Israel, “the land of milk and honey”, has been welcoming immigrants for over 100 years.
On May 14, 1948 (the 5th of the month of Iyar, 5708) the Israeli government proclaimed that, “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles.”
Since then, the Israeli government has enforced an active and positive immigration policy that empowers their position as the world’s only Jewish state. As part of that policy, the integration of immigrants into Israel’s community has been a top priority for the State of Israel since the establishment of the state.
Those arriving in Israel with the intent to immigrate will find an exceptional level of support from Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, as immigration to Israel requires considerable process.
As a would-be expat, you need to obtain the correct visa before departing for Israel.
There are a number of visa categories under which a Jewish immigrant can qualify.
However, for those who are not Jewish, the options for getting an immigrant visa are far reduced, essentially falling under two categories: those who are sponsored by a business to live and work in Israel (a complex process), and those who marry an Israeli Jew (though such a marriage is not performed in Israel; the marriage must take place abroad).
Those who wish to move to Israel are eligible to apply for an immigrant visa under the law of return, if they meet the following conditions:
- Those who have a Jewish mother
- Those who have converted to Judaism
- Those who are not a member of another religion
In 1970 the law was amended to include spouses, children, grandchildren, and spouses of grandchildren of Jews.
Regardless of your status, you should enlist the help of the Jewish Agency immigration agents before you begin.
Where to start?
Most people recommend that you visit Israel for a few months before making the decision to immigrate. There are a number of great ways to experience Israel to see if it’s a good fit:
- Visit family or friends
- Volunteer on a Kibbutz
- Study at a University
- Participate in a short-term study program
- Participate in programs supported by the Jewish Agency
Making the move to Israel
Where to settle?
A popular Israeli saying is: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays.” Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv are the three major cities in Israel. These are the three places where expatriates typically gravitate, as they offer the most ideal jobs and social life for Anglos and other immigrants.
Situated just over 50 miles (90 kilometers) north of Tel Aviv, Haifa is an important port city. Once the main entry for immigration into Palestine and the state of Israel, Haifa’s industrial zones, the Matam Business Park, and its two distinguished universities play a significant role in education and employment in Israel.
Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is the largest city in the country, and rife with religious and socio-political tensions. Because of its status as a World Heritage Site, Jerusalem boasts a significant tourism industry and is the destination for pilgrims from all over the world.
Tel Aviv is a secular, liberal-minded, and cosmopolitan metropolis. Worldwide, Tel Aviv is know for its arts and entertainment scene, its beautiful beaches, and its reputation as a green city.
Known widely as the “Silicone Valley of the East” the city offers tremendous opportunity for hi-tech startup companies, as well as commerce and finance.
Learn the language, and understand the culture
One of the biggest challenges for expatriates in Israel is the language barrier. The two languages primarily spoken in Israel are Hebrew and Arabic, though Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel. While Israelis are well-educated and many do speak English, your effort to learn Hebrew will be appreciated.
The Israeli government has made efforts to facilitate the language education of its immigrants. In 1949 the Jewish Agency created Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language program that is geared toward new Jewish arrivals (Olim). Typically housed within “Absorption Centers”, the programs include five hours of intensive instruction, five days per week, for five months.
The other big challenge for Western immigrants is the cultural difference. Israelis tend to be very direct and seemingly harsh at times. It’s important to remember the slang term “Sabra” that is often used to describe a person born in Israel. Alluding to the tenacious, prickly pear cactus that is native of the desert, the metaphor refers the thick, tough exterior that conceals and protects a softer, sweet interior.
The cost of living
The cost of living in Israel varies from high to mid-level, depending on location and lifestyle. Wages, on the other hand, tend to be comparatively low. However, the government initiative to bring home its Jewish descendants does offer incentives and subsidies to newly arrived immigrants in accordance with the process of Aliyah.
Once settled in, you will find that the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is low, however dry goods and meats are expensive. Dining out in Tel Aviv, like in most major cities in the world, can put a dent in your wallet, so those who are on a tight budget can save by eating in.
While the government offers certain benefits to new immigrants that buy a car, there are stipulations and, in general, owning and operating a car in Israel is very expensive. The majority of citizens and residents simply use public transportation to get around, as busses and trains are readily available, especially in the major cities.
Those who have visited Israel report that the spiritual atmosphere of this tiny, magical country is nearly tangible. Others still yet are impressed by the “anything is possible” attitude that seemingly permeates the culture.
Regardless of your reasons for making the international move to Israel, you’ll likely find that the land of milk and honey welcomes you with all of the abundance and opportunity that it has for the millions of immigrants who’ve come before you.