Bargaining or haggling is part and parcel of the Tunisian experience, especially for tourist goods and services and shopping in the souqs. If you want to avoid this, many tourist shops have fixed prices.
Dangers & Annoyances
Security in Tunisia has improved considerably since the 2015 terrorist attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and at a beach resort in Sousse. At the time of research several Western governments still advise against all travel to areas bordering Libya, the far southern desert regions, border crossings with Algeria and the Jebel Chaambi National Park area.
Tunisia today is a pretty safe country that can be navigated with a bit of common sense, but there are a couple of specific things to be aware of:
- Hassle by unofficial guides in tourist areas.
- Bag-snatching in downtown Tunis.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Tunisia's country code||216|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
On board your flight to Tunisia you should be given an arrivals card. Keep the departures section to give up at Immigration when you leave.
- It is forbidden to import or export Tunisian dinars.
- Free import allowance includes 200 cigarettes, 1L of alcoholic spirits (or 2L of alcohol with less than 25% volume) and 250ml of perfume.
Tunisia is visa-free for three months for most nationalities, including passport holders from the EU, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Tunisia is a famously tolerant country, but following a few rules of etiquette will make your travels smoother and avoid embarrassment.
- Greetings These are formal. Handshakes are followed by lightly touching your heart with your right hand. Men should wait for Tunisian women to offer handshakes.
- Dress Both sexes should dress to cover their shoulders. Outside the cities, where people are more conservative, above-the-knee shorts may be seen as inappropriate.
- Hands The left hand is considered unclean as it's used for toilet duties. Don't handle food with your left hand, especially if eating from a communal dish such as couscous.
Homosexuality is criminalised in Tunisia. Sexual acts between two consenting adults of the same sex are punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
Since the 2011 revolution there has been an increase in activism by local LGBT groups, and among Tunisia's young urban population there is often a growing acceptance of LGBT rights, even if this is yet to transform into an active, open scene. The online Tunisian magazine Gayday (www.facebook.com/gayday.mag) offers insights into LGBT lives in Tunisia.
Internet access is widespread in Tunisia. The majority of hotels offer free wi-fi, which is also common in many city cafes.
Tunisian police are everywhere, both uniformed and in plain clothes. As a tourist, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any difficulties. Carrying identification with you is recommended, and essential if driving a hire car.
Drug laws are very strict, and possession of even the smallest amount of cannabis resin is punishable by jail time.
ATMs are widely available in most towns. Credit cards can be used at top-end and many midrange establishments.
ATMs are found in almost all medium-sized towns, and certainly in all the tourist areas. Many have withdrawal limits of 400DT.
Credit cards (mostly Mastercard and Visa) are accepted in major towns and tourist areas. They can be used to pay for upmarket meals, top-end accommodation, car hire, some souvenir shopping and very occasionally at petrol stations. Outside major centres you won’t be able to use them much, and less in the south than in the north.
The unit of currency is the Tunisian dinar (DT), which is divided into 1000 millimes (mills). There are coins of five, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 millimes and one-, five- and 10-dinar coins. Dinar notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 30 and 50. Changing 50-dinar notes can be a problem.
The dinar is a soft currency, which means that exchange rates are fixed artificially by the Tunisian government (thus rates are the same everywhere). It cannot be traded on currency markets and it is also illegal to import or export it, so you will be unable to equip yourself with any of the local currency before you arrive. Within the country, the euro, UK pound and US dollar are readily exchangeable.
When leaving the country, you can re-exchange up to 30% of the amount you changed into dinars, up to a limit of 100DT. You may need to produce bank receipts to prove you changed the money in the first place.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is not a requirement, but appreciated.
- Cafes and local restaurants These provide a saucer for customers to contribute: 10% is plenty.
Although a Muslim country, for business purposes Tunisia follows the Monday-to-Friday working week. Friday is the main prayer day, however, so many businesses take an extended lunch break on Friday afternoon. During Ramadan the rhythm of the country changes, and office hours shift to around 10am to 3pm or 4pm.
