Can we have a baptismal service?

For groups that desire a baptismal service, a visit to the Yardenit baptismal site at the Jordan River will be included in the itinerary. This is a beautiful setting at the south end of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River exits the lake.

The facility requires the use of a rental gown/robe.* Included in the $10 rental fee** is use of the changing room and warm showers, a towel, hair brush and a baptism certificate suitable for framing. Other services that are available for purchase*** include a videographer that offers a video of the group’s baptismal service, a professional still photographer is usually on site, a full service restaurant, a snack bar, and an extensive gift shop.

Our guides and teachers do not lead the baptism service or perform any baptisms. Those responsibilities are left to the group leader who is typically a pastor.

* If you think you may get baptized, for reasons of modesty, you should bring a swimsuit or other suitable covering to wear under the baptismal robe.

** The rental fee is not included in the tour price. Only those using this service are required to pay the fee.

*** The cost of any additional services are not included in the tour price and are the responsibility of the user.

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.

Can we participate in an excavation?

All Discipleship Travel LLC travelers can participate in an archaeological excavation. We highly recommend that each group take part in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which gives participants the opportunity to sift through debris illegally removed from the Temple Mount by the Muslim authorities.

After a brief explanation of the history of the Temple Mount, groups get a short course on how to sift debris and find important artifacts. No previous experience is required.

Almost all participants describe this as a highlight of their tour, especially those who found ancient artifacts. There really is something special about getting your hands dirty handling ancient debris, particularly debris from such an important historical and biblical location!

For those interested in extending their stay to participate in a field excavation, Discipleship Travel LLC can help arrange the details.