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israelroadsignFor years, Israeli passport stamps have bedevilled “Western” tourists visiting the Middle East. It seems, though, that a new Israeli policy – apparently only just launched – could signal more freedom (for some) to move around the region.

[NOTE: All of this applies only to holders of “Western” passports who are exempt from applying for Israeli tourist visas (full list here). Citizens of other countries must apply, pay a fee and sometimes wait for official clearance. However, Israel is known to discriminate against Western tourists of Arab or Muslim origin at its points of entry, and also severely restricts the movement of Palestinians into and out of the West Bank and Gaza – they cannot use Tel Aviv airport, for instance. Hold that in mind as you read on…]

The problem:

I explain the original problem in detail here.

In a nutshell, many Arab and Muslim countries refuse entry to people who show evidence of a visit to Israel. “Evidence” mostly means Israeli passport stamps, but it can also mean Egyptian or Jordanian stamps from the crossing-points into/out of Israel.

The ban means that, apart from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco – who don’t care – if your travels include almost any other country in the region you either have to construct a touring itinerary so you visit Israel last, or you have to do a complicated (and expensive) bit of backtracking through a certain border post where, thanks to a piece of bureaucratic doublethink, your passport usually remains free of stamps.

For years (decades!) Western travellers have meekly asked Israeli immigration officials not to stamp their passport, but – as has happened to me – officials have been known to cheerfully “forget” and bang a stamp in anyway. And then shrug. For me that’s not such a big deal. For someone, say, living in Dubai, such a stamp could mean separation from family, property and livelihood, and massive added expense and worry in obtaining a new passport and reconfirming immigration status.

The solution?

I was just in Israel again – entering and leaving through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. I asked the official not to stamp my passport, but this time he told me there’s been a new policy in the last “couple of months” and they’ve stopped stamping passports altogether. Instead he quickly scanned my passport and issued me with this:

israelimmigfront

It’s the usual B2 tourist visa, but on an electronically printed slip of paper, which includes my name, nationality, photo (copied from my passport photo), date and so on. My thumb conceals a serial reference number and my passport number, and I’ve obscured the barcode. You’ll spot that Arabic, one of Israel’s official languages, is noticeably missing here.

This is the back of the slip:

israelimmigback

There was no rubber-stamping at all. I kept the slip in my passport, and when I left the country the passport official returned it to me, again without stamping (she date-stamped my airline boarding card, that was all).

Is this a universal policy, or only at Ben Gurion airport? I don’t know, and I’ve not been able to source any official comment either way. The last time I passed through Israeli immigration was in December 2012, when I crossed the northern Jordan River bridge. Back then they were stamping – are they still doing so? Maybe someone could add a comment below to tell me.

And what happens if you are granted entry on a B2 visa, but with restrictions – excluded from PA areas, or restricted to PA only, or on a limited time validity (less than the standard 3 months)? Do they stamp then, or issue a printed slip? I don’t know.

If this turns out to be a universal policy, applied at every entry point, to every “Western” (i.e. visa-exempt) tourist, it opens up (for those people at least) the possibility of guaranteed free movement around the Middle East. You still need to be careful not to pick up tell-tale Egyptian and Jordanian exit/entry stamps, but if you know your passport will definitely remain clear of Israeli stamps, it’s one less thing to worry about on a complicated border-hopping tour through the region.

If anyone can shed more light, please feel free to add a comment.

UPDATE: It seems I was right, and there has been a policy change. One of the most experienced local travel companies, operating cross-border in Jordan and Palestine for many decades, has contacted me to point out a newly revised section on the website of one of their subsidiary firms. Their information corroborates my original post.

 

66 thoughts on “End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

  1. Can’t add more recent info than you already have, but I did have to turn myself into a pretzel on my last visit to avoid the situation you describe. Hope it’s changed!

