Tunisia (Arabic: تونس Tūnis), officially the Republic of Tunisia (Arabic: الجمهورية التونسية al-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah), is a country in North Africa at the Mediterranean Sea. The turmoil of the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2010, and the country is today an island of stability in a chaotic region.
|Northern Tunisia (Ariana, Bèja, Ben Arous, Bizerte, Jendouba, Mahdia, Manouba, Monastir, Nabeul, Siliana, Sousse, Tunis and Zaghouan)|
The capital Tunis, all of the north coast and mountains, and a number of very popular Mediterranean beach resorts
|Central Coastal Tunisia (Gabès, Madanine, Sfax and Sidi Bouzid)|
The southern beach resorts and the bus route to Libya
|Saharan Tunisia (Gafsa, Kairouan, Kasserine, Kebili, Kef, Tataouine and Tozeur)|
The Saharan hinterland - rocky plains, dunes, desert trekking and some major archaeological sites
- 1 Tunis — the laid-back capital of Tunisia with easy access to Carthage and a very authentic souk
- 2 Gabes — large town on the east coast, mostly a rail and bus transit point
- 3 Kairouan — a major site for Islamic pilgrimage
- 4 El Kef — Byzantine and Ottoman architecture in this small town in the northwest
- 5 Mahdia — former captal
- 6 Monastir — ancient city with a history back to Phoenician times; these days it is home of the main charter flight airport in the country
- 7 Sfax — historic town with a great old kasbah; also access to the Kerkennah Islands
- 8 Sousse — a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture and a popular beach resort Douz — the "Gate of the Desert", a Saharan city known for its date tree plantation and Saharan tourism
- 9 Tozeur — Gateway to several mountain oasis villages
- 1 Carthage — Phoenician colony, biggest trade metropolis of the antique world; famously razed by the Romans; remnants now encased in a museum; site easily reached by train from Tunis
- 2 Djerba — a Mediterranean island in the south which is popular with sun-seekers
- 3 Dougga — impressive ruins of a remote Roman city
- 4 El Jem — one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world
- 5 Jebil National Park - a large Saharan National Park with impressive dunes and rock formations
- 6 Kerkouane — remnants of the sole untouched Punic settlement which is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- 7 Ksar Ghilane — on the edge of the sand desert, the saharan oasis known for its hot spring and old roman fort
- 8 'Matmata — berber village of cave abodes, where Star Warss Tatooine was set
- 9 Metlaoui — get aboard the restored Red Lizard vintage train snaking through scenic gorges and hills
- 10 Sufetula (Sbeitla) — a fairly well preserved Roman settlement in the mid-west area of Tunisia
- 11 Tataouine - surrounded by various historic forts (ksar) and another filming location of Star Wars
|Currency||Tunisian dinar (TND)|
|Population||11.3 million (2016)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type E)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00 to UTC+02:00|
|Emergencies||190 (emergency medical services), 198 (fire department), 193 (Q242218), +216-197 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Tunisia has a rich cultural history, ever since antiquity. The Carthaginian Empire, Rome's arch enemy, was centred in Tunisia. Its capital, Carthage, is now a suburb of Tunis. Founded by Phoenician settlers from Tyre and Sidon (modern day Lebanon), Carthage was an ancient Mediterranean powerhouse. Three wars between Rome and Carthage (known as the Punic wars) were waged in the first few centuries before the birth of Christ. These culminated with the decimation of Carthage in 146 B.C. by the Roman general Scipio, who is said to have wept at its destruction.
Between the destruction of ancient Carthage and the Arabic conquests of the 7th century, many cultures have made Tunisia their home. Carthage enjoyed a new period of prosperity under the Roman Empire until its collapse in the 5th century. Roman rule was replaced briefly by the Vandals, who made Carthage the capital of their kingdom. Carthage was then absorbed temporarily by the Byzantine Empire, until the rise of Islam in the 7th century.
After the dissipation of the Arabic Caliphates, the Ottoman Empire's Turkish Pashas ruled Tunisia. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia eventually fell under the sway of European Imperialism, as a French Protectorate, along with neighbouring Algeria.
