Security concerns require travelers to obtain, carry, and show documents to cross international borders. The documents you need will vary, depending on your place of origin, destination, and mode of travel.
Since many of our Bible Land Explorers are citizens of the United States who travel by air to Israel/Palestine, the following comments are tailored for that journey. Non US-citizens and US-citizens who are headed to other destinations should read on, but are encouraged to consult governmental websites (such as those listed in this post) for the most up-to-date information.
Three kinds of documents are considered here: the passport book, the visa, and the airline ticket.
1. The passport book
All US-citizens traveling internationally must carry a valid passport book.
If you do not have a passport book or are in need of renewal, go to the website linked here to start the process. Getting a passport book is not difficult, but it does cost money (up to $150) and it can take time (routine service requires 4 to 6 weeks to complete).
If your travel dates are less than three weeks away, you must expedite the process. This will grey your hair, cost even more money, and may require a personal visit to a passport agency or center. Bottom line: avoid the panic; work on this now. You can’t start this process too early.
Two other notes of interest.
First: If you have a passport book, look for the expiration date on the picture page. Airline and customs officials will check this date against the date of your planned return to the US. If the date of your planned return is less than six months from the expiration date of your passport book, you will not be allowed to leave US soil. Passport books for grownups are supposed to be good for 10 years, but in truth, it is only good for nine and a half. My guess is that governmental officials don’t want to mess around with folks who get stuck in a terminal somewhere and have their passports expire. If you have flown Allegiant or Frontier Airlines lately you know that a six-month delay is not an impossible scenario.
Second: While traveling, take care of that passport! Zip it up, lock it down, tuck it away! Your US-passport is a valuable item. If it is lost or stolen, you will suffer some hardship and cost. While in Israel-Palestine, I encourage our travelers to lock their passports in the safe provided in their hotel room. It is more secure in the room than it is in a fanny-pack pocket (and just between friends—lose the fanny-pack before you leave home please).
2. The visa
The purpose of the passport book is to certify a person’s identity and country of origin. The purpose of the visa is to demonstrate that a person has been given permission to enter, stay, or leave a country. Visas are commonly stamped or kept in a passport.
For US citizens arriving in Israel for touristic reasons, a free on-arrival visa (B/2) is usually given in the airport. See the link here for more details. This visa is usually good for 90 days, although a more limited time may be given if they notice you are wearing a fanny pack.
For non-US citizens a visa may need to be secured from an Israeli embassy in your home country before arrival. See here for more information.
All travelers will receive a border control card like the one pictured above before leaving the secure area in the Tel Aviv airport. This card certifies that you have entered the country legally and that you are not an Israeli citizen.
Please place this card inside your passport and keep it there for the duration of your stay. Because this card is not affixed to your passport it can be easily lost. In some situations (hotel stays, car rentals, VAT tax exemptions, cranky security people, etc) you may be asked to provide it.
When leaving the Tel Aviv airport, the blue border entry card will be replaced by a pink border exit card. You may throw both of these away when you return to your home (or keep them as cheap souvenirs!)
3. Airline ticket
As the paperless age gains momentum, airline tickets are not as important as they once were. Most US carries no longer issue paper tickets. However, if you have visa issues of some sort, proof of your planned departure may be needed. Every traveler should have ready access to his/her flight information including carrier, confirmation number, flight number, and date and time of travel.
If this information is not available on a phone (and service/wifi is not always reliable), I recommend carrying it printed in a notebook or on a small sheet of paper folded in a wallet or pack. Again, it may not be needed, but if it is, you will have it. Don’t be a rookie.
Depending on how often you travel internationally, it may be helpful to join the U.S. Customs and Border Protection program known as Global Entry. As is the case with obtaining a passport, joining Global Entry is a process, but once approved, there are many advantages. These include the TSA Pre✓ benefit as well as expedited US customs screening when returning to the United States. Dodging the long lines makes you feel like a boss, and, in some cases, credit card companies that cater to travelers (like Capital One Venture) will pay the Global Entry fee! Ya can’t beat that!
For more on the Global Entry program, follow the link here.
The US government issues a laminated card to members of the program. This prize should be added to the collection of travel documents carried by the seasoned Bible Land Explorer.
If you are thinking about putting some of this practical advice to use, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.