What are the important things to note before choosing a bank?
The importance of location
In Israel, unlike in the United States, your bank account is associated with a specific branch, your snif, with which you sign up when you register for your bank account. To complete any major transactions or make changes to your account, you must go to your specific branch. Therefore, it is important to keep this in mind when choosing a bank and when choosing which branch to sign up with. Though it is possible to change your branch later, doing so is a process in and of itself and it is easiest to simply select your preferred location from the start. Location may therefore play a role in choosing a bank, as some banks have snifim closer to your home. Additionally, some banks are much more widespread and have a greater amount of branches throughout the country, thereby making them more easily accessible. If this is a factor, then you should go with a more major bank, some of those being Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim.
Some banks are better and some are worse at being accessible for English speakers. While certain banks may have English phone apps available, others do not. Similarly so with the amount of English-speaking bankers in a given bank. Larger banks tend to have more English-speaking staff than smaller, more local ones.
Different banks differ in their services for non-citizens. This varies by bank, so it’s important to research a specific bank’s services, or lack thereof, for temporary residents, residents with visas, etc.
Different banks have different fees for transactions, human services, checkbooks, etc. The monthly fee refers to the minimum fee that the bank charges per month. It includes the transaction fee. In Israel, you are charged for every transaction from your account, including check, cash withdrawal, etc. This is the transaction fee. The teller fee is the fee that you are charged when you make a transaction via the teller, rather than through a bank machine. Banks also charge fees for depositing foreign currencies, making transfers, wiring money, maintenance of bank account, and checks, but these fees tend to vary less and are less significant in choosing a bank.
Banks also differ in their offerings for international transactions. Some banks charge much larger fees for international payments and transfers between bank accounts. Some banks also make it easier to directly deposit/transfer money from an international bank account into your Israeli bank account, and some don’t accommodate this at all.
Banks are open and accessible at much weirder and more inconvenient hours than those banks in America. Most banks are open during daytime hours, and have one day a week when they are open during evening hours. If this is an important fact, you should check to see when your bank snif is open in the evenings, and choose accordingly.
What are the main banks to choose from in Israel?
Transaction fee: 1.35 NIS
Teller fee: 6.5 NIS
Monthly fee: 13 NIS
Bank Hapoalim is the largest Israeli bank and as such, is the most convenient in terms of branch and ATM offerings. It has over 600 ATMs and 250 bank branches. While its popularity means that there is a decent amount of customer service in English, there is no English app available, nor is there an English website. Hapoalim is known for ease and convenience, and it is relatively no-hassle to open an account. Bank Hapoalim offers reasonable discounts and deals to students, making it an ideal option for that population.
Ramot Mall – Golda Meir 801
King George – 16 King George
Ramat Eshkol – 13 Paran St.
Talpiot – 101 Derech Hevron (in Tzomet Habankim)
Main phone number: +972 3-6532407
Transaction fee: 1.65 NIS
Teller fee: 5.5 NIS
Monthly fee: 11 NIS
Bank Leumi is the 3rd cheapest bank in the country. It is the second-largest bank in the country, with over 400 ATMs and 200 bank branches. Leumi is typically well accessible through phone/online chat, and has relatively decent customer service for Israel. There tend to be English-speaking staff at almost every branch, and there is an English phone app available as well.
Ramat Eshkol – 15 Paran St.
Talpiot – Derech Hevron 101 (in Tzomet Habankim)
Ramot – Golda Meir 1 (Ramot Mall)
King George – King George 22
Emek Refaim – Emek Refaim 4
Main phone number: +972 3-9545522
Transaction fee: 2 NIS
Teller fee: 5.9 NIS
Monthly fee: 11.8 NIS
Discount Bank is Israel’s third largest bank. It is the only bank that will accept customers that only have a passport and not a Teudat Zehut (Israeli identification card, similar to one’s Social Security number in America). Discount Bank also has many English-friendly services, as well as an English website, but does not have an English app. Discount is known for having special account offers and discounts for young people, soldiers, and other special groups, and offers deal for new joiners.
Jerusalem center – Yafo 103
Ramat Eshkol – 9 Paran St
Talpiot – HaUman 17
Main phone number: +972-35146355
Bank Mizrahi Tefahot
Transaction fee: 1.76 NIS
Teller fee: 6.8 NIS
Monthly fee: 13.6 NIS
Bank Mizrahi Tefahot is known for its convenient customer service both online/by phone and in person. It is the best bank in terms of mortgage lending, which is important to note if you are considering buying property in Israel.
Transaction fee: 2.5 NIS
Teller fee: 6.5 NIS
Monthly fee: 13 NIS
First International (FIBI) Bank specializes in business accounts and premium accounts for high-net-worth customers. It is known for its specialty in private banking options. FIBI allows you to transfer foreign currency to accounts in Israel and around the world easily and quickly, making it ideal for customers engaging in more international/foreign transactions. There are private, business, and platinum plans available.
These are not all of the banks available in Israel. Rather, they are the the biggest and most central ones, making them the most accessible to olim and internationals both in terms of English capabilities and in terms of international capabilities. These are also mostly banks that allow non-citizens to open accounts, whereas smaller banks do not always offer this option. With further questions on banks not listed, please reach out to the author.