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Aliyah Planning Checklist - Control the process so it doesn't control you

After Yosef's and my completely unproductive pilot trip, we spent each year constantly debating whether to take the plunge. One day we would decide, "that's it, we are making Aliyah!" and be so gung ho and excited, then we would find a reason to push it off because we needed to save more money or wait until I was promoted or a bunch of other rational reasons to justify the delay. In truth, it was mostly because we were both terrified. The next year we would go through the same discussion and the same cycle. One month I was absolutely certain we would do it and Yosef would be convinced of the opposite, the next month we would switch places.

It was seriously the most emotional game of ping pong ever, except instead of a ping pong ball we were playing with our family's future. Before we made Aliyah, I assumed successful and happy olim were the types of people who lived and breathed Israel, the people who bled blue and white. This was NOT us. How could we possibly make it work??

Truth time - the year before we finally made Aliyah was the hardest year we ever faced in our marriage. Constant uncertainty and arguments about whether this was the right thing to do. Ultimately, it came down to this: if we raise our children to love Israel and to believe in the importance of the Jewish homeland like we wanted to, they will likely want to make Aliyah. We would rather experience the difficulty of leaving our families and having to move away from everything we know than have our kids have to deal with it later on.

Yosef agreed with this idea in theory but he was having a lot harder time coming to the final decision (he, unlike myself, was not a robot). Ultimately, I told Yosef that we have spent 7 years since the day we got married living towards this one idea, one goal. If we don't go, I would always wonder what our lives would have looked like if we didn’t let fear hold us back, I would always regret not taking the plunge. Apparently, my fear of regret was greater than my fear of Aliyah. Yosef agreed and we told ourselves that if it doesn’t work out, we will return to the U.S. We didn't want our children growing up with unhappy parents but we couldn’t not try.

We would rather experience the difficulty of leaving our families and having to move away from everything we know than have our kids have to deal with it later on.

Deciding to make Aliyah is a huge step and, in some ways, after that, the hardest part is done. In other ways, the work is just getting started. For those of you at the point of starting the planning process, you may feel like I did which is not knowing, practically speaking, how to begin and what to expect over the next few months. This post will walk you through some steps to take to start the process in an organized and practical manner. Mom, pay attention, this post is for you.

Despite the fact that, for most people, the decision to make Aliyah is not for financial reasons or to have an easier life it doesn’t mean it has to be a complete balagan (one of the most important words you will ever learn, it means craziness or chaos, and basically describes many aspects of life here).

Planning is a crucial element in determining whether Aliyah can really work for you. In my mind, people who make Aliyah without any planning is like someone who jumps into an ocean with no life preserver only to remember they have no idea how to swim. Please, don’t be that guy.

So, to help you plan, I present you with dadadadadaum my Aliyah planning checklist! If you are just looking for the checklist without having to roam through my inane ramblings, you can find the steps themselves here – The Aliyah planning checklist (cause sometimes you just want the recipe without all of the background about why the food blogger decided to make this particular dish even though she usually hates the main ingredient, amiright?). In red, I also included the estimated time period to start the task:

The Aliyah Planning Checklist

1. Get Organized – of course this is numero uno for me (#predictable?) –Today

I was always one of those kids who loved the first day of school because I loved having fresh, new, clean notebooks. Yup, I was super cool even way back then. It felt like a clean slate and gave me motivation to work hard and do things in an organized and clean way (it's sort of like that feeling right after Yom Kippur when you just feel clean and pure-ya know what I mean?) Anyway, it usually lasted for about a week before I started doodling in the very clean notebooks and the motivation was thrown out the window, but let's not dwell on that part.

So, step 1 of the Aliyah planning process is to buy yourself a nice new clean notebook. I know this sounds like a stupid step, but instead of having random notes of Aliyah tips and information all around your house, buy a new notebook to record all of your info related to Aliyah. Having one go-to place to find your information will be very helpful later on. If you are feelin really crazy, I would also buy different color pens for different topics (e.g, things to pack in one color, career in another, schooling in another, etc.), but that’s just me being my usual Type-A self.

