To state the obvious: driving in Israel as a tourist or as an oleh chadash is scary. Mix middle eastern driving, middle eastern roads, and good ole Israeli chutzpah, and you’ve got the perfect storm for disaster. Unfortunately, you can’t take a bus everywhere. And sometimes it’s just more practical to take a car for a long-distance trip or to schlep all of your groceries from Rami Levy/Osher Ad. You can drive on your foreign license for one year from the day you entered Israel (as long as it isn’t expired). After the first year, you’ll need to have converted your driver’s license or face taking driving tests from Israeli driving instructors.
Here are a few things to know about converting your driver’s license:
- You must have a current valid driver’s license and have been licensed (not a driving permit) for five consecutive years prior to your Aliyah date. You’ll need to prove this with documentation. The easiest way is to present your current driver’s license along with your previous expired license, though you can also bring a driving record from the DMV of your former country (showing your licensure’s date of issue).
- Apply for a driver’s license through Misrad HaRishui’s (Ministry of Transportation) online application. The form is in Hebrew; if you’re not fluent, you can always open it in a Google Chrome browser and use the Translate function to translate the web page. It will ask you for which type of license you are applying for. If you want to be able to drive a regular car, that would be a B license. You will also be asked to provide a telephone number. Make sure you provide one that can receive text messages from Israel. Later on, you will be sent a confirmation text for your appointment, which will allow you to go through security.
- If you have any medical problems, you’ll need to declare them. You’ll also need to provide additional forms and paperwork about your illness and have your kupat doctor sign a letter stating you are safe to drive. If you need to do this, know that it can take a long time to leap through these bureaucratic hoops, and you may miss the one-year deadline. APPLY EARLY!
- Go to an optometrist that does eye exams for driver’s licenses and takes photos. Not all optometrist clinics are approved for doing eye tests to get a driving license. Of those, not all will take photos for your new driving license. My husband and I went to this clinic in Jerusalem on King George Street near Ben Yehuda. The process was super quick, and the staff spoke English. A complete list of eligible clinics (in Hebrew) can be found here. You’ll have to pay a 50 shekel fee for the service.
- Make an appointment with Misrad HaRishui through the MyVisit app. Select המרת רישיונות זרים. We went to the Talpiot branch in Jerusalem (HaUman 10, Jerusalem, Kaduri Building, Talpiot) and had no issues. I have heard from other olim that they were asked for more documentation at the other Jerusalem branches. If traveling from outside of Jerusalem, it’s better to make an appointment early in the day.
- Go to your appointment and take the relevant documents with you. This includes your current foreign license, Teudat Zehut, Teudat Oleh, and proof of being licensed five years prior (expired license or DMV record). Be there early, as lines can get very long. Present the text message with your appointment time to security, and they’ll let you through. Once you’re inside, register at the front desk and get a ticket number for them to call you.
- After you are approved for an Israeli license, you’ll first need to activate it before you are legally allowed to drive using it. To activate it, you’ll have to pay the licensing fee of 432 shekels. You can pay online, over the phone (dial *5678), or at your local post office. If you are paying online, you’ll need to choose service type: “Renew driver license.”
- You’ll first be given a temporary paper driving license until your permanent card is mailed to you. The paper license is valid for six months, with the card license usually taking between 2-3 months for delivery. Your new driving license card will be valid for ten years, after which you’ll repeat this process all over again. Good luck!