Following independence from France 20 March 1956, President Habib Bourguiba established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. Bourghiba was quietly replaced in 1987 by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. His forced resignation was carried out under the pretext that he was unfit to carry out his duties as president, due to his ailing mental and physical state as a result of extreme old age. Nonetheless, Bourghiba is still credited with the birth of the modern state of Tunisia, for which he fought his entire life. Ben Ali took a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it sought to defuse rising pressure for a more open political society.
However, this changed in late 2010. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his wares and police harassment. This became the catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution, as well as the Arab Spring. After massive street protests, Ben Ali was forced out of power in January 2011. Since then, Tunisia has taken the path towards democratization of political and civil life.
Malta and Tunisia are discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration.
There are several ways to enjoy your vacation in Tunisia, including spending your vacation on the gorgeous Mediterranean beaches, or planning a circuit of Tunisia. Charter flight companies can arrange flight and hotel, many that waiver a visa to enter. There are also some agencies that have ongoing tours for groups and private travellers.
Tourism is pretty well-developed in Tunisia. Hotel star ratings are not at par with European and US standards - a 4-star Tunisian hotel is the equivalent of a 3-star hotel elsewhere.
Temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south.
Mountains in north; hot, dry central plain; semiarid south merges into the Sahara desert.
- Independence Day, 20th March - a time when hotel rooms are completely booked. Plan accordingly.
Nationals of Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Denmark, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guinea, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vatican City do not require a visa to enter and stay for up to 3 months.
Nationals of Canada do not require a visa to enter and stay for up to 4 months.
For other African and Asian countries' nationals, a visa must be applied for at the embassy of coverage.
Tunisair is the national airline of Tunisia.
- 1 Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN IATA) (near Tunis). This is Tunisia's main international airport for scheduled flights.
- From the airport, you can catch a taxi to the centre of Tunis (beware, meters may be rigged). They are best hailed from the 2nd floor departure hall to avoid getting swindled and should cost no more than DT4 to downtown Tunis (Avenue Habib Bourguiba area) during the daytime, and no more than DT7, 21:00-05:00 (during which meter rates are 150% of daytime rates).
- Alternatively, take bus #635 or #35 to Ave Habib Bourguiba for DT0.470. The bus comes roughly every half-hour and stops in front of the terminal.
- The official airport Wi-Fi requires payment, but connection to the public "Lindo Cafe" network from a restaurant of the same name is free.
- For cheap snacks and coffee/tea in place of overpriced airport fare, walk 3 minutes straight out of the airport's bottom floor (arrivals), past the fountain, through the parking lot, and you'll find a small convenience store and cafe selling items at local prices (espresso for DT0.700). It is next to a utilitarian car wash.
- 2 Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport (MIR IATA). This is Tunisia's second airport which is served by low cost charter flights from all over Europe. Monastir is nearer to most of the holiday destinations. Inexpensive charter flights (at least from the UK) are available through airlines such as Thomas Cook. Jet2.com operates a service to Monastir. Other destinations with international airports include Tozeur and Djerba.
- 3 Enfidha–Hammamet International Airport (NBE IATA). Intended in part to relieve or replace Monastir Airport, it opened in 2009 and has already become one of the top three airports in the country.
Other airports countrywide serve national and international flights including:
Ferry services link Tunis to Malta, Trapani and Palermo (Sicily, Italy), Naples (Italy), Genoa (Italy) and Marseille (France). Travelling boats generally leave from La Goulette port (near Tunis). Other commercial ports are also available (Rades, Gabes, Sousse, Sfax, Zarzis)
Tunisair express is the domestic airline branched off of TunisAir. You can fly between Tunis and Tozeur, Djerba and Gabes, as well as flights to Malta and Napoli. French-only website, booking is available online or through agencies Tunisair Express.
