Bargaining is not the way of life here, and most day-to-day products have a fixed price. It is might be worth trying to bargain for tourist souvenirs, tours or other tourist services, though there's no guarantee you'll get one. Hotels might negotiate a little on room rates during quiet periods.
Dangers & Annoyances
Algeria has improved in safety immensely in recent years and for much of the country there are no significant safety issues. However, the lack of foreign visitors means that you will stand out in a crowd and so it still pays to exercise caution.
- Check the current local advisories when travelling to the northwest Kabylie region, a short way east of Algiers, where the threat of kidnap is very real. At the time of research most foreign governments were continuing to warn their citizens against all but essential travel to this region.
- Avoid driving anywhere in the countryside after dark. Hold ups are not unheard of.
- It's illegal to visit the Saharan regions without an officially accredited guide. Many times you will also be provided with an armed police escort.
- Militant Islamic groups are active in parts of the Sahara as are smugglers and there are incidents of banditry in some parts. Most foreign governments advice their citizens to avoid all travel to large parts of the south including anywhere within 400km of the borders with Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
- Many pistes around Tamanrasset and Djanet remain closed for the security reasons outlined above.
- Carry your passport/ID card with you at all times.
While Algeria is now generally a safe country, check the latest situation when finalising your itinerary. All travellers to the Sahara beyond In Salah must, by law, be accompanied by an official guide and need to show a copy of an authorised invitation upon arrival. This can also extend to western towns such as Timimoun and Taghit. Currently all borders apart from those with Tunisia are either closed or considered dangerous.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (http://international.gc.ca/world-monde/country-pays)
- French Department of Foreign Affairs (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
220V, European-style two-pin plugs
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
Before we go any further, sit down, take a deep breath and prepare yourself to enter the labyrinth and endlessly time-consuming world of Algerian visas.
Export regulations are fairly standard with up to 4L of wine allowed and 200 cigarettes.
A valid passport with at least six months left before expiry is required by all visitors. Nationals of Israel are not allowed into the country, and if you have a stamp in your passport from Israel your application may be rejected.
Everyone except nationals of Morocco, Tunisia and Malaysia needs a visa, and getting one can be a frustrating experience. Visas are not available on arrival.
Obtaining a Visa
The exact list of papers you will be required to submit alongside the visa application depends upon your nationality and the embassy or consulate you're applying through. For tourist visas, though, you will always require an 'invitation' to visit the country from an Algerian contact or tourist agency. This can take the form of a signed and stamped letter from a local or international tour operator confirming a booking on an organised tour of Algeria. This letter will need to include a list of places to be visited in Algeria, complete with dates. If you're travelling independently then you will need to provide hotel bookings certified by the local authorities in Algeria (normally the town hall where the hotel is located). Actually getting these certified bookings is no easy task as many cheaper hotels don't respond to emails. If you're on an organised tour, then hotel bookings aren't always required, or if they are and you're booking your own hotels, then you normally don't need to have the booking certified by local authorities. Most embassies also require proof of flight bookings, travel insurance, proof of employment and/or proof of sufficient funds for the duration of your stay in Algeria.
Currently applications can only be made from your own country of residence. Citizens and residents of France have to apply at their nearest Algerian consulate (there are around a dozen consulates in France) and exact requirements vary on a consulate by consulate basis.
A 30-day visa costs anywhere between US$50 and US$110, depending on the embassy and your nationality. Allow plenty of time for your application to be issued. Waits of up to eight weeks are not unknown if you're planning on heading to the southern desert regions. Almost all Algerian embassies take at least two weeks to process the visas and there are no fast track services. For people applying through regional consulates in France the processing time can sometimes be quicker.
Visa extensions can be applied for in Algiers from the Department des Etrangers, but they are not easy to obtain.
Algerians put great emphasis on greetings and hospitality.
- Men shake hands with all other men they meet.
- Women shake hands with other women. In urban areas close female friends often air kiss in greeting.
- When a male foreign tourist is introduced to an Algerian woman, wait for her to initiate a handshake otherwise just say hello.
