Believe it or not, I have been in Israel nearly a week and still have yet to open a bank account. This is the one thing we are exhorted constantly to be the FIRST thing we do. Well, I have been a bit recalcitrant about this given that banks in Israel exist not to help you save your money but specifically to part you from it. There are fees for EVERYTHING. Every transaction you might undertake has a fee associated with it.
Now I am in a position wherein which I have a stable income from the US, obviously in USD. Sal Klita is merely a few extra dollars in the purse for me at this point. But at the moment I do not have the guarantee of substantial ISRAELI income (in NIS) - and that is what I thus lack with regard to a good negotiating standpoint. Everyone tells me negotiate negotiate negotiate -- but it seems to me that in order for one to do that one needs to be bargaining from a good position. I do not feel that way at all.
BUT, I learned recently from the source of my US income that I CAN arrange to have that income direct deposited into my Israeli bank in Shekalim. The trick then is to find out what the change rate will be and if there are fees for this. There ARE some banks in Israel that do offer "free banking" but one must guarantee a specific set amount in deposits each month. One bank, Igud, requires a monthly total deposit of 5000 NIS. There is another bank I am looking at but I do not know what their requirements are - yet. Tomorrow is do or die day: I am going to open a bank account AND I hope to get a cell phone then too! But the bank account is A Priori right now.
If the bank account is truly free, and if the conversion rates used are decent then I might actually be able to pull off getting free banking, and at the same time making it easier for myself to write checks to my landlord in shekalim off that account and not have to play games with my US accounts in moving money around. Will update this as soon as I learn more...