We advise our students to avoid traveling to Israel with large sums of money, but you may want to have a small amount of cash for your first days. Do not open a bank account in a U.S. branch of an Israeli bank since Israeli branches do not have information about accounts opened abroad.
Opening an Israeli bank account:
The main banks in Israel are Leumi, Hapoalim, and Discount (all have branches conveniently close to campus). Some international students choose to open an Israeli bank account. There is a student-friendly branch of the Israel Discount Bank on campus, which will allow you to open an account using a personal check, travelers' checks, and/or cash. Certain services, such as depositing checks, can only be done at the same branch at which you opened your account, but withdrawing money from an ATM can be done from any bank. American citizens must report their Israeli bank account in their annual income tax filing, regardless of its duration and total sum. As a post-doc student, you are entitled to open a student account which will save you a lot of fees.
Since you do not have Israeli ID, the bank clerk, when opening an account, will randomly assign you a fake ID number. Please make sure you write down this number. You will need it for future services provided by the bank.
The easiest way to have immediate access to your money from your account in the United States is with an ATM card. We strongly suggest that you arrange for an ATM card from your local bank along with a 4-digit PIN number (personal identification number), and that you make sure it can be used in Israel. Please be aware that you will not be able to use a debit card that does not have a credit card logo. Therefore, you should make sure that your bank card is both a debit card and a credit card even if you will not use it as such. We do not advise relying exclusively on ATMs as your only source of cash, due to potentially high transaction fees per each withdrawal.
The most popular credit card in Israel is Visa. MasterCard and American Express are also widely accepted. Most businesses accept these cards for goods and services, and banks offer cash advances. Transactions are then billed to an account back home.