If you are a tech-y, unlike me, and prefer to have things online (which probably makes a lot more sense) than feel free to start a new folder in google drive or whatever it is you use to start saving your information. To each their own, You Do You, etc. The point is to have one place to record your information and get you pumped to start your Aliyah research journey.

This is a step you can do at any time. Start today. Even if you aren't planning on going for a few years, you will hear random pieces of advice or read helpful articles and think to yourself "oh man, where should I save this information so I remember it later?" Well, now you have just the place.

2. Draw yourself a roadmap –Today

The research process can be overwhelming. Where do you start? In order to focus your research / planning process a bit I would start by making a list of the various items you need to learn about on your research journey. Your list should obviously be tailored to your needs (for example, if you have a child with special needs, are about to retire, or run your own business, these would be specific items on your list) but some general items to consider are below. I would list the items you would like to research on the first page of your (physical or virtual) notebook as a roadmap to what should be researched. The order is up to you:

• Employment

• Communities and housing

• Schooling

• Benefits for new olim

• Benefits for senior citizens

• Preparing kids for Aliyah

• Financial planning

• Taxes

• Insurance

• Things to pack

• Shipping companies

• Medical considerations

• Contacts

• Paperwork

• Aliyah application

• Driving in Israel

• Pilot trip

3. Research – Start today

Now that you have your roadmap ready, start researching and record all the information you gather. Read through the nefesh b'nefesh website and understand what they have to offer in terms of assistance and what information is out there. There is a lot of information there and it's an excellent resource that can give you a starting point of what kind of questions to be considering. I started this step about 2 years before we moved but mostly because it was a way for me to redirect my anxiety about moving into a tangible "to do" item. This is definitely not something that needs to be done 2 years beforehand so if you are less than 2 years to your move or even if you are only a few months from your move, just start now and search topic by topic.

Using your roadmap from Step 2 will help the process from being too overwhelming. You don’t need to find everything in one sitting. If you start getting overwhelmed, look at your roadmap and choose one topic to focus on. Rome was not built in a day.

Don’t limit your search to just NBN. Google the topics and see what you can find. If you are looking for something specific and having trouble finding it you can also try one of many facebook groups out there, including the following:

Nefesh B'Nefesh community

• Aliyah community

• English jobs Tel Aviv

• Living Financially smarter in Israel

• Tel Aviv Secret Jobs

• Old olim helping new olim

• Anglos in Israel

• For woman – Imakadima: Working & Career-minded moms in Israel

• Any relevant community facebook groups for places you are interested in

4. Practice Hebrew – Start Today

My Hebrew was pretty abysmal when we first came. It has improved a lot from living here but I wish I invested a bit more time in getting more familiar with modern words before we came. There are some Hebrew learning podcasts you can find for free on Spotify that may be useful.

5. Plan pilot trip (if applicable) – target 2 years to 6 months before Aliyah date

I am adding this to the list because many people take pilot trips before making Aliyah. I thinks its helpful but not an absolute must (although many people may disagree). I won't go into too many details here because I have a separate blog post and checklist on this.

6. Sell your home (if applicable) – Timeline should depend on how quickly homes sell in your specific neighborhood. Consider your planned Aliyah date and work backwards

Full disclosure - this is an area I have less experience in since we bought our first home in Israel and never owned before we made Aliyah. However, I think a large consideration here will be the current real estate market. If the prices are expected to rise again, it may be worthwhile to consider delaying the sale and renting the property for the first few years. However, of course, you will also need to consider the risk that the prices can decrease instead of increase if you wait and the complexities of managing a rental property from abroad. Some of these complexities include the fact that having an easy "fallback" plan may make it difficult for you to give Aliyah a real try. It can also limit your liquidity and result in management costs and complications. In addition, selling your home from abroad at a later date may be more difficult and your tax impact should also be considered.

