Israel takes airport security seriously, perhaps moreso than any place on earth. The nation is constantly dealing with multiple security threats and is surrounded by neighbors that don’t count as friends.
Israel is a great place to travel, and an easy destination for U.S. and Canadian citizens — and an increasingly attractive option for using points and miles redemptions — but be prepared to spend some time at Ben Gurion Airport Security. There’s a clear reason that this airport is considered to be one of the safest in the world.
For those unaccustomed to transiting Ben Guiron, we recommend you use an exceptional three hour buffer before any departing flight. Fortunately there are some decent lounges to spend time if you make it through the process quickly.
Of course, there are lots of ways to fly to Israel using travel rewards. You can even use miles and points to fly on Israel’s flagship carrier El Al.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport
A vast majority of tourists go through border control in a very short time. Even if the lines are long, there are usually plenty of agents working and lines average 20-25 minutes, a blink compared to a bad day at Newark Liberty or London Heathrow.
Be prepared to answer questions about your previous trips, regardless of how recent they are, your travel patterns and your plans in Israel. What could trigger such treatment? Most likely passport stamps from countries that aren’t friendly toward Israel, such as Iran, Lebanon and other Arab nations.
If you are among the unlucky few who get pulled aside for questioning, there will typically be a wait for your interview.
In short, if you’ve visited Muslim countries before entering Israel, you might be asked additional questions on arrival and departure. Be prepared for repetitive, but polite, questioning by Ben Gurion security personnel. It’s important to be patient and to take the questioning in stride.
Tip: Bring paper copies of your hotel reservations, names and phone numbers of your friends and colleagues. These might come in handy if you are stopped for additional security screening.
Israel no longer gives out passport stamps on arrival – good news for travelers going to other countries in the Middle East for which this might previously have been a problem.
What to Expect When Leaving Israel
Don’t be surprised to see a security checkpoint at the highway entrance to the airport. All vehicles entering the airport have to go through this inspection, and it usually takes just a couple of minutes. The cars are waived through pretty fast, although if there are a lot of flights departing at that time of day (or night), it can take up to 15-20 minutes to get through.
Ben Gurion is a busy airport and there are flights departing 24/7 (the airport is only closed on Yom Kippur). There really isn’t a time when the airport isn’t busy. If you have a late evening or even middle of the night departure, that’s when the airport might be at its busiest, so plan accordingly.
Checkpoint One – The Interview
You will encounter the first security check before you get to the check in counter. There are several different security areas, go to the one that services your airline. The agents talk to each person for at least a few minutes. They will ask standard questions about who packed your bag, what you did and where you traveled during your visit.
Everyone – even Israeli citizens – is interviewed as part of security. This is part of Ben Gurion security procedures, so don’t be surprised by what sometimes might seem like random and repetitive questions. If you’ve gone to Jordan or Egypt from Israel, you will most likely have to answer some additional questions. Time spent here is a major variable, and will depend on your answers, your itinerary and your risk assessment by the first screener. Usually, this initial screening takes just a couple of minutes, but it can vary.
After your initial conversation, the screener will put a yellow sticker on the back of your passport and you can continue to the check in counter. Sometimes they will ask you to open your bag and will search it manually or will send it through an x-ray machine.
Checkpoint Two – X-Ray and Explosives Screening
There is another security screening after passport control – the standard metal detector/x-ray line. If you were singled out for additional screening they will manually check your carry-on and will probably swab for explosives. This is also a standard procedure, nothing to be worried about, just make sure you have ample time before your flight.
Israeli airport security procedures focus more on people than luggage. If you are pulled aside for additional screening on arrival, just stay patient and polite. There’s no way to tell how long this additional screening could last, so patience is paramount. On departure, my best advice is to leave yourself plenty of time before your flight. Again, in Tel Aviv, we recommend arriving three hours early if you’re unfamiliar with the airport and its unusual procedures.
If you are planning a trip to Israel and other countries in the Middle East or Muslim countries in Asia, such as Indonesia or Malaysia, it might be a good idea to go to Israel first, before you get all of these other stamps in your passport.
If you get through security fast, that’s great! There are lots of shops and cafes where you can pass the time before your flight. If you are flying in business class just relax in the lounge. If you have a Priority Pass membership, there are two lounges you can use and a recently added bar.
If you’re not traveling with a card that includes priority pass, you absolutely should. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a good place to start. The Platinum Card from American Express or the American Express Business Platinum Card have enhanced lounge access above and beyond the Priority Pass options.