I arrived on Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on very early Saturday morning. I was tired after the sleepless night in the bumpy flight but at the same time excited about the next 2 weeks. But then I walked into a hall full of border control cubicles and in no time I felt nervous. I’ve heard so many stories about crossing border of Israel, all of them being not very nice ones that a wave of anxiety took over me even if I knew what to expect at Israel’s airport security. The lines weren’t too long but all I could see around were people being questioned for at least 5 minutes, however there were seem to be no problems and everything went fairly smoothly. Finally it was my turn to talk to the border control. I already had all my reservations and itineraries ready (as I saw most of the people had to show them) and I tried to stay calm but for some reason border crossing always makes me nervous, and especially when it’s such a famous one. The young woman inside of the cubicle smiled to me and took my passport. After the standard checking she asked me just few questions: if I’m travelling on my own, if I know anyone in Israel, what’s the reason of my visit and what’s my plan. I answered every question truely. Yes, I’m travelling on my own. No, I don’t know anyone in Israel. I came just to travel around and see the country (I didn’t mention going to the Palestinian Territories as it’s a big no at the border). I briefly told her my plan, including the Jordanian part, but didn’t remember the name of Jisr az Zarqa as it’s not your usual travel destination in Israel. I wanted to show her my reservations but she said no, it’s fine. She just printed the blue slip of paper that included all the necessary details (name, number of passport, nationality, picture, time, date and place of arrival to Israel) and it served as my entry permit. She didn’t stamp my passport, didn’t even try so. The whole procedure took maybe 3 minutes and was very straightforward. Later on I learnt that at the airport border they don’t even have stamps anymore, they were replaced by these slips of paper. So even if you insist on having your passport stamped you will be disappointed.
After over a week of exploring Israel and having the best time ever I was about to go to Jordan for few more days (to be honest I didn’t really want to leave Israel, I had such a blast there…). There’re three border crossings between Israel and Jordan: one in the north (Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein Bridge crossing), one in the midle (King Hussein/Allenby Bridge crossing) and one in the south (Yitzhak Rabin/Wadi Araba crossing). If you want to travel between Jerusalem and Amman then the middle one is the most convienient but you can’t get a visa on arrival there, you should get it before in one of the Jordanian consulates. That’s why I went all the way down to Eilat (4.5 hours by bus from Jerusalem) to cross the border there. The rumours said that on this border crossing the Jordanian visa is free of charge but no one could confirm this information and so I was ready to pay 20jd for my visa.
The Wadi Araba border is located 3kms away from Eilat center and it’s possible to walk there (that’s what I did). Before I entered the border premises a young girl checked my passport. It was a Sunday afternoon, around 3pm, and the border was fairly empty and lazy, most of the counters were closed but still everything was pretty quick. First thing everyone has to do when leaving Israel on the land border is paying the exit tax. It ain’t cheap, it costs 102NIS and 5NIS commision (apparently it’s the same price on Jordan River border and even more on Allenby Bridge). I paid in NIS but you can do so in other currencies too as the woman behind me paid in Euro. You can also exchange your money in that place but the rate is pretty terrible – I exchanged USD to JD and I still feel pretty riped off. Anyway, after paying the fee and getting a slip of paper stating that I moved to another counters that was the actual border control. I wasn’t asked any questions, the woman just checked my passport and all the papers I collected by then. When she was about to stamp something (couldn’t see if it was passport or not) I kindly asked her not to do so on the passport. She didn’t even look at me, just said “ok” and stamped the exit fee paper instead. Again, everything was very quick and efficient, maybe 2 minutes. Besides my passport I also got back another piece of paper called “gate pass” with handwritten number of my passport and exit stamp.
To get from Israel to Jordan I had to walk for more or less 5 minutes and the way was clearly marked. Once I entered the Jordanian border building I could see lots of papers saying “free visa”, the whole room was full of them. I was still ready to pay for visa but of course I didn’t ask for it. First the luggage need to be x-rayed but when I did so with me the guard didn’t even look, he was busy with texting on his mobile. I left the first room and shortly after was invited to the next one. A serious looking officer was sitting there, the air was full of cigarettes’ smoke (very quickly I learnt it’s like that everywhere in Jordan), lots of papers were spread around. He took my passport and asked standard questions: if I’m travelling on my own, what’s my plan in Jordan, if I booked my hotels, if I have a guide arranged. He was nice and chatty, I felt pretty relaxed. But then he was about to stamp my passport, his hand already hanging in the air, when I politely asked him not to do so:
Me: “Would you not stamp my passport, please?”
Serious looking border officer: “Why?”
