Business visit to Israel
OK, so you’re planning a business visit to Israel.
You don’t know much about the country, the local customs or the people….. but what you do know is that you want the visit to be a success and not to fail because of minor, silly issues which could have been avoided, if only you knew how to act, if only you had the correct information up front.
If this is the case, then this article is meant for you.
In the last few years attire in Israel has improved dramatically and is approaching the dress codes in the USA and Europe. Today one can see more and more people going to work in a jacket & tie, but this depends very much on the workplace sector.
One can also now see well-dressed people at lower management levels, something that was not customary in the past.
As a visitor from overseas, “smart casual” attire is suitable for a morning meeting. The decision to add a jacket & tie depends on the importance of the meeting and the management level present.
If you arrive at a meeting and are the only one wearing a jacket, don’t worry about it, you are not “overdressed”. You are simply a visitor from overseas…. so it’s expected and acceptable.
At business dinners it is acceptable to dress casually. Jeans are most welcome.
Gifts for hosts
Israelis are always happy to receive gifts from visitors from over the sea…. you can also expect to receive a gift from your host…. something simple which represents Israel.
Occasionally, the gifts you receive may be large and heavy, without taking into account the fact that you need to return to your own country with no overweight… in which case it OK to politely refuse, with an explanation why.
You should bear in mind that there are many public companies or subsidiaries of public companies, where the acceptance of gifts and the value of the gifts, are strictly regulated. It would be preferable to bring only a simple, inexpensive gift, so as not to embarrass your host or put him in an uncomfortable position.
Israelis love to talk – and a lot. They cultivate intimacy at a high level and at even higher speed. The sharing of one’s personal life and questions asked of visitors may seem imposing, but it is customary and there is no reason to feel embarrassed or to decline to share what you don’t want to share.
Meetings will always start with a few minutes of small talk, not more. Getting straight to the point could be interpreted as being rigid and could affect the progress of the business proceedings at a later stage.
If you feel comfortable, you can share some details of your family life or your hobbies, etc. with your hosts. This will certainly be an “ice breaker” which can help to advance your business.
Venues for business meetings
Business meetings can be held in a variety of places.
Meeting rooms at the local company
Meeting rooms at hotels
Meeting rooms at specialty business centers
On rare occasions, business meetings could be held in public places such as restaurants or coffee bars.
If the meeting is to be held in the evening, it will probably be in a restaurant, either in the public area, or in a specially rented private room.
In Israel all types of alcoholic drinks are acceptable. There are no limits at business meetings if alcohol is offered by the host. Of course it is the decision of the drinker as to his ability to control himself and to continue making rational business decisions, while consuming alcohol.
At business dinners it is customary to drink an aperitif, such as a cocktail or beer at the beginning of the meal, and wine during the meal.
In Israel people do not convene for a drink before the meal. The aperitif is usually served at the beginning of the meal when the first course is served.
The law in Israel prohibits smoking in all public places. In most places it is not permitted to establish smoking areas inside buildings. Smokers are required to go outside onto the street to smoke.
For those requiring a smoking room in an hotel, this should be requested when making the booking. It should be noted that there are some hotels which do not provide smoking rooms.
The smoking of drugs is illegal in Israel. The transportation of any kind of drugs in or out of Israel is also strictly illegal and can get you into serious trouble, both at the airport and during your stay.
Conduct during a business meeting
Switch off your mobile phone
Don’t show family pictures or introduce personal details, unless your host has done so, and/or has asked you to do so and you agree to cooperate.
Sexist, racist or any other kind of insulting comments have no place in the meeting.
Maintain eye contact with the person speaking to you.
It is permissible to eat and drink during the meeting, but with the correct timing.
You should bear in mind that your meeting may be recorded in audio or video.
Conduct during the evening meal
Pay attention to the quantity of alcohol you consume.
There is no place for sexist, racist or other insulting remarks
It is the correct thing not to talk politics.
Table manners are European unless your host indicates otherwise, for example when eating at an Oriental restaurant, it is acceptable to hold a piece of pita in your hand and scoop the hummus directly from the plate.
It is perfectly alright not to know the local customs regarding meals – just ask.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is by taxi. Travelling time from the airport to Tel Aviv should be around half an hour in non-rush hour and the cost is about $ 40. For destinations further afield, it is possible to choose the bus service or the train.
