10 Things You Have to Know Before Making Aliyah

5 min read
Abigail Zamir, Citizen Café Hebrew teacher
Abigail Zamir, Citizen Café Hebrew teacher

Let me tell you something about Israelis: we love to think about ourselves as European or American, but at the end of the day – we’re Middle Eastern. That means we have our own little quirks and schticks, and if you’ve ever thought about moving here – there are some things you should know in advance. Don’t let our order of Matcha Latte and Urban Outfitters sweater confuse you; here are ten things you should definitely know before moving to Israel:

We Write the Date Differently

In the United States, the formal way to write a date is M\D\Y (month\day\year), while in Israel, the formal way is D\M\Y (day\month\year). This is especially important when you have a doctor’s appointment on 9/6/24, and you want to keep in mind it’s on June 9th, and NOT on September 6th. Once, a friend’s American cousin bought both of them tickets to a concert in Tel Aviv in August. He was super excited and booked a flight, a hotel, and everything, then realized, to his horror, that the concert had already occurred: on July 8th.

Tips in Restaurants are Added Beforehand

In many places around the world, it is customary to add the tip after your credit card has been swiped, in an additional line on your bill. But in Israel, you must tell the waiter beforehand how much service charge you would like to add. In Israeli restaurants, it’s customary to tip 12%-15%. In Tel Aviv no less than 15% (unless you want to get a sour look from your twenty-year-old waiter).

Public Transportation Ends on Friday 

Because of Shabbat Law, public transportation in Israel finishes on Friday afternoon at around 4-5 PM and starts again on Saturday evening around 8 PM. In Tel Aviv and Haifa, there are a few buses going around the city to certain stations, but in most cities, you will have to rely on private cars and taxis. This also means that Friday is the busiest day of the week for grocery shopping and errands in general, so you might want to stock up on another day, or preferably early on Friday morning.

Traffic in the Big Cities

Most of us don’t own private cars in the big cities, because of the major traffic jams. Instead, we use buses (where you can pay with an app\credit card), bicycles or scooters (make sure you always wear a helmet), and, of course, the all-time favorite: walking! In Tel Aviv, everything is within walking distance, trust me. The amount of times I told myself, “Yeah, I’m just going to walk to the nearest bus station… Oh, the bus is 10 minutes away? may as well keep walking.” And then, half an hour later, I’m at home sipping tea. Plus, the weather is always nice, even in the (non-existent) winter. 

Navigation Apps: Moovit, Waze, Gettaxi

There are a few useful apps you’d want to download to your phone as soon as you get here. Moovit is an app that shows you which buses\trains to take in order to get somewhere, including the fastest route and walking distance to your location. Waze is an app for navigating with your car, it helps you avoid traffic and unnecessary detours. Gettaxi is not a navigation app, but it’s the best way to order a taxi in the city. Plus, we don’t have Uber, and hailing a cab on the street is an excellent way to get ripped off.

There’s no B or L Button in the Elevator!

Trying to get to the Lobby of a building and don’t know how? Don’t panic! That’s because we usually don’t have the “L” or “B” button in an elevator. Instead, 0 (zero) is the ground floor, and the basement is -1. It’s also worth noting that while in the US, the storey right above the ground floor is “the second floor,” in Israel, it’s called “the first floor,” marked 1. You’re welcome.

The Button Next to the Pedestrian Traffic Light is for the Blind

Have you ever tried pressing the button on the small pole by the crosswalk to make the pedestrian traffic light change faster? So, in Israel, it’s actually designated for the blind. What it does is emit a sound once the light turns green, but it won’t make the light change any faster.   

Beware of the Bicycle Trails!

If you’re new in Tel Aviv, you’ve probably noticed there are a gazillion bicycle trails all around the city, and if you walk on one of them, you are in danger of getting run over! You might get run over by a bike or a scooter even when you’re walking on the sidewalk, but the trails are still their territory. So make sure you walk on the pedestrian side, cause at best you will get honked at by an angry Israeli, and at worst, a hipster girl will smash her bicycle basket into your spine.

The Dude

Apparently, in the US and Europe, there’s hot water in the shower all day long (you lucky, lucky people), but in Israel, you have to turn on “the dude” דוד – the hot water boiler. Yes, it doesn’t happen automatically in most apartments; you must press “the dude.” During the winter, you might want to wait 40-60 minutes for a really hot shower. Multiply this by two or three if you’re a family.

Start Memorizing Your ID Number

For some reason, in Israel, your ID number is used frequently for all sorts of purposes: opening a bank account, making a gym membership, booking a hotel, or even ordering something silly online – they will always ask for your ID number. It’s not a secret like a Social Security Number in the US; it’s pretty much common knowledge, and people throw it around like a salad recipe. Start memorizing that number because you’re going to use it at least once a week.

These are all the tips we have for you today. Let us know if any of this information is useful! And if you are actually planning to make Aliyah soon, have a smooth and seamless transition to Israel from all of us at Citizen Café.


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