It turns out the coronavirus pandemic has had an unexpected silver lining for Americans contemplating making aliyah: the normalization of working remotely.
To be sure, the technology that makes it possible in certain instances to work an American job while living in Israel has existed for years. But for many U.S. employers, the idea of allowing someone to move their job overseas for personal reasons was a nonstarter. Then came the COVID era and with it the massive shift to remote work.
“With so many people working from home, no one is even thinking about where you are,” said David Gardner, an attorney who immigrated to Israel from Los Angeles in 2020.
That has opened up opportunities for Americans who wish to move their U.S.-based jobs to Israel.
“We’ve seen an increasing trend of people bringing their jobs with them to Israel, and it picked up a lot since COVID,” said Rachel Berger, vice president of employment at Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that assists with immigration to Israel from North America in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA. “With American offices emptying out and people working from home, employers are more open to remote work.”
The change has opened up new possibilities for some business owners, too.
“With people working from different parts of the world, we can spread our searches more broadly and seek out the best talent,” said Azi (Alan) Cutter, CEO of a New York-based digital recruiting firm, AC Lion, that he runs from Israel. Cutter immigrated in 2018. The “distributed workforce” model is here to stay, he said.
There are myriad benefits for immigrants who move to Israel while keeping their U.S. jobs. Among them, it eliminates the stress of finding a job upon arrival or securing one beforehand, and the immigrants can keep their U.S. salaries and preserve seniority in their current firm.
But working from Israel does require planning. If you’re thinking about making the move, here are a few key tips to make the transition to working abroad as seamless as possible.
Managing your finances
When earning dollars in a shekel economy, you’ll need to set up your finances wisely to maximize benefits and limit costs and risk.
Exchange Rate: Currency fluctuations mean your spending power will rise and fall with the fate of the U.S. dollar, which recently hit a 24-year low against the shekel. If possible, address the exchange rate during salary negotiations before leaving the U.S., perhaps securing an agreement from your boss to revisit your salary level when the exchange rate changes to your detriment or locking in a salary floor below which it cannot go.
“I didn’t do either of those things and I wish I had,” said Rivka Tauber, a consultant who immigrated to Jerusalem from New York in October.
Banking: Will your salary be deposited in your U.S. bank account or your Israeli account? The Israel-based payroll company Route 38 can arrange for automatic conversion of your salary, or a portion thereof, into shekels, and deposit it into your Israeli bank account. But you may lose a chunk of money on fees.
If your salary goes into your U.S. account, you’ll need to figure out a regular way to turn that into shekels while minimizing fees. Chances are your U.S. bank can do it, but you might get an unfavorable exchange rate or have to pay fees.
Whichever U.S. bank you use, make sure it can actually perform transfers to Israel.
“Not all U.S. banks, such as small credit unions, are willing to do online transfers to Israel. And things can vary from branch to branch at a bank,” said Doron Seitz, CEO of IsraTransfer, a Jerusalem-based currency transfer company that guarantees security and offers better rates than most banks.
For everyday expenses, Charles Schwab offers a no-fee ATM card that can be used overseas to draw shekels from a dollar account without conversion fees. However, the daily maximum withdrawal limit of $1,000 means you probably won’t be able to use it to buy a car or an apartment. Capital One also offers a no-fee ATM card for use overseas.
Credit cards: You’ll definitely need an Israeli credit card because foreign credit cards don’t work with certain Israeli vendors. But using a U.S. credit card with no overseas transaction fees is a smart way to draw on U.S. funds for spending in shekels, and U.S. credit cards tend to have better rewards programs than Israeli ones.
If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, Capital One and Bank of America both offer decent rewards cards. If you’re a big spender, you might want to go with a card from Chase Sapphire or Citi Premier, which charge annual fees but have more aggressive rewards programs and sign-up bonuses. Credit card companies are constantly changing their offerings, so make sure to do some research before making your choice.
Taxation: Because you’ll be living in Israel but earning from a U.S. employer, you’ll have tax obligations in both countries. Assuming you spend most of your time in Israel, you’ll have to pay your Israeli tax obligations ahead of any U.S. ones.
There is a U.S.-Israel tax treaty to prevent double taxation on your earned income, but you’ll have to keep track of the work you do while in Israel and outside the country.
Be sure to find a good accountant for both your Israeli and U.S. tax obligations, even if it means working with two different accountants.
Philip Stein, CEO of Philip Stein & Associates, an accounting firm that assists individuals and companies in Israel with U.S. tax compliance, recommends discussing “permanent establishment” with your employer. This is a taxation concept whereby the profits of a U.S.-based company with an employee who is in Israel for over six months could be subject to Israeli taxation.
“There are legal ways to deal with this, but you don’t want your company to be surprised by it,” Stein said.
Be aware that there is double taxation on U.S. Social Security and Israeli National Insurance (Bituach Leumi). This might mean it makes more sense for you to convert your U.S. payroll employment to contractor status, if possible.
With this and all other matters, it’s crucial to plan ahead and consult with a professional to help you figure out how to lower your tax exposure overall.
“Have these conversations before you get on the plane,” Stein said.
Facebook groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh Community and Living Financially Smarter in Israel are good places to crowdsource answers to any questions that might come up.
Phone: Keeping your U.S. phone number may be crucial to running your business. Fortunately there are various ways you can keep it in Israel without continuing to pay hefty fees to a U.S. carrier. Israeli companies such as TCS Telecom and Annatel offer plans that let your U.S. number ring to your Israeli phone. You can also port your number to Google Voice and have that forward to your Israeli phone.
Calling the United States from Israel is usually pretty inexpensive, or you can do it for free from your desktop using Gmail’s phone function.
Gardner, the attorney who recently moved to Israel from L.A., has clients book phone appointments with him during his work hours via an answering service or the free Setmore scheduling app.
Mail: While you should reduce your U.S. mail clutter as much as possible, shifting all your statements to online delivery, chances are you’ll still need a U.S. address to receive mail. Ideally, find a trusted friend or family member to agree to receive and handle any incoming mail so they can alert you about anything important. You can also sign up through the U.S. Postal Service for free electronic preview of the exterior of all incoming mail to see what you’re getting.
Be prepared to work U.S. hours
Israel is seven hours ahead of the East Coast and 10 ahead of the Pacific time zone. That means you’re likely to work a lot of late nights. So pace yourself. Think about shifting some of your family time to daylight hours. Try to carve out a no-call window in the evening so you can have dinner with your family and do bedtime with young children.
Many employees work out a plan with their bosses for specific times when they are or are not available.
“We call being available during specific windows of time ‘overlapping,’” said Yehuda Freilich, CEO of Outsourcing to Israel, a firm that finds remote staffing solutions in Israel for U.S. companies.
If you’re Sabbath observant, reserve Thursday nights for work: Given the onset of Shabbat on Fridays, Thursday night may be your last chance to conduct business with the U.S. until the following Monday evening, when the U.S. workweek resumes.
On the plus side, you’ll have your mornings free to devote time to personal hobbies or fitness, do household chores, socialize or just catch up on work. And your Sundays will be wide open.
When negotiating with your boss, don’t forget to work out a plan for the differences between Israeli and U.S. holidays.
Set up an appropriate work space
Wherever you choose to live in Israel, make sure you have a good work setup: either a dedicated room at home or an office you rent outside home.
When on video calls, some people are careful not to let anything in the background indicate they’re in Israel — like a glimpse of Jerusalem stone or a window that will show darkness when it’s daytime in America.
“Where I am is a distraction, so I don’t bring it up if it is not necessary when speaking with clients,” said Gardner, the lawyer. “And as far as working with colleagues, I see no difference between calling or Zooming in than popping into the office next door.”
Even if you don’t want to advertise the fact that you’re in Israel, never lie about it — either to your employer or a client.
Perhaps most importantly when working remotely from Israel, don’t forget to get out and interact with people (safely, of course, given COVID) and find ways to enjoy your new home! Take a hike, sign up for a Hebrew ulpan language class, try out your local hummus joint. The Jewish people waited millennia for their homeland. Make it your own.