Tunisian highways resembles US Interstate or the highways of Europe with a dual carriageway: A-1 runs from Tunis south heading to Sfax, A-4 runs from Tunis north heading to Bizerte, and A-3 runs from Tunis West heading to Oued Zarga. Tunisian highways speed limit is 110 km/h. It is possible to maintain that speed on that road very easily. The routes shown on some maps have a planned extension to Gabes then Ras Jedir (Libya Frontiers) in the South as of 2011-2014 and to Ghardimaou (Algerian Frontiers) in the West, but several years later. The remaining highways have single carriageways, with traffic round-abouts at major intersections, which follow the European model (those in the roundabout have the right of way). Consequently, on roads other than the A-1,4,3 it can be difficult to maintain an average speed of more than 75 km/h most of the time as the speed limit is 90 km/h. Almost all road signs are in Arabic and French.
Like most developing countries, road accidents are the leading cause of death and injury in Tunisia. Tunisians are aggressive, poorly skilled and discourteous drivers. They are unpredictable in their driving habits, jumping traffic lights, seldom signaling when changing lanes, often ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, driving at very high rates of speed regardless of the quality of the roads or condition of their vehicles, and stopping at almost any location even though it may block other cars or potentially cause an accident. Because of the lack of sidewalks, pedestrians walk on the roads often without regard for cars or their own safety. Sadly, Tunisians seldom secure their children in appropriate car seats and these tiny passengers often bear the brunt of most accidents.
Although police are visible at many major intersections, they seldom enforce traffic rules or stop bad drivers unless its to solicit bribes.
People unfamiliar with driving in developing countries are best to use public transportation or hire a driver.
Driving in Tunis is further compounded by narrow streets and limited parking spots. To see the Medina of Tunis, it would be best to park some distance from the Medina, and take the light rail (called TGM) in from Marsa/Carthage, the green tramway (called Metro) downtown, or perhaps a taxi in from the nearer outskirts.
Rental cars are fairly easy to find, but somewhat expensive, at DT100 or so a day, for a medium sized car such as a four door Renault Clio.
Private taxis are reasonably priced even for long-distance travel, just be sure to agree on the fare before you set off. Sample fares for a four-seater are €40 for Tunis-Hammamet or €50 for Monastir-Hammamet. When taking the taxi within bigger towns such as Tunis, there are meters installed. Make sure it is started when you leave and in the corresponding mode (night, day, etc). A green light indicates that the taxi is already taken, a red that it is free.
The national train company SNCFT runs modern and comfortable trains from Tunis south to Sousse, Sfax and Monastir. There are three classes of service, namely Grand confort (deluxe 1st), 1st and 2nd, and all are quite adequate. Example fares from Tunis to Sousse are DT12/10/6 (€6/5/3) in Grand/1st/2nd class. Although tickets are issued with wagon/seat numbers marked on it, that is largely ignored by locals. So if you are travelling with more people, try to get onboard quickly to find adjacent seats.
A good thing to do is to buy a carte bleue (blue card). It costs around DT20 for a week and you can travel all around the country using the banlieue (short distance train) and grande ligne (long distance). For the long distance you will have to make a reservation and pay a small fee (DT1,50 or so). These passes can also be bought to cover 10 or 14 days. There are rarely queues at the booking office and a little bit of French goes a long way. Trains go also to Tozeur and Gabes in the south where it is easy to access the Sahara and Ksour regions respectively. In some stations where the frequency of trains is small (e.g. Tozeur), the ticket booth will remain closed for most of the day and reopen around the time of the departure of the next train.
A light railway (called TGM) also connects Tunis northward to Carthage and Marsa. Take this light railway system to Sidi Bou Said as well. One-way light railway tickets will cost approximately DT0.675.