Considering the potential huge financial impact of this decision, I would consider consulting with a financial planning expert to get some advice on this and do some research on the real estate market in your area.

7. Choose target Aliyah date - 6-12 months before Aliyah date

Once you complete this step, it will be easier to effectively plan out the rest of your checklist and when you should expect to complete each task.

8. Start Aliyah application process - 6-8 months prior to your Aliyah date

If you are making Aliyah from North America or the UK, you can start the Aliyah application process on the Nefesh b'Nefesh website. Don't worry about not having all the papers ready before you start. The application will walk you through the process and tell you exactly what you will need to prepare.

If you are making Aliyah from Australia or South Africa, I believe you should contact the Jewish Agency there directly in order to start the application process. If anyone reading this has personal experience with the process and wants to add some more color, please contact me. I am happy to update this.

At some point in the process, you may also need to schedule an interview with your Aliyah shaliach (a representative from the Jewish Agency of Israel) to approve your Aliyah and apply for an Aliyah visa at the Israeli consulate. Because of the vast amount of details and information regarding the Aliyah application and approval process on the NBN website, I'll refrain from going into details on this.

9. Financial Planning – 6-8 months prior to your Aliyah date

This is an EXTREMELY important part of the Aliyah planning process. Please please please do not think that you can move to the holy land and Hashem will just provide. Don't get me wrong, I have seen G-d's hand in so many aspects of my Aliyah where things just worked out or we were given opportunities, etc. but it still requires a lot of careful planning and "hishtadlut" (effort) from your part. I am not a professional by any means, but in my experience and based on my research, I would recommend the following:

Step 1: Ask yourself some of the following key questions to get a firm handle on your financial position:

1. What is my expected timeline of when I want to make Aliyah? How much money can I realistically expect to have in savings by that time? Consider the potential fluctuation of currency exchange rates when thinking about your savings amount.

2. How much will my estimated monthly expenses be in Israel? I plan on also including some sample budgets on the site for various different stages of life. As soon as it is uploaded, I will link it here.

3. How much will my additional "getting started" expenses be for the first few months? Expect some "start up" expenses.

4. Will I be sending a lift? If not, how much will I need to purchase when setting up my apartment in Israel?

5. How many months should I realistically expect it will take until I will start working and earn a salary?

6. How much can I expect to get for my Sal Klita (absorption basket) for the first six months? This is one of the benefits olim get from the Israeli government. You generally get the first installment at the airport upon arrival and the rest in 6 monthly installments. You can find the sal klita amount here and for more information look at the nbn website.

7. Do you still have outstanding loans? Can you afford to pay them off on an Israeli salary?

Outline your Aliyah goals and break them into small bitesize steps – for example, paying off credit card debt, savings 6 months of expected living expenses, etc. Ultimately, just remember that Zionistic ideals won't pay for your food bills and "living the dream" won't buy you an apartment. When making your financial plan be as conservative as possible.

I only recently discovered this amazing app (not sponsored) called YNAB (You Need a Budget), I have tried a few over the years and ended up just using an excel template because I couldn't find one I liked. In my personal experience, this is the only one I genuinely feel "adds value" even though it is not a free app. It is helping us save for things that are important to us. For example, if you decide you need to save $100 before you are ready to make Aliyah, using an app like YNAB can help you reach that goal more efficiently, especially if saving is not exactly your skill set. There are also multiple free budgeting apps out there so feel free to try those and see if you find one you like. You can look at the FB group called "Living Financially Smarter in Israel" and find a lot of information there.

Unfortunately, for the few months before Aliyah and the first few months after, you will likely be bleeding out money. Be prepared for this and don't let it catch you by surprise.

Step 2: Build a net worth statement

This is a crucial step in giving you an understanding of your financial position but also organizing all of your financial information before you leave.

