My experience traveling through Ben Gurion Airport in July of 2011:
The Passport control line was a bit slow. Probably 20-30 minutes. Certain passengers get questioned for a long time and others are very quick, so it seems to be all about getting lucky to be behind travelers that don’t generate a security interest. Also, new booths will open at random points, so consider positioning yourself to quickly move to a new line.
They complied with my request to not stamp without much hassle, though they did ask why. Also note that there are rumors that hotels will charge you VAT if you don’t have a stamp. This wasn’t true for me. I checked into four or five hotels in Israel and all they asked was for a passport and sometimes a form to sign. I was never charged VAT at the hotels. I am not sure if this would affect VAT on purchased items since I didn’t buy anything to bring home.
For anyone that was born in Israel, make sure to bring your Israeli passport, even if it is expired, even if you haven’t been in 50 years. They will require you to either renounce your citizenship or spend a while (and a few bucks, I assume) getting a new Israeli passport before you are allowed to leave the country. If you lost yours, make whatever arrangements you need to in advance to save lots of hassles.
Israeli spends more of their energy looking for high risk travelers instead of focusing on screening for dangerous items. This works very well for them even though it may involve what we consider to be racial profiling. As people considered to be low risk, this was one of the most efficient airport experiences I have ever since 9/11. I would guess it was less than 30 minutes from showing up at the airport to arriving at the Dan lounge across from the gate. All this while being allowed to bring liters of water, never needing to take off a shoe and not even a single touch never mind a TSA groap.
I hear that many travelers that may look different than us have had very different experiences, but I can only report on my own. I know this may not be fair and I have very mixed feelings about it, but certainly understand the rationale of state under constant threat. While I wouldn’t want America to engage in ethnic profiling, maybe there are other efficiency lessons we can learn from the Israelis.
Oh, we got to the terminal about 2 hours before flight time. I believe the airport’s faq recommends 2 hours, but hear many others recommending 3 hours. This was enough time for us, but maybe not if you think you may be considered a higher-risk traveler.
Oh, and the passport agent on the way out didn’t even blink when I asked not to stamp.
Airport Ben Gurion AIrport Immigration Israel Passport Security TLV Travel