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Money changing in Israel

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Israel’s currency is the New Israeli Shekel, abbreviated NIS, and as noted above, the currency symbol is ₪. If you have an ATM card from a bank in the Cirrus or Plus networks, by all means convert your currency in Israel using an ATM machine and don’t fool with traveler’s checks. It is incredibly easy and a much better deal. You simply insert your card, instructions flash up in English, and you enter in the number of shekels you want to withdraw. The system will automatically debit your checking account in dollars at the current conversion rate (as of June 2015, $1.00 USD = ₪3.80). You can also change cash at authorized money changing stores or the post office, but why fool with the risk of carrying lots of cash? And traveler’s checks have gone out of fashion for a good reason—they are a pointless hassle!

One advantage tourists from abroad have is that we are exempt from paying the 18% value added tax (VAT) on hotel rooms or any meals or bar bills charged to the hotel room. So, when buying meals or drinks in your hotel, charge them to your room rather than paying cash or using a credit card. Most Israeli hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards. Note, though, that VISA, MasterCard, and American Express all charge “foreign currency conversion fees” that they often fail to disclose. (As of this writing, Capital One still does not charge such a fee and even absorbs VISA’s separate fee—a major plus.) At as much as 3%, this charge adds up, and is a major irritant to me. Banks usually charge that same fee for ATM withdrawals; still, the ATM route is far more convenient, and this fee is still less than the commission charged to convert traveler’s checks. Just check with your bank on fees so you will know up front what you will be paying. And before you leave, notify your bank and your credit card companies of your travel plans so that the fraud unit doesn’t freeze your cards because someone is using them in Israel! You may also wish to ask your bank to increase the amount you can withdraw through an ATM per day as lower limits might restrict what you need. And if you have a lot on deposit, ask them to waive the foreign currency transaction fees on ATM withdrawals—it worked for my bank!

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