Getting a driver’s license in Israel is an expensive and difficult process, which is why it’s a really nice bonus for new immigrants and returning citizens to be given the opportunity to convert their license within a year of their move to Israel with minimal difficulty. Relatively minimal difficulty.
There were plenty of things to take care of when we first got here and we felt like we had plenty of time to take care of getting licenses, so neither dh nor I were in a rush to get this done. But about a month ago we realized we better get ourselves in gear and get this taken care of now (this was particularly motivated by realizing my due date is a month before the deadline is up)!
The first step was to go to an eye doctor for an exam (2 minutes and fifty shekels for each of us) and get the official form filled out. (The optometrists have this form on file so you don’t have to go out of your way to get it and bring it in.)
Once you have the eye doctor’s report, you have to make an appointment with your general practitioner. I hadn’t yet needed to see my official doctor before this and we spent a minute and a half getting to know each other before she abruptly told me to go to the office and bring her a different form to fill out. I knew that this form needed to be filled out before I went to the office in Haifa with it, and that I definitely wasn’t interested in going all the way there with the necessary form not filled in. After questioning her about this several times, she finally told me she meant that I needed to go to the office downstairs in the health care clinic where we were. Okay.
Downstairs I went to get the other form, and the secretaries there had no idea what form I was talking about. They told me the only form I needed was the one I had brought in, and I should leave it there for my doctor to fill out. I asked how she could fill it out since I had only been in her office for a minute and a half. No problem, they reassure me, just leave it here and she’ll take care of it – after I pay 98 shekels for her to check off approximately twelve ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about my health on the form. I don’t want to call this a racket but someone’s definitely making money on this setup.
I ask if I can pay by check, and after being told that I could and partially writing out the check, was told that I could only pay cash. Ho, hum. You just have to bring a lot of patience with you to these offices and remember to treat everyone the way you’d want to be treated. They told me to come back another day with the form and the money, so the next day that’s what I did. Then I had to leave the form there and come back another day to pick it up. Which I did.
When all of this was done, I was ready to take my form to the licensing office in Haifa. Yes, there’s a licensing office here but apparently only one woman in Haifa can stamp the form so that’s where we needed to go. Last week we took ds3 and ds4 with us, and dh and I set off to get the next part of the form filled out. After traveling for an hour and a half on two different buses, we got there with two very hot little children and were told we didn’t bring all the necessary documentation. Dh is usually really careful about bringing every possible piece of paper we might need when we go to government offices, but this time he had asked a friend what to bring who wasn’t sure. He looked it up on the government website and couldn’t find a list of what was necessary, but he had still managed to bring everything except one document. So back home we went – yes, another hour and a half on two more buses.
Today we went back to the licensing office, getting there at 10:35 am. You might think this is a random and unimportant detail, but you’ll soon appreciate how I’m going to save any of you in this situation time by including this information. Don’t go to government offices when the workers may be taking their morning break unless you like waiting. I think you should get anywhere you need to go by 9:45 am to avoid running into the issue we had. We went to the room where we were directed and found the door locked. When we asked about it, we were told that the only person who could help us had started her break five minutes before, and would be finished in 25 minutes, at 11 am. But I didn’t mind too much since this time we didn’t have the littles with us, the building was well air-conditioned, there was a fountain with cold water available and I had brought a book to read and was able to share some of the thoughts in it with dh.
When the woman returned from her break, she was very efficient and pleasant despite seeing the long line of people waiting for her by then. The good thing about getting there when we did is that we were first in line. The not so good part is that we were waiting the longest! It took just a few minutes for both of our forms to be filled out. She told us to schedule driving lessons locally, then to take the test, and then we’d be issued our Israeli licenses.
When I saw the date by which we needed to have this done, I asked for an extension in case having a baby between now and then delayed things somewhat. (I don’t know how long it will take to schedule the lessons and test – someone told me she had to wait a month until she could get her test scheduled – and I’d rather not be doing this two or three weeks after birth.) She then pointed out the year it had to be done by, 2014, and assured me with a smile that I’d have time to have this baby and even a second one before I’d run out of time!
Then I asked about something else that I’ve been wondering about. Before moving when deciding about if we would get a car or not, we decided we’d rather not have the expense of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle since the local public transportation is so good. When we wanted to go on a family trip, we assumed we’d be able to rent a large van, but the first time we wanted to do this we learned that we’d need a special license for over eight (or is it nine?) people. I wanted to know how to get a license for a bigger vehicle/more people, to be able to drive our family somewhere in one vehicle. She told me that we should get a regular license, then come in to the Haifa office with it to ask the person there what to do next.
I didn’t think this was the most efficient way to do it (wouldn’t it make sense to take lessons and get the license we needed issued to start with?) and asked if we could just get information from that person (who sat a few cubicles away) right then. She looked at her watch and told me that if I wanted to wait another 25 minutes, then we could ask, but that person had just started their morning break five minutes earlier! I suppose it’s good they don’t all syncronize their morning breaks so that someone is always working, but it does make it a little harder to get the necessary information. She did tell me that someone in the Karmiel licensing office should be able to answer that question after we bring in our new Israeli license to them.
Dh and I walked out so happy to have this piece of the license process taken care of! I’m glad to know that we have two more years to get the test done, though I still hope to schedule the mandatory lessons soon and have all of it finished within a year of our arrival here. (I’m not sure how many lessons we need – she told me it depends on what the instructor says, but I thought it was supposed to be a minimum of one or two.)
Even getting a license transfer the ‘easy’ way isn’t cheap or quick or easy. But it’s a lot easier, quicker and cheaper than what native Israelis have to go through!