Moving your life to Israel is needless to say something that requires a lot of planning. While most people typically don’t leave much behind when moving to Israel, one thing almost all my clients keep in their old country is their bank account, as well as credit and ATM cards. Therefore, when it comes to foreign currency requirements, I advise clients to break up their planning into two separate time frames - before you arrive, and once you’re here.
Before you arrive I highly suggest you take care of three crucial items:
Make sure to check if any of your credit cards charge international transaction fees, a sneaky (hidden) expense that can get out of hand in a hurry. The typical charge is 3% reflected in the rate they offer. Not surprisingly there is no shortage of banks that offer cards without international transaction fees, so I highly suggest speaking to your credit card company to either getting or switching to one ahead of time.
Find out what fees your bank charges to withdraw cash at international ATMs. If your overseas bank charges an international ATM fee on top of that you may end up paying in exchange rates, you might incur a charge upwards of 8% when all these costs are factored in. I recommend checking with your bank about their foreign ATM policies and seeing if they offer a foreign ATM fee-free option.
Confirm your bank’s international wire transfer policy. This is one thing I cannot stress enough, and has in fact been a major source of frustration and aggravation for more than a few clients whose banks require them to be present at the branch in-person to conduct the transaction! Getting around these restrictions once you’re in Israel is almost an impossibility, so do yourself a favor and find out before you leave the country. The bank will usually be able to offer a solution.
Once you’ve arrived in Israel you still have some work to do. Namely, when to use shekels and when to use your foreign currency. In times when the shekel is weak and the exchange rate is favorable it obviously pays to use your fee-free debit or credit card when possible. On the flip side, when the shekel is strong you will want to use the shekels you already have.
So how do you get Shekels to Israel? For years the only way to move your money internationally was using expensive banks. Recently the Israeli government has licensed companies (such as IsraTransfer) to receive and trade foreign currency on behalf of clients. We are able to provide rates and service that most banks do not provide. Unfortunately, American style customer service has not made it to the Israeli banking system and is a frequent source of frustration to new Olim.
One area that frequently irks people is after they found their dream apartment and they need to send funds for the down payment. Israel banks can be quite a challenge in terms of the confusing paperwork they require, the myriad of forms (all in Hebrew) that you need to sign and the general disposition of the bank clerks. I have seen deals fall through due to avoidable complications the bank creates, this is in addition to the high fees and poor exchange rate they offer. I personally work with clients and their lawyers to prepare all the documentation so the transaction goes as smoothly as possible, with great savings as well.
Daniel Eisenberg is the Director of Business Development at IsraTransfer.