand, take it to any post office or bank and pay the 372 shekels to get your real license. Your permanent license is sent by mail – expect up to two months (mine took just over one month).
Again, the process is tedious, obnoxious, and expensive (50 – Eye Test, 100 – Lesson, 100 – Lesson, 350 – Examination, 58 – Tester, 372 – License = 1,030 shekels), but if you plan to drive in Israel, it’s necessary.
Drive safely, and feel free to post any questions in the comments of this post.