- An Algerian woman wouldn't normally shake hands with a strange Algerian man but for for female foreign tourists the situation is a bit less clear. It's best to use your own judgement as to whether to shake hands or stick with a polite hello.
- Algerians will frequently invite you to drink tea with them. In a cafe it's acceptable to have just one cup but in someone's house three cups is considered polite.
Homosexual sex is illegal for both men and women in Algeria, and it incurs a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a stiff fine. You're unlikely to have any problems as a tourist, but discretion is advised.
Wi-fi is common in the north and is standard in all but the very cheapest hotels. Internet cafe prices are reasonable (no more than DA150 per hour). Whichever way you get online, don't expect browsing speeds to be very fast and in the early evening the system can almost give up completely.
The possession, use and trafficking of controlled substances are all serious criminal offences in Algeria, which carry custodial sentences.
The photographing of military or sensitive sites, including military and police personal, can lead to arrest and detention. There are a lot of police in urban areas and this can make street photography complicated.
There are lots of police road blocks in Algeria, especially on the edges of large towns. When driving make sure that all your papers are in order and keep your passport with you at all times.
- Guide Nomad (www.facebook.com/guide.nomad) An annual publication with comprehensive coverage of restaurants, cafes, shops and activities in Algiers and surrounds.
- El Khabar (www.elkhabar.com) Arabic language newspaper.
- El Watan (www.elwatan.com) Arabic language newspaper.
- Liberté (www.liberte-algerie.com) French language newspaper.
- Quotidien d’Oran (www.lequotidien-oran.com) French language newspaper.
- Algerian Radio Operated by state-run Radio-Television Algerienne, Algerian Radio runs national Arabic, Berber and French networks.
- Enterprise Nationale de Television (ENTV) The often-derided state TV station, broadcasting on four channels, including one in Tamazight. Most hotels have international satellite television.
ATMs are widespread in all larger towns. Credit cards can be used only in big hotels and at car-rental companies. You'll need dinars for day-to-day expenses, but businesses catering to tourists (hotels, airlines, tour companies etc) will often accept Euros.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping isn't widespread.
- Restaurants In better restaurants it's expected that you will leave a service tip of between 5% and 10%.
- Tourist services Tourist guides and drivers should be tipped the equivalent of around one extra days payment for each week worked.
The black-market exchange rate is significantly better than what you'll get at banks. Ask locals where you can change money, but if you choose to use it, be aware that you're breaking the law, with all the risks that entails. You can only change dinars back to euros or dollars unofficially.
Some Algerians, especially in rural areas, might give prices in centimes rather than dinars (there are 100 centimes in a dinar). To confuse matters further, they might also drop the thousands, so a quote of '130' means 130,000 centimes (ie DA1300).
As an Islamic nation, a day of rest on Friday is almost universally observed. Some businesses and most shops are open for half a day on Saturday. In the south, expect long afternoon siestas through the hotter parts of the year.
Banks 8.30am–4.30pm Sunday to Thursday
Government offices 8am–4pm Sunday to Thursday
Restaurants noon–2pm and 7–10pm
Shops 8.30am–4.30pm Saturday to Thursday
The postal system in Algeria is very slow. International delivery services such as Chronopost, DHL and Fedex are more reliable.
Algeria observes Islamic holidays (the dates of which change each year in line with the lunar calendar) as well as the following national holidays:
Labour Day 1 May
Revolutionary Readjustment (1965) 19 June
Independence Day 5 July
National Day (Revolution Day) 1 November
- Smoking Algerian men are big smokers (if women do smoke then they do it very discreetly) and although there are smoking free zones these are almost universally ignored with people happily puffing away in restaurants and airports.
Taxes & Refunds
Taxes are included in almost all transactions although some top-end hotels take great pleasure in adding on 6% in taxes to stated room rates. Ask before checking in!
International phone calls can be made from any of the public Taxiphone offices found in most towns.
Mobile phone service is good. Bigger towns have 4G, but the southern region has vast areas with no coverage.
