ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PASSPORTS WHEN PREPARING FOR A TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL TRIP
The first rule is that if you want to go on the trip, you should be in the possession of a valid passport. But that is not all. If you plan to go on let’s say a May trip, it is not enough that your passport should be valid till end May. It actually has to be valid another 6 whole months after the planned date of return. If you are scheduled for a June 15-25 trip for example, that would mean that your passport has to be valid till December 25! Renewing a passport takes 6-8 weeks, and getting your first passport may take even longer. Therefore, everybody who plans to go on a Birthright Israel trip should not wait till the registration date. You should take care of your passport now!
Come registration day you should have your passport available to you when you go online to fill out your registration. On the pre-registration page (or in the first section of the registration for returning applicants) you should enter your name as it is written in your passport. This includes that you should make sure you write your middle name if you have one. Please also check if your passport mentions you whole middle name or just the initial. If you are a married woman and your passport is still on your maiden name, you should use your maiden name. The rule is you should give your name precisely as it is in your passport. For USA and Israeli passports the expiration date is one day less than 5 or 10 years from the date the passport was issued, while for Canadian passports it is the same day of the year. An American passport issued on June 16, 2010 for example will typically be valid till June 15, 2020, while a Canadian passport issued on the same day will be valid till June 16, 2020. Please be careful with this when you fill out the expiration date. What should you do if you do not have your passport with you on the day of registration, or, worse, you don’t have a valid passport at all? So, first of all, I repeat, you should already start worrying about this now. But you will have the option of choosing “NO/Not with me – will enter later”. If you choose that option, please don’t forget to log in to your registration and add your passport information as soon as you can! This avoids receiving alarming emails from Birthright Israel and us about missing passport information and how this will reduce your chances of being accepted for the trip… When you have successfully completed your registration, we will send you a link to the Ezra enrollment forms within a few days. Those forms give us the opportunity to come to know you in a slightly more personal way than the general Birthright Israel registration allows for. Among other things we will ask you to send us a picture of your passport. This is essential for us to verify your passport information and order your ticket. Please fill out all form completely and accurately, and if you skipped the upload page, come back to it as soon as you can.
If you are not (yet) an American citizen you can participate in the Birthright Israel trip, provided you are a resident of the US. In that case you can use the passport of the country you are a citizen of. All the rules mentioned above apply to foreign passports as well, including that you must spell your name the way it is written in your passport, even if you are used to Americanizing it. Likewise, the foreign passport has to be valid for 6 months after the expected date of return from Israel. American citizens do not need a visa for entry into Israel, and neither do citizens of the European Union countries, Russia, the Ukraine and numerous other countries. If you need a visa or not can be easily checked on the Internet, or you can ask us. If you have a US travel document and no other valid passport, you will need a visa. But if you have an American travel document and a valid passport of a country from which you do not need a visa, you will be able to enter Israel with that passport and do not need a visa for your US travel document. If you do need a visa, obtaining one is easy. After you are assigned to a group, please ask us for a “visa letter”, which we will happily make for you usually within 5-30 minutes, together with a preliminary itinerary for your trip. With that visa letter and itinerary you can go to the Israeli consulate and you will usually receive your visa within 1-2 weeks. You should also bring your passport, GreenCard or US visa, 2 passport photos (2”x2”, white background) and a credit card (the visa costs $26). Please Google “Israeli Consulate” to find the location of the Israeli consulate closest to you.
If you are Israeli and not also an American citizen, you can use your Israeli passport for travel. All the rules mentioned above apply to Israeli passports as well, including that you must spell your name the way it is written in your passport, even if you are used to Americanizing it. Likewise, your Israeli passport has to be valid for 6 months after the expected date of return from Israel. Israelis should also take care to obtain from the Israeli consulate an army exempt letter. This letter has to come from the Israeli army in Israel, and that make take up to 2 months. Also note that the Israeli consulate will not renew any Israeli passport before it receives this letter from the Israeli army for the person seeking to renew his passport. In short, you should take care to request this letter in time! You must have a GreenCard to be able to return to the US. If you have dual American and Israeli citizenship, you must take care that both passports should be valid for 6 months after the expected date of return from Israel. You must enter and leave the US with your American passport, and Israel with your Israeli passport. You will also need an army exempt letter from the Israeli consulate. This letter has to come from the Israeli army in Israel, and that make take up to 2 months, so take care to request this letter in time! When filling out the Taglit-Birthright registration you should spell your name according to your American passport, and you should fill out the passport information of your American passport. Likewise, the passport you should upload in the Ezra enrollment forms is the American passport.
Ezra reserves the right to give preference to people who have shown that they are in possession of a valid passport… Nevertheless, sometimes there are unexpected cancellations, and then we need to assign people who may not be prepared. If after all our warnings you suddenly find yourself assigned to a trip without a valid passport, there exist offices that specialize in making expedited passports. This will cost some extra money, but the trip is worth it. These offices ask you to provide them with proof of the urgency of your expedited passport request. Please ask us for a “passport letter”, which we will happily make for you usually within 5-30 minutes. We can render this service only to people who are already assigned to a trip.