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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Things that are cool in Israel #11: Milk Bags (& their awesomely smart holders!)

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What???  Four years in Israel and only 10 things are cool?  Impossible!

(And yes, shocking but true; another aliyahversary has passed, marking another year for us living in this amazing Holy Land!)

So here we are with a long-belated #11 – something we’ve been enjoying since our first few days here: milk in bags.

Now, as Canadians, milk bags and their cute rectangular plastic holders were not new to us as they are for many olim from the U.S. and elsewhere.  Coast to coast in Canada, walk into any supermarket and you’ll see a huge display of them:

Image result for canada milk

Photo © Alex Dawson via Wikimedia

So I grew up using milk bags, both loving and hating them.  They’re very handy to keep around, they don’t hog space in your fridge, you can pop them in the freezer if you bought too many.  But on the other hand… when you need to open them, you have to run around looking for a pair of scissors.

(So much so that in 1979, a Toronto inventor created the “Snippit,” a little device that hangs on the freezer and cuts milk bags open.)

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(photo credit © Tangibles, the Snippit company)

But no need for a Snippit in Israel!

Here in Israel, there isn’t

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Starting a small business in Israel? Learn from my mistakes!

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Did you come to Israel – or are you planning to come to Israel – hoping hoping to start a small business?  Good for you!  I really mean it.  Israel is the Startup Nation.  It’s a land of opportunity.  It’s the place where you can make many of your dreams come true in amazing ways you never even dreamed of back where you came from.

As long as you’re careful.

For all the opportunities here in Israel, it’s also… (shh) a very bureaucratic place.  And you have to stay on top of the bureaucracy because, unlike in certain larger and more anonymous countries I could name, where you can owe the tax people money for years with absolutely zero consequences, neglecting some of the bureaucracy here in Israel can have serious repercussions.

How do I know?

Um, let’s just say… I’ve learned this the hard way.   Not the extremely hard way, which probably involves jail time.  But the kind of hard way, which involves having your bank accounts frozen and threatening letters from various government agencies.

Setting yourself up as a small business here is actually super-easy.  There are three basic steps, and I’ve found that Rifka Lebowitz’s guide is terrific in terms of explaining these in detail:

  1. Register your business for Ma’am (Value Added Tax = VAT):  There are two kinds of businesses, which mostly depends on how much income they bring in, and for both types, you need to open a “tik” (file) – tax-exempt (osek patur) and tax-paying (osek murshe) with the VAT office.
  2. Register for income tax:  True, they’re both taxes.  But the VAT people don’t talk to the income tax people and vice versa.  So you have to tell the income tax people you’re a business now.  And then they will hound you forever after (see Tip #1) until you close your business tik, which is very easy to do if you’re no longer running your business.
  3. Register with Bituach Leumi:  This is a socialized country You no longer have an employer paying your national insurance, and most importantly, your health insurance to your kupat cholim (HMO, healthcare provider network) – so this is your responsibility now as an independent business person.

In general, skipping one of these steps is a recipe for disaster – so don’t do it.

Here are three mistakes I made along the way through this simple process that I hope you can learn from instead of having to untangle on the other side.  Any tips here are NOT a substitute for a good accountant.  If you think your needs are at all complex, please consult a real tax advisor (not just a blog, for heaven’s sake!) before you take any steps you may regret.

Mistake #1 – Tax ≠ Tax

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Except I was lulled into complacency because when you come here, everybody says

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