Lots of questioning and tight security, but professional and friendly.
The immigration process at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport was one of the strictest that I’ve encountered in all of my travels. I tell you what I’ve experienced, and what you can expect when traveling to Israel.
Entering into Israel
I arrived into Ben-Gurion Airport, and headed straight to the immigration line. I was third in line, and ahead were two Japanese travelers. They breezed through no problems, and with not much questioning.
When it was my turn however, the immigration officer flipped through my passport, asked me a couple of questions, namely what I was doing there. And strangely enough, what my full name was – this was a common occurrence at every immigration pricess in Israel I notice.
He continued flipping my passport… and then he asked me to wait for my passport at the back of the immigration hall, in a corner room. Damn it.
If you get held back… Chill.
If I said I wasn’t a bit annoyed that I didn’t make it through effortlessly, I’d be lying. As I made my way to the corner room, I saw that there were four or five people already in there. Assuming that that meant I would have to wait a while, I sat myself down, got comfortable and took out my Kindle. Just as I was about to flip my Kindle open, the immigration officer called out my name.
I was surprised that I was called that quick. The immigration officer very politely, asked me on-the-spot what I was doing there. I told him that I was there for a press conference and then continuing as a tourist, and presented him with a company invitation letter. He looked it over quickly, and told me to wait just five more minutes. He disappeared, and actually less than five minutes later he reappeared with my passport and the immigration slip to let me into Israel officially. Cool.
Have Printed Travel Documents on Hand
And that’s another tip: have all travel documents preferably printed out. This would include any invitation letters, travel itineraries, even hotel bookings, would help. I’m not usually a printed paper kinda gal, but I was glad I had those on hand.
Till today, I don’t know why I was singled out. The only reason I can think of was because I had a lot of random passport chops, some of which belonged to Indonesia and Malaysia – that Israel is not that friendly with. But again, I honestly can’t be sure.
As I walked away, one of the men who had been waiting before me was restless and being rather rude to the immigration officer. He got a very terse talking to. I’m guessing he got held back even longer because of that.
Moral of the story? Don’t be rude. Be chill, be truthful, and know that nothing’s personal.
The immigration slips that you get when coming in and out of Israel. You tap these at the automated gates right before luggage collection.
Getting out of Israel
You would think getting out of the country would have been an easier process… Nope. I thought it was even stricter than entering the country.
Before you check in for your flight, you have to go through security. I was second in line… because I arrived four hours earlier – very Singaporean of me. Security check-in only opens three hours prior to takeoff. Yep.
So FYI, there’s no need to arrive much earlier than three hours prior to the flight.
This time round, they ask you the usual questions, what you’re doing there, what did you do, etc, with a couple extra added layer of questioning including:
- Did you pack your bags yourself?
- Did you leave your luggage unattended at any point before arriving here? (Even if it was at the hotel left luggage after checkout, just mention it)
- Did you have any gifts? (The company that invited me for this trip gave us a lot of gifts and samples, so I rattled off all that I had – she cut me off in between.)
- Did you go out of the country? (They have this on file, but they still asked. Again, this is normal)
- Did you make any new friends? If yes, who are they and where are they from? What are their names? (Yes, they realllllyyy like knowing names of people…)
It was actually A LOT of extra questions. Always answer on the side of full disclosure. Be truthful, calm and NEVER be rude. The officers are never rude, if anything they are quite friendly and always professional. Also, never joke. It helps no one.
The final step was a sticker at the back of my passport. Apparently this sticker determines your threat level.
I was let through to the flight check-in counter after that. Once I got my boarding pass, I only had to go through another round of typical check-in bag screening and then that’s it. I was through.
Technically, I entered and exited Israel twice on my trip. The first was of course when I first arrived by plane. The second time was when I left Israel mid-trip to visit Jordan by land.
The Jordan portion was a lot easier and it might be because I travelled with a tour group. There are special lines for tour groups which sped up the process – what our guide liked to call VIP lanes. You still get the questions, just not as intensely as at the airport.
All in all, if you’re reading this, that means you’re already more than prepped for immigration in Israel.
I researched the immigration process prior to traveling to Israel, so I wasn’t fazed when I was singled out when coming into the country. Or when I was asked a million questions before leaving.
Unfortunately, they will rely on racial profiling, so if you don’t look… well, white or East Asian, then expect some extra questions. Even Israeli citizens who look slightly Arabic (such as our tour guide/driver to Jordan) are subject to intense questioning.
Ultimately, we have to understand that nations in turmoil surround Israel, a tiny country. It will do what it has to to make the country as safe as possible for its citizens and tourists alike. It is what it is.
Just chill out. Charge that phone and play some mindless game while waiting. No big deal. OH. And there’s FREE WIFI in the airport too. You’re welcome.