Banking in Israel

by Barclays Wealth International on May 14, 2010

Moving to Israel?

Your guide to expatriate banking services in Israel

Israel is situated in the Middle East, on the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Lebanon. The country has an advanced market economy and despite the global financial crisis of 2008-09, which resulted in a brief recession, Israel’s resilient and sophisticated banking sector enabled the economy to recover quickly.

The national language of Israel is Hebrew, although English is also widely spoken. The currency is the New Israeli Shekel (ILS – represented by the symbol ₪). As of April 2010, the exchange rate was approximately 6 ILS to £1 GBP (pound sterling).

 

Banks in Israel

Central bank

  • Bank of Israel

Commercial banks

  • Arab−Israel Bank
  • Bank Hapoalim
  • Bank of Jerusalem Ltd
  • Bank Leumi
  • Bank Otsar Ha-Hayal
  • Euro Trade Bank Ltd
  • First International Bank of Israel Ltd
  • Industrial Development Bank of Israel
  • Investec Bank
  • Israel Discount Bank Ltd
  • Mercantile Discount Bank Ltd
  • Mizrahi Tefahot Bank
  • Union Bank of Israel Ltd

Foreign banks with a presence in Israel

  • Barclays
  • BNP Paribas
  • Citibank
  • HSBC
  • State Bank of India

 

Bank opening times

Opening hours vary according to individual banks and, to a certain extent, from branch to branch. The standard bank opening hours are:

  • 8.30am to 12.30pm (Sunday to Friday)
  • 4pm to 5pm (Monday and Thursday afternoons).

 

Banking services in Israel

Most of the major banks have branches all over the country, but bear in mind that smaller, local branches may have restricted opening hours and services.

Most banks in Israel offer both telephone and internet banking, and also internet-only banking, with most of these services available in English. Most banks will provide bank statements and other related paperwork in English. You are required by law to keep bank statements for a period of seven years.

Overdrafts are generally made available to account holders, although they need to be arranged in advance with the bank and may attract a charge. It is advisable to check interest rates and charges before setting up an overdraft facility.

Many Israeli banks have dedicated foreign currency exchange counters. You can also use local money exchange services, which are typically located in the main shopping areas of larger towns and cities.

 

 

 

The main types of bank account in Israel

Israeli banks offer a wide variety of accounts, including current accounts, savings accounts and fixed-term accounts.

  • Current accounts, as in the UK, are typically used for everyday banking needs, but offering low interest rates.
  • Savings accounts will offer more competitive interest rates, with higher rates of interest being offered to longer-term accounts with restricted short-term access to funds. Interest rates may be variable or fixed.
  • Fixed-term accounts offer a defined rate of interest for a fixed term – typically ranging from a month to several years. Fixed-term accounts may offer little or no access to funds until the account matures. When the account matures (i.e., the fixed period expires), customers have the option to re-invest the capital and the interest earned.

Most banks also provide these accounts in a range of major currencies, including £ GBP (pounds sterling) and $ US (US dollars). It is worth assessing whether a foreign currency account will be useful for meeting everyday banking needs, such as making regular transactions in shekels for services such as utilities.


Opening a bank account in Israel

Opening a bank account in Israel is relatively straightforward, subject to meeting the application criteria and providing the required identification documents, such as a passport. Taking recent bank statements and a letter of reference from your current bank can also help with the application process.

Once your account has been opened, it is advisable to meet the bank manager, especially if you’re likely to need assistance or flexibility with important transactions such as major money transfers. There are strict rules about banking in Israel, but bank managers have a range of discretionary powers, and should be able to help with your banking requirements.

If you need to change banks, the competition between banks to attract new customers is high, so there are often a range of incentives and deals for new customers. Although the fees for moving accounts are typically small, there may be a significant amount of paperwork involved.

Opening a bank account before you arrive in Israel

Alternatively, opening an international account will give you access to a wide range of international banking services to help you manage your finances in Israel. In addition to offering tax efficient offshore banking and offshore savings options, you have the added flexibility of banking in a choice of major currencies.

International accounts can be used by clients living or working in Israel, and when travelling between international locations.

 

Credit card facilities in Israel

Credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are widely used and accepted in Israel, and credit cards can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs. However, cash withdrawals are likely to incur a fee.

There are two main types of credit card in Israel:

  • Credit cards that can be used for transactions in Israel using local currency only.
  • Credit cards that can be used worldwide, in foreign currencies.

Typically, banks will only issue a new customer with a credit card after they have been resident and/or employed for at least three months, or if they have deposited significant amounts in their account. As with other banking services, bank managers have a considerable amount of discretion to judge each case on its merits.

Unlike in the UK, it is expected that credit card balances will be paid off in full at the beginning of the following month.

Using cheques in Israel

Cheques are widely used in Israel, with banks allowing customers to post-date cheques for up to 12 months in advance and even deposit post-dated cheques. When the cheque payment is due, the bank will automatically process it and credit your account.

Bouncing more than 10 cheques in a month will lead to suspension of the account and all future banking privileges at any bank in Israel for a year. Doing this three times in a 12-month period leads to complete loss of banking privileges at any bank for five years.

When you have issued a cheque, you are able to stop it being processed if necessary. However, it is your responsibility to ensure you have sufficient funds in your account to honour any cheques that you issue.

Cash machines in Israel

Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are widespread, with cash withdrawals available 24 hours a day by using an ATM card (zero or low charge) or credit cards (higher charge). The majority of ATMs are located outside bank branches, and you can typically withdraw up to ₪1,000 ILS (shekels) a day – approximately £170 GBP (pounds sterling).

 

Money transfers to and from Israel

Money transfers conducted through Israeli banks are generally quick and efficient, and you also have the option of using one of the specialist money transfer businesses. It is worth comparing charges and rates beforehand to ensure you secure the best deal.

To help combat money laundering, Israel introduced limits in 2002 to money being brought into and taken out of the country. For the purpose of reporting, “money” refers to cash, bank cheques and travellers’ cheques.

  1. If you are entering or leaving Israel, money in excess of 80,000 ILS (approximately £13,700 GBP) must be reported to Customs.
  2. If you are a new immigrant first entering Israel, money in excess of 1,000,000 ILS (approximately £171,000 GBP) must be reported to Customs.

 

Bank charges

Overall, charges are high compared to UK banks. However, charges for individual services vary considerably, so consider your likely day-to-day banking requirements before you open an account and choose an account that gives you the most benefit for the least cost.

For instance, many people in Israel value having an account that has relatively low interest for overdrafts. However, if you’re likely to keep your account in credit, it’s worth considering an account that charges relatively high interest for overdrafts but offsets this with lower charges or higher interest for positive balances.

There are fees for almost all services, from cheque books and credit cards to using cash machines, or even any transaction involving a teller. It may be possible to negotiate fee levels with your bank for specific services or products, so again it is advisable to develop a positive relationship with your bank and maintain your finances responsibly.

Banking in Israel – other information

Israeli ombudsman

If you have any complaints or issues with a bank in Israel, contact the Israeli State Comptroller, who by law acts as the banking ombudsman. You can find more details at http://www.mevaker.gov.il/serve/site/english/index.asp

More information on banking with Barclays Wealth International

For further information about the benefits of opening an International Account before you move to Israel, you can speak to a specialist adviser at Barclays Wealth International by calling +44 (0) 141 352 3902.

Alternatively, find out more about the overseas banking services and expat banking that are available from Barclays Wealth International.

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