Israel, ranked 23rd in the Human Development Index, has a high life expectancy (80.9 years for women, 76.7 for men), thanks partly no doubt to its modern health system, with its high physician to patient ratio, and reputation for advanced medical techniques and research. This reputation is actively promoted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, which has had some success in making Israel a popular destination for medical tourism- 15,000 foreigners visited Israel to have medical procedures in 2006, which brought the country $40 million dollars in revenue.
In 1995 the National Health Insurance law was passed, ensuring that all permanent residents of Israel would be insured for a standardized basket of medical services, including hospitalization, with one of four comprehensive health-care funds: Clalit, Maccabi, Meuchedet and Leumit. This law was the latest stage in a long tradition of social healthcare provision in Israel. The majority of the Israeli population was already insured with one of the funds; those who weren’t were assigned to one by the government, and it is possible to switch funds once a year. The funds are required to accept anyone regardless of their age or medical history, and members pay progressive insurance contributions depending on their circumstances; employers also pay a health tax. New immigrants must register with one of the health-care organizations when they arrive in the country and are exempt from payment during their first year in Israel. The funds are allowed to offer supplementary insurance for treatments not included in the basket, according to certain egalitarian conditions. The government may add treatments to the basket as technology progresses and according to what doctors deem is medically necessary and able to be offered universally. The law inevitably has some budgetary problems, but the system is now firmly established. It does not, however, cover tourists or foreign workers.
A good quality health service comes at a price. Israel has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world, on a par with Hong Kong; only the US is more expensive. While Israel’s socialized health system is designed to compensate for this, it does not cover tourists and non-permanent residents, who should take out insurance privately, either with an Israeli company or with an international insurance company. Employers of foreign workers are required to provide them with private insurance equivalent to the benefits package Israelis are insured for, but in practice these policies are often more limited, and may not cover prior diseases or chronic conditions, and may also be difficult to renew if you fall ill. The advantages of global medical insurance cover for expatriates deciding to live in Israel are several. The premium is based on your age and area of cover, and unaffected by any claims you make. The policy can travel with you if and when you leave Israel, and such policies are typically guaranteed renewable for life, i.e. there is no age limit beyond which you can no longer be covered. If you were to be insured locally, should you develop a serious condition while in Israel you might have difficulty obtaining health insurance in the future outside the country with another insurer. You can also obtain a global insurance policy that is not tied to your employer and will stay with you should you decide to move jobs. Many of the policies we provide also cover medical evacuation and repatriation to your home country. This can provide peace of mind to expatriates who want to know that they can be treated at home in a familiar environment should the worst come to the worst, without having to worry about the high financial costs of sudden emergency repatriation.
Israel’s medical and paramedical infrastructure (namely, Magen David Adom, or The Red Shield of David- Israel's national emergency medical, ambulance and blood bank service) is well developed, though the same can not necessarily be said of all areas of the West Bank or the Gaza strip. For more information, please see our list of hospitals/doctors in Israel. In a life threatening emergency, the Israeli health services will treat anyone, but should you fail to pay afterwards you are likely to be kept in the country until you do. Victims of hostilities in Israel- Israeli citizens and residents, tourists, and people working for Israeli companies abroad who are injured in hostilities, are eligible for various benefits from the Israeli government according to circumstances, but this should not be relied upon as a substitute for comprehensive Israel expat health insurance should the unthinkable happen.
- Israel is a country with a rich and chequered history, a home to people of many different beliefs and customs, and a place where tradition and modernity meet and interact in a myriad of ways. It was ranked 29th in the World on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index, making it an attractive expatriate destination, and its historical sites, beaches and fascinating landscape have all contributed to a rise in tourism in the country. However, while the health service in Israel is mostly of a high standard, it can be very expensive and private medical insurance is a necessity.
Israel Travel Tips
We understand that foreign countries can be confusing. To help you better understand Israel we have provided some advice on local customs, laws and general behavior.
Please be advised that the information contained below is only for reference purposes, by no means comprehensive, and is liable to change at any time without prior warning. Please consult with a travel professional before your trip to ensure that you have the most current data.