Essentially, a net worth is a snapshot of your assets, including different bank accounts, properties, investments, retirement plans, etc. - and your liabilities, including mortgage, car loans, credit card loans, student loans, etc. The difference between the two is your net worth. At some point, I also plan on uploading a sample template and will link it here but until then, you can google a net worth statement template and find some good examples to use.

Having this snapshot of where you are financially can help you plan for where you want to be.

Step 3: Create a sample budget

It is important to create a sample budget based on your expected expenses and your expected income to give you a realistic expectation of what you can afford. This is something I also hope to upload in the next few weeks and I will link it here.

10. Insurance – Start around 5-6 months prior to your Aliya

Collect all the information regarding your current insurance policies and the benefits. This will give you the ability to make a more informed decision when comparing with Israeli policies.

Ensure your insurance policies are valid even if you live in Israel (some companies may define Israel as a war zone and therefore, may not fall under the insurance umbrella. Comforting, right? This is something to confirm before you make the move). Confirm terrorist attacks are not excluded.

Consult with a financial planner or insurance agent before cancelling current policies (preferably not someone that works on commission). Learn about the differences between your current policies and Israeli policies.

Ultimately, you want to make sure that your insurance policies fulfill your needs and are affordable. In my personal opinion, I recommend you do collect the information about your policies and ensure your current policies are valid in Israel before you leave but I would delay cancelling them until after you get to Israel and have a few months to get a better understanding of what you need and can discuss with insurance agents or planners in Israel.

11. Downsize – Start 6 months prior to your Aliyah

It is time to accept that your home in Israel will likely not be the same size as your current home. Whether you plan on bringing a lift or not, your space on the lift or in your suitcases are limited. Bring things you love and are useful, things that will help make your new house or apartment in Israel feel like Home. DO NOT BRING EVERYTHING. Yosef packed all of his suits and ties and only recently donated a bunch when he realized he has worn a suit and tie about 4 times in the last 6 years and 3 of those times were during visits to America.

As a suggestion, I'm kind of going through a personal obsession with Marie Kondo and the Konmari method of organizing. The idea is just to get rid of things that don't bring you joy or things that you need. Don’t waste space and mental energy on things that you just keep because you don't want to throw them out. Its worth checking this method out and seeing if it's helpful for you.

12. Employment – Start 6-8 months before moving. This will likely take some time and it will give you time to make connections.

The math is pretty simple: no job = no money. While money cannot buy happiness, it can buy food, a roof over your head, clothing, electricity, etc. Without those, happiness may be more difficult to attain. I plan on doing a separate post (or posts) on this topic shortly so stay tuned, but in the meantime, consider researching the answers to the following questions:

A. Can you move or transfer your current job to Israel? If yes, what steps do you need to take to start this? Do you need to transfer your license (if applicable)?

B. If not, what is the job market like in Israel for someone with your background and experience? What jobs are available in the market?

C. What is the approximate salary floor and ceiling you can expect for the jobs you are looking for? The floor will help you understand short term salary expectations, the ceiling helps you consider potential long-term expectations.

D. If your current job is not viable or sustainable in Israel, consider your other career options.

Start networking for job opportunities. Connections or "proteksia" as its called in Hebrew can be very helpful. Update your resumes and Linked In profiles.

13. Paperwork and Admin – 3 months before

If you prepare relevant paperwork before you move, you can potentially eliminate a lot of headaches later on (speaking from experience). Make sure to have a hard copy and soft copy of any relevant documentation.

  • Make sure all members of the family have current passports that won't expire in the next year (the requirement is only that it can't expire in the next 6 months but you don't want to deal with renewing the passport right when you arrive).

  • DMV – make sure your license is renewed, if applicable.

  • Bank - Go meet with your bank in the US before you leave and tell them you are moving abroad. Confirm with them that you will be able to do everything you need online and won't be required to fly back to the US for anything. Make sure your debit card works internationally and that they won't assume your card has been stolen and freeze your access to accounts.