Banks 8.30am–5.30pm Monday to Friday
Post Offices 8.30am–4.30pm Monday to Friday
Government Offices 8.30am–6.30pm Monday to Friday
Post offices are known as PTTs. Services for letters and postcards are generally reliable. You can buy stamps at post offices, major hotels and news-stands.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Independence Day 20 March
Youth Day 21 March
Martyrs’ Day 9 April
Labour Day 1 May
Republic Day 25 July
Women’s Day 13 August
Evacuation Day 15 October
The celebration dates for the main Muslim religious holidays are calculated according to the lunar-based Hejira calendar, which is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar-based Gregorian (Western) calendar. In Western terms, this means that the holidays occur at different times each year and are dependent on sightings of the moon.
Ras As Sana New Year’s day.
Moulid An Nabi A lesser feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan The month in which the Quran was first revealed, and it is a time when the faithful are called upon to renew their relationship with God by refraining from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex between dawn and dusk. Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the day’s fast, is a nightly celebration. Muslims in Tunisia observe Ramadan, though often to varying degrees.
Eid Al Fitr The Festival of Breaking of the Fast (also known as Eid As Sagheer, the Small Feast) marks the end of Ramadan, and generally lasts for four or five days.
Hajj The fifth pillar of Islam, a sacred duty of all who can afford it, is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca – the hajj. It can be done at any time, but at least one pilgrimage should be accomplished in Zuul Hijja, the 12th month of the Muslim year. The hajj culminates in the ritual slaughter of a lamb and the Feast of the Sacrifice (also known as the Grand Feast, or Eid Al Kebir), which is repeated throughout the Muslim world. Kairouan is the fourth-holiest Islamic city and is also a pilgrimage site for Muslims from all over the world.
- Smoking One of Tunisia's great national pleasures. Non-smoking areas in hotels and restaurants are rare.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a 19% sales tax levied on most goods and services. Some purchases may be eligible for tax refunds when presented with a receipt at the airport.
There are no local telephone codes in Tunisia.
Despite the widespread adoption of mobile phones, public phones are still common – look for Publitel offices, which are prevalent across the country and contain rows of telephone booths. Public telephones (also known as taxiphones) accept 100-mill, 500-mill, one-dinar and five-dinar coins.
The best GSM operators are Orange (www.orange.tn), Tunisie Telecom (www.tunisietelecom.tn) and Ooredoo (www.ooredoo.tn).
Mobile-phone coverage is excellent (including 4G), apart from in the desert and deep countryside.
Local SIM cards with data packages start at 5DT. You'll need to show your passport to buy a SIM.
Standard time is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time/Coordinated Universal Time (GMT/UTC); confusingly, as Tunisia does not observe summer time, it’s the same time from April to October. Some times in international cities when it’s noon in Tunisia:
- Public toilets are uncommon except in places like airports and major bus and train stations.
- If you’re caught short, your best bet is to go to a cafe, though you’ll be expected to buy something.
- Squat toilets are common.
The government-run Office National du Tourisme Tunisien (www.tourismtunisia.com) handles tourist information. The standard of service from tourist offices inside Tunisia varies from efficient to barely awake, and they often supply no more than glossy brochures in half a dozen languages and a map.
Many towns also have municipal tourist offices, called syndicats d’initiative, which usually open only in high season.
Travel with Children
Tunisia offers a warm welcome for those travelling with kids. With great beaches, camel rides in the desert, ancient Roman sites and Star Wars film sets, there's a lot here to excite the young imagination.
Tunisians adore children, and as meals out are commonly family affairs, you’ll be feted guests at any restaurant, though late dinner times don’t always suit non-Tunisian children. There are rarely children’s menus available, but kids can share dishes or choose from the starters – brik (flaky filled pastry) is a favourite, and lunch stops for casse-crôute (sans harissa for the