Several blogs and articles later, I was told to be prepared for one of the most extensive checks while getting into Tel Aviv. Since I was travelling alone, I had the additional responsibility to take care of the big bunch of papers I was carrying with me and also…myself (eye roll).
I was travelling from Amsterdam to Tel-Aviv and was booked on Transavia. And within a span of 30 minutes, I was through the security check and immigration. There was nothing. I remember thinking that those experiences I read of people through immigration was pretty outdated. Or so I thought. I landed in Tel-Aviv and things were super organized. Without much delay I was provided the Entry Permit into Tel-Aviv. This document is the only proof that you are legally allowed inside Israel. I still have this, I don’t even know why I’ve kept them. It is important to remember that while you may have a visa on your passport, your passport will not be stamped on your entry. This is mostly because some Muslim countries may not let you enter their territory if you were a prior visitor to Israel.
Ben Gurion airport is not located in the city centre and will take you a little time to the centre. If you want to read more about the internal travel and things you must know if you are travelling to Israel, please click here.
And now, back to immigration
I was on my way back to Amsterdam from Ben Gurion airport and decided to reach the airport 4 hours in advance from the scheduled time of departure. And that is something I would recommend you to do. Checking in online does not change protocol of what I describe in the next few lines. Here is how it went – Before the check in counter were officers who would scan your passport and you, and will proceed to ask you few questions. This could or could not be based on your travel history. My travel to countries such as Dubai, Malaysia and Jordan in the past triggered questions of:
- Who did you travel with?
- What did you do there?
- When did you travel to ABC country?
- Who packed your luggage?
- Did someone give you a package to carry?
- Are you carrying something which is not yours?
- What is the purpose of your visit?
- It is the MO to catch you unarmed for some questions such as – whom did you travel with. ‘’my brother and sister’’. What are their names? I would be lying if I said I didn’t fumble to remember my own brother’s name. The officers can be quite intimidating! Post this, you go to the check in counter and collect your boarding pass and head to security.
Based on your answers of several questions, you will notice a yellow sticker on the back of your passport with a bar code. Based on my preliminary research, the start of the number of the bar code details your level of threat from a scale of 1-10. I got a 5. I can’t say if I felt proud or sad that my threat level was a 5.
Now at security, you would be thankful if you carry very few things in your carry on baggage because this is what is about to happen. There are around 4 officers who check your stuff. By check, I mean swab. You place your belongings into the tray – also your phone – also take out all electronic items from your bag and onto the tray – these include your chargers, ear phones, curling iron etc – ALL electronic items. Once the stuff is ready, the officer swab every bit of your belongings and once you have the green light, you proceed. You thought you were done? Once you take your bags and almost finish security, you have one last thing to have swabbed – your shoes. And once that is done you reach immigration. At immigration, unless your passport is not readable electronically, can you visit a counter with an officer where you are provided with your exit permit. This moved pretty quickly and then you find yourself in the Israel duty free. It isn’t something like you’d see in Dubai but it has almost everything.
The whole process from entry into the Airport till the exit permit took about 2 hours but even sitting by the duty free, waiting for the flight, I wasn’t sure if all checks were done. But it was.
I am told that the entire process described above happens a little more strictly if you travel by El Al. However, I would think the check isn’t such a bad thing after all. It makes you feel much safer. From the locals, we also learnt that it is very very normal for them to see such checks but the check seems a little overwhelming for most tourists.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by Tel-Aviv and what it had to offer. The beach gave some Barcelona and Bombay vibes, there was some AMAZING hummus and tahini to die for and there are memories for a lifetime! I have been to some countries and if I were to pick my top 3 – Israel is definitely one of the podium finishers.