Anyway, Israel was interesting and complicated – a whole new world that I had only read about but now had the chance to experience. Tel Aviv was very hip , all fancy and beaches and cocktails, Jerusalem and West Bank were intense, we ate bucket loads of hummus every day, floated in the dead sea, marveled at the ruins of Masada, walked through local markets and ate tone of sweet treats at coffee shops(More on what I did in Israel here). The holiday was drawing to a close and we had to head to Amman, to catch our flight back to Delhi. We will just book a flight to Amman, or so we thought.
We were in for a rude shock – from Tel Aviv, a one way flight to Amman was upwards of Rs 25,000. There should be a cheaper way to get there and search revealed that we could cross the border by land and get a visa on arrival at one of the borders. Exciting as it sounded, there was a lot of rather worrisome information on the internet – difficulties travelers faced in crossing borders in the middle of nowhere, getting cheated by taxi drivers, tough immigration, the list was endless. If I was solo, I would have been discouraged, but we were 4 of us, and our collective courage meant something. So after some deliberation, it was agreed that we would be crossing the Jordan River/Beit Shean border, get a visa on arrival and travel to Amman.
Below is my first hand experience of crossing this border.
To get to Beit Shean, we took a bus from the central bus station in Jerusalem, which was quite easy. Buses run frequently and a ticket costs 40 ILS($11) per person for the 2 hour journey. The buses are air conditioned, clean and very comfortable and the journey was uneventful except when the bus stopped at a checkpoint, and 3 security personnel came aboard(guns and all, very commonplace) and asked for passports of a few passengers, of which 4 were us. They had a quick glance at the passport and returned it back to us, not a word said and they left the bus quickly. There wasn’t any drama but it gave me enough fodder to talk about for the rest of the journey.
The bus dropped us at the Biet Shean terminal, which is ~4kms from the border. We got down, luggage and all, and stood at the curb to get a taxi. Taxis came, and demanded 10 ILS per person and when I tried to bargain(in vain, I must add), the drivers just refused and left. I had just about succumbed to the idea that I would be taking this very pricey journey, when a big guy called out to us from across the street. He had a mini bus and asked for 20 ILS for four of us, and we were obviously thrilled with our luck so we agreed and got on. I announced to everyone that the Israeli’s were so kind and generous and there was goodness and honesty in the world, and the driver was a blessed soul to be taking a fair price for the mini van etc etc. The mini bus came to halt suddenly and we could see the gate of the immigration center about 100m away, so we obviously asked him to drop us right at the gate but the guy insisted we get down then and there because the mini van was a school van and he wasn’t keen to get into any questioning with security.
We entered the facility upon showing our passports, and got to a counter where we had to deposit 105 ILS($29) as exit fee per person. The process was simple, you pay the fee, get the receipt, show it at the immigration counter and then you walk through a tiny duty free into a waiting area. It’s very self serve style and there isn’t staff around to help, but it really is very simple. As we sat in the waiting area, we weren’t sure if we should just walk out of the country(as was suggested by a lot of online articles) or if a transport would be provided. There was no guidance anywhere and we asked some other travelers but everyone was as lost. So we decided to wait it out and kill time by eating some junk from the sole vending machine and calling up people back home. Soon enough, a bus lined up and all of us got on to it and in a couple of minutes we had left Israeli territory and were at the Jordan Embassy.
Our passports were checked, we had to pay a fee of 40 JD($56) as visa fee. It was quick and fuss free and the overall vibe was very talky and friendly. 5 minutes apart but a whole new world. We came out of the embassy, and found ourselves in a middle-of-nowhere scenario. A parking lot with a couple of taxis and drivers, that’s it. This is probably the hardest part, getting a taxi in good price since there aren’t options and the drivers will quote exorbitant prices. We settled for a cab at 44JD straight to Amman, annoying driver who drove super fast, played Jordanian music and sang and smoked all along. We wanted to stop at a snack stall and buy some things for the way and the guy never stopped at any stall we pointed out, but said he will take us to a “nice” one. The “nice” one was no different than the others, we bought some more junk but it was so expensive, we couldn’t understand what was written on the packets, so me and my friend just rolled our eyes at the owner, waiting for some response but he just ignored us.
Overall, crossing this border between Israel and Amman is not as hard or complicated as some articles will have you believe. Some important pointers to keep in mind –
- You can check the bus schedule to travel from any city in Israel to the border cities on this website. We bought the tickets in the bus itself.
- If you plan to stay a minimum of 3 nights in Jordan, you should definitely check out the Jordan pass which allows you a visit to Petra and 40 other attractions, plus waives off the visa fee. We couldn’t avail it since we stayed only 2 nights, but overall it seems like a good option for those staying longer.
- The Beit Shean/Jordan River crossing is the only border where you can get visa on arrival.
- For all land borders, check the hours of operation and holidays online before you make your plans. This was very confusing as every website listed different timings but we went by what the Israel Airports Authority website listed. I would highly recommend checking the latest update before you make your plans.
- Carry cash for the exit and visa fee. We saw some travelers struggling with their credit/debit cards at Beit She’an and the only option they had was to go back into town and withdraw money. Carrying cash was just overall more convenient.