Me: “In future I might have to go to countries that don’t really recognize Israel…”
Serious looking border officer, getting suspicious: “like what?”
Me, trying to look as innocent as angel “Iran, Lebanon…”
Serious looking border officer: “OK”
And that was it. I was prepared for more questions and a detailed explanations but he just took a piece of paper from the big, dusty closet and told me to fill it in. It was an entry card for non-Jordanians and basically all data from my passport had to be written down in it. Once I was done and a serious looking guy checked it I was free to go. At the next counter another border officer checked this paper and passport and I got all my stamp and (free) visa there. I was half way through my mission of not getting any stamps in my passport and I was doing pretty good so far!
5 days later, after I was done with exploring major sights in Jordan, it was time to head back to the border and return to Israel (I was pretty excited about it as it quickly became one of my fave places, especially Jerusalem). I was going from Amman so King Hussein/Allenby Bridge was the most convienient option for me. I knew there’s one direct bus (leaving Amman at 7am, it costs 8,50jd) but it turned out there are two more guys from the hostel, fellow travelers from Malta and Croatia, going towards Jerusalem on the same day and so the hostel arranged a car for us for 10jd/person. We left early in the morning, it was Friday so the border closed earlier, around 11am and I had to cross the border on that day as my flight back home was leaving from Tel Aviv early morning on the next day. The journey from Amman to King Hussein Bridge took us les than hour but we were unlucky to arrive there at the same time as the bus hence the border was pretty busy. Right at the entering the border building all the luggage need to be x-rayed and then everyone has to move to the next room with three counters. It’s pretty chaotic as before even coming to the counter you’re supposed to fill the form (just with the name, nationality and passport number) and then everyone is swarmed in this tiny space, with luggage and everything. At the first counter they just took the passport and checked if the filled form is included, then they handed passport to the second counter. Once there everyone first is asked to move to the counter number three to pay the Jordanian exit tax (10jd) and with the receipe you can come back to the second counter. The border control officer then can check the passport and stamp it (they still kept stamping my piece of paper from Wadi Araba border) but he won’t give you the passport back. You are asked to go to the bus that will take you through the border to the Israeli side and when the bus is full the border control guy comes with all the passports to give them back. It’s a big bus, it takes a while. I was without the passport in my hand for maybe 10 minutes but it was enough for me to get paranoid I won’t get it back. The distance between Jordanian and Israeli border points is pretty short, I’d say 3-5kms, but it can take a long time and it’s pretty expensive – the ticket is 5jd and 1.50jd for the luggage. Once the bus leaves from in front of the border building it stops all the time on the way – there are some more Jordanian important guys collecting the exit tax papers and the forms with name, nationality and passport number, then the bus stops for no reason, and again, and again…
Eventually the bus arrived to the Israeli side. Still we were kept inside for few more minutes but the luggage was all taken out from the bus by the border workers (and they weren’t very delicate with it…) I was lucky as I was standing next to the door and was one of the first person to leave the bus. I took my backpack from the ground and entered the border building. At first there was a nice young guy waiting to check the passports. He didn’t wear any official clothes so could have been easily mistaken to be a fellow traveler. He quickly scaned my passport and asked me the most confusing question ever: “What’s you name?” I was so surprised that it took me few seconds to finally answer “Kamila”. He said nothing but kept smiling so I after a while I added “Anna” but he was waiting for more so after few more seconds I added my surname too. This answer seemed to satisfy him so he asked yet another confusing question: “Where are you from?”. Again I didn’t answer right away but when I finally said “Poland” he just marked something on his paper, put a sticker with some numbers on the back of my passport and I could move on to the security control. It was exactly like at the airport so all mobile phones, belts etc had to be taken off and x-rayed, together with the rest of the luggage. Apparently a bottle of water looked suspicious as a security guy (at least a friendly one) checked very carefully every single item in my backpack to finally confirm that it was water that brought his attention.