  • Call your credit card company and inform them that you are moving abroad. Confirm that your US credit card has no international fees and cancel any unnecessary credit cards.

  • Find out what documentation you would need to switch over any professional licenses and ensure you have it all together before going to Israel (e.g., student records, certified copies of degrees, etc.).

  • Collect all medical history records, dental records and immunization records.

  • Make sure your will and power of attorneys are up to date (to be honest, I somewhat failed in the will department. I planned to be one of those parents that had it done the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first kid. Instead, we just completed it this year….11 years late. Oops, better late than never?). If you have a will in place, just make sure to confirm with an Israeli lawyer when you get here that the will can be valid here too.

14. Choose community and arrange living arrangements – 3-4 months before

This is a huge consideration and there are so many factors to consider. There will hopefully be a separate post (or more than one) about this because it is such a huge part of the Aliyah process.

In terms of living arrangements, I would consider renting in the beginning to make sure you are happy with the community. When we first chose Givat Shmuel we planned on only living here for a year or two until we found "the one," i.e., the place we wanted to live long term. Givat Shmuel was supposed to be a stopover and instead we ended up falling in love with the city and are still living here 6 years later.

In order to arrange a place to live when you arrive, it's best if you have a contact to help you find apartments. You can look on which is kind of like an Israeli Craigslist. It can give you an idea of what is available in your area and the estimated costs. Here are some general things to consider:

  • Homes are usually listed by number of rooms and square meters. A living room is considered to be a room so if you are looking for a 3 bedroom apartment, look for a 4 room apartment.

  • When considering the rental price of the apartment also ask about arnona (property tax) and vaad bayit (a monthly maintenance fee) and add them into the cost the apartment.

  • If planning on staying in the apartment for more than 1 year, consider building in an option to extend the lease at a fixed rental price.

  • Unfurnished apartments generally do not come with closets or appliances (i.e., no fridge or oven) so think about these costs as well. Consider if you want to rent a furnished vs. unfurnished apartment. It may be easier to sign a short term lease (1-2 years) on a furnished place so that moving in is easier. Those 1-2 years will give you some time to find an apartment that may suite you better in terms of location and size and allow you to furnish it yourself. Semi furnished apartments may also be helpful (i.e., having some appliances and closets). When we first arrived, we moved into a semi furnished that had a fridge, oven and closets but no other furniture.

  • Does the apartment come with a Machsan (storage room) - extremely helpful when coming with a lift full of Costco-sized packages.

  • Parking -if the apartment doesn’t come with parking, how easy is it to find parking on the street?

  • Air conditioners - central AC vs AC in each room. Initially, I preferred central but now I prefer separate units for each room to save money on electricity which can be very costly.

  • Does the apartment have screens on windows/bars if a higher floor?

  • Showers vs bathtubs - Some places may not have bathtubs which could be difficult with kids

  • Porches – this can make a big difference in an apartment (especially if you are stuck inside with 4 kids for 2 months due to some plague impacting the whole world, hypothetically of course)

  • Other added features like Shabbat timers, lighting/ceiling fans, etc. - these items may not be deal breakers but if they are important to you, you should factor them into the costs and considerations

  • Other benefits that the building has – is there a chadar iruim (event room) that you can use for parties? Is there a private park or backyard area available?

  • Consider proximity to the local parks, Shuls, supermarkets and community life. Especially in your first few years, living in a central areas can have a significant impact on your social life and transition process. Sometimes it’s hard to asses these things on a map so you should ask a local. Also consider walking distance to key places if you will not have a car available.

  • Consider school zoning location and where the apartment falls. Check when school sign up deadlines are as well.

  • Proximity to your places of work- again maps can be misleading, best to ask locals.

