Israelis make less money. School is free in Israel. Israeli health care is free. Real estate in Israel is expensive.
These are the assumptions often made by many who are considering aliyah. Which of these assumptions are based in reality and which are perceptions?
While talk is cheap, avoiding meaningful research can ultimately be costly. Prospective olim are having these discussions without actually crunching the numbers in order to gain a proper understanding of the financial landscape of immigration to Israel. Such a lack of knowledge and research can result in some nasty surprises when you make aliyah.
My advice is simple: Do the math! Sure, get as much advice as possible from people about making money and budgeting in Israel. But the best course of action is to take advantage of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s resources, like the December 16 “Bergen County Aliyah Dollars and Sense” event in northern New Jersey, which will be featuring practical aliyah-planning sessions on budgeting, cost of living and calculating earning potential in Israel.
Nefesh B’Nefesh is dedicated to revitalizing aliyah from North America and the UK by minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah. Along those lines, it’s helpful to be proactive and do as much research as possible to assess whether your expectations meet reality.
Perception: Israelis earn lower salaries across the board than their American counterparts.
Reality: Some Israelis might have lower earning power than their American counterparts, but many are thriving professionally and making enough to meet their lifestyle goals. In fact, people in high-tech and engineering are often doing very well even according to American standards. Even if most olim live more modestly in Israel, they still live comfortably and within their means. Israel is a skill-based society and many olim are finding the right income formula for their professional efforts.
Perception: Jewish education is free in Israel.
Reality: In Israel your children can receive an affordable Jewish education without American-style Jewish day school tuition bills of $25,000-$30,000 per student. However, school in Israel is not exactly free. Public education can cost a few hundred dollars a year and semi-private schools cost about $100 a month. The reduced tuition fees will give you greater financial leeway.
Even college tuition over three years usually doesn’t exceed $12,000. New immigrants may receive partial or full assistance for a BA or MA—check out these options and avoid the weight of college loans and debt!
Perception: Israel offers free health care.
Reality: Health insurance in Israel is excellent and isn’t a benefit you need to negotiate as part of your job interview process. New immigrants get free basic coverage for their first year and there is a general medical tax on your salary after that (it isn’t exactly free). Israelis have the flexibility to change jobs without worrying about the status of their insurance policies or the prospect of losing their access to top-notch care.
Perception: Housing in Israel is expensive!
Reality: While some areas in Israel are indeed expensive, living in parts of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem can be comparable to living in parts of NY, LA or other major cities. Living in Israel’s largest cities can entail high rents in certain neighborhoods, and it’s no surprise that parts of Tel Aviv are in that category, given the city’s role as the epicenter of Israel’s social justice protests over housing prices in 2011. The same hustle that people put to work in Manhattan is how young Israelis are finding their way and enjoying life in the start-up nation. The expensive life in New York City doesn’t deter people from wanting to live in the Big Apple; rather, it is pushing people to find new neighborhoods and options that spread gentrification (tip: check online to see the real-time price comparison). Israelis, too, are finding careers and making lifestyle choices that allow them to enjoy the best of both worlds. This is also true for other cities—look at the actual rental numbers and see what might work within your personal budget.
Perception: I can only find a job in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas.
Reality: Israel’s north and south are increasingly vibrant and dynamic areas, and Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go Beyond program (a joint initiative with Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel) provides financial and logistical incentives for new olim to move to those regions through aliyah grants of up to $20,000, subsidized pilot trips, career counseling and resources, personalized education and community guidance, six months of rental assistance and other benefits. The more affordable housing options in these areas are also creating new community options for English speakers and expanding professional horizons as well.
The Bottom Line
In Israel people are very open about their personal finances (while Americans often are not). Nefesh B’Nefesh strives to shed light on the financial implications of moving to Israel, with events like “Bergen County Aliyah Dollars and Sense” as well as its informational aliyah fairs nationwide—scheduled for this winter in Boca Raton (December 12), Miami (December 13), Baltimore (December 16), Philadelphia (December 17) and Chicago (December 18).
Informational events on aliyah provide the ideal opportunity to acquire more knowledge and take a step forward in the aliyah planning process, while delving deeper into common perceptions. Crunching the hard numbers will demystify the financial outlook on living in Israel and will correct some stereotypes that simply are untrue. We are here to help you do the math.
By Marc Rosenberg
Marc Rosenberg is director of the pre-aliyah department at Nefesh B’Nefesh. Since its founding in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA, has facilitated the aliyah of over 57,000 North Americans to Israel.