In some countries, overland border crossing is easy and breezy – most time I don’t even know it happened. Other times, it’s a bit more challenging and takes some preparations.
Sadly the border crossing between Israel and Jordan is of the latter – so I’ve decided to share my experience so others can learn from it. From entry into Israel, Crossing from Israel to Jordan in the South and Crossing from Jordan to Israel in the North.
This is a 2-part post. Today it’s about entering Israel and from Israel to Jordan. In one week, I’ll tell you about from Jordan crossing to Israel and leaving Israel.
Firstly, I own a Canadian passport which I love to bits. In the back of it is my collection of souvenir stamps. However, as it nears the end of its lifetime there are only 2 pages which separates the official stamps and the souvenir stamps.
My collection of souvenir stamps has been more of a blessing than hassle. It serves well as a conversation starter or not. You will understand soon enough.
My journey to Israel and Jordan was last minute despite the idea of visiting them came many moons ago. When I was close to the end of my travels in Turkey and saw that I had 7 spare weeks before I have to return to Toronto, I decided to check for airfares. One look at Skyscanner, I see a reasonable one-way flight to Tel Aviv, Israel from Istanbul, Turkey ($130 USD). That one week before getting on the airplane involved reading online posts and forums about border crossing between Israel and Jordan.
I don’t know if that was a wise decision or not.
Ignorance is Bliss – I tell ya!
Canadians receives a 3 months visa upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. (See this page to find out if your passport is visa exempt) These days they print out a mini entry card instead of stamping your entry on a piece of paper or your passport (which would stop you from gaining entry to Arab countries).
However, the unnerving thing is if you read online travel forums and posts, you’ll hear about many people who were detained and questioned upon arrival. So when I got in line with the other foreign passport holders I was nervous and I’ve never felt this uneasy at any other borders. (Note:- Israel is my 51st country to visit)
Right there before my eyes, the young Japanese man from my lane and the African mother of 3 boys, one lane over, all had their passports taken by an official which came out of a room. They were told to follow her into that room. The reaction from the Japanese man was complete confusion and fear. I just keep hearing him mumble, my passport, my passport.
I started to worry even more as I walk up to the desk and hand over my passport. As she looks at all the pages filled with stamps in my passport she starts to ask about my reason to visit Israel and for how long. Then she also asks how will I pay for my travels. I told her that this is part of a 6-month journey and perhaps a few weeks to see the usual touristic places. (NEVER mention that you have intentions of visiting West Bank!!!!) As for the financial question (How do you intend to pay for your visit / Do you have sufficient funds??), I told her I’m using my savings and some inheritance money.
To note, I was surprised she didn’t ask me if I had a departure flight or a flight to return home. Perhaps she was too distracted by my souvenir stamps, as she had this inquisitive look when she kept flipping back and forth between those pages and commented that I have a lot of “Miscellaneous stamps”. We shared a few laughs about my love for travel and she welcomed me to her country.
When you’re permitted entry into Israel, you will get a small piece of Blue paper. They reprint the photo from your passport, so you do not have to give them a passport photo.
Later on, I find out from a local Israeli that in 1972, 3 young man from Japan filled their luggage with guns and explosives and killed indiscriminately at the airport. Hence, they might discriminate young Japanese tourists at the border.
TRAVEL TIP #1:
Be friendly and act friendly with border officials – especially the ones in Israel. You can be scared inside. Do NOT show fear – as it can be misinterpreted as you have “something” to hide. Answer all questions even if they’re very probing. Else risk a visit to the interrogation room. They are just trying to do their job and protect their country.
Again – even if you have every intention of visiting West Bank or Palestine, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT share your intention at the border control points. Even when you’re inside Israel, if you do not know the listener, and they do not work in the travel industry or is someone to help you arrive inside Palestine – just don’t mention it or bring up the topic. It can spark questioning and heavy discussions or arguments. One Israeli decided to end our short friendship because I went to Hebron and spoke about what I saw and experienced.
My plan-less plan was to visit Israel and Jordan in a counterclockwise loop. Starting at Tel Aviv, head south and cross the border at Eilat as I read Aqaba offers free entry visa to Jordan. Travel North inside Jordan and then cross back into Israel at the King Hussein – Allenby border crossing.
With this in my head, I still got talked into visiting the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv to get their entry visa in advance. On their website, it clearly states the cost of the single entry visa is $40 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) which is about $56 USD for 2-months but after being escorted up to their office by a soldier with a big huge gun, I was told to pay 360 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) which is approx. $94 USD. When I asked why it costs so much more in advance at the embassy they said they have to pay rent. I laughed inside my head and left their embassy quickly. They handed me a map of Amman and told me to cross at Eilat and get the free visa at Aqaba.