Locals use louage or long-haul shared taxis where there is no train or bus. There are no timetables, but they wait in the louage station (which is generally near a train station if your destination is accessible by train) until 8 people turn up. The wait is never too long in major cities, most of the time less than half an hour. They are nearly as cheap as the walk up train fares and operate with fixed prices so you won't get scalped. e.g. Douz to Gabes (120km) for 7 dinars. Be aware that while louages are very cheap, they can also be stifling hot during the summer months (although the windows are left open during the ride and that helps!) and tourists may be hassled, if only rarely - most locals will keep to themselves. Furthermore, louages have the reputation to drive at a fast pace, and to be less safe than other transportation, so be aware of that. Louage departures are very frequent, a louage departs as soon as the seats are filled. It is acceptable to pay for an empty seat to leave earlier. All Louage cars are of white color, with a side stripe showing the coverage area. Louages between major cities are recognizable by their red stripe, louages within region are recognizable by their blue stripe and Louages serving rural areas are recognizable by their Yellow strips (the Rural Louage can be Yellow with blue stripes, or a van fully painted in brown color).
Long distance bus (called car) is also a safe and economic way to travel between major cities such as Tunis, Nabeul, Hammamet, etc. You will generally find a station in each major city offering many departures per day (every 30 minutes between Tunis and Hammamet). Some of the bus locally called "car comfort" offer higher standards (TV, air conditioner) at cheap prices. Hours can be found online.
Arabic is the official language of Tunisia and one of the languages of commerce, the other being French — a relic of Tunisia's former status as a French protectorate until 1956. The dialect of Arabic spoken in Tunisia, similar to that in neighbouring Algeria and Morocco, is Maghrebi Arabic, which is nearly incomprehensible to speakers of the Gulf dialect, so don't be surprised if you don't understand locals even if you are competent in Arabic. However, all Tunisians learn standard Arabic in school, so most locals will be able to communicate in standard Arabic if needed. Almost all locals are bilingual in Arabic and French. French is the primary language of higher education, and is commonly used in administration, commerce, and the media. English is of limited use, but fine for use around tourist areas. Tunisians will often use what is known as code switching. This is when two or more languages are used within the same conversation, or even the same sentence. French and Arabic are used interchangeably.
History and archaeology
Although Tunisia is best known today for its beach resort holidays, the country has an amazing heritage with some exceptional archaeological remains to be explored.
Little remains of Carthage, but what does is relatively well presented compared to the rest of the ruins in Tunisia. This great city of the Phoenician and Punic periods dates from the 6th century BC and was the base of a hugely powerful empire spanning the entire south Mediterranean. Its most famous general was Hannibal who crossed the Alps to battle the Romans. Hannibal suffered his first significant defeat at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, and after over 50 years of being watched closely by Rome, Carthage was attacked in the 3rd Punic War and completely destroyed. The city was redeveloped by the Romans a century later, and Carthage became the capital of the Roman province of Africa. What we see today are the remains of that era.
Both Monastir and Sousse are well known as beach resorts amongst sun-worshiping Europeans, but they are also towns with great historical heritage. Monastir has a history back to the time of Hannibal, an especially notable museum and a wonderful ribat (fortified monastery). Sousse is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its authentic medina and souk, which should not be missed.
El Kef has a splendid Byzantine kasbah rising out of the old medina with both Byzantine and Ottoman architecture evident. At El Jem you will find exceptional remains of a Roman amphitheater, yet another Tunisian UNESCO World Heritage site.
North of the desert
In the northwest, Jugurtha's Table is a large mesa with a moon-like surface and deep crevasses and is normally accessed fom the town of El Kef.
Tunisia has some of the most accessible, beautiful Saharan desert scenery. George Lucas fans will recognise the village of Matmata. The troglodyte dwellings here were used as the set for the young Luke Skywalker's home of Tatooine. The central western desert towns of Tozeur (with the film set of Mos Eisley) and Douz are surrounded by beautiful Saharan dune scenery. Since 2009 the oasis Ksar Ghilane is accessible by tarmac road.
Beach resort holidays in Tunisia are extremely popular, especially with Europeans. The main resorts are on the east coast from La Goulette (close to Tunis) south to Monastir. The southern island of Djerba is an alternative. Many water sport activities are widely available or you can just relax, taking advantage of the almost relentless sunny climate.
All of Tunisia can be proud of its beaches, you just have to know where to find the "undiscovered" ones. There is a beach not far from Sousse called Chott Meriam. The beach is clean with white sand and beautiful clean sea. The best beaches of Tunisia can be found in Kelilbia, Djerba, Ghar El-Melh, Rafrafbeach, Sidi El Mekki, Sounine, Sousse and Zarzis.
