No matter where you travel abroad, dealing with foreign currency is always confusing. Here are some simple facts about using money in Israel to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
The Israeli currency is called the shekel (plural: shekalim). The shekel is divided into 100 agora (plural: agorot). The symbol for the shekel is ₪, but you might also see prices in English as “xxx NIS,” which is an abbreviation of “New Israeli Shekel,” the full name of the currency.
In case you were wondering, the word shekel is derived for the ancient biblical currency of the same name.
Israeli banknotes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekalim. The different values are printed in different colors to make it easy to distinguish between them (although the current 20 and 50 shekel notes are different shades of green).
Shekel coins come in denominations of 10 and 50 agorot and 1, 2, 5 and 10 shekels.
Don’t bring shekels with you from abroad, you’ll get a better rate of exchange if you change money once you arrive in Israel.
There are a couple of change places in the airport, but you’ll get a better rate outside the airport.
There are many change places in the main tourist areas (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Haifa and Eilat). Make sure to have your passport on you as a security check if you are going to be exchanging foreign currency for shekels. Do some comparison shopping and make sure to check if commission is included in the rate or if you will have to pay it on top.
Avoid changing money in your hotel as you will get a poorer rate than at a change place or from the ATM.
There are plenty of ATMs (called "caspomatin" Hebrew) at almost every bank where you can withdraw money using your regular credit card. The machines all give the option of conducting the transaction in English, so don’t worry about not understanding the instructions.
Depending on where you are, some shops, restaurants, attractions in tourist areas will accept dollars as well as shekels, but make sure you are not overpaying by using dollars rather than shekels.
Credit cards (like VISA, MasterCard and also American Express) are widely accepted in Israel. Some businesses refuse to accept American Express due to the high commission they have to pay on transactions.
Before you travel, notify your credit card company that you will be traveling abroad to avoid having fraud alerts or holds being put on your account, which could make taking out money very tricky.
ATMs are widespread and many will accept foreign credit cards, making it easy to withdraw money rather than having to carry around a lot of cash either in dollars or shekels.
Make sure you check how much you will be charged for foreign transactions before you travel to ensure you know how much each withdrawal with cost.
The common amount to tip in Israel is 10% percent of a bill, although feel free to be more generous!
Most restaurants will not add a tip to the bill. Instead, you should leave the tip in cash.
There is no need to tip taxi drivers. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous drivers take advantage of foreigners and insist on a tip, but it is not the norm.
Words: Danielle Max