Israel is a small country, making it easily navigable by car. The last decade has seen great infrastructure improvements as well, with new roadways like Highway 6 that goes straight through the country from north to south. However, driving in some places is still not always pleasant, especially in busy cities with narrow streets, like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Plus, Israelis are notoriously aggressive drivers—be prepared to hear and use your horn freely—and traffic can be epic at times. Still, you shouldn’t be scared off from driving in Israel, as long as you’re familiar with the local laws and practices. All road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English and mileage is in kilometers/meters.
When driving in Israel, a valid driver’s license from your own country is required and an international driver’s license is not necessary. Liability insurance is mandatory and will be required with any car rental. Some U.S. credit cards include collision damage waiver coverage; if yours does you should get them to send you a letter to that effect and bring it with you, otherwise, the car rental company may require you to have this. Note that many credit cards do not cover CDW in Israel, so read the fine print carefully.
|Checklist for Driving in Israel|
|Valid driver’s license from your home country|
|Yellow reflective vest (for wearing if you need to exit your car on the side of the road)
Rules of the Road
Driving rules are generally the same as the U.S., with a few minor differences. They drive on the right side of the road in Israel, just like the U.S., and laws regarding seatbelts (wear them) and mobile phone usage (not allowed unless it’s hands-free) are the same. There are a few toll roads in Israel and there is no EZ Pass type of apparatus to use. Here are a few key rules to be aware of:
- Turning right on red: Turning on a red light is not allowed unless there is a separate light and sign.
- Speed limits: In general the speed limit in Israel is 50 kph in urban areas, 80 kph in non-urban areas, 100kph on Highway 1 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 120 kph on Highway 6, the north-south toll road.
- Car seats: A rear-facing car seat is required until age 1, a forward-facing seat until age 3, and a booster seat until age 8.
- Seatbelts: Seatbelts are required by law.
- Cell phones: It is illegal to speak on the phone while driving in Israel without using a hands-free device.
- Alcohol levels: For drivers under 24 years old or drivers operating a commercial vehicle weighing more than 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds) the limits are 10 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood and 50 micrograms per 100 milliliters of breath. For all other drivers, the limits are 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, 240 micrograms per 100 milliliters of breath.
- Headlights: Headlights must be turned on at all times on intercity highways from Nov. 1 to March 31.
- Traffic lights: On roads where the speed limit is 60 kph or higher, green lights will flash before they turn yellow. Seeing a red and yellow light together means the light is about to turn green.
- Carpool lanes: Israel introduced its first-ever HOV lanes at the end of 2019 on the Ayalon Highway and Route 2 around Tel Aviv, but there aren’t any elsewhere in the country yet.
- Toll roads: There are three toll roads in Israel. One is Highway 6, which is completely electronic with no tollbooths. A bill is sent via the license plate number and if it’s a rental car the company will bill you after you return the car. The Carmel Tunnels in the north is a set of four tunnels with tollbooths payable by cash. Finally, there is a high-speed toll lane on Highway 1 between Ben Gurion International Airport and Tel Aviv. If you want to enter it, to pay, you either pull off at a tollbooth to pay in cash or are charged electronically. The price fluctuates according to traffic so check the signs. It is free for cars with at least four occupants, but you must pull off at a tollbooth to verify or you will still be charged electronically.
- In case of emergency: For the police, dial 100; for an ambulance, dial 101; for the fire department, dial 102. The international emergency number 112 works in Israel and it will connect you to the police.
Parking in Israel
Finding parking in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be quite difficult at times and you should read parking signs carefully. Parking is allowed for free at the curb, if there are no markings on the curbstones or a no parking sign. If a curb is painted red and white, parking is not permitted. Parking is also not allowed within 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) of a fire hydrant and 12 meters (about 40 feet) before or on a road crossing or stop line. If a curb is painted blue and white that indicates paid, metered parking. You can either pay at the meter or there are two apps that allow you to pay for parking—Pango and Cellopark. There are also paid parking lots and garages but they can be quite pricey so read the rates carefully.
Should You Rent a Car in Israel?
It’s fairly easy to avoid renting a car in Israel, especially if you plan on sticking to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and a few popular tourist spots like the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa, and the Sea of Galilee. There are buses that go to all of those places on regular schedules and the city bus system within and between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is extensive. There is also a train between the two cities and the airport. Plus, taxi cabs are abundant in urban areas and it’s a pretty bicycle-friendly country. However, if you plan on going off the beaten path a bit, say to a kibbutz, the Negev desert, the Golan Heights, or some other rural areas, you may prefer a car. In the end, it’s a personal choice but if it’s your first time visiting the country you probably don’t need one.
A few things to note when renting a car: You are usually not insured for taking an Israeli rental car into the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or anywhere under Palestinian Authority control—which includes Bethlehem.
Most rental cars have a security code to start the car that you enter onto a small keypad. The code is often written on your rental agreement, if you don’t see it, be sure to ask about it before you leave the rental office. At the rental place, be sure you have switched off and started the car with the code to make sure you know how to use it.
Israel has been a political hotspot since it gained statehood and its borders are volatile. Because Palestine’s borders are sometimes within Israel’s, you can quickly find yourself at a border checkpoint without advance warning, especially in places like East Jerusalem. Tourists are allowed to pass through these checkpoints (although you should make sure you know where you're going), just be sure to have your passport and visa (a small slip of paper given to you at the airport when your passport is stamped) with you. As noted above, most cars rented in Israel are not allowed to be taken into areas under Palestinian Authority, so it is usually easier to hire a taxi near the border to take you across, or go with a tour group.
Checkpoints may be set up or changed without warning, throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Travelers may encounter delays and it’s always a good idea to have your passport with you.