  2. That is interesting. When I went to Isreal about 4 years ago we also went to Jordan, Egypt and Morocco on that trip. We didn’t go to Syria due to the stamp and I regret not going there every day.

    I went to Cuba about 10 years ago and they did the same thing with the card. There was no evidence that I was in Cuba, just an exit and entry stamp in Guatemala mysteriously 14 days apart. If Israel adopts that it would make it a lot easier to visit.

  3. As far as I can understand it, its the policy of Arab countries, discriminating against those wishing to visit Israel that causes the problem. Israel allows people with visas from, say, Iraq or Syria, yet Iraq and Syria refuse entry. So they are to blame, aren’t they?

  4. I’m not sure that ‘blame’ is really the appropriate word. It is what it is and the information is valuable. To add to Michael’s comment, I also believe that one can come in to Israel with a Lebanese stamp, but it can be problematic for them to go the other way round with Israeli stamp. Since I’m a tour guide in Israel, I’m interested in the subject as I sometimes have visitors who have been traveling in other countries in the M East looking for advice. Thanks for the article Matthew.

  5. Thanks for stopping by here, Jeff.

    Michael, I’m sure you’ll agree there’s a difference between a government making its own legal decisions about who to admit – and, understandably, choosing to bar all those who declare a visit to a hostile state – and a government singling out certain individuals on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, appearance or name. One is a legal right; the other is odious discrimination.

    Israel chooses not to formally bar those who have visited Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. That is its prerogative. (Though just try waltzing through Ben Gurion immigration showing those stamps…)

    Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (and others) choose to bar those who have visited Israel. That, too, is their prerogative.

    Ronni – it’s not just ‘problematic’ to try and enter Lebanon with an Israeli stamp; if the immigration official sees the stamp – and they examine every page closely, for exactly this reason – it is impossible. After all, the two countries are at war.

  6. Well, Matthew, the Israeli policy of strict screening of incoming visitors is an unfortunate security necessity. The Arab policy of refusing entry is a punishment – “you visited Israel? How dare you!”

    And I don’t really understand the discrimination remark – what do you mean exactly?

  7. “Unfortunate security necessity”? Come on, Michael. It’s like this:

    Israel’s policy punishes individuals, singling them out for special treatment on the basis of their looks, their background or their beliefs, regardless of what they have (or have not) done.

    The Arab countries, by contrast, take the view that people who declare openly they have visited a hostile state represent a threat.

    Their policy is based on what you have done. Israel’s is based on who you are.

    One is discriminatory and prejudicial to human rights. One isn’t.

  8. Last month I passed through Taba, Egypt to Israel and being my first time, I asked them not to stamp my passport. The official looked at me suspiciously and asked me why I didn’t want a stamp in my passport. Then she smiled and said they don’t stamp the books and gave me a slip of paper similar to yours. Good point about the exit stamps out of the country though. To a keen eye looking for it, it’s obvious you went to Israel even without an Israeli stamp.

  9. I’ve nothing really to contribute, but shall be most interested to follow this. But of course, it doesn’t “solve” the problem, with the stamps from an adjoining country giving everything away. This has always been the situation, since these stamps are (were!) checked carefully by Syrian and Lebanese immigration.

  10. Many thanks, xpat – I also get the suspicious looks, too.

    Ruth, you’re right – as I say in the original post – but (if true) it does remove one element of uncertainty, at least. Thanks again.

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  12. Was the same this year in april. No stamp at Ben Gurion airport but at Taba border crossing they stamp (israeli as well as jordan stamp)

  13. This is definitely an improvement in policy!! – I experienced first hand the troubles of having my passport stamped.
    My question now is – will there still be trouble for a “Westerner”, visiting Israel, with stamps from the other Arab countries?

  14. Empolitic – do I understand correctly that you’ve had troubles in Arab countries because of an Israeli stamp in your passport? And did you have trouble entering Israel, with stamps from Arab countries?

