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Traveling from Israel to Jordan over land (and without pre-arranged visa)

cb 12 months ago

When I flew to Israel, it was with the intention to also jump across the border into Jordan to finally see the mystical town of Petra. Plus, I figured it would be cheaper to spend Christmas and New Year there.

A few hours of online research yielded three options:

  1. Go to the Jordanian embassy in Tel-Aviv, fork over roughly US-$93 (a number mentioned to me by someone who had gotten the visa in advance and that I wasn’t able to confirm online) to get a visa within a few hours.
  2. Go to the Jordanian embassy in Ramallah at the risk of the Israeli border patrols not letting me back into the country after my stint in Jordan, because Ramallah is in the Westbank and Israelis are notoriously suspicious of anyone traveling to Palestine other than to visit (Christian) sights.
  3. Go into Jordan with an organized tour, as special rules apply to group tours between Israel and Jordan. Tour company Amman2Jerusalem has done a good job in laying the Jordan visa rules out.

I wasn’t excited by any of those options.

Getting the visa in Tel-Aviv, hopping on a bus from Jerusalem to the border, and from there onto a bus to Amman seemed the most feasible, albeit expensive scenario.

At less than 80km, Allenby Bridge (King Hussein Bridge on the Jordanian side) is the shortest connection between Jerusalem and Amman. However, the Israeli exit fee to be paid at all land crossings is considerably higher going via Allenby (NIS176 vs. NIS101 everywhere else — 1 Schekel is about €0.25/US-$0.25).

At the Southern border, Eilat to Aqaba looked easy. But as of January 2016 visas on arrival are no longer available. It also seemed like a considerable expense was involved in catching a taxi from/to the city next to the border. Even between Eilat und Aqaba skimping on the taxi (at least €10 on either side to cover about 7km) would require too much walking.

At the Northern border in Jordan River (Sheikh Hussein on the Jordanian side), visas on arrival were still issued, but with bigger distances to the next town, the taxi cost would be even higher.

Seeing that it would be expensive to go to Jordan either way, I was ready to postpone my visit to Petra until 2017. But then Gal, my AirBnB host in Haifa, said: “It’s very easy! You just have to go to Nazareth. Google Nazareth to Amman!”

So I did.

And lo and behold: Abraham Tours sells tickets to a bus that takes you across the border from Nazareth to Amman. No taxis involved, no changing buses. At NIS80 (roughly €20) the cost is bearable. In the winter, there are three buses a week, leaving at 8:30 am from Nazareth and leaving Amman for Nazareth at 2 pm (or later depending on how the inbound journey goes).

While I have bought my ticket online a few days before, when I get to the Nazarene Tours office in 3 Marj Ibn Amer Street, Nazareth, on Saturday morning, most passengers are buying their tickets on the spot; some backpackers have asked their hostel in Nazareth to call ahead and block seats for them. The price is the same as it was for me.

Less than an hour after taking off we arrive at the border. With no word from the driver on what to do next, I just follow everyone else into the Israeli customs office.

At the first counter, I pay my exit tax: NIS101 plus another NIS5 for paying at the border rather than in advance at a post office. Since I don’t have any Jordanian money and don’t trust that my Jordan Pass will hold up giving me a free visa I also buy JOD100. At a ridiculous rate of almost €1.60 for 1 Dinar. But at least now I also have cash for the taxi in Amman.

The lady at the counter is kind enough to direct me to my next point of call: The exit stamp. Since Israel has ceased entirely to put stamps into foreigners’ passports, I hand in the little visa slip I have received two weeks before at Tel-Aviv airport. The officer still checks my passport, and predictably stumbles over my Sudan stamp. He is quickly satisfied by my explanation that encircling Africa is only possible passing through Sudan and lets me know that coming back to Israel the border official would determine how much time I’d get.

I walk into the duty-free shop, holding on to my last NIS60, and follow the other backpackers who look as clueless as I am when back outside on the other side of the shop there is no guidance as to where to next. Back is not an option as the door is one-way.

Finally, I discover our bus parked among other buses. So far, the process has taken about half an hour. We wait for another half hour before we get back on the bus to finally cross the border.

We get off the bus again. The driver opens the luggage compartments, gestures that we should get out stamps and then come back to catch our luggage for a check.

The lines are shorter on this side.

I immediately find a counter with a little sign indicating “Jordan Pass.” The official wants to know whether I want the visa stamp in my passport or on a separate slip. Knowing that I’ll have to get a new passport anyways, I go for the stamp. The backpacker to my right goes for the slip and has to fill in some paperwork in order to receive it.

My border official quizzes me about what I want to do in the country and how long I intend to stay. I list the expected destinations: Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum, and honestly answer that I hope to have four to six weeks in the country to figure out what else to see. “Six weeks?!” He seems surprised. I shrug my shoulders, smile and answer: “I travel slowly.” He stamps my passport without further comment. As promised, the JOD40 visa fee is waived, and the official points me to another counter for another stamp.

Waiting in line, I learn that the visa fee for anyone staying in Jordan for more than three nights is only JOD10. To get my money’s worth for the Jordan pass (JOD80), I’ll now have to travel twice as hard and cram in many more sights.

I try to decipher how long my Jordan visa is actually valid. One month is the standard for single entry visas, but I figure the border official has some leeway in that.

I get my entry stamp and go back to confirm the maximum duration of my stay in Jordan: It is, in fact, only one month.

Slightly disappointed I grab my backpack and head for the luggage check.

A simple scan does it.

Back on the bus, there are now more people and more luggage. Somehow, I find a space for my backpack of which I am sure it will hold my bag safely all the way to Amman.

It’s almost noon when we are finally back on the road.

We make one more stop in Irbid where a third of the passengers get out.

When we arrive in Amman we are an hour behind schedule.

The bus drops its passengers outside the Wardat Albustan Hotel. It isn’t a real bus station, just somewhere to drop off and collect passengers. Nevertheless, the spot is bustling with taxi drivers knowing there is business to be made.

My hotel told me that it should cost JOD2-3 to cover the distance downtown. None of the drivers is willing to take me and the three backpackers I’ve met on the bus for less than JOD5. With no apparent sign of buses, we give in.

In retrospect, JOD5 is a fair rate. Thick traffic downtown turns the 10-km journey into a 25-minute drive.

I end up staying only two weeks in Jordan. If you want to know how the ride on a local bus from Wadi Musa (Petra) and the border crossing from Aqaba to Eilat went, watch this space… 

Traveling from Israel to Jordan over land (and without pre-arranged visa)

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