A few tour organizations organize day trips from Tunis to beaches in Bizerte and around the area for a price of about DT25 per person, with a meal included. These events can be found mainly on Facebook.
Treks into the desert are an increasingly popular part of a visit to Tunisia, and the towns of Douz and Tozeur are good starting points. Close to Tozeur is the small town of Metlaoui, and this is the starting point of a great train journey. The beautifully-restored wagons date from 1904, and the luxurious train takes you into a truly stunning desert mountain landscape. Agencies organizing such treks include Libre Espace Voyage and Au Coeur du Desert.
Exchange rates for Tunisian dinars
As of January 2018:
The national currency is the Tunisian dinar, denoted by the symbol "دينار" or "DT" (ISO code: TND).
Typical banknotes circulate in denominations of 5 (green), 10 (blue or brown), 20 (violet-red), 30 (orange) and 50 DT (green and purple).
The dinar is divided into 1000 millemes, with typical coins being 5 DT (Silver with copper insert), one dinar (large and silver in colour), 500 millemes (smaller, silver colour), 100 and 50 millemes, (large brass), 20 and 10 millemes (smaller brass) and 5 millemes (small aluminium). It is prohibited to bring dinars in and out of Tunisia, so you have to change your money locally.
Prices are typically marked in dinars and millemes, with a decimal point like: 5.600 or 24.000 or 0.360 sometimes with DT. Markets typically sell items by the kilogram. So tomatoes may have a sign "480" on them which means 480 millemes per kilo. Good cheese will be marked something like 12.400 DT or about US$7 a kilo. Most self-serve supermarkets expect you to put your purchases in the flimsy plastic bags they provide and then bring them to the nearby scales where a worker will weigh them and apply a price sticker.
- See also: North African cuisine
Tunisian cuisine has similarities with the Middle Eastern cuisine, and mainly builds on the Northern African Maghreb tradition, with couscous and marqa stews (similar to the Moroccan tajine) forming the backbone of most meals. Distinguishing characteristics are the fiery harissa chili sauce, the heavy use of tiny olives which are abundant in the country, and the Tunisian tajine which, unlike the Moroccan dish of the same name, refers to a type of omelette-like pie prepared with a ragout of meat and/or vegetables mixed with herbs, legumes and even offal, enriched with eggs and cheese and baked in a deep pie dish until the eggs are just set, somewhat like an Italian frittata. Lamb forms the basis of most meat dishes and local seafood is plentiful. Pork and pork products are not widely available but can be found in some supermarkets and in some hotels in tourist areas.
- Harissa: very hot spicy chili paste (sometimes made more mild with carrots or yogurt), served with bread and olive oil as a starter at almost any meal.
- Shorba Frik: lamb soup
- Coucha: shoulder of lamb cooked with turmeric and cayenne pepper
- Khobz Tabouna (pronounce Khobz Taboona): traditional oven baked bread
- Brik (pronounce Breek): very crispy thin pastry with a whole egg (Brik à l'œuf), parsley and onions and sometimes meat like minced lamb or tuna (Brik au thon). Very tasty as an inexpensive starter. Eat it very carefully with your fingers.
- Berber Lamb: Lamb cooked with potatoes, carrots in a clay pot.
- Merguez: small spicy sausages.
- Salade tunisienne: lettuce, green pepper, tomato, onions, olives, radishes mixed with tuna.
- Salade méchouia: puréed grilled vegetable salad seasoned (often with harissa) and served with olive oil and sometimes tuna.
- Fricassé: small fried sandwich with tuna, harissa, olives and olive oil.
- Tunisian cakes: sweets related to Baklava.
- Bambaloni: fried sweet donut-like cake served with sugar.
- Tunisian "fast food": sandwiches, makloubs (folded pizzas), "libanais"...