    As far as I know, based on experiences of friends who visited Israel with and without me, having a stamp of an Arab country (for example, Morocco or Qatar) in your passport is not a big issue. In many cases, no extra questions were asked. Stamps from, for example, Lebanon, Syria or Sudan may lead to a more thorough security check, but do not mean you’ll be refused entry to Israel automatically. On the other hand, an Israeli stamp in your passport probably bars you from entering several countries – those mentioned above and others.

  15. Finally this problem is gone – Matthew, the Arab countries policy was blatantly racist and anti-Semitic, given that they ban people who have visited the world’s only Jewish state. Not to mention the ridiculous aspect of this policy given that people still used multiple passports to get around this.

  16. Thanks for the comment, banana.

    The policy of refusing entry to people who have visited Israel is neither racist nor anti-Semitic: it is not based on who the individual traveller is (their ethnicity, or their religion), but rather on what they have done – they have visited a country with which the refusing country is either at war or has withheld diplomatic relations.

    Israel’s immigration policy, by contrast, profiles travellers on the basis of their ethnicity and/or their religion.

    One is discriminatory and prejudicial to human rights. One isn’t.

  17. Matthew,
    Your sympathies for the, Arab Cause (which comes through in your articles) not withstanding, there are a lot of people who are alive today who would not be so otherwise, because of Israel’s, “odious” policies of profiling. For all I know I’m one of them.

  18. Oh thank goodness… it’s bad enough that I get profiled for having an Arabic last name, and it was quite a lengthy and rather ludricrous detainment, to be sure… at least now, when I visit, after getting a fresh passport, I won’t have to worry about not being able to visit other places. When I went last year, for the first time, I didn’t even get a chance to ask him not to stamp, he was so fast…and the damage was done. Thanks for the article, valuable info, and “your thinking” is completely sensible.

  19. To update on this, I was in Israel / Jordan in July, with an itinerary like:

    Enter Ben Guiron
    Aqaba crossing Israel –> Jordan
    Aqaba crossing Jordan –> Israel [RECEIVED ENTRY STAMP]
    Aqaba crossing Israel –> Jordan [RECEIVED EXIT STAMP]
    Allenby crossing Jordan –> Israel
    Exit Ben Gurion

    At no point did I ask them to stamp or not stamp my passport, although secretly I wanted a stamp.

  20. After reading those comments, my own experience was that despite all those crossings (two of which were solo–and on the same day, had to return a f*(#@ing rental car–the rest with a female companion; I’m a guy) I never got profiled or even asked any questions except to confirm my first name. I have a US passport and am extremely ‘Aryan’ looking, but strangely also had two border control people ask if I was Jewish (I’m not; my name is very English also).

    I did feel bad for the Palestinians at the Allenby Crossing though. Tourists get to skip to the front of the line, while they wait the entire day (although it’s still about 2 hours even at tourist speed, vs. 8 for Palestinians).

  21. Israel has the right to profile like they do. I don’t know why you’re making it sound like they don’t. Every country does it. It’s them trying to keep people safe by making their time more effective. They know what the majority of people look like who may be hostile to their country. Thy know the signs to look for of someone who is scared and sweating. The Arab countries on the other hand won’t let anyone in to their country, even if you are completely friendly. All because you’ve visited a country that the Arab countries don’t like due to the Jewish religion.

  22. @SDMan – thanks for your insights here, much appreciated.

    @Seth – the Israeli government has the right to do anything it likes within its own borders, as long as that stays within domestic and international law. I’m not saying Israel has no right, I’m saying their policies stink. Should discrimination on the basis of race or religion be legal? And, even if it is legal, is it right?

    As for ‘trying to keep people safe’, well, that depends on how you define ‘people’ (it’s not, for instance, intended to heighten the sensation of safety and security among Israel’s Palestinians: are they ‘people’?) and also how you define ‘safe’ (a nation that has to rely on racist discrimination to underpin domestic security is, I would suggest, a nation that is by definition unsafe).

