Initially, you will need enough funds to cover start-up expenses such as transportation from the airport, food, and temporary lodging. In addition, many landlords will require several months' rent in advance at the time the lease is signed and some landlords may request rental money in dollars. Again, the College recommends that you do not pay more than three months' rent in advance.
Below you will find an analysis of the various options available to transfer your money to Israel in the quickest and least costly manner:
The HUC Office of Student Services suggests the following methods to transfer money to Israel:
Cash and/or Traveler's Checks:
The advantage of bringing cash or traveler's checks is that there is little or no waiting time for your money to clear. In addition, traveler's checks (sometimes) and cash can be used for direct payment of rent, etc.
However, remember that carrying large amounts of cash is risky and you will have to pay an exchange service charge per traveler's check. If you do decide to bring traveler's checks, purchase them in the largest denomination possible. ($100)
VISA, Mastercard, and American Express Cash Advances:
Visa and MasterCard holders should check which services are available abroad (obtaining cash, rates for cash advances, etc.) prior to departure. Students advise that using a credit card/ATM card is the quickest and most convenient method to manage financial affairs in Israel.
American Express does not advance cash abroad to its credit card holders. However, many students advise keeping a bank account open in the States and using an American Express Card to buy Traveler's checks in the States (no service charge) and to cash American checks at the American Express office in Jerusalem whenever you need funds. Loan checks and other income may then be deposited in your American bank account.
To obtain a cash advance in Israel, go into your bank with your Visa or Mastercard and request an advance. You will receive your money instantly, but most banks will give it to you in shekels only (at which point you may change them into dollars if you wish). You will be able to withdraw up to your credit limit or the cash limit of your card.
If your American bank is on-line with "Cirrus," "Plus", or "STAR System" you can use your ATM (or PlusCard) card to withdraw up to $250 per day at most Israeli automated bank machines. Student loan checks, etc., can then be deposited in the United States, taking less time to clear. Check on transaction charges charged by your U.S. bank. Israeli banks will either take a nominal fee or will not charge at all. Try to get a back-up card from your bank in case your card becomes "de-magnetized." This will save you having to request a new card via long distance.
Note: Most credit card companies will begin to charge you interest on your credit card account from the time of a transaction rather than after the due date of your next credit card statement. Therefore this kind of transaction can be quite expensive and funds should be deposited in your credit card account BEFORE you withdraw funds in Israel. Students should check with their credit card company as to the rate of interest charged on cash advances.
Another option for transferring your money is using a "debit card" that is issued by a bank or financial institution (Merrill Lynch, for example) and linked to a money market/cash management account. When you withdraw money on your credit card account via an ATM machine in Israel, the money is automatically transferred from your savings account to cover for the debit, and thus, no interest is charged on the withdrawal. If you choose this option, set up the account and apply for the credit card as soon as possible, since it may take a while to (1) establish a money market account, (2) process your credit card application, and (3) receive your card.
Most banks in North America will transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel for a charge of approximately $30. The money will appear in your account very quickly, within 3-4 days. However, it requires someone to physically go to the bank at home to arrange the wire transaction. Thus, unless someone you trust already has access to your bank account, you will have to arrange it before your departure. Make sure to ask your bank at home whether they perform this service and its cost. Also, get a list of the banks in Israel that receive wire transfers.
Money transfers from Western Union can be made through the Israeli Postal Authority. The recipient can collect the money in Israeli Shekels in almost every post office in Israel. There is no need for the student to produce a credit card or traveller's check nor does the student need a bank account. The money is transferred within a matter of minutes. For details, call 972-2-290-467. In Israel, call 177-022-2131.
Personal Checks, Money Orders, and Cashier's Checks:
A change in currency laws has allowed a number of money changing and check cashing services to operate in Israel. These establishments exchange currency without bank service fees and also immediately cash personal checks, money orders, and cashier's checks.
Cashing any kind of check at a local bank will take approximately 3-6 weeks to clear, and thus delay access to your funds. We highly recommend that you bring a checkbook for special purchases, emergencies, and for payments at home that you may have to make during the year.
Checks from home should be mailed by registered mail.
In order to deposit and withdraw dollars from the bank, you must open a foreign currency account. You can open a "fixed-term deposit account" (interest accrues if the money is untouched for a three-, six-, or twelve-month period, i.e., similar to a certificate of deposit without the certificate). Early withdrawal is possible but forfeits the interest which has accrued. Interest rates fluctuate and are based on prevailing Euromarket rates. The accounts and the accrued interest are freely transferable abroad.
NOTE: A service fee is charged on each withdrawal.
Foreigners are also free to open a shekel account. The advantages to opening this type of account are many:
Redeeming Israeli Bonds
If you receive checks in shekels (from student employment,insurance company, etc.), you can deposit them, rather than cash them immediately.
You will receive a checkbook for purchasing with shekels. Checks are widely accepted in Israel and can be used at supermarkets, restaurants, department stores, rent and utilities.
You can obtain a teller machine card and cashier's checks. These can be very handy when you have no cash and the banks are closed, or if you run out of cash while travelling in Israel. All of the major banks honor the teller machine cards of the other banks, allowing you to withdraw money at virtually any teller machine in the country (at no extra charge)! Some banks allow you to obtain a card and checks with no conditions attached. Other banks require you to keep a standing balance of a least $500 in your foreign currency account. Check with the bank manager of the branch in which you want to open an account.
You may redeem State of Israel Bonds in accordance with Israel Foreign Exchange Regulations, for Israeli currency, in amounts not exceeding $2,500 per person per calendar month during your visit. Proceeds from the bonds redeemed before maturity are in shekels and may not be reconverted into foreign currency. Cashing Israeli bonds at a bank where you have an account (even one you just opened) accelerates the procedure.
Copyright © 1998 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion