Exchanging money: You may exchange money at several locations in the country and it is a good idea to exchange money at the places we recommend. In order to have some local currency for the first day or two, you may want to change a small amount of money before leaving the airport (say no more than about $30.00 US per person). Like all currency, the exchange rate varies daily, but you will be told what the going exchange rate is upon arrival, or you can check online before leaving home at the following website: http://www.xe.com/ucc/.
ATM’s are all over the country and especially in the larger cities. You will need a debit/credit card with a pin #. There will be a small charge each time you use an ATM.
Remember that all meals are covered except lunches. (One lunch may be covered and you will pay for dinner that day). At any rate, breakfast and dinner are “all you can eat” so you should never go hungry. Lunches will cost you about what you would spend in the U.S. depending on where we stop and what you choose to eat. Plan for the cost of lunches accordingly. Consider sharing a lunch to save money. We often stop at convenience stores to use the restrooms and the stores always have ice cream, cookies and snacks like you would find in the U.S. (and which taste much better). Last year, some families brought their own snacks, some took their children’s favorite cereals, others took water (which turned out to be a bad idea due to the added weight). A couple of times we will shop for lunch at a local grocery store and you will have the opportunity to shop like an Israeli. This is always fun trying to figure out what is in the package in your hand. We will help you.
MONEY & ATM’s
- U.S. money is accepted in many places but not everywhere.
- Don’t bring Traveler’s Checks as they are difficult to exchange. Expect to be charged a small handling fee if using a credit card. Don’t be offended by this. Credit cards are accepted more often than U.S. currency or traveler’s checks.
- If you have an ATM or debit card (with a pin number), you can get shekels with it almost everywhere. I have found that my ATM card is the easiest way to always have the money I need. Note: most banks require that you let them know, ahead of time, that you will be using your card in Israel or your card may not be available in Israel.
There are 2 kinds of merchants in Israel: Israeli & Arab. Both are in financial difficulty. This means you can take advantage of their need for sales and beat down their prices. It can be a challenge not to do this. Ask yourself if the Lord would be pleased with someone taking advantage of another’s needy situation.
- Prices will differ between various Israeli stores and these merchants may come off their prices a small amount. In my opinion it is best to purchase from the merchant you want to bless even if his prices are slightly higher than his neighbor. Please don’t act like most Americans who go from store to store shopping price. This doesn’t leave a very good impression. Israelis are very relational people. To them, shopping is relational. Americans value low price above almost anything. Be aware of how you are shopping and try to be relational.
- Arab merchants’ prices are set to be many times higher than what they expect you to pay. They will cajole, bargain, flatter, ask you to tea—anything to keep you in their store and make you feel obliged to do business with them. They will even badger you or try to embarrass you because they know Americans don’t like confrontation and will do almost anything (including buy something) to get away from it. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid Arab stores. Many Arabs are Christians and it is fun to see if you can discern which ones are Muslim and which are Christian simply by listening to them. The experience of shopping Arab merchants is worthwhile. Remember that you may never have some of these experiences again. Don’t avoid them.
- Anytime you spend more than $100.00 with a merchant, be sure you receive a “VAT Form” so you can get your tax refunded at the airport before you leave the country. Some merchants are not part of the VAT program and will tell you so.
Here are some suggestions that will help you shop the Arab Quarter:
- If an item interests you, think to yourself, “Do I really want or need this?” You may still purchase it even if you don’t need it.
- Decide the absolute maximum you are willing to pay before showing any interest in the item. This is crucial. Refuse to pay one shekel more than what you have decided. The merchant already knows how much he can sell it for and still make a profit. As long as he is still talking to you, he is making money. You can leave the store. If he lets you go, you know your price really is too low. With Arab merchants, bargaining is expected. But, also remember that, as with Israeli merchants, these people need the money. Don’t be an ugly American!
- Ask the Guide what to do if you need help.
Most merchants accept currency from countries whose citizens travel most often. However, if you ask a merchant if he accepts American currency and he says, “No”, don’t be offended. Virtually all stores take credit cards, however some charge a fee for doing this as they have to pay a fee to their bank.
If you spend more than a certain amount at one time, you may receive reimbursement of part of the VAT (Value Added Tax) at the airport when you leave the country. So, keep your receipts.
I have deliberately avoided directly answering the oft-asked question, “How much money should we bring?” Each family travels differently and I wouldn’t presume to tell you how much is enough. Just think of what you would take if you were on vacation in the U.S. for the same length of time.
In Israel you will see items not available anywhere else in the world. This is a wonderful place to purchase Christmas, birthday and wedding gifts as well as mementos for yourself. Consider how much money you might need for these items.
We may be visiting a family or two in their community. I encourage you to take a gift from the U.S. for your hosts. You might want to give something you (or your children) have made or something pertaining to the state or country where you live. You can also give these kinds of gifts to your bus driver(s) and tour guide(s). Not expected, but always appreciated. A word of caution: Avoid bringing a gift of food as many Israelis can only eat foods that are designated “Kosher”. Even food items marked “Kosher” may not be appropriate as there are different “levels” of Kosher acceptable to different groups of Jews.
All tips are included in the cost of the tour. If, however, you feel the Lord prompting you to do something more, don’t resist the urge.
Don’t hesitate to ask the tour leader anything you need to know.
Shalom, Chris Davis