    As for ‘scared and sweating’, we are not talking about profiling on the basis of behaviour. It is profiling on the basis of ethnicity.

    I don’t understand why you would want to defend it.

  23. Go ahead and tell me about the last time El Al or Ben Guion Airport had a terrorist attack. Oh that’s right. It’s been a long time. And I’m not talking about the sensation of safety among people. I’m talking about the safety among people. It works in keeping people safe and that can’t be argued. You and I both know that if Israel stopped the racial profiling the airport would be attacked tomorrow. I don’t u del stand how you can disagree with that.

  24. I have an Israeli stamp from 2010. I want to fly into Amman this year for a Jordanian tour. Will I be prevented from entering because of the four-year old Israeli stamp?

  25. No. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. Borders have been open since then. There are full diplomatic relations. You will not experience any difficulties at all.

  26. Passed through Taba/Eilat in Feb 2014 and the Israelis were issuing the paper permits and not stamping. The Egyptians still do stamp however, so this is still ‘evidence’ of a visit to Israel.

  27. I have a British passport with Palestinian origin,name and place of birth ,I plan to visit Palestine west bank this year via Israel ( Ben gurion airport ) do I need to be worry about my entry or needs to apply for visa to Israeli embassy before ??

  28. hi Rami, thanks for coming by. I don’t think you can apply to an Israeli embassy in advance for a tourist visa on a UK passport – and I don’t think it would help you anyway. Everything might be OK, but you just need to be prepared for long and difficult questioning at the airport before you fly (be there 3 hours ahead of departure), and again at the passport desk when you arrive. Be prepared to be pulled out of line and questioned separately in a back room out of sight, perhaps for many hours, and for Israeli officials to demand your passwords to unlock your phone/tablet and to access your email/social media accounts, and then to question you closely about the people you email with and what you have written online. Even if they let you in, be prepared for the same treatment when you depart.
    You might experience none of this. But you should be prepared for it.

  29. Thank you for replying , but after reading that all I think better if I travel via Jordan , because I can understand the way you said (if they let you in ??) Mean my entry can be refuse ,and is my brother wedding gonna be this summer so its bit risk to do so.

  30. Thanks, Rami. Yes, it is a risk. But going in via Jordan doesn’t decrease the risk. It probably increases the risk: crossing the bridge is always difficult, complicated, time-consuming and expensive. I can’t advise you: it has to be your choice. They can refuse to let you in whatever you do. Or they can make it really difficult for you with questioning and searches, and then let you in. Or you might not get any trouble at all, and go straight through immigration.

  31. Most importantly for those of us who like passport stamps and other little souvenirs of where we’ve been, do you get to keep the B2 immigration slip when you leave Israel? Or do they confiscate it?

  32. I love passport stamps. So, my concern is opposite to that of most of you here: Can I get a passport stamp from Israel if I want one?

  33. Hi guys ! When going to Israel using land border crossings, please don’t forget that the stamp you get from the Jordanian or Egyptian authorities, state the exact location where you cross the border. Lebanon or KSA wouldn’t let you in when they see you that your passport has the Wadi Araba crossing for example, between Jordan and Israel. (Or the Taba Crossing) Even without having Israeli stamps ! You therefore better request a new passport, just to be on the safe side.

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  35. Hello,

    I am a British citizen but of Somali origin and I am planning to visit Israel at the end of October with friends for a long weekend! I am a pilot for a major airline and fly to a lot of Arab countries but I avoided Israel just because I didn’t want to go through the third degree questioning I’ve heard about! Question is can I expect that on my arrival into TLV? Matthew you are the best person to ask. Cheers

  36. Not sure I understand your question Mahendra. Israel doesn’t paste or stamp a visa into your passport anymore: it’s just a loose slip of paper. Is that what you mean?

