Should You Rent a Car When Visiting Israel?

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If you’re planning a trip to Israel you may be wondering whether to rent a car or rely on public transportation. In my experience, many travelers choose the second option because they’re wary of renting a vehicle and driving in Israel.

They end up missing out on some really cool experiences. So, I’m here to tell you –

You should rent a car and drive around while visiting Israel.

I’m going to show you how a car is going to improve your trip to Israel and offer you tips on how to rent and drive a car while visiting the Holy Land.

Scared of driving in Israel?

I get that. I really do.

I’m an anxious traveler myself and as such was terrified of driving in the US before our first trip there. For the first few days, I let my husband drive us around – even though I really enjoy driving. Driving in a new country can be scary, no questions about it. Especially when that country is vastly different from your own.

Still, after a few days of driving in San Diego in that first trip, I got my courage up and took the wheel into my hands. Now I’m our “designated driver” while traveling in the US and Canada. I love it and have no issue with it. In fact, I was the one driving for most of the way during our road trip to Alaska and back last year.

My point?

Switching from driving in the US or Canada to driving in Israel isn’t as difficult as you might think. Honestly.

In this post we’ll cover all of the common questions people have about renting a car in Israel as well as driving in Israel. From where and how to rent, what you need for renting a car, types of licenses and insurance. Let’s begin!

Why you shouldn’t rely on local public transportation

Many Israelis will tell you that we have a fantastic public transportation system. I guess it’s all relative. Yes, it’s better than what you have in the USA but IMO it’s not as good as the one available in most European countries.

We hardly ever use public transportation to travel in Israel for two reasons –

  • Travel is very slow.
  • You can’t use it from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

Let me explain.

Taking the bus will slow you down

While the trains and buses here can get you to pretty much any location in the country, it won’t be easy. Chances are you’re going to need to switch lines – possibly more than once – before reaching your destination.

You’ll have to wait for a bus (or train) to arrive. Often in the heat of day and with no shade. Once aboard, you might find that the line has so many stops that the trip can easily take 2-3 times longer than it would in a car.

For example, we live in the city of Kiryat Ono, pretty much a suburb of Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is a 40 minute drive from our home, or a 2-3 hour long bus trip.

When you’re on a short trip with so much to see and do, splurging on the cost of a rental is well worth it if it means you get to spend your time sightseeing and not waiting for the bus.

No public transportation on Shabbat

Shabbat is the Hebrew word for Saturday. This is basically the weekend here and for religious and political reasons, public transportation stops on that day, pretty much across the country.

That means no buses or trains anytime between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Some lines only start to operate again on Sunday morning. Tourists need to find something to do where they stay, take expensive cabs or hope to find what is locally known as “Sherut taxi”.

What’s a “Sherut taxi”?

That’s the code name for taxis that travel along the same routes as the bus and pick up passengers on Shabbat. That’s a shared ride so it’s cheaper but also tends to be crowded and not always reliable.

Which is why I strongly recommend renting a car – at least for weekend travel.

Should you always have a rental car with you?

Absolutely not. If you’re going to stay within a big city for several days, ditch the car. We’re basically talking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv here. You could spend a few days just exploring the Old City of Jerusalem or sightseeing in Tel Aviv. And in either city, a car will be a liability rather than an asset.

In Jerusalem, there may be enough attractions around the city which may – at a stretch – justify keeping your car with you. Just don’t expect to take it into the Old City and do expect traffic jams and parking issues. As for Tel Aviv, free or metered parking is practically impossible to find. Ask the locals, they have lots of jokes about parking in Tel Aviv (and most of them don’t own a car).

A car will help you get around outside the big cities, so plan ahead so you can rent before and after your days in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

How to rent a car in Israel

There are many car rental agencies in Israel that will be happy to offer you a selection of vehicles to choose from. Most of them have branches in the airport so you can pick your car up there and/or return there as well.

Some of the largest car rental companies in Israel are –

Your best bet is to check each of these and shop around for the best price. I usually use the RentalCars.com service to get the best quotes from all leading car rental cars at once. They have a lowest price guarantee and in my experience, they hold up to that.

How much does it cost to rent a car in Israel?

Clearly, exact rates depend on your needs and the timing of your visit. To reduce the costs of any trip, you should try and avoid the high season and Jewish holidays.

To give you a sense of what you might expect to pay off-season, I ran a search for a single day rental in October.

A small car would be under $35 a day, so not too bad.

The same single-day search in August brings up higher rates –

 Not too bad, I think. We paid similar rates as tourists in the US.

One thing to keep in mind is the cost of gas. As a rule of thumb, the price of petrol or gas here is about the same as it is in Europe. Which is about double the price you’d pay in the US. Prices are clearly marked in gas stations. They’re indicated in shekels and litres. Since 4 shekels equal one dollar and 4 litres equal one gallon, the ratio is similar and you can tell at a glance that the price of gas is in fact higher in Israel.

On the plus side, the distances are shorter! Driving time from one point of interest to the next is usually measured in minutes rather than hours!

Is it ok to be driving in israel with american license?

Yes, it is. There is no need for an international driver’s license to rent a vehicle in Israel, as long as your license has your photo and your name in English.

Having said that, I always recommend checking with the rental company as well. You just never know when rules may change and it’s best not to find out about it when you’re at the airport taking your car.

To rent a car in Israel you need the following –

  1. A valid driver’s license from your country of origin (with your name in English on the card).
  2. Your passport.
  3. A credit card (and if you made the reservation in advance, you need to bring the same card you used to book the vehicle)

Do I have insurance to rent a car in Israel?

If you rent a car, then yes. By law, the price of your rental must include insurance. The rental company won’t let you drive their car around uninsured. The insurance usually includes the following –

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) – Keep in mind this in case there’s an actual collision. This type of insurance doesn’t cover damage to the wheels, glass etc.
  • Third-Party Liability (TPL)
  • Theft Protection (TP)

Make sure you read the small letters and see what your rental agreement covers. Do that before you leave the branch too. You may also want to read my Dollar Rent a Car story. It’s got some useful tips on how to avoid getting scammed by a rental company.

Speaking of insurance, it’s worth mentioning that driving someone else’s car here in Israel is not a good idea. The standard car insurance policies here state that the driver must have a valid Israeli license. Assuming you don’t have one, the vehicle will not be insured when you drive it. Which is not only unwise, it’s also illegal.

I hope I helped you with your decision! If you have any questions about renting a car in Israel, leave me a comment here. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to look it up for you. Also, if you ever rented a car in Israel and can share your experience here, that would be awesome. Thank you in advance!

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