Crossing a frontier can be an intimidating experience. There may be guards or officials who were born to be suspicious, or who revel in their authority to search you or deny you entry to their country. And it is doubly disconcerting if you don’t speak their language and are relatively clueless about their culture and social norms.
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That last bit applies far less to Israel. Security, government and airline officials speak English, and are interested in moving things along. Having said that, security reigns supreme in a country that can’t have it otherwise.
Airliners of course are uniquely vulnerable. Perhaps there is something in your baggage that could go "boom" at 35,000 feet. Perhaps your laptop is not as innocent as it looks. Perhaps you have been duped by a casual acquaintance into carrying something on board that poses a security risk. The onus of ensuring the safety of the flight falls on airport security. The young men and women asking questions are usually polite and often pleasant, but they take their job very seriously – and passengers should be glad they do.
Bottom line: Be patient, expect questions, answer frankly, don’t get uptight and confrontational, and leave your stand-up comedy routines out of it. If they think you’re trying to pull a fast one, you’ll be there all night. They’ve got time; you’ve got a plane to catch. In short, make it easy for yourself by making it easier for them.
The cavernous Departures Hall is on the top (3rd) floor of Terminal 3, the main international gateway. Just inside the hall is a small booth marked “VAT” in large letters. If you have made a purchase above NIS 400 in a participating Israeli store, and if you filled out a form at the store, you are eligible for a VAT refund. You have to show the items and the paperwork in the duty-free area, just before you board the plane. That’s fine for small items like jewelry, but what about bulky stuff like bags of Dead Sea skin products? You show your loot at the booth in the Departures Hall, they stamp your paperwork (which authorizes their duty-free colleagues to give you the refund), and then you’re at liberty to put the bulky stuff in your check-through suitcase.
More on airport protocol in tomorrow's tourist tip.