In making our move to Israel, there have been three main issues that needed to be resolved for the move to happen: find a place to live in Israel, sell our house here, and buy tickets. There are lots of smaller things, and then the big one of dh finding work, but these were what I considered the biggest issues that needed to be taken care of before leaving here.
We expected buying tickets to be the easiest and fastest of these issues to deal with. After all, we had the money saved up, so all we needed to do was call and make the reservations. Right? I wish.
If you are a returning Israeli citizen, you qualify for discounted flight tickets ($806 per person) as well as an additional piece of luggage per person. To get that discount, you don’t just call and tell them you’re a returning citizen. You need to have authorization from the Israeli government. And that’s what became a very big challenge for us…..
On March 9, following a month of clarifying all the relevant legal details upon which our decision to move was made and two days after announcing our plans to move to Israel, I was notified that despite having been told otherwise by offices here and in Israel, my husband and I didn’t have the legal status of returning citizens. Instead, we were immigrants who left the country before their ten year period of benefits ended, and our status froze as such when we left Israel eleven years ago. And oh, by the way, we wouldn’t be eligible for any of the benefits that returning citizens receive, including the discounted tickets.
This was a huge issue for us – we had carefully gone over the numbers and and our financial plan was based on being able to to fly to Israel with the discounted tickets. It was a lot of money, but it was doable. When we learned we’d have to pay $1300+ per person instead (what most airlines were charging for a one way ticket at the time we planned to travel), it was upsetting. Because there was no way we could afford that increase with the amount of tickets we needed to buy.
I asked if it were possible to change our status to that of returning citizens, since we met all the criteria. Sure, I was assured. (Lest you think I asked on the spot and was told this, nope. I had to ask, then call a week later, then wait for her to contact the Israel office, then call again…it took about a month to get the following answer.) You and your husband need to fly to Israel to sign a waiver that you’re changing your status. We have to spend $3000 on tickets to sign a piece of paper when we live in the digital age? There’s no way to sign the waiver here, for example at the Israeli consulate in front of the consul? This question was what we were waiting to have resolved for another two months.
Actually, that’s not accurate. We never got a final answer from the person we were asking about this, though after a lot of back and forth, were told that I could give dh power of attorney and he could sign on my behalf in Israel. This was a bit….well, not helpful. We were turning our lives all around, doing a huge amount of things to make this move possible – and after months of waiting for an answer, still didn’t know if we’d be able to afford to get on the plane.
Finally, I asked the representative if she thought it would be helpful if I called a particular person at a different office I had been in touch with a couple of months before regarding something else. She agreed that would be a good idea. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t thought of this. I called her (it was now past mid May) and she told me that there’s absolutely no need to sign the paperwork in Israel. In our situation (it’s not common and that’s why the person we initially spoke with didn’t know how to handle it), we were told we needed verify with the Israeli government that we wanted to change our status, then get the discounted tickets and change our status after arriving in Israel.
Great! We were so encouraged that we finally were speaking to someone who knew how to handle this. She told us about the paperwork she needed, and dh got it all together and sent it to her. By mid June, he still hadn’t heard back and told me he couldn’t reach her by phone. I thought that was strange, since she had been easy to reach initially. So I called and left a message, then called and spoke to someone there to find out if there was a reason she wasn’t returning calls.
There was. She’d had a baby. ‘Congratulations!’ I told the receptionist. ‘Is there someone else taking over her responsibilities while she’s out on maternity leave?’ No. ‘ Is she checking her messages?’ No. ‘When will she be back at work?’ The end of August. Oh. We need to leave in seven weeks, in the middle of August, and after months finally found someone who knows how to handle our case – and now she’s not available. ‘Well, is there anyone else who can help us?’ Leave a message for the consul, I was told.
So I did, and a day later, he called me. I explained the situation, and he told me to call someone in the NY office (this other person had been in PA). So I did. I explained our situation to her, told her how we were told it was supposed to be resolved….and she told me she needed to check with the Ministry of Absorption how to handle our case. This is what we were told for 3.5 months by the first person, so this really wasn’t encouraging to me just seven weeks before our anticipated departure date to literally start all over.
In the meantime, she told me to send her everything that I had sent the first person as well as some legal stuff she wanted filed differently. I asked if there was a way for her to access the other person’s files. Nope. So we started from scratch again. But though we didn’t know it, this time it was with someone who felt a responsibility to help us get it resolved. After a week (beginning of July), she told us the paperwork was all in order – and then needed to be submitted to Israel for processing. I had thought she’d process our paperwork; I didn’t realize all we had done was just the preliminary paperwork!
By the middle of last week, we were supposed to get the authorization. Other emails were sent, but not that one. So dh contacted her again – she told us to wait another couple of days, and she’d look into it if we hadn’t received it. We waited a couple more days… and didn’t receive it. Dh contacted her again. By now it was Friday, July 15 – and we wanted to be on the flight four weeks later. Yesterday morning, dh told me she might be working on Sunday, in accordance with the Israeli work week, so I called to left a message – dh said he didn’t know what to do anymore and thought I might be able to approach them in a more effective way. (You know, all the emotion – our children need to start school and our dd16 is there alone and waiting for us, and we really need to get our tickets.) I called and left a message, but she wasn’t in.
Last night, I told dh we needed to make a mental stop loss order. How much longer were we going to wait before we made another plan? I got online and started looking for other alternatives to get to Israel within our budget, and found three airlines. (There were five, if I had been willing to consider Air Jordan and Turkish Airlines, but I felt that was more than I could emotionally deal with.)
Unfortunately, we’d only be allowed one piece of luggage each, which would be a big loss for us since we’re not making a lift and being able to take 3 pieces of luggage would make it possible to take a lot more. Maybe we’d send the other pieces of luggage on a mini lift. But what about ds18? His ticket will be paid for (once he gets his authorization, which is a separate issue…..), but only if he goes on two specific airlines, and neither of those airlines were among the three we found affordable flights on. And if he wasn’t going with us, how would he get to the airport in NY? We started working out some pretty involved logistics as to how we could take a flight leaving from the same airport as El Al around the same time, drop ds in one section to fly to Israel alone, how to make a lift, etc – it started getting kind of complicated. It was good to know that we had an alternative, but dh and I agreed that it would definitely be best if we could go with El Al.
Then, right before he went to sleep, dh checked his email – and our authorization has finally arrived! Four and a half months after first asking about how to get it, less than four weeks until we’re planning to leave, but we finally have it! The next step: finding out what flight has enough seats available for us all at the time we want to travel, and finally making the ticket. Stay tuned. 😛