New digital entry procedure for tourists to Israel
Passengers at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv Feb. 15, 2024. Photo: Sharon Wisch-Ray

Starting Aug. 1, visitors from visa-exempt countries need to fill out a form online ahead of time.

By Etgar Lefkovits

(JNS) Efficient digital streamlining of airport passport control or added bureaucracy?

Israel is launching an electronic travel authorization (ETA-IL) requirement for visitors from visa-exempt countries this week, joining a series of Western countries that have such systems that is set to change the way tourists enter the country at the main international airport.

A two-month pilot of the program, which entails filling out an on-line form from your home before departure to Israel, will get underway on June 1 for visitors from the United States and Germany, and on July 1 for those from all other visa-exempt countries.

The application, which will cost $7 or 25 shekels, is intended to simplify the entry process for visitors to the country so that tourists, who will be pre-approved before leaving their country of residency, can just swipe their passports at Ben-Gurion Airport upon arrival as Israeli holders of biometric passports currently do.

The electronic system will officially be instituted as the entry protocol for all incoming travelers from visa-exempt countries on Aug. 1, at which time the application fee will also take effect. 

The ETA-IL will then become mandatory, “and visitors will not be able to board a plane to Israel without it,” the Population and Immigration Authority said in a statement. The government said the new system will cut lines while maintaining security.

Once a visitor’s application is approved, travelers will be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days, with the approval remaining valid for up to two years or until their passport expires, which ever comes first.

Visitors from non-eligible countries still need to obtain a visa at an Israeli consulate before their travel, and do not need an ETA-IL.

The U.S., Canada and Britain all have such digitalized systems in the place, and the E.U. is expected to launch one soon.

“As a tech-forward county, streamlining the entry process with the new online ETA-IL application is a natural progression, and will allow for smoother arrivals and more time for travelers to enjoy all Israel has to offer,” said Eyal Carlin, commissioner of tourism to North America in the Israel Tourism Ministry.

Curious timing

Still, the timing of the system during the nearly eight-month-old war with Hamas in Gaza, which has triggered an 80% drop in tourism to Israel, has raised eyebrows.

“Unsurprisingly, Israel’s tourist economy is hurting …, so, naturally, Israel is doing what any other country would do in its predicament. It will add more friction to the process,” Dan’s Deals, a US-based discount travel website, wrote this week.

The Tourism Ministry, which did not initiate the move — it was approved by the government before the war — said, “While we are currently in a challenging time, we encourage those with an interest in visiting the country to take note of the new entry process as they continue their travel planning.”

Leave a Reply