  37. Thanks, Dan, I hope your trip went OK. Sorry for the late reply. It’s hard to advise: I would always suggest you prepare for tough questioning at TLV, both on arrival and especially on departure. I hope you see this message, and come back to let us know what happened to you…

  38. Just thought to share my recent (last month) experience with stamps.
    If you fly to BG Airport they do issue the B2 tourist Visa (no stamps), but I also crossed the south border (Eilat – Aqaba) into Jordan and received both Israeli exit stamp and a Jordan entrance stamp.
    I ended up looping through Petra, Amman and exiting back to Israel through the King Hussein bridge exit (allenby bridge) near Jericho and here both the Israeli and Jordanian sides stamped pieces of paper not the passport.
    So if you want to travel around the ME, avoid the south border crossing ( can still cross to Jordan without stamp if you use the north entry point).

    Hope this helps!
    Cheers,
    K

  39. Re: Steve’s comment – you do get to keep the B2 visa, you also get another one a reddish one for exiting and if you cross borders say to Jordan you get another B2 visa and Jordanian papers

    Cheers,
    K

  40. Hi Matthew,

    Thank you for posting this information. My family and I are visiting Israel on December 27th and then going to Turkey on the 31st to spend new year before heading back to the Philippines. I was worried about having my passport stamped in Israel as we will visit Dubai on March 2015. I was looking for an updated post since most information I found were dated 2011. Good to know I don’t have to ask for a separate sheet of paper for a stamp (or carry a second passport).

    Never been to Israel so I hope this trip will be worth the long flight. Hopefully we’ll get through the immigration without any problem. Thanks again and have a great day!

  41. My Swiss passport carries an Isreali stamp which I received during a visit in early 2009.

    On December 31 2014 I had no issues at all to enter Dubai. I don’t think the immigration officer even spotted the stamp among all those other stamps and visas in my passport.

    I assume this topic is mainly an urban myth which you can’t purge from the Internet anymore …

  42. hi Mario – thanks for your comment. That’s great – I’m glad the stamp didn’t cause you any problems. However, as far as I know, it is still official policy of the UAE and several other governments to refuse entry to people whose passports show evidence of a visit to Israel. But, as always in these situations, it’s down to the individual immigration officer who is processing your arrival face-to-face: if they don’t check your passport closely enough, you get lucky.

  43. WARNING for visitors crossing the Eilat-Taba border, never lose the sight of your passport when entering egyptian controls!
    i crossed the border yersterday and had my israel visa token away from it!
    i realized it when it was too late, 3 minutes after walking away. i went back and ask but could not have it returned, also because the only egyptian officer who could really understand and speak english was not there anymore.
    so now i dont have the b2 electronic piece of paper stating the date of arrival in Israel, only both stamps on my passport. i’m the sinai area now, will go back to Eilat then to Tel Aviv airport to take my flight back home in a week time.
    i expect lots and lots of troubles…
    until now i talked with 3 persons who were supposed to help, and everybody told me a different thing, i’m very confused, maybe Matthew or someone else has a useful contact, a web link, telephone, email or whatever in order to deal with the issue of a lost visa?
    angy

  44. hi Angy, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure what the problem is here – from what I understand, you left Israel and entered Egypt. That means your Israeli B2 visitor visa is no longer valid, since you have departed Israel. So when you return to the Taba border after your stay in Sinai, you will depart Egypt and enter Israel, whereupon the immigration officers will issue you with a new Israeli visitor visa, as normal.

    The Egyptian officials should not have taken the slip of paper out of your passport – it is yours, to keep or throw away, as you see fit – but the visa itself expired as soon as you left Israel. When you go back to Israel, you’ll get another one. Easy!

  45. @Angy: I think you’re overreacting. Take a deep breath and relax. If you really run into any problems re-entering Israel you still can freak out in that moment.

    But now, enjoy your trip!

