Would you believe that Israel uses the same currency found in the bible? It’s true! Talk about coming from old money!
About the Shekel
In the U.S., the basic unit of currency is the dollar. If you are using actual money, instead of a credit card, a dollar it is divided into 100 cents. When using coins, most of us expect to use nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents) or quarters (25 cents). After that comes paper money as 1-, 5-, 10, 20-, 50-, and 100-dollar bills.
In Israel, the basic unit of currency is the New Israel Shekel, abbreviated as NIS. The Hebrew symbol for the Israeli New Shekel is ₪.
The shekel is divided into 100 agorot, although the smallest denomination you will encounter is the 10-agorot copper-colored coins. The coins come in an assortment of sizes. The paper money comes as 20-, 50-, 100-, and 200-shekel notes.
Do I Need Shekels for my Israel Celebration Tour?
For the most part, a trip from Israel Celebration Tours covers your transportation, most meals, the tour guide, and hotels. When you are shopping for any incidentals or for mementos, most shops accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards. Discover cards are not accepted. American Express cards can be used, but additional fees will be charged if you use them. If you choose to leave a cash tip at a restaurant (rather than putting it on your credit card), dollars can be used, but coins can not. On the other hand, you may decide you’d like to get some Israeli currency for those times when you want to grab a quick drink or a delicious falafel from a street vendor.
How Much is a Shekel Worth in Dollars?
Without getting into the complexity of how the value of a currency fluctuates, let us simply say that Israel’s currency is quite stable. For the last several years, a shekel has been worth approximately 25 cents, in other words, you’ll get 3.5 to 4 shekels to the dollar.
We encourage you to visit these web sites to review how the dollar and the shekel are currently compared:
Where to Get Shekels?
After arriving, but before you leave Ben Gurion Airport, you can stop by exchange counters to convert some of you dollars to shekels, but don’t convert too much! You get a poor rate of exchange at the airport exchange shops. It is much better to go to an ATM machine, found at most hotels, which will give standard rates.
Your credit cards can be used to get Israeli money from any ATM debit machines specifically marked to accept them. These machines usually have decals for Visa, MasterCard, or international flags on them. You’ll find these ATMs in almost every hotel and in heavily touristed areas. If you are going off the beaten path, stock up on shekels in your hotel while you can.
Keep in mind that credit card companies protect themselves from theft by limiting maximum withdrawals outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. Check with your bank as to whether your card will function in Israel. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart home.
Remember that ATMs will not be restocked during Shabbat, and there’s usually a run on ATMs on Friday, so stock up before the Israeli weekend or holidays.
You can learn more about the history of Israeli currency at Wikipedia.