Immigration & Visas
In a Nutshell
Who will need visas and tips for navigating that process; issues to anticipate at Ben-Gurion Airport
At Ben Gurion airport, every participant will be required to pass through immigration and security. Some will need tourist visas in order to enter Israel.
Here is information to expedite the process.
- Arriving in Israel
- Departing Israel
Americans, Canadians, and citizens of most western countries need only a passport, valid for at least six months from the date of entering Israel, in order to travel to Israel. Participants from China, African countries, or Latin America will need a tourist visa. The web site of the Israel Ministry of Tourism posts complete information about which nationalities are required to obtain visas.
Participants who need visas are responsible for obtaining them on their own.
Visa application process for participants from countries with diplomatic relations with Israel
The visa process for participants from countries with established diplomatic relations with Israel is usually routine, with visas generally granted within 2-3 weeks. The process for applying for a visa is clearly outlined on the web site of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The local consulate or embassy can also assist.
Trip leaders can do two things to facilitate the visa process for participants from countries with diplomatic relations with Israel:
1. Alert the embassy or consulate
- Most embassies or consulates have an academic affairs attaché, your liaison to the embassy to the consulate. As a trip leader it’s important to have just ONE contact at the embassy. Find that person to be your liaison moving forward.
- Introduce yourself, explain that you are leading a student trip to Israel and that students in your group will soon be applying for visas.
- Provide a detailed trip description and a list of the students who will be applying for visas
2. Provide each participant with a letter to bring with them to their visa application appointment. The letter should include:
- Who you (the trip leader) are
- What organization is running the trip (explain that it’s student-led)
- The participant and university or program in which he or she is enrolled
- The purpose of the trip
- An overview of the trip, its target audience, how many students you are bringing with you, some highlights of the activities and people students will meet
- End by thanking the consulate for their help to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Israel
Visa application process for participants from countries with NO diplomatic relations with Israel
It is far more challenging to obtain a visa for a participant who holds a passport from, is a resident of, or has family in a country with no diplomatic relationship with Israel. The process is cumbersome and the decision may be delayed until days before the trip. Often the request is denied.
However, participants from countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel may be precisely the kind of person you most want to bring to Israel. If an individual is worth fighting for, then the trip leaders may decide to take the risk. Be sure to:
- Forewarn the participant that the visa might not be granted
- Require the participant to purchase flight insurance in case they are unable to take the trip
- Inform the tour company well in advance of the possibility of a last-minute cancellation.
Then the leader should set about making the strongest case possible for the granting of a visa and be prepared to lobby for it. Look for mitigating factors, such as:
- Does the participant have a passport for another country that does have diplomatic relations with Israel?
- Did the participant grow up in a country with diplomatic relations with Israel?
- Does the participant have a green card?
- Does the participant have European Union documentation?
- Does the participant have allies in the embassy, consulate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Israeli government?
- Has the participant done military or work experience that demonstrates loyalty?
- Do you know anyone who can facilitate a favorable the decision?
It will be up to the participant and trip leader to keep in touch with the foreign ministry and stay on top of the application. This is a substantial undertaking. Be well aware of the time commitment and possible eventual rejection.
Preparing for arriving in Israel
The key here is preparation: prepare participants in advance for the security precautions at Ben Gurion Airport and explain the rationale behind it. Officials will be thorough and they may not speak fluent English. The better prepared the participants are, the easier it will be.
Optionally provide every participant with an immigration letter. In some cases, this also speeds security clearance. The letter should:
- Explain that the traveler is part of a student-led trip from the university
- Explain the purpose of the trip
- Provide contact information for the tour company and contact information for trip leader
Obtaining a VIP PASS for an individual whom you expect to get special scrutiny can help as well. Tour companies provide an option to purchase a VIP PASS. This allows the tour company to send a tour company employee to meet that participant at the airport and accompany him or her through the immigration process. This usually costs about $150 per person.
Group pre-clearance: Optional
To facilitate immigration, trip leaders can apply for pre-clearance. This is an excellent precaution for people who have permit to enter Israel (with or without visas) who previously visited other “less friendly” countries in the Middle East, but it must be initiated well in advance and often requires some back and forth between the trip leader and the embassy before the group is cleared and assigned a trip number. That trip number can be used arriving, departing, and moving through security checks of all kinds.
Caveat: Pre-clearance is a cumbersome process; it’s up to your discretion whether to use it.
Request pre-clearance by sending the following information to the Israel consulate or embassy:
- Purpose of the trip: Academic/Tourist Trip
- Who initiated the trip
- Flight information
- Hotel information
- Detailed plan for each day
- Names of people they are going to meet or be briefed by
- If there are planned meetings with the Palestinian Authorities
- Name and contact information of the trip organizer
Personal information for everyone in the group
- Full Name
- Place of birth
- Date of birth
- Passport country of issuance
- Passport number
- Immigration stamps from countries Israel has no diplomatic relation with
- Visa, if one was required
- Email address
- Cell number
Preparing for departing Israel
If your itinerary takes you to an area of security concern such as the West Bank, anticipate heightened security upon departure. There is no way to prevent this, but it will go more smoothly if participants are prepared and expect to be questioned and to have their luggage searched and their laptops opened and inspected. Inform participants in advance of this possibility and the rationale behind it.
TIP: Participants who want to travel in the region before joining the group in Israel should be made aware that visiting Jordan or Turkey or Lebanon or any country without regular diplomatic relations with Israel before going to Israel will complicate their entry into Israel.
TIP: If participants have a stopover to another country in their flight plan, make sure they have appropriate visas.