Are there restrictions on the items I can bring back the United States?

Yes, there are restrictions on certain items. The United States Customs and Border Patrol has a helpful website . Also, see the helpful “Know Before You Go” page.

Discipleship Travel LLC has no influence in what can and can not be brought back to the United States. There is nothing we can do to help a traveler that is detained by US Customs and Border Patrol due to contraband. Please make sure you are aware of the current restrictions by visiting the pages linked above.

Can I get a single room?

A limited number of single rooms are available for our groups. However, we can never offer more than 10% of our rooms as singles, and depending on the season and demand, the number of single rooms available to a group may be significantly less than 10%.

Those desiring a single room are required to pay a single supplement, which is clearly indicated on your group’s information page. All single rooms require a supplement, even in the case that a traveler wants to share a room but can’t find a roommate.

The amount of the supplement varies according to the details of the specific tour (i.e. season, number of days, and specific hotels).

Discipleship Travel LLC can not be responsible for incompatibility issues between roommates. If there is a need to change from double/triple to single rooms during the trip, for whatever reason, Discipleship Travel LLC will attempt to facilitate those arrangements based on availability and payment of the single supplement, but there is no guarantee that such changes will be possible. Only the hotel management can determine availability for room changes.

Will we have a layover?

If your departure flight does not originate on the East Coast, specifically, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Newark, New York or Boston, it is likely that you will have a layover at a US airport.

Unless your group has a designated extension (e.g. Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Rome, England, or possibly Jordan), Discipleship Travel LLC uses non-stop transatlantic flights only. This means the flight from one of the gateway cities listed above to Israel and back will be direct with no stops. This leg of your flight will be approximately 9-12 hours, depending on your specific city of departure and the direction you are flying.

Will we get to shop?

Because Discipleship Travel LLC puts such an emphasis on the “study” portion of Israel Study Tours, many people wonder if they will get to shop at all. Yes, you will get to shop. But participants need to understand that Discipleship Travel LLC puts a priority on providing great learning opportunities and far less emphasis on shopping. However, that doesn’t mean no shopping; we realize most of our guests want to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. We have no problem providing opportunities to shop, we just don’t build our tours around shopping.

 

How do I get a Value Added Tax refund in Israel?

Photo: Bill Soper

In Israel, one of the powerful sales techniques used among higher-end souvenir shops is telling the tourist they will receive a “VAT refund at the airport.”

VAT stands for Value Added Tax, which currently is 16%. The VAT is what most of our travelers would know as sales tax, and is added to every transaction that involves money.  However, certain services and items related to tourists are exempt from VAT, if the proper procedures are followed.

In the tourist trade, vendors who are appropriately recognized by the government offer a special receipt that allows the buyer to get their VAT refunded for each item they take out of the country. However, this only occurs if:

  1. a certain purchase threshold is met, and
  2. if the shop is certified, and
  3. if the shop actually provides the appropriate form to the buyer, and
  4. the buyer shows the item at the VAT desk at the airport.

Up to this point, everything seems more or less reasonable. It’s a hassle, and some buyers don’t know the rules, or don’t receive the proper form, but it’s pretty nice to get 16% of the purchase price back.

The process is as follows:

  1. Shop in properly certified shops, which display a green TAX REFUND logo (see above).
  2. Purchase enough goods at the same time to meet the spending threshold. (we’ve heard different numbers, beginning at $100.)
  3. Get the proper form and keep the receipts.
  4. Do not pack the Duty Free item until it is presented to the VAT clerk located inside the departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport, prior to the first security checkpoint. After the clerk verifies the item and stamps the form, the item may be packed in checked luggage or hand carried. Jewelry is verified only beyond passport control at the Change Place VAT desk in Duty Free.
  5. After passing all security checks and passport control, present VAT refund forms at the Change Place VAT desk in the Duty Free hall.
  6. Receive a 16% rebate on your purchase(s) in dollars or shekels. You can receive the refund via credit card also, but we’ve been told it takes up to three months.
  7. Fly home happy with your purchase(s) and the extra money in your pocket.

Sounds easy enough. And it is, as long as you follow the procedure exactly. However, there is one catch: At step 6, don’t expect to get 16% as you were told by the sales clerk because there is a hefty 20% commission, which brings the actual refund to 12.8%.

We’ve been told there is a sliding commission scale, depending on how much VAT has been paid. Unfortunately, the Change Place website provides no such information. So, BUYER BEWARE! If your budget is dependent upon the VAT REFUND, you need to recalculate what you can afford to spend.

*This page does not constitute legal or financial advice specific to any individual’s situation. It is a general explanation of Discipleship Travel LLC’s understanding of the VAT refund system in Israel. Your experience may differ at certain points. The shopper assumes personal responsibility to verify the proper procedure for receiving a VAT refund.

**Any shopping expenses incurred are the responsibility of the shopper and are not included in the tour price.