I’ve been to Israel three times now — twice in the span of one year. Other than getting asked if it is safe to travel there (yes, it is and a blog post is coming), I get asked about the interrogation process entering and leaving the country.

A Hebrew sign in Tel Aviv

If you’re planning a trip to Israel, there are a few things to keep in mind upon before arrival and departures:

Arrive to the airport three hours early

I know it’s easy to get into the two-hour-is-enough to check-in to an international flight mode. Hell, living in Chiang Mai and going in and out of a tiny airport makes it easy to arrive just before the gate closes and not even break a sweat. However, this is not the case for travelers to Israel.

If traveling to Israel — no matter from where — arrive three hours early. And, when departing from Israel, do the same. Seriously.

Why?

There is an interrogation process which entails an entrance and an exit interview from Israeli immigration. On my last departure from Prague to Tel Aviv, it took me an hour to be interviewed. First, they ran my passport, then I was interviewed for about 20 minutes by an official in training, and then I was re-questioned by an official official, then my bags were swiped for explosives and then, finally, finally, I was able to check in to my flight and check my bag.

At the end of the interview, I even joked with the girl who questioned me and told her she knew more about me than some of my best friends. Fortunately, she laughed. And apologized for the process taking so long. But, I understand and when arriving to or leaving Israel, it is par for the course. Being happy and polite certainly helps the process move along smoothly.

Always prepare for lengthy questioning, and perhaps a lengthy wait to get to the lengthy questioning. It’s just the way it goes getting in and out of Israel. But, I promise, once you arrive to the country, it is so worth it. So. Worth. It.

Questioning

As I am Jewish and an American, I likely may have a different experience in questioning than others. When I have gone through questioning, I am always asked for a detailed history of my life as a Jew (where I went to synogauge, if my parents are Jewish, if I had a bat mitzvah, if I speak Hebrew, if I am still practicing, where I go for high holidays if I live in Thailand and more). Then, because I have been to Israel before, I am asked why I went to Israel the times I went, if I know anyone there, where I am going while I am in the country, what I plan on doing. I am also asked about my job, where I currently live, why I have so many stamps in my passport and travel so much, and random questions to ensure I am telling the truth, even if they catch me off guard.

While this questioning is intense, it is also a reality of traveling to Israel.

Always be honest. Always be forthcoming. And always be polite. These people are doing their jobs and protecting everyone, they aren’t there just for fun.

Security

This goes without saying, but expect a longer time to clear security than normal, too. Particularly at Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. The less you have to take off and unpack, the quicker the line will move. The last time I exited the country, there were four men in front of me who likely had never traveled before. One went through the metal detector, leaving his bag with his friend, which of course, was cause for alarm. One had a pocket knife in his pocket. Another had a huge two litter of Coke in his carry-on which he promptly attempted to chug as he was hustled to screening.

Don’t. Just … don’t.

Less is more in this case, and the less you pack through security screening, the quicker you (and everyone behind you) will move.

So, that means laptops, chords, cameras, Kindles, iPads, tablets, etc. all come out of that carry-on to be X-rayed. All jewelry comes off. And, once the bag goes through screening, expect an official to stand with you and open the bag, swipe all of its contents for explosive materials and then, if all good, let you proceed to your gate.

This process isn’t meant to deter you from entering and exiting the country, it happens because Israelis take security and the safety of its residents and visitors very seriously. In fact, I have never felt safer in a country than Israel.

 

Do you have any questions about arriving and departing Israel?

14 comments

  1. As long as it keeps me safe I don’t mind security checks and questioning. On other countries I heard these checks led to racial profiling or corrupt immigration officials making it difficult for tourists just so they can have bribe money.

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  2. Interesting! I never would have thought to arrive earlier on my way TO a country with intense screening… I always assumed all the security would happen within the country itself. Super helpful for future travelers!

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    1. Oh yeah! If you don’t arrive three hours early at some airports to check in to a flight to Israel, you’re SOL. Pre-screening happens before you even get to check in at the airport!

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    1. Yeah, most people don’t realize how early you need to get there. If you got there only two hours early, you’d be seriously stressed and may not make the flight.

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  3. Hi!

    Ben Gurion Airport is the most secure public place in Israel. there are so many security personnel! most of them you can’t see; Before the security at the airport itself, every passenger name goes through Shin Bet (Israeli FBI) and Mossad data bases. once you at the airport- The armed seurity at the first checkpoint where you get inspected for the first time, the armed security guards at the entrances to the terminal,the undercover agents, the interviewers, the body and hand bag security, the border control agents- all are very well trained! They are professinals!
    The US can learn from them and spend some money for this important purpose! israel has 1 international airport with population of 8 million people. the US has 400 airports and 315 million people. The ratio makes sense. I hope the Americans will stop making excuses and will stand for their right for a secure and safe aviation. If the underwear terrorist had arrive at BG Airport, he would not have succeeded. He has actually passed the whole “strong” TSA security with explosives! wouldnt have ever been possible in Israel! If he wouldnt have stopped at the checkpoint (5 kilometers from the terminal) it would happpen at the entrance to the terminal or in the interview (behavioral profiling). My fellow americans- Do something about it or you will continue watching 4 yo girl or 80 yo grandmother being searched like an Al Qaeda terrorists.

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  4. We certainly echo this! On our trip back to Thailand from Tel Aviv in August, traveling between the 2 countries with a passport from a different one caused quite a stir. We’re happy we were at the airport with plenty of time to wait and be questioned. 🙂

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  5. I’ve always wondered what they would make of me going through the airport. I know I will visit Israel one day but I’m already looked at weirdly most of the time. 😀

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  6. We’ve just returned from a 12-day trip to Israel and Jordan and this article was a great help.
    When we first (first time ever) entered the country at Ben Gurion Airport the only question we got was “what’s the purpose of your visit”. With “tourism” being the answer they were satisfied and that was it. Second entry at the Aqaba-Eilat border crossing there were a few more questions, like “where do you go in Israel”, “where do you live” and “what’s your job”, I guess not more than 5 minutes. Then again, using that border crossing to visit Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan for a few days and then returning to Israel is quite common. So no worries about the immigration interviews when it’s your first time to Israel, I think Diana set off a red flag by returning within 3 months, which is highly unusual for tourists.
    That said: I also highly recommend to be at Ben Gurion Airport 3 hours in advance. There was a long queue before the profiling questions and we had to shuttle from terminal 1 to terminal 3. All was smooth and organized, it just took some time. Interesting fact: full half-litre bottle of water passed through security (we were prepared to have it tossed in the bin).

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    1. Wow — you had a quick experience! I don’t know many who have had that. I’m not sure if I set off a red flag with my visits, as it was a nine month difference, not a three, but I do have heaps of stamps and visas in my passport, and have visited Muslim countries, which always can lead to more questioning. Glad the article helped and glad you got to spend time there!

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