Travelling to Israel in Coronavirus Time

About 18 months ago I accepted a job offer from Dan Maoz at Tel Aviv University to go and work with him. At the time I was on a one-year contract at Warwick that ended at the end of March 2020. My plan was to finish that contract, take a few weeks off with my family, and then move out to Israel. My original move date was 24th April 2020.

For some obvious reasons, that didn’t go ahead. Israel cancelled incoming travel when they entered lockdown just a couple of weeks before I was supposed to move. I spent a few months at home and unemployed, before starting to work remotely from my parents’ house sometime in July. In September Israel’s restrictions briefly lifted. TAU suggested two travel dates, and I booked a ticket for the second one, which was in early October — then Israel went back into lockdown. We arranged flights again in January, only for Israel to ban all incoming travel at the end of December after new variants of COVID started to make headlines. Those restrictions finally started to loosen in April, and I finally made it to the airport on 21st April 2021 — 362 days after I was originally supposed to move.

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Flying during the time of COVID is a bureaucratic nightmare. I needed permission from several different parts of the Israeli government. To illustrate the point, I needed all of these bits of paper:

  • Passport: (duh)
  • Visa: My second, since my first expired a few months ago. This was nearly my undoing, as my application got held up at the embassy, and I only actually got my visa through a week before my flights.
  • Entry permit: This shows that I have permission from the Israeli Ministry of Population to go there, ie that my reason for travel is good enough. It also confirms that I have agreed to quarantine when I arrive.
  • Boarding permit: This also shows that I have permission to travel to Israel, and also shows that I have agreed to quarantine, but it comes from the Ministry of Health. You have to apply for this within 24 hours of your flight. And the online form they use is broken … I tried several browsers on Windows and Linux, before eventually getting it to work on my phone.
  • Purpose of travel declaration form: This one again confirms that my reason for travel is good enough, but this one is from the British government.
  • Negative COVID test: has to be obtained within 72 hours of your flight.
  • Booking for a second COVID test at Tel Aviv airport, because why leave it at just one test when you can do two?

Still, I got all the paperwork together just in time, and the actual journey went smoothly. The airport was quiet, no queuing needed. Overall an improvement on the usual experience, except for wearing a mask while carrying a 10kg backpack.

The flight I was on was almost entirely Orthodox Jewish men. I’m not quite sure why, since these are only a minority of the people in Israel — perhaps there is an exception to the travel restrictions for religious travel? Or maybe there just happened to be a big group travelling together that night? I was in a row by myself so didn’t have a good opportunity to ask.

The flight was overnight, arriving about 4am local time (2am by my body clock). I reclaimed my two huge suitcases and queued for a long time to get yet another COVID test. The taxi got me to my accommodation for about 6am IL time. I had been worried about finding the place, but in the end it wasn’t too hard. There’s a security booth outside the dormitory where the guy gave me my keys and said, “Have a good quarantine”.

The sky was just turning light when I arrived, and the view from the window was pretty spectacular.