When speaking to fellow travellers, globetrotters and Couchsurfers, I am always amazed how many people are afraid of visiting Israel – not because of Hamas’ rockets from Gaza or because of suicide bombers, but because of a stamp in a passport. Guys, you are missing out on the most fascinating and interesting country in the world – for no reason.
There are two myths, one which is complete bogus and one which has some truth to it, but I will give you the hot-shot traveller’s advice on how to work your way around the so-called “Israeli passport stamp problem”. I have been to Israel many times and I have also been to Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. I have never had a problem entering any of these countries at all. – I should mention that I have a German passport (or two of them as you will find out later), but as far as I am aware these rules and tips apply to all other EU passports as well as US, Australian and all other “free Western world” passports.
Myth no. 1: You can not enter Israel if you have the stamp or a visa of an Arab/Muslim country in your passport.
This is completely false.
There is absolutely no problem if you have been to an Arab or Muslim country before, whether on the same trip or long before, and want to enter Israel.
In fact, there are open border crossings between Jordan and Israel and between Egypt and Israel (in Sinai). I have used both of these border crossings myself. Upon entry to Israel, you usually receive a 3-month visa stamped into your passport. Easy thing. I have also travelled to Israel after having been to Lebanon, Syria (the land borders between these two countries and Israel are closed) and Iran and never faced any problem.
Now, of course it could be that if your passport shows visas for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, that the Israeli immigration officer will have some probing questions for you, but that’s nothing more than you would have to expect in the UK, the US or if you entered the Schengen zone.
Myth no. 2: With an Israeli visa stamp in your passport, you cannot travel to any Arab/Muslim country thereafter.
There is some truth to it. Unfortunately, some countries are so obsessed with their hatred of Israel that they do indeed not give visas to tourists if there are stamps from Israel in that passport. To make matters more complicated, many of these countries do not apply these rules stringently. Generally speaking, you will have more problems if you try to enter Iran, Syria and Lebanon, you may have problems if you try to enter the UAE or Saudi Arabia, and you won’t have any problems when you go to Jordan, Turkey, Egypt or Morocco.
But now to my tested hot-shot tips on how to circumvent this problem:
1. get a second passport
No, not with another name and not from another country. Simply a second passport from the same country that issued your first one. Tell the passport office that you are travelling in the Middle East. Usually, they are already aware of this problem. I am now on my third set of two simultaneous passports and it was never a problem to get the second one. – If your local passport office causes a problem, offer them that they can always keep one of the passports with them, if your travel plans can accommodate that. You can then go to the passport office and exchange your passports as you need them.
I then use one of these passports for all Arab and Muslim countries and the other one for Israel, Europe and the US.
One thing you have to watch out for: In many countries, the second passport is valid for fewer years than your primary one (in Germany for example, it’s 5 versus 10 years). In order to avoid suspicion when going to Iran or Afghanistan, use the second (shorter validity) passport for Israel.
2. ask the Israeli immigration officer to NOT stamp your passport
Israel is fully aware of this problem and does not want to spoil your further holiday plans.
If you arrive in Israel by plane, you were always able to ask the immigration officer at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to please NOT stamp your passport and hand you a separate piece of paper with the visa stamp. From early 2013 on, this is now the standard procedure at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. You will now receive a separate piece of paper. Keep it and carry it with you. It is your visa. After your trip to Israel, even the most suspicious Iranian immigration official won’t detect a trace of Israel in your passport.
However, this only works at the airport. I have not yet heard of anybody doing this successfully who entered Israel via one of the land borders or by sea. At the land border crossing, it also wouldn’t make sense because Egypt for example would give you an exit stamp which says “Taba Border Crossing”. There is only a border with Israel, so everybody will know where you went, even if you don’t have an Israeli stamp in your passport.
If you are doing one big Middle East tour, you can of course simply go to Israel last. If you enter Israel via Egypt or Jordan, you can even use the land border crossing.
4. lose your passport
If you have Israeli stamps in your passport and you are planning a trip to Syria and your passport office is not cooperative with a second passport, simply “lose” your passport and apply for a new one. (The lost one will be blocked and you won’t be able to use it anymore.)
Happy travels and enjoy Israel!