  46. Hi Matthew, thanks for your very helpful blogs to all travelers to Israel. I am thinking about traveling to Israel with my son (18+) who has an American passport. We both look oriental or Chinese. I have a Malaysian passport and have Turkish and South African stamps on my passport among others. We don’t have the same last name. Do you foresee any long delay at the airport due to our profile combination? Thanks to all the postings I read in your blogs, I think we will fly in & out of Amman’s airport, then enter & exit Israel via Allenby crossing in between, we do not want any entry/exit stamps on our passports at all, not from Israeli nor the Jordanian authorities when using the Allenby crossing. What is your advice?

  47. hi Ashley – thanks for getting in touch, and thanks for your kind words. It’s impossible to say with certainty, but from what you say I doubt very much you will encounter any notable delays. You won’t get entry/exit stamps if you fly into TLV, or if you fly into AMM and cross the bridge – but the latter option opens up the possibility to spend a bit of time in Jordan, which I’d strongly recommend! Don’t plan to cross the bridge on the same day as flying – it’s wise to allow at least a day either side, so you’re not under pressure to get through the border quickly (which rarely happens). Have a good trip.

  48. Hey Matthew, Cant believe this convo is still going on but hey, I might as well add to it. I have read your post but I was wondering if you know if much has changed since 2013. I have a US passport and I have recently been to Morocco and I have a Moroccan stamp in my passport. I plan to go to Israel and Jordan next week (Entering Israel via Ben Gurion Airport then traveling down to Eilat/Aqaba crossing then to Jordan and back through Eilat/Aqaba crossing and then to Tel Aviv). I have a few short questions:
    -Will I be able to enter and exit Israel and Jordan with a Moroccan stamp in my passport?
    -I see you said in Israel they no longer stamp the actual passport, do I need to request that they do same in Jordan?
    -If they do stamp my passport in Jordan, will I have any issues entering other countries in the surrounding area or any muslim / arabic countries?
    Thanks so much for your help in advance.

  49. Hi LC – yep, this is a long runner… :) To answer your questions:

    Yes, you will be able to enter Israel & Jordan with a Moroccan stamp. No problem.

    However, using the Eilat/Aqaba crossing may be an issue – the Israeli side may not stamp your passport, but the Jordanian side definitely will at this crossing. That Jordanian entry stamp (and the Jordanian exit stamp you’ll pick up when you return Aqaba-Eilat) form evidence of a visit to Israel, and so will bar you from subsequently entering most other countries in the Middle East.

    The same would apply if you crossed from Israel to Jordan overland at the northern Sheikh Hussein border crossing, near Beisan/Bet Shean.

    The only way to avoid this problem is either to fly Tel Aviv-Amman (expensive, but scenic: see this post of mine) or to cross overland at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge between Jerusalem and Amman. To cross at Allenby, however, you must already hold a Jordanian visa in advance in your passport: the Jordanians do not issue visas here, but will not let you enter without one.

    Since you say you’re leaving in a week, that won’t give enough time to get a Jordanian visa from an embassy. So to avoid that telltale Jordanian stamp you either have to pay to fly, or resign yourself – if you later want to travel further afield in the Middle East – to the cost of a new ‘clean’ passport once you return home after this trip.

    Hope this helps. Enjoy it.

  50. are they gonna stamp my passport on my way out of Israel? ‘Taba Border’

  51. It depends on your individual circumstances, but I doubt it. If you entered Israel with only a loose slip of paper, they won’t stamp your passport as you exit. However, at the Taba border the Egyptians definitely WILL stamp you into Egypt, and that stamp will exclude you from subsequently entering most other Middle East countries.

  52. hello matthew,

    we cross to israel and we were placed with the border of jordanian going to israel in the north.. both getting out and getting it…

    we are going back to saudi arabia using the border.. is there a big chances we can get in…

  53. hi Angelo – I don’t quite understand your question, but if you use the northern border (Sheikh Hussein) to cross between Jordan and Israel, then the stamps you pick up on the Jordanian side will stop you entering Saudi Arabia.

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