- Israelis have a reputation for valuing forthrightness above superficial politeness, in a way that outsiders might see as abrupt or even rude. Direct personal questions are common, and not usually meant to be offensive. Almost all Israelis have had to serve in the armed forces, and a lot of military vocabulary is incorporated into Hebrew slang alongside words of Arabic origin. Israelis are usually keen not to be seen as a ‘sucker’- a person who does not stand up for themselves, and lets others take advantage of them or rip them off. Loud, spirited debates and arguments in public are socially acceptable. However, on the whole Israelis are welcoming and hospitable to foreign visitors.
- Religions: Israel encompasses an area of historical importance for many local and worldwide religions, and is a place where several religions and cultures brush shoulders. Visitors should be aware of this and respect people’s often strongly held beliefs and customs.
- The Jewish “Shabbat”, starting at sunset on Friday and ending on Saturday evening, means that in Israel Saturday is a weekly rest day for most Jews. Shops will often close relatively early on Friday to allow people to get home in good time for sunset. You should be especially aware of Shabbat in ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods, for example in Jerusalem, and it is best not to enter them at all on a Saturday, when they are blocked off. Residents may stone your car if you attempt to drive into their neighbourhoods, as they consider driving to be prohibited on this day. You should also be careful to dress modestly in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on any day of the week, and it is unwise for women to wear trousers. Assaults have occurred on people considered ‘immodestly dressed’.
- It is best to be sensitive to Jewish, Muslim, or other local customs when in Israel. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the dates for which vary from year to year, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. You may wish to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public places in predominantly Muslim areas during this month as a courtesy to the locals. Also, drinking alcohol in the presence of Muslims may cause offence. Be sensible about taking photographs of people in Muslim or Orthodox Jewish areas without their permission.
- Avoid taking pictures of military or police personnel or installations, as the Israeli authorities take any percieved security threats extremely seriously.
- Terrorism – The threat of terrorism in Israel from extremist Palestinian or international groups or individuals is constant and unpredictable. Attacks can take place anywhere in the country and are not limited to Jerusalem, the West Bank, the area near the Lebanese border or Gaza and its surrounds, although you should be especially careful in these areas. There is also a risk of kidnapping. Public transport and any area where large numbers of people may gather, including border crossings and also areas frequented by foreigners or expatriates are among the targets for indiscriminate attacks. At present, travel to many areas in and around Israel, including but not limited to Gaza and the surrounding area, is strongly advised against by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by the U.S. Department of State; Check with your country’s embassy for detailed advice. Your insurance may not cover terrorism related injuries if you disregard advice of this kind, and health cover for travel in some areas where there is a perceived threat may be subject to limitations or exclusions; For more information and advice about insurance in Israel, please do not hesitate to contact one of our advisors.
- Partly as a result of the terrorist threat, those entering and exiting the country are subject to careful security screening, and long delays, prolonged questioning and searches are not uncommon at the airport. Particularly rigorous security is in place at border crossings with the West Bank and Gaza, which can severely impede travellers, especially as these borders are sometimes closed altogether. In particular, those with Arab surnames or connections, women travelling alone, or people asking that their passports not be given an Israeli stamp, may well be delayed or detained for some time. People can be refused entry to the county by the Israeli authorities with no explanation. Citizens of other countries with Palestinian passports or I.D. numbers are considered by Israel to be Palestinians and subject to the same movement restrictions in Israel controlled territory as other Palestinians. Those with Israeli passports must also use them when entering and leaving the country instead of any other passport they may have. People bringing electronic devices and cameras into the country may also be subject to delays and even have them confiscated, although they will normally be returned on leaving the country.
- You should carry identification at all times when travelling in and around Israel in case the authorities ask for it and make copies of your passport in case it gets lost.
- Israel has severe penalties for drug related offences such as smuggling or trafficking illegal drugs. Being caught in possession of illegal drugs is likely to result in a prison sentence followed by deportation.
- Israeli roads are often crowded and aggressive driving is a common problem. Israel has a very high fatality-rate from automobile accidents. Drivers and passengers are required to wear a seatbelt at all times, and all cars are to have fluorescent vests in them (which can be purchased cheaply in petrol stations) to be worn when getting out of the car to do repairs or change tires etc. In winter headlights have to be used day and night for intercity travel. Use of a mobile phone while driving is prohibited.
- Most visits to Israel are trouble-free. However, theft of valuables, credit cards or passports from public beaches is commonplace so look after personal belongings.
