Should You Rent a Car When Visiting Israel?

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!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Raj

    Your posts are great Anne! My girlfriend and I are planning on driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the morning, spending the day there, then driving from Jerusalem to Ein Bokek to spend the evening in Ein Bokek. Google maps shows two routes, one through the West Bank, and one that goes around that adds about ~30 miles on to the route. Which route would you recommend when it comes to safety.

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Raj,
      If you’re driving a rental car, you need to talk to them about driving from Jerusalem to Ein Bokek taking the shortest route. It’s a safe route and Israelis drive through there all the time but you need to make sure that the insurance for your rental car covers that area. The other route is quite beautiful and very safe too. If you return through there the following day, you can make a day of it as well. Other than the obvious Massada visit, you can also visit what we call HaMakhtesh Hakatan and HaMakhtesh Hagadol (the small crater and the big crater) and/or Mamshit National Park. Google the, well worth a visit even if only driving through.

  2. Rick

    Hello and thanks for your time and replying to all of our questions. I’m hoping to visit Israel in May of 2020 and I’ll be going by myself and renting a car. I have so many questions and hopefully you can help me on them as reading a few website has me a bit confused.
    1. I’ve read a few websites to where I see that car rentals for 3 days are around 30 or $35 is this correct? That comes out to about 10 or 12 bucks per day.
    2. For example I leave tel Aviv and go to Jerusalem, do they have parking areas or parking garages that I can leave my car in and if so how much is parking per day?
    3. Do they have hotels in the old town of Jerusalem or do you have to stay outside of the walls?
    4. If I drive the rental car from tel Aviv to old Town Jerusalem and I drop it off, is there a one-way fee attached to that rental?
    5. From what I understand, I can’t take a rental car into Jordan but I’m wanting to go to Qasr el Yahud (Jesus baptism site) and I think it’s actually across the river in Jordan so is there a parking lot on the Israeli side and I take a taxi or shuttle over to the Jordan side? I know there are other baptismal sites in Israel but this is the one I’m wanting to go to.
    7. If I do decide to go to Bethlehem and a couple of the other places outside of Israel territory, can I drive all the way to the border and park my car in a parking garage or secure area and then catch a shuttle or tour bus in to Bethlehem or wherever and at the end of the day they bring me back to my car?
    8. Inside the Israeli territory, do you have toll roads and if so how many and how much would it cost?

    Thank you so much for your time and I’m so glad I found this website because I can’t seem to find any of these answers anywhere. It’s not easy traveling alone but for the cost of the tour packages and also the many small details I would miss on a tour, I’m going to attempt it on my own

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Rick, I know how confusing travel to other countries can be, so I’m happy to try and help.
      1. That actually seems too cheap to me. I am guessing this is the smallest possible car and that the price doesn’t include insurance. You’ll have to buy the insurance when picking up the car, or you won’t be able to leave the agency with it. In other words, read the small print, and if in doubt, email the company to make sure there are no hidden costs.
      2. Yes, there are parking lots and garages in every city. You can see them in Google Maps by zooming in on the area you wish to visit and searching for “parking”. The cost in a big city can vary by lots. In Tel Aviv, you could end up paying 40 shekels an hour (just over $10), or even more. Google should be able to provide you with an estimate of the cost as well.
      3. There are a few hotels and guesthouses in the Old City. The distances are small though, so if you want to stay there, I wouldn’t worry about being inside or outside the walls. If you’re coming with a car, we usually park at Mammila parking lot (it’s huge and affordable). There are also 2-3 hotels right next to it.
      4. That would depend on the specific rental package. They may or may not waive it.
      5. You’re in luck. Qasr Al Yahud is in Israel, so no need to cross over to the Jordanian side. Here’s a link to the official site. And generally speaking, crossing between Israel and Jordan is limited to two specific border passages (Allenby and Sheikh Hussain). It’s definitely possible to cross over but there may be waiting lines due to security checks.
      6/7. I’m afraid I don’t know much about traveling to Palestinian cities (it’s illegal for me to enter them, as an Israeli citizen). Here’s a link to more information about how to travel between the two.
      8. There are two main toll roads in Israel. There’s Highway 6 which goes from north to south, and then there’s a toll road within Haifa. Both are fairly easy to go around if you prefer to avoid tolls. The fee would depend on the length of the road you’re traveling on. I think it’s a few shekels per section but can add up to 40-50 for a longer journey. You would also need to rent a special device from the car rental so they can recognize the car and bill you. Otherwise, they’ll send the bill to the rental company and you’ll likely pay any associated fines and handling fees. If I were you, I’d just mark “no toll roads” in Waze or Google maps and avoid using them. They won’t save you too much time anyway. This is the site for Highway 6 (the same company operates the toll road in Haifa). It’s in Hebrew but if you’re using Chrome, you can right-click and translate the text into English.
      I hope this helps! We also prefer to travel independently, so I can relate to your questions!

  3. Dan Connors

    Anne, Another anniversary trip, our 45th! What kind of details for passage into the West Bank to I need to know while driving in Israel. I read I need to check with rental agency, but maybe from your experience? We are coming in Apr 22nd at 5am. Will there be a rental agency open, or do we wait till 8am? Our first stop is driving to Tiberius (3 days). We are planning to drive to Jerusalem on Sat, take our time and arrive in the evening. We would like to stop in Jericho on the way down on hwy 90, but maybe not much will be open? From Jerusalem, we would like to visit the Dead Sea. We are also going to visit Bethlehem, but will do the bus/taxi. Lots of walking in around the city. We are staying pretty close to the old city and walking is not an issue for us. lol, learning to drive in Boston prepared me to drive all over the world, so we are OK with the traffic. Thanks for the clues on the driving rules too!