Regrettably, Tunisia has a very underdeveloped restaurant culture, and most food prepared in restaurants, outside of Tunisian homes or souks is disappointingly bland and carelessly presented. These characteristics tend to apply across the price scale, though one can occasionally eat tasty couscous or "coucha" stew in some low-priced restaurants. One's best hope for good eating in Tunisia is to be invited as a guest in someone's home or eat at a food stall in a souk.
Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin Général shops. Large department stores (Carrefour at Marsa/Carthage and Hammamet) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Female travelers should be aware that, outside resort and areas of significant tourist concentration, they may find themselves with a beer in a smoky bar full of men drinking in a rather dedicated fashion. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality. Look around a bar before you decide to imbibe!
- Beer: Celtia is the popular local brand, but some places also carry imported pilsner beers. Locally brewed Löwenbräu is decent, and Heineken has entered in the Tunisian market in 2007. Celtia "En Pression" (On Tap) is good. Celestia is a non-alcoholic beer which is also popular.
- Wine: Most places that serve alcohol will have Tunisian wine, which is quite good. Tunisian wine always was produced by French oenologists. Most of it was exported to France till the 1970s. Wine cooperatives were left and produce 80% of the wine which is served mostly to tourists. Since the privatisation of some parts of these cooperatives the international taste of wine entered the market in Tunisia. The small companies like Domaine Atlas, St. Augustin, Ceptunes etc. have successfully established the new generation of Tunisian wine. Importation of wine is extremely difficult because of very high taxes. Some high-end hotel restaurants can make French or Italian wines miraculously appear at a price.
- Boukha: is a Tunisian spirit made from the distillation of figs.
- Coffee: served strong in small cups. Tunisian cappuccino is also served strong in small cups. "Café crème" is available in many tourist areas and may even appear in an "American Cup". Local favorites include the capucin (espresso macchiato) and the direct (latte).
- Tea: is generally taken after meals. Sometimes served with pine nuts floating in the tea.
- Mint Tea: very sweet peppermint tea that is taken at any time of the day.
There are lots of fine hotels in Tunisia. Many smaller hotels can be found in major cities, tucked into most roads.
You can also rent a furnished apartment. Some private people offer their own apartments for rent especially in summer.
It is advisable to organise your accommodations online or by phone prior to your arrival. Other than pricier hotels, most accommodations don't seem to have a website. French would be handy when booking accommodations.
- The Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages, Av. de la liberté, 47 (The school is in the city of Tunis. It's about a 20 minute metro ride to the beach), ☎ , , fax: . 8:00AM to 1:15 PM. Offers intensive summer sessions in July and August for anyone interested in learning Modern Standard Arabic or Tunisian dialect. In the 2005 summer session, there were over 500 students of all ages from throughout the world. This includes students from the USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Turkey, Japan, China. Several students complained about the lack of cleanliness in the student dorms. Some students stayed in a hotel and then rented a beach-side apartment for the month. It's usually easier to negotiate rental prices once you are in Tunis.
Work issues are quite sensitive in Tunisia as job offers are limited even for Tunisian nationals.
An estimated 15% of the population is unemployed and many more survive on meager jobs. And as more and more of the new generation earn degrees predominantly in business, computer science, and engineering, those industries are getting saturated as well. For a foreigner, functional knowledge of Arabic and/or French will aid you well, and your likeliest bet for finding a job will be somewhere who has needs for your national language too. While pick-up restaurant and handyman jobs are common in other countries, these positions are much less likely to present themselves in Tunisia because of local competition. Safest is to arrange for a job before arrival. For a high level job, lots of experience and excellent skills are of course required. Low level jobs are mainly in the service sector as in much of the world. Salaries in Tunisia are naturally lower than those in Western Europe or North America.
Foreign investors are welcome to establish projects and the government is providing facilities related authorizations for such initiatives.
Tunisia has undergone a revolution and is in a contentious transitional period. While large-scale violence is not occurring, demonstrations do still happen from time to time, and are sometimes violent or broken up brutally. So consult your foreign office to check on current conditions before traveling to Tunisia, and do your best to steer clear of any large demonstrations that may occur while you are there.