After the security it was time to be questioned by the border control in the cubicle. The middle-aged woman was nice but it didn’t go as smooth as at the airport. When I told I’m just going to stay for few hours in Jerusalem and then head to catch my flight back home she insisted to see my ticket. I only had an e-ticket printed and it didn’t seem to be enough for her and she wanted to see “the real ticket”. After all the explaining that I will get it at the check in at the airport she just kept asking all the details of my flight and typing them into the computer, probably checking if there really is flight no LO152 leaving at 6am to Warsaw. It took her a while but eventually she handed me my passport back, another blue slip of paper (just like the one I got at the airport when I arrived) and wished me a nice last day in Israel. I was thinking of asking not to stamp the passport but since I haven’t heard the sound of it I figured it’s not necessary. Before the exit from the border building there was one more guy briefly checking the passport and that was it, I was free to catch the sherut to Jerusalem (to find them turn right just after leaving the airport, they are around the corner, the ticket has to be bought before in the stand, it costs 42NIS and 5NIS for the luggage; sherut leaves as soon as they are full, which was around 10 minutes in our case and take less than 1 hour to reach the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem). All together the way from Amman to Jerusalem took 3 hours so that was pretty good as I read that 5 might be a standard too…
I spent an awesome last day in Jerusalem and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending of my trip. Big part of it I spent in the awesome Abraham Hostel, I actually skiped Tel Aviv to come back there as I had such a blast before. But then it was time to say some sad good-byes and catch 2am sherut to the airport. When I arrived a little bit over 3 hours before my flight the check in was already opened. But to get there I first had to have a small chat with a random guy, just like the one who asked me for my name on Allenby Bridge border. And while all the other border crossings were pretty straightforward this was the worst experience of all. The guy was in his 30s, really tall and angry looking. He flicked through my passport, notticed few stamps from Islamic countries (Qatar, Morocco, Turkey) and the questioning began, only about these 3 places + Jordan as I said I was there too. Why did I go there, what did I do, who did I go with, did I meet anyone, did I visit anyone at their house, what was my itinerary when I flew via Doha, did anyone from Morocco visited me at home… He also asked what did I do for 3 weeks in Morocco, even if I was there only for a week. All these time he didn’t look at me but everywhere around with the crazy eyes, he talked very fast and was hard to understand, he walked around me and acted like he was hyperactive… It was all very disturbing but I must have done good at the questioning as he just asked me if I have any knife (yes, a small one in the big backpack) or weapons (yyy, no) and I could go. Everything took maybe 5 minutes but was pretty intense, especially that it was at 3am… But I read about these tricks, that they try to unnerve you, they ask you confusing questions (like the one about Morocco) so if you are hidding something they can see it. So the only thing I can suggest to everyone here is to tell the whole truth, it saves a lot of nerves (as the whole experience is pretty unpleasant anyway).
I think these questions from the random-looking people are the worst part of the whole border crossing experience. The rest was pretty fine, even if it took ages (probably one hour to go through all the controls). there’s a checked-in luggage control, then the check-in itself, then the security control… Actually this one takes really long as they check every single item in your luggage with this funny looking machine (similar to the one you use at home to root away the dust). Then, at the actual border I wasn’t asked any questions. The woman just looked at me, checked the passport and printed yet another slip of paper, this one the pink one. It was an exit permit and it meant I managed to finish my incredible, adventurous journey with no stamps in my passport!!
These were just my experiences from Ben Gurion Airport, Wadi Araba and Allenby Bridge borders. Of course everyone has a different one and all you can count on is luck. I’ve heard pretty many stories from others. Marta, who I met on the tour to Hebron, was questioned for half an hour about the passport stamp from Malaysia. JP, my awesome travel companion from Malta (we spent the whole day together getting from Amman to Jerusalem and then exploring the later one), was asked about every single stamp in his passport – and he had only 2 pages with no stamps so you can imagine how long it took. Damian from Italy (that I first met in Wadi Rum and talked him into going to Jerusalem and stay at Abraham Hostel, when I saw him again) spent 3 hours at the Wadi Araba border only because he previously was in Iran and even if (according to his words) the border control was extremely nice and apologizing, they still had to check all his phone records and emails. But the worst story was from Martina, my new amazing friend from Czech Republic that I’m hopefully seeing soon again. She flew to Israel with El Al and already in Prague they randomly picked her for a very detailed inspection and questioning, they repacked her whole luggage and at the end she got the escort all the way to the plane… Then there’s another friend of mine, Ewa, was denied the entry all together, you can read the whole story on her blog (it’s in Polish though…)
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So yes, crossing the border of Israel can be challenging, nerve-wrecking, time-consuming and disturbing. But it’s worth it, big time. The country is incredible, the people are amazing, the oldest places in the world can be found there. I’ve never expected to love Israel so much and now I just keep asking myself why it took me so long time to finally go there. Every day I’m checking if there maybe are some cheap flights to come back there. I really don’t mind going through detailed security checks again if only I can spend some more time in Israel!
For my Polish readers: zajrzyjcie na bloga Łukasza Kędzierskiego do posta Izrael informacje praktyczne, aby dowiedzieć się więcej o tym kraju!
What was the most difficult and challenging border crossing for you?
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