Israel is famous as the ‘Holy Land’, connecting three major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Many people of all religions make pilgrimages to the country each year. The capital city of Jerusalem has a history dating back thousands of years and visitors can take in sights such as the Dead Sea Scrolls in the museum there. However, the UN does not recognise Jerusalem as the capital city and most embassies can be found in Tel Aviv.
The country is situated on the Eastern part of the Mediterranean and sits in the GMT + 2 time zone, bordered by Syria and Lebanon to the north; Palestine and Jordan to the east and Egypt can be found to the south of the country. The disputed land of Gaza is part of Palestine, but is currently under the control of Hamas, a militant group. The country has several different climates. The south of the country can be extremely hot in summer while the north can be cool in winter. Autumn and spring both tend to be mild.
Israeli citizens have to pay income tax on all income earned, whether it is within Israel itself or abroad. Rates vary between 10 and 45% on personal taxation depending upon the level of income and the type.
Israel has a system of allowance points which grant the individual a certain amount of tax free income. Men have a starting point of 2.25 points, women have 2.75 points and each point is roughly the equivalent of $600 USD. Then extra points are added if there are dependent children in the family, although this is added to a woman’s tax allowance. The points are deducted from the tax when it has been calculated, rather than from total income.
New immigrants (who are considered to be Israeli residents) are entitled to an extra 3 points in their first three years in the country, 2 points for their fourth year and 1 for their fifth. In their sixth year they are only entitled to the same points allowance as other residents. New residents are also entitled to a tax break of ten years on income from non-Israeli sources.
Visa, Residency & Immigration Laws
When travelling to Israel it is essential that your passport still has six months left run. A short stay visa will allow a visitor to remain in the country for up to three months. Requests for work permits must be made to the Ministry of the Interior.
Some people can obtain a tourist visa upon entry into Israel free of charge, although this depends upon the country of origin. Residents of most European countries will qualify for this, though a complete list of qualifying nations can be obtained from the website of the Israeli government. These visas can be extended when you are in the country though this will incur a fee.
Immigration visas are processed via the Jewish agency, which makes the recommendation for the visa to be issued. Work permits can be issued while you are still in your country of origin or while you are in Israel on a tourist visa. No foreign worker is permitted to work in Israel without a valid permit. It is the employer who must apply for the work permit. The worker will have their passport stamped with the visa which carries the name of the employer. After one year an application must be made to extend the permit, even if it was originally issued for a longer period of time.
When purchasing a property in Israel there are several regulations that you should be aware of in advance. The first one is to ensure that you have a different lawyer to your buyer. In Israel it is legal for the same lawyer to represent both the buyer and the seller, but having your own will avoid any conflict of interest during the transaction. When purchasing a new build property off plan, the buyer is liable for the legal fees of the builder so having your own lawyer will ensure that this process runs smoothly and fairly.
Costs to be taken into consideration include purchase tax. It is applicable to all property purchases and your lawyer will be able to advise you on the amount you must pay and when. It is dependent upon the purchase price. Legal fees can be as much as 1.5% of the purchase price plus taxes but this does not include fees that need to be paid for registering the property. Expats should also be aware of the cost of transferring monies and converting currencies. There may also be maintenance charges if there are common areas, such as in an apartment building and all homeowners must pay municipal taxes.
Expats do not tend to have specific communities but will buy in the same areas as there are some divisions in certain areas between people of different religions and social class. This is something that should be taken into consideration when choosing which area to buy in, along with proximity to the place of employment, schools and medical facilities.
Retiring in Israel
There are no specific schemes to encourage retiring people to move to Israel, although there are a number of ways in which a person can claim citizenship if they want to reside there on a permanent basis. These include those people who are a member of the Jewish faith and those who have an Israeli mother or father. The cost of living is fairly average so there are no great savings to be made by moving there, although there are some aspects of living which are much cheaper than elsewhere in the world.
Unless you have been resident in the country for a number of years and have been paying into the country’s social security scheme, you will be unable to claim a pension from the Israeli government, so as a retired person from another country you must have your own income, usually in the form of a state or private pension from your country of origin.
Israel is an attractive destination for those who are looking to move to somewhere with a warmer climate, although with the political situation it may be more attractive to those who are of the Jewish faith. The further away you are from the trouble hotspots the more appealing the country is, and the towns and villages in the south are much more peaceful, attracting expats and holiday makers from all over the world.