In 2015, Islamist terrorists targeted tourists in Tunisia. In March 24 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and in June a terrorist shot dead 39 tourists at a beach and a hotel in Sousse. For a time after the incident the UK government had recommended that its citizens leave Tunisia and not visit for anything other than essential travel. That advice has now been downgraded and the normal tourist coastal areas are considered safe. However, the border areas with Libya and in parts Algeria are still not safe areas.
It is apparently not considered rude for a man to stare at a woman's body which should indicate that modesty will attract less attention. Women can expect to be the target of frequent catcalls ("Gazelle" seems to be especially popular). If you travel as part of a couple, stay together as much as possible as the female traveller should not wander around on her own if she doesn't want to be pestered. The pestering usually amounts to nothing more than bizarre words and the occasional touch but it can be extremely persistent and annoying.
Tunisian women often wear outfits that would normally be seen on the streets of any major world city (tight jeans, slinky top), but they do so while showing traditional modesty by exposing virtually no skin. Arms are covered down to the wrists, collars go to the neck (cleavage is non-existent) and a head scarf may be worn. Western women visiting can minimize attention by selecting clothing that minimizes skin shown. V-necks are fine if another layer with a higher collar is worn underneath.
Note that in most towns, there are outdoor cafes around squares and on the streets, but they are only for men; even when accompanied by men, women are not welcome. Prices are much cheaper in these cafes than mixed gender cafes and tearooms found in Tunis.
Money and scams
Travellers report problems being pestered either to buy something or for other purposes. Persistence is a major complaint. Some say that a refusal often results in a bad reaction, "being hissed at" is one example, but those who have been advised to refuse politely with a smile rarely complain. "Non, Merci" is a very good response, with a smile. This seems to be borne out by the reports of sole female travellers who you would expect to receive the most attention, but who often report the least problems (from an admittedly small sample), perhaps because they are more cautious than accompanied females. It certainly seems to be the case that sole female sea bathers attract a good deal of unwelcome attention (even molestation) until a male friend arrives.
Theft of belongings, even from hotel rooms and room safes, is widely reported and the usual caveats apply - keep valuables in a secure place (e.g. supervised hotel safe deposit), do not flash too much cash, and keep wallets, purses and other desirable items where pick pockets cannot reach them. A good recommendation is only to carry enough cash for your immediate requirements and only one credit or bank card, provided you can be assured of the security of your reserves. Besides, most of the Automatic Bank-notes distributors are available and foreign credit cards are accepted. You can take cash (in equivalent Tunisian dinars) directly from your bank account with a small extra fee (bank transaction from €1 to €2).
Theft is also reported at airports. Keep your belongings under your direct supervision all the time.
When it's time to settle the bill in a Tunisian cafe or restaurant, it's advisable to ensure that you are presented with an actual paper, itemised copy of a bill before handing over any money. Frequently, your waiter will claim to have calculated your total amount due in their heads and this will always be more than you actually owe. Also, check prices on menus before ordering. Some establishments will claim to have no menus, they usually have wall mounted menus. Tunisian workers are extremely low paid (£300 per month approx) and will frequently try and take advantage of tourists without their wits around them.
Be aware that the export of Tunisian currency is forbidden and searches of wallets and purses can, and do, occur at Tunis airport. If you are found with more than DT20 - 30, you will be invited to return landside to change them. The problem is that this "invitation" will come after you have already been through passport control and handed in your exit card; therefore it is not practical. You will then be invited to hand some or all of your Tunisian money (which in any case cannot be spent in the duty free shops) to the uniformed official. Arguing will get you nowhere and a request for a receipt will be met with an outright refusal. Judging from the way the money is swiftly palmed, you will have almost certainly just paid a bribe.
- Malaria - There is not much of a malaria risk in Tunisia, but pack your bug spray.
- Sunburn - Please remember that the sun is frequently your biggest enemy and frequently apply a high (factor 30 or better) sun screen. It is usually cheaper in your local super market than at the holiday destination.
- Be careful what and where you eat and drink (remember the ice cubes too); diarrhea is a common complaint from incautious travellers. The tap water in the high-end Tunis-Carthage-Marsa area seems to be safe (2006).
