Refaeli began her modeling career before the age of 8 months for a baby commercial. By age 15, she was featured in campaigns for the fashion brands Castro and Pilpel, also starring in a commercial for Milki. Refaeli won the title “Model of The Year” in a beauty contest in 2000 and 2001. She was also chosen to be the home model of Renuar fashion network and appeared in their summer 2002 and winter 2003 catalogs.
Refaeli has appeared in ELLE (France), Maxim, and GQ (Italy). She debuted in the 2007 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, becoming the first Israeli model to appear in the magazine, posing with rock band Aerosmith. In 2009, Refaeli was the covermodel for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. A photo from the shoot, featuring a bikini-clad Refaeli, was painted on the side of a Boeing 737 in a promotional deal with Southwest Airlines, leading to criticism of Southwest from passengers for using an image they regarded as inappropriately sexual and “offensive to families”. In October of the same year, Refaeli was again embroiled in controversy, when Haredi groups criticised a Tel Aviv billboard campaign in which she appeared semi-nude, alleging that it could “poison” the public. The billboards were subsequently removed.
She has been the spokesperson for fashion brand Luisa Cerano. She has modeled for Subaru, Accessorize, Brazilian clothing line Besni, Italian jewelry line Marco Bicego, and Rampage. In 2008, Refaeli became the face of clothing line Hurley, and the Diddy cologne, “I Am King.” In 2009, she became the spokesperson of Garnier International and added the 2009/2010 advertising campaign for Morellato watches and jewelry to her resume.
On 5 March 2009, Refaeli received the “World Style Award,” presented by the Women’s World Awards, for her “natural elegance, sense of style and compassion.” In October of the same year, Refeali co-hosted Fashionable Istanbul’s press conference announcing their October 2009 fashion event, also appearing in its advertising.