The reason behind the Free Entry Visa at Aqaba is because they want to develop it more as a tourist zone. So they have implemented the Free Visa and made it a Tax-Free zone to attract more tourists. However, the accommodations are not budget-friendly.
Fast forward a bit and I’m on the bus from Jerusalem to Eilat. You will find the bus #444 (to Eilat) at the Jerusalem Main bus station on Jaffa Road and it costs 82 NIS (one-way). After boarding the completely full bus, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier next to me with his big huge gun started a casual conversation with me. I tell him that I’m trying to cross the border to Jordan without staying in Eilat. He offers to talk to the bus driver when we stop for food to see exactly when/where I should get off the bus. Good thing he did that, it saved me the trouble and cost of going into Eilat then finding a taxi to bring me to the border crossing.
Note: During the 4-hour bus ride between Jerusalem to Eilat, they make ONE stop for food and washroom visit. There’s a McDonald’s along with a few other fast food vendors.
Most bus drivers have a good understanding of English, if not find a soldier or anyone that knows English and Hebrew and get them to translate to talk to the bus driver for you. There’s a bus stop directly across from the road which leads to the border crossing.
TRAVEL TIP #2:
Buy your bus ticket in advance!! IDF soldiers travel for free and this is their main method of transportation between their base and home. You can get on the bus sometimes after it is full but you will have to sit in the aisle.
To Exit Israel at the Eilat (Yitzhak Rabin Border crossing), here are the main steps:
- PAY the Exit or Passenger fee, as of October 2014, it is 107 NIS at the first set of counters. Payable in Cash, Visa or MasterCard.
- Take the receipt to the next set of counters with your passport. Smile. Looking pretty. They’ll give you the Gate Pass.
- Make sure you do not misplace these 2 pieces of paper until they have been scanned and you’re in “No Man’s Land”
Take all of your belongings and walk the “No Man’s Land” path to Jordan… What was interesting was the 2 huge concrete blocks painted into dice just outside the Israeli border. What’s the hidden message they’re trying to convey?!
To Enter Jordan, here are the main steps:
- Enter the x-ray room. Put your luggage onto the x-ray machine belt. If you’re “lucky” like me, the official will strike up a conversation and ask how does a Single man find a wife in Canada. Because he really likes Canada and wants to live there. *Silence
- If you are in need of a W/C (toilet), especially after a 4-hour bus ride from Jerusalem like myself. There is a set of facilities in a separate building to the left of the x-ray building, across a road. This could be your last chance before the short drive to Aqaba or the long drive to Wadi Rum or Petra.
- Follow the path. Fill out the Entry form.
- Submit your completed form and passport. Answer the routine entry questions. I was surprised to see I actually was given a One Month Residency Stamp in my passport. As long as it is Free, I’m fine and happy.
To note, I did not have the name or address of a hotel or anything to offer and they were fine with that. If you are not comfortable, do some advance research and find a “potential” place you might want to stay at for the night.
- Feel free to wander into the Tourist Information Center – they have some maps inside. Though they did not have any info in English when I arrived.
- I do not recall seeing a place for currency exchange. Make sure you have Jordanian dinars in your wallet before leaving Passport control area.
Here comes the ugly part. Welcome to the sometimes nice, most time horrible taxi drivers of Jordan. They all stand there waiting as you exit the border control point. There is NO public transportation into Aqaba or anywhere from the border. Either team up with other travellers or bite the bullet.
Because of their annoyance, I do not have photos. The supposed “taxi official” stopped me 2 steps after entering the parking lot. Questioned what is my destination and used his fear inducing tactics. There’s no bus in town. It’s too late. Claiming it’s all standard government defined pricing, though I did not see a sign – or I couldn’t see it because they were so distracting.
I tried my best to negotiate but I was flying solo. The family of 4 which crossed the border with me occupied their own taxi into Aqaba. I wanted to go to Petra or Wadi Rum and skip Aqaba. If I had crossed the border earlier (before 2 pm), I would have taken the taxi to Aqaba and then get on a bus to Wadi Rum or Petra.
After 15 minutes of dead end negotiation, he was willing to give me a 5 JOD “discount” and says, “Here is a taxi driver who wants to go and visit his family close to Petra, he will take you.”
Travel Tip #3:
NEVER sit in the front seat of a taxi in an Arab country – if you’re a woman.
What a horrible mistake on my part. Before I got into the taxi, I asked if the air conditioning is working, it was hot outside. It’s Jordan, in the Middle East – period. One random taxi driver blurts out, sit in the front if you want to enjoy the a/c. I did. What happened after was a lot of me telling the driver to stop touching my hand and my leg. What a shitty way to start my visit in Jordan.
Next week, I will talk about my most memorable experience of ALL time at the Israeli Allenby border crossing and the confusing experience at the Jordanian King Hussein border crossing.