Always check with your doctor 4-8 weeks before traveling (the 4-8 weeks is important, as some vaccinations take weeks to become effective, and with polio you can be contagious for a while too):
- Yellow fever is required for all travelers arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area in Africa or the Americas.
- Hepatitis A is usually recommended Two Havrix injections, given 6 months apart, provide 10 years of Hep A protection
- Hepatitis B - Highly recommended if likely to have intimate contact with locals or if visiting for more than 6 months.
Tunisia is a Muslim country, and dress code is important, particularly for females. Whilst a lot of skin (even topless) is tolerated on beaches and within hotel complexes, a modest amount of exposed skin may be frowned upon outside these areas.
Be aware that the further south one travels, the more conservative Tunisia becomes. While most women wear western clothes in the Capital (which has a mix of Mediterranean, European and Arabic cultures), the south of Tunisia is more conservative and far more traditional.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Tunisia during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
At least one Tunisian tourist website says that after the revolution the 2011 Ramadan was more strictly observed, and the same for the following years. For three days at the end of July, 2012, the vast majority of shops were closed during the day, although the Tunis medina was mostly open. Virtually all of the restaurants were closed. Beyond a few tourists drinking coke, not a single person was eating or drinking during the day, even at the touristy cafes at Sidi Bou Said.
In Tunis, on the Ave Habib Bourgiba, all of the cafes had their tables put away until after iftar (the breaking of the fast) at sunset, around 19:30. After that many people were out, and you could order food at some cafes, and coffee and desserts at others. Just before the iftar, Ave Habib Bourgiba is completely devoid of life and other-wordly. At smaller cafes, like 3 Etoiles on Rue Mustapha M'Barek, you can see families and men sitting around tables full of food, waiting for sunset.
At night, though, the medina comes alive - huge crowds are out and throng the street, which is definitely something to experience! Shops and supermarkets are often open till midnight.
Be prepared for a somewhat unique experience if you choose visit Tunisia during Ramadan. During the daylight hours, eat and drink (even water), very discretely. Buy bread and foccaccia from the street vendors in the evening for lunch the next day, or find one of the local shops that is still open to buy something to tide you over. Virtually no one drinks alcohol, and your best bet (at least in Tunis) might be the Hotel Africa.
Public telephones are available in all towns and cities and in most villages under either the name of Publitel or Taxiphone - in cities simply look around - there is at least one on every street. International calls tend to be quite expensive (DT 1,000/minute to call anywhere in the EU). There are three mobile GSM operators, private Tunisiana, private Orange, Tunisia state-owned Tunisie Telecom all offering wide mobile coverage (including some oasis in the Sahara). Rates tend to be quite low for domestic calls, but very high for international calls (around DT 1,500/minute). Ask for a carte prépayée for a prepaid SIM card. Orange in July 2016 was offering 2 for 1 packs (30 mins + 500mb for a month for DT2.5) and free SIM cards for tourists entering in Tunis airport.
- 197 Police emergency number - general emergency
- 198 Health emergency number - Ambulance SAMU
- 1200 Telephone information
Public internet access is available in many cities and towns, usually using the Publinet logo. Look for a large purple sign with the Publinet logo. Access is usually 0.8DT/hour, and speeds tend to be quite low (1024 kbit/s is the norm in Sousse and 4096 in Tunis). Home internet (ADSL) is not as expensive as it used to be, you can have 1 year ADSL of 4096 kbps speed, for just DT400 per year. You can also have 3G internet access through any cell phone carriers (Tunisie Telecom, Orange Tunisia or Tunisiana),FTP and peer-to-peer access is available anywhere in Tunisia, there is no access restriction by the government anymore. USB keys for internet are rather popular and can be found for varying periods, even for short stays.
La Poste Tunisienne is quite efficient and fast. Post restante is offered in certain (bigger) offices. A stamp for international letters costs DT 0,600.
Rapide Post is the Poste's service for sending mail and packages quickly. Once a Rapide Post package enters the US it is handled by FedEx. It is the best and most secure way to send things in Tunisia.