  • Join local Facebook groups to get a feel of the community in advance

  • Consider having the apartment professionally cleaned before arriving

I highly recommend having an Israeli lawyer (or at least a friend fluent in Hebrew and familiar with rental contracts) review your contract. Remember that everything is negotiable.

Before we moved, I asked an Israeli colleague to review the contract for me. He asked me if I negotiated the price and, in a typical American manner, I answered that I didn't think it was negotiable. He looked at me with this pitying "you stupid American" look and said very matter-of-factly "everything is negotiable." He ended up saving me NIS 250 a month for an apartment we lived in for a year and half (i.e., a total of NIS 4,500) by asking for a discount. This is not a time to be shy!

Also ask them to review the security deposit request and make sure everything is reasonable. If they are asking for an Israeli bank account or a co-signer and this is not something you can do make sure you bring that up in the beginning and see if they are willing to negotiate this.

15. If sending a Lift, find a shipping company – Start contacting shippers 4 months before

For the Lift, get quotes from multiple companies (at least 3) to ensure you are getting the best deal but also make sure to check out their reviews. Having good service may be worth more than saving a few dollars. Make sure the proposal includes ALL expenses. Also, start practicing this mantra "EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE."

I highly recommend a trip to Costco before you go. It's not that you can't buy silver foil or other household items in Israel but it will be quite comforting to have your usual products for the first few months while you navigate Israeli supermarkets. I recommend making 2 lists when packing - 1 for the lift and 1 for what to take on the plane. There will be a separate post regarding my recommendations of what to take with you in the future.

16. Choose a healthcare provider (Kupot Holim) – 1 month before

The way health insurance works in Israel is quite different than in other countries. There are 4 main providers here: (1) כללית / Clalit, (2) לאומית / Leumit, (3) מכבי / Maccabi, and (4) מאוחדת / Meuhedet.

Each provider has a basic level of insurance and supplemental insurances you can add to. In the future I plan on covering this as a separate post but, in the meantime, if you are looking for more information check out The Shira Pransky Project which is a great resource available to help Anglos understand our rights with respect to medical care.

In general, I would say that the best way to pick the right kupah is to speak to locals in the community you are moving to. Each city has 1 or 2 main kupot that have better doctor options or hours available than others. There is not one right answer for everyone. Whichever you choose, become best friends with the secretary at the local branch.

17. Book flight and read luggage guidelines carefully

18. Purchase prescription medications for a few months in advance – 3 weeks before

It will be some time before you fully understand the Israeli medical system, find a doctor and request a prescription. You may also need to research the best Israeli alternative to the medicine you are taking. This is not something you want to have to think about right after landing so take a sufficient amount to cover you for the first few months.

19. Schedules doctor appointments, haircuts, etc. 2-3 weeks before

Of course, these are all items that you can do in Israel but the less you have to worry about when you land, the better.

20. Get together with various members of the family for goodbyes 1-2 weeks before

Our goodbye BBQ the night before we left

When planning your last few weeks before you leave, make sure to leave time to visit and get together with the various family members. Assume that much of the last 2 weeks will be less efficient in terms of preparation because of goodbye parties, get-togethers with friends and random daily emotional breakdowns. Yes, I even like to plan for emotional breakdowns.

21. File a change of address with the post office

22. Cancel internet, electricity, phone plans, cable, car insurance, magazine subscriptions and any other subscriptions that won't be relevant (e.g, Hulu)

23. Arrange transportation to airport

24. Cancel or change any automatic payments

You don’t want an automatic payment to be taken from your non-Israeli bank account when your new salary is being deposited into your Israeli account.

I hope those of you making Aliyah or starting to plan the process find this list helpful. Much of the information in this post is from various other resources including the NBN website, A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel by Baruch Labinsky, The Shira Pransky Project, multiple posts on various Facebook groups and input from some of my friends. If any of you have important advice that you feel should be added here, please contact me via this website or Instagram and I am happy to update it accordingly.

To find the Excel Aliyah Planning Checklist click here.

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