- Healthcare, while of a high standard in most parts of Israel proper, can be commensurably expensive for non-citizens. Hospitals will insist on payment and may take legal action to prevent people leaving the country until their bills are payed. Visitors who enter the country legally and are subsequently injured by ‘acts of hostility’ in Israel are eligible for certain benefits from the Israeli government but this is subject to the specific circumstances. For peace of mind and to avoid unnecessary expense and distress, private medical insurance is a must for those planning to visit or live in Israel for any length of time.
Whenever you travel to a new country it is advisable to obtain some information about your destination so that you are better prepared when you arrive. It is for this reason that we have provided a general outline of Israel for you below.
Please be advised that this information is meant for reference purposes only, and all data contained on this page may change without prior warning. For more up to date information about Israel, please consult a travel expert before you depart.
Official Name: State of Israel /Medinat Yisra'el
Capital: Jerusalem, “complete and united”, is the capital city of Israel, according to an Israeli law of July 30th 1980, but the controversial status of some parts of Jerusalem led to a non-binding UN security resolution being passed on August 20th 1980 that the law be rescinded and that UN members should withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem. As a result, no country maintains an embassy in Jerusalem proper, and most countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, including the US, maintain their official embassies in Tel Aviv, which is also the country’s main financial centre. For more information see our list of embassies in Israel.
Location: On the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, with Lebanon to its north and Egypt to the south.
Size: 21,000 sq km approx.
Climate: Israel has a temperate mediterranean climate overall, but is hot and dry in southern and eastern desert areas, and desertification is a threat. Sandstorms may occur in spring and summer, there are sometimes droughts and periodic earthquakes.
Population: around 7,112,000
Life expectancy at birth: 80.61 years
Prevalence of HIV/AIDS: Around 0.1%; Israel has approximately 3,000 people living with HIV/AIDS
Illnesses: West Nile Virus is found in Israel; take precautions against insect bites.
On 3 January 2007, the H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) was found in a kindergarten in Binyamina (about 50km North East of Tel Aviv). Measures were taken to prevent the virus spreading and no human infections or deaths have been reported in Israel or the Occupied Territories. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to avoid all contact with birds, either poultry or wild animals.
Ethnic Groups: 76% Jewish, 19% Arab, 5% minority groups
Languages: Hebrew and Arabic are the country’s official languages. English and Russian are also widely spoken
Religions: Jewish 76.4%, Muslim 16%, Arab Christians 1.7%, other Christian 0.4%, Druze 1.6%, other 3.9%
Government: Israel is a democratic country with universal suffrage and a single tier 120 seat parliament called the Knesset, membership of which is based on system of proportional representation for political parties. The Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet and the government, The President, whose duties are largely ceremonial, is the official head of state.
Head of State: President Shimon Peres (since 15 July 2007)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (since February 2009)
Military: Israel’s military consists of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Naval Forces and the Israel Air Force. Military service for both sexes from the age of 18 is compulsory for all Jews and Druze (apart from those in the Golan) and voluntary for others (Christians, Muslims, Circassians etc.); Enlisted men serve 36 months, women 21 months, and officers 48 months, with a reserve obligation afterwards to age 41-51 (men) or 24 (women). Yeshiva students are exempt from military service and others who are exempted can do national service in schools, hospitals and so on. The IDF maintains approximately 168,000 active troops and 408,000 reservists.
Economy: Israel has a free market economy, with substantial government participation. It has free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States, as well as with several other countries, and the US is the Israel’s main trading partner, as well as giving it a substantial amount of aid. The country is technologically advanced, and its high-tech industry sector is well developed. Despite having mostly poor quality agricultural land, Israel is self-sufficient in so far as most food is grown within the country, although it does import large amounts of grain. This is partly due to the requirements of Kashrut, which is to say the need for food to be Kosher. The agricultural sector has been intensively developed, and the country is a world leader in areas such as water-conservation and environmental management. Diamond cutting is also an important industry in Israel. The economy continues to grow regardless of wars and terrorism, with an impressive and rising amount of foreign investment in recent years, and the technical expertise of the country’s population, many of whom are immigrants, can in the future only help it expand in the technological sectors where it is already a leader.
GDP: Purchasing power parity approx. $185.9 billion; Official exchange rate approx. $161.9 billion