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Dan,
      Yes, you definitely need to check with the rental agency. As far as I know, rental car insurance doesn’t cover the West Bank. I would contact them via email now rather than wait for the trip itself. The airport branch should be open 24/7 but check that as well (it may change depending on the company you’re renting with).
      I am pretty sure you’re not allowed to take a rental car into Jericho at all. We don’t go there ourselves but there should be roadblocks on the way preventing you from entering Palestinian A territory with a car that has an Israeli license plate. Even if you manage to go through, it seems unsafe to me. Again, I’m not sure because it’s illegal for us to enter these areas (as Israeli citizens) and I don’t know of anyone who’s ever tried to do that. The rental agency should be able to answer that as well in the email.
      Please stay safe. Israel is generally very safe but driving a car that has an Israeli plate into a Palestinian village or city in the West Bank may not be safe at all. If you insist on driving in the West Bank with a rental, do your homework well in advance and know your routes. You do not want to get into the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong license plate. There is so much to see and do in Israel, including experiencing local Palestinian culture in safer areas, that in all honesty, I would stick to driving the rental within Israel and then go with a taxi tour in the territories.

  4. Stan Sullivan

    Hi Anne, my wife and I will be celebrating our 40th Anniversary in Israel beginning January 6th. We plan to pick up a rental at the airport, then drive to Upper Galilee area for 3 nights. Then we will go to Jerusalem for 3 nights, staying at the King David Hotel, where we will park the car until leaving for Masada/Dead Sea area for two nights. We will then turn the car back in in Tel Aviv for a flight to Athens. Our daughter is concerned about our driving there, especially going to Masada from Jerusalem, driving through the West Bank. A couple of things: one, does this sound like a good plan, and two, what can we tell our daughter to ease her concerns about our driving in Israel? I’m glad I happened upon your posts. They have been very informative. Shalom!

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Stan,
      Congratulations on your anniversary! I’m glad the posts help.
      Your plan sounds great. You will technically have to cross through the West Bank on the way to the Dead sea but you’ll only be going through area C. As Israelis, we feel safe making that drive but you need to make sure that the drive is covered by your insurance policy. I would contact the rental company and ask for verification in writing about this. The alternative will be to drive via Arad, making this a significantly longer drive.
      Driving in Israel can be more challenging than in most areas in the US. IMO, it’s comparable to driving in a big US city during rush hour. You do need to pay more attention and expect other drivers to be more aggressive, and the roads are just generally busier. If you haven’t found it yet, I wrote a guide about driving in Israel, where I discussed the differences and added my tips. Enjoy your trip!

  5. Corey

    Thanks so much for the info! Our family is making our first visit in July and we rented a car from the airport and we’re staying in Jerusalem. This helped put my mind at ease about driving over there. We’re very excited to go explore!

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Corey,
      I’m glad you did – the road from the airport to Jerusalem is great and quite scenic, especially as you approach Jerusalem. Once you begin the climb up to Jerusalem, slow down and note the rusty old armored vehicles by the side of the road. They were left there as memorials for the War of Independence. These are the original vehicles that were used to try and break through and make way into Jerusalem, to bring food and water to the barricaded civilians there in 1948.
      Oh, and don’t miss out on reading my post on what you need to know when driving in Israel. Enjoy the trip and stay safe!

  6. Andreas Hasenbach

    Thanks so very much for your highly useful tips Anne!
    Have a great weekend!

    Chris

  7. Cliny

    I want to rent a car for Jan 19 to Jan 22 . My hotel is in Tel Aviv and has an underground parking garage … I am planning to rent from Budget at the airport on the 19 and return the car on Jan 22 to the Budget office in Natanya . Do you see any problems with this ?

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi Cliny,
      Sounds great to me. I highly recommend using the Waze app or at least Google Maps so you can try to avoid rush hours in Tel Aviv as much as possible. Also, if you’re thinking of traveling out of Tel Aviv for most of the time, I would consider switching to a hotel outside the city, which should be cheaper and at least somewhat easier to drive to and from. Though Tel Aviv is fine too. Enjoy your trip and drive safely!

  8. E. J. Brannock

    My wife and I and another couple are going to be in Israel between Oct 14th until Oct 26th. We are staying in Jerusalem, but are planning to tour the country. It sounds like you would recommend renting a car for some of our touring. What and where would be our best option to rent a car for just a few days since we will be staying at night in the city (I read your info about the difficulty in parking a car in the city). Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Anne Moss

      Hi E.J.
      Depending on where you want to be going, I would try and stay over for a night or two outside of Jerusalem. For example, let’s say you want to see Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), Nazareth and nature reserves in the Galilee. Possibly adding a visit to the Golan Heights. It doesn’t make sense to take a succession of day trips from Jerusalem, as you’ll travel for 2-2.5 hours in each direction every day. That’s a total of 4-5 hours on the road a day, just to cover the distance between Jerusalem and the Galilee. It would make more sense to tour the area for 2-4 days and staying there for the duration, making the most of your days for sightseeing.

      As to where to rent the car, when we travel abroad, I find the cheapest offers through RentalCars as they compare offers from several companies, including Budget, Hertz etc. Alternatively, you can search the websites of all leading car rental agencies (I linked to them in the post) and see which locations they have in Jerusalem and what they offer you in terms of prices.

      Have fun with your trip and drive carefully!

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