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Israel Survival Tips: Part 3 – Driver’s Licenses

14 Nov

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.

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Israel Survival Tips – Part 2: Transportation

12 Jun

This is more of a Tel Aviv survival tip, though parts of it should apply to other parts of Israel as well. In any country, getting around is crucial. Given Israel's small size, it's not too hard or expensive to get around – certainly when compared with transportation in the United States. I've picked up some general knowledge about and have some suggestions for getting around in Tel Aviv and Israel, and I'll share them with you here.

Taxis: Personally, while definitely the fastest way to get from place to place, I despise taking cabs in Israel. As in most countries, the cab drivers in Tel Aviv are rude and always looking to scam you. If you know your way around, you're generally fine since you can call the cab driver on it if he tries to take you for a ride. Otherwise, you're more or less at his mercy – pretend like you know where you're going. You can either agree to "moneh" (meter) or you can request a fixed price. I think the latter is illegal, but almost every cab driver loves to do it. Generally you can get 5 shekels knocked off the price if you bargain and know how much the ride should cost. If you live somewhere where there aren't cabs driving around, you can call any cab company and they'll have a cab at your door quickly. I have had good luck with "Kastel." Note: cab drivers are allowed to and do tack on extra money for additional passengers, travelling late at night, and for luggage. Another note: inter-city travel is not charged with the meter – there is a fixed rate between every two cities in Israel.

Trains: I've only taken the train once and it was a very pleasant experience. While not cheap, nor particularly frequent, if the train goes where you need to go, it's easy and fast. In particular for destinations like Haifa and Be'er Sheva, it's a good way to go. Their website provides useful information.

Subway: The Tel Aviv subway does not exist, but supposedly there are plans to build one, mostly with routes to the neighboring suburbs. The intended completion date is 2012, but whenever I discuss the subject with anyone, I just get a hearty chuckle and some rolled eyes.

Inner-city buses: Tel Aviv's buses are actually excellent – fairly cheap and reliable. Depending on the route, the bus can take forever, stopping everywhere, or it can be an express, reaching your destination relatively quickly. Most buses start and end at a bus terminal – Reading, Carmelit, Arlozorov, or the central station. My biggest gripe is that if you need to take two buses, you have to pay two fares – most cities (San Francisco, NYC, Chicago, Amsterdam) in the world offer free or cheap transfers. Because of this, if you need to take two buses and have a travel companion, you're sometimes better off taking a cab. There are, however, some ways to save money if you ride the bus often. One is a "kartisiya" – a prepaid pass of ten rides. The price comes to about a shekel less per ride. When you get on the bus, just ask for a "kartisiya". From then on, just hand the driver the pass, and he'll punch a hole in one of the rides. Another option if you ride more than twice a day, every day, is a "hofshee hodshee" – a monthly pass. These cost about 200 shekels for the one-zone pass and offer you a great deal of freedom. These are also available for purchase from the bus driver. Personally, I like unlimited passes in any city, but in Tel Aviv especially – it's a great way to get to know the bus system and the city itself, as you can just hop on any bus without thinking about the money. The biggest problem with buses in Israel, however, is that they stop at midnight (or earlier), and do not run on Saturdays or holidays.

Inter-city buses: I've taken several of these. They are almost always on time, reliable, and comfortable coaches. The beautiful thing is that you can get almost anywhere in Israel on a bus.  In Tel Aviv, long distance buses leave from Arlozorov or the "new" central station (it's not so new, it's just newer than the old one).  Some buses, like Tel Aviv to Kfar Saba leave from the Carmelit depot.

Shared taxis ("monit sherut"): This is by far my favorite means of transportation. Cheaper than a single ride on a bus, shared taxis ply popular routes much more frequently than buses, with fewer people, fewer stops, and a more direct route. They also run later than any bus and travel on Shabbat and holidays. They are large, typically yellow, vans with a taxi sign on top. You can hail it just like a cab from any bus station on the route it travels. If it doesn't stop, it's full. When you get on, ask the driver how much it costs to your destination as you are boarding – some times they'll try to overcharge you by a shekel if you don't know the price, but usually not. Within the city it's 5 shekels.  You can pay once you are seated – just pass the money to the person in front of you. The only problem with shared taxis is that there aren't many routes – if there are none going where you need to go, you're out of luck. However, they're so good that I often walk 20 minutes just to take one – the advantages make up for it.  It's also a good means of getting between cities (Natanya and Tel Aviv, for instance).

In general, getting around Israel is easy once you know your options. The Dan and Egged websites are good resources, as are their telephone support options. If you have any questions, maybe I can help – just post a comment.

Have a nice trip.