The rail service in Israel has advanced greatly over the past few years, but still does not reach many places in the country.
There is no underground railway in the major Israeli cities and getting around is either by bus or taxi.
The average price for a taxi ride in Tel Aviv is about $ 14.
Apps such as Uber and Get Taxi operate in Israel.
It is possible to rent town cars or limos for all occasions.
Many hosts will pick you up at the airport and return you there at the end of your stay
Many hosts will also choose to drive you to and from your meetings.
Entering and leaving Israel
Entering Israel is very easy and the process is short. The airport is small and very convenient and the time from leaving the airplane until you reach the baggage area is about 20 minutes. Even at times of heavy congestion, the baggage claim works quickly and effectively.
It is advisable to have on hand a letter of invitation from the local company to show to the security personnel at the border control, in case you are asked.
In the event you are visiting Arab countries having no diplomatic relations with Israel, it is advisable to request at passport control that they do not stamp your passport, but use a removable sticker. This is to avoid problems when entering Arab countries in the future.
If you have passport stamps from Arab countries, be prepared to answer questions in this regard.
Leaving Israel takes a lot more time.
If the host company employs a security official on behalf of the Airports Authority, you should contact him in good time for a document which you can present to the security people at the airport. This could save you about an hour of the process.
Without this document the process could take up to 3 hours, so you should take this into account when planning your arrival at the airport.
The airport in Israel has a large, spacious duty-free area with a wide range of products at very good prices. You will find many kinds of gifts or whatever you require for your personal convenience.
Travel times to the airport from major centers in Israel
Tel Aviv: 15 minutes by taxi in non-rush hour traffic. Up to an hour in rush hour.
Jerusalem: 35 minutes by taxi in non-rush hour traffic. Up to an hour in rush hour.
Haifa: An hour & 15 minutes by taxi in non-rush hour traffic. An hour & a half to 2 hours in rush hour.
Tips in restaurants
In Israel the law does not permit the inclusion of tips in the bill.
It is customary to tip 12% – 15% of the bill.
In many places it is possible to include your tip with your credit card payment for convenience.
You can tip in local currency or US$ or Euro.
Tips in hotels
It is customary to tip the bell boy who brings your luggage to and from your room. The size of the tip is at the guest’s discretion.
Schedules and punctuality
This is a somewhat complex issue. Israelis are Middle Easterners and as such the matter of punctuality and sticking to timetables is not really second nature to them. Nevertheless, Israelis understand that they are doing business with people to whom this is second nature, so they do make the effort to adapt themselves accordingly.
Don’t be surprised if meetings don’t start on time or finish on time. Take into account that project timetables are flexible….you will need to plan your activities accordingly.
Generally there is a 10% variance, not more.
Israelis do not really understand the concept of personal space. They like to talk up close and they like to touch. If this disturbs you, you can certainly ask them politely to give you some space. No need to suffer….
When meeting, it is customary to shake hands, both for men and women. It is not customary to kiss or hug. Kisses on the cheek are possible only when the cheek is proffered by the lady and it is absolutely clear that it is acceptable. Only one kiss on the cheek is the custom. It is also not accepted for men to kiss men. In addition, it is not customary to hug – neither women nor men.
Working hours are standard: 09:00 to 18:00. Only when absolutely necessary or in an emergency is it acceptable to call later.
Regarding emails, messages that are sent during working hours are usually replied to on the same day or within 24 hours. Emails sent outside working hours will be read the next working day and the waiting time is considered only from the next day. If an urgent reply is required, it should be indicated in the message and/or by clicking the “priority” exclamation mark.
Dealing with the different levels in the local organization
As in most Western countries, here too it should be considered whom to approach about a specific issue. Bypassing authority should be done only if there is no other choice, in order to avoid the politics of the system. In the event that approaching a certain individual is not effective and does not advance the process, it is permissible to approach the person’s superior and obtain approval to reissue the request to the individual and to cc the superior in the specific instance.
You should always make requests in writing. A discussion without a written summary is like a signature on ice at the beginning of spring….
Places to visit
You are invited to visit a website called Must Visit, in order to see the variety of places which should not be missed while you are in Israel.
We would like to remind you that there are large numbers of soldiers and uniformed personnel on the streets in Israel. This does not indicate danger or a state of emergency. It is the norm in Israel and you can feel perfectly comfortable with it.
We wish you a pleasant journey and successful business dealings.