SIM cards from local carriers – Nedjma, Djezzy and Mobilis – are cheap and readily available. You'll need a copy of your passport to buy one.
Algeria is on Central European Time (GMT/UTC plus one hour) and there's no daylight saving. The following table shows the time in various worldwide cities when it's noon in Algiers.
Public facilities are not very common in Algeria. Facilities range from squat toilets to western-style sit-down toilets in the more upmarket hotels and restaurants. If you're travelling in more remote areas it pays to carry some toilet paper with you.
Tourist offices can be found in many larger towns as well as in more tourist-orientated villages and tourist sites. They are normally pretty helpful although can be a little lacking in actual information. The Algiers office of the state-run travel agency ONT organises excursions.
The following companies organise tours of the Sahara and the Roman sites of the north. They can also help obtain visas.
Akaoka (www.akaoka.com) French-run and based agency specialising in 4WD Saharan tours.
Algerie Tours (www.algerie-tours.com) This French tour company offers a wide array of set tours taking in the northern Roman sites, southern desertscapes or a combination of the two.
Bachir Hafach (http://touaregbachir.blogspot.fr) This English-speaking tour guide is based in Djanet but can also organise circuits from Tamanrasset.
Expert Algeria (www.expertalgeria.com) A very professional and reliable company that operates throughout the country and specialises in the English-speaking market. It offers tailored tours and uses only the very best specialist guides to the historical sites in the north.
Tim Missaw Tours (http://timmissawtours.e-monsite.com) This long-established company organises desert tours and has its own accommodation.
Waléne Voyages (http://walenevoyages.com) Organises 4WD and camel trekking to Asskrem and the Hoggar.
Travel with Children
Travelling in northern Algeria with children of any age is generally fairly simple. Main roads are in good condition and journey times between destinations not overly long; supermarkets in bigger towns are well stocked with nappies (diapers), baby food and other items; many restaurants are happy to accommodate children (though don't expect high-chairs or kids' menus); and many hotels have family rooms and self-catering apartments are often available in Algerian beach resorts. Bigger towns normally have a play park or two.
Travelling in the south with children is a different matter. Distances are very long and it can be very hot. However, older children will likely enjoy the desert and some of the tour companies offer 'family-friendly' desert tours – think camels and sand boarding. Needless to say travelling in desert regions with children of any age in the summer is not a good idea.
Facilities for travellers with disabilities are lacking in Algeria. Only the most expensive hotels have lifts, while streets are not always in great condition and ramps and other things to ease access are notable for their total absence. Bathroom access in most Algerian hotels can be difficult and most long-distance public transport is not accessible to wheelchairs. There are no tourist facilities aimed specifically at the blind or the deaf.
There are very few, if any, opportunities for informal volunteer work in Algeria.
Weights & Measures
● Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
A solo female traveller in Algeria will usually garner a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Being asked a zillion times a day whether you're married and have children and why you're travelling alone is not unusual. It's wise to have some stock answers and perhaps an imaginary husband. While this attention can be tiring, it also has some advantages, and doors will open to you that would likely never open to a solo male traveller. A foreign women travelling alone will likely find herself with constant invitations by local women to join them in whatever it is they're doing.
How you dress will have a big impact on how people perceive and approach you. Dress conservatively with long skirts and long sleeves. A head scarf isn't required although in the south it could be worth wearing as much for the sun protection as for the modesty value.
In cases where you are subjected to unwanted come-ons and suggestive lines, trying to ignore them is one possibility. If that doesn't work, it's a good idea to turn to other people (men or women) for help. They will almost certainly come down like a tonne of bricks on the perpetrator.
One of the more awkward situations a woman travelling alone might have is if she hires a guide. Most will be completely honest and trustworthy; others might have more romantic ideas. Use your own judgement when hiring a guide, even if it's only for an hour or so.
Levels of unemployment in Algeria are high and there are few opportunities for unqualified foreigners to work in Algeria. Qualified English teachers (especially those who also speak French and/or Arabic) might find an opening in a school. The oil industry has many foreigners working in it, but these aren't the kind of jobs you can just stumble into while holidaying in Algeria.