Tourist Tip #221 / The Post Office

Of course you can send a letter. You can also do so much more.

The Israeli post office is more than just a place from which to mail a letter. It offers a lot of other products and services that tourists may find helpful. These vary from branch to branch, with larger ones generally offering the fullest range of services. You can also pick up envelopes and office supplies, a few popular Israeli music CDs and elaborately packaged stamps for the collector (or those of you who still send postcards) featuring the landscapes and heritage of the country. Ask the postal clerk to see a current selection.

At most branches, you grab a number when you enter and take a seat until it's called. During busy periods, you should be prepared for it to take some time.

The main Jerusalem post office at 23 Jaffa Road, not far from the Old City, is a great place to people watch, with a cross section of Jews, Arabs and tourists from around the world. Built in the 1930s, the architecture reflects the distinctive style of the British Mandate period.

About 100 post offices throughout the country also exchange American dollars, euros and British pounds for shekels. As at the banks, there is commission built into the rate so depending on the terms for your ATM card, you may prefer to pull cash from a local ATM instead. You can also wire funds abroad from post offices and receive funds wired from overseas via Western Union.

Calling abroad with your cell phone here could cost a bundle if you don't have a good international data plan. The post office can assist you here, too, offering international calling cards to be used at public telephones or regular landlines. (Check with your hotel to see if your room phone carries a surcharge). The post office also offers a limited selection of SIM cards, but not for all cell phones. They are geared primarily for Israelis traveling abroad, but may fit your needs in Israel too.

Many post offices offer domestic and international fax service. And if you need to send a small item somewhere within Israel, rates are surprisingly low and there are options for domestic same-day and next-day delivery. The post office offers international express delivery, but delivery is not overnight.

You can pay for all of these products and services with a credit card. Many Israelis also pay their tax and utility bills at the post office. That may not be a concern of the average tourist, but there is a one kind of bill that you could get if you're not careful and, yes, you can pay parking tickets there.

Emil Salman