If you had asked me in early December 2020 whether it would be possible to visit Israel in 2021, my answer would’ve been a total “yes.” At that point, vaccines were rapidly rolling out in the Jewish State (and around the world); for the first time, the beginning of the end of the pandemic was in sight.
It still is, days from January, when I write this. Unfortunately, news of a “mutant” variant of the virus from the UK (and another from South Africa) triggered a fresh round of travel restrictions around the world, including a complete closure of Israel’s border for an indefinite period, in spite of zero evidence that the variant is deadlier or might evade the antibody response of nascent vaccines.
I believe that Israel will re-open to tourists at some point in 2021, but the willingness of the Netanyahu government to react impulsively and in such a dramatic fashion gives me pause. Continue reading to get the facts, while I’ll be updating as they change.
Is Israel’s Border Still Closed?
If you want to visit Israel in 2021, a prerequisite will be that the country’s border is open. As 2020 waned, Israel’s border remained mostly closed, except to citizens and to foreigners who were legal residents of Israel. Unfortunately, upon news of a more transmissible (but not more lethal) variant of Covid-19 discovered in UK, Israel’s government took the draconian step of another full border closure, which remains in effect at this time.
My feeling is that the border will re-open, at least to how it was in early December 2020, as soon as scientists can delineate the implications of the new variant through laboratory experimentation in a way that satisfies the Israeli leadership. However, I anticipate that the border will remain closed to non-essential traffic at least through the first few months of 2021, until global vaccination campaigns begin to bring the pandemic under control.
Places to Visit in Israel
A stroll down Tel Aviv‘s Rothschild Boulevard is always a good idea, but it will be just what the doctor ordered in 2021, especially once its trendy restaurants can operate full again. Absent this, you can always head up to Hilton Beach for a swim, or down to Jaffa to enjoy falafel and the ancient port’s decidedly Arabic feel.
Jerusalem and the West Bank
Whether you end up visiting Israel in 2021 or any other year, there’s never a bad time to visit the eternal, holy city of Jerusalem, particularly the colorful and cultural Old Quarter. I also hope you’ll travel from Jerusalem into the West Bank, regardless of your politics—it’s important to get both sides of the story.
Haifa didn’t get as much love as it deserved before the pandemic—I hope this changes afterwards. Once you finish exploring city center attractions such as the iconic Baha’i Garden, make a day trip to the ancient port city of Acre/Akko, the Jaffa to Haifa’s Tel Aviv.
Nazareth and the Galilee
Another place to prioritize when you visit Israel in 2021 is Nazareth, a holy city on the Sea of Galilee that will is full of surprises and delights. Most notably, Nazareth is home to the largest and most populous Arab community in Israel-proper, and is proof that peaceful co-existence is possible.
Eilat and the Negev Desert
I’ll admit: I’ve never really seen the appeal of Eilat as a city, although of course there’s something to be said about its Red Sea beaches, and the underwater treasures as well. Absent this, southern Israel also offers the Negev Desert to intrepid explorers—I especially love the hiking trails around Mitzpe Ramon.
When Will Israel Re-Open to Tourists?
The bad news? I don’t have a date for when Israel will allow tourists again, or even an estimate for one that I feel confident enough to share. The good news? I do know the benchmarks the government will likely use to re-open, which I imagine will take place in phases. In the beginning, as Israel’s domestic epidemic comes under control, I imagine Israel will permit the entry of travelers who are able to produce negative Covid-19 tests and also, to prove that they have been vaccinated against the virus.
Once case and death rates begin to drop precipitously on a global scale, at least in the developed world, I imagine the stringency of checks are the border will slowly decrease, to the point where by some point in 2022, things seem almost how they were in 2019. Which is to say that while you will almost certainly be able to visit Israel in 2021, you’ll need to be willing to jump through some hoops in order to do so.
FAQ About Visiting Israel
Is travel to Israel safe right now?
If you are legally able to visit Israel (in other words, you possess an Israeli passport or residence permit), Israel is relatively safe, minus high Covid case counts and the persistent (albeit very low) threat of terrorism. As 2021 approaches, I don’t expect travel to Israel to become materially less safe.
What’s the best month to visit Israel in 2021?
I recommend visiting Israel as soon as you possibly can! However, given that tourism is likely to remain shut down for at least the first half of 2021, September and October look to be the best months to visit Israel in 2021.
Can Americans visit Israel right now?
Americans are not explicitly banned from visiting Israel during Covid-19, but only travelers from the US with Israeli citizenship or residency will be allowed to enter the country for the time being. Once pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted, American citizens will once again enjoy a 90-day visa exemption upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
The Bottom Line
Will you be able to visit Israel in 2021? Yes, in some form or fashion, and starting some day before January 1, 2022. Unfortunately, late December 2020’s global “mutant” scare (which was due more to media hype than the underlying science) showed the willingness, and maybe eagerness of Israel’s government to take draconian action, in this case a second full closure of its border. With all this being said, I do believe global vaccination campaigns will bring the pandemic under control by the middle of 2021, which will leave little incentive for continued closure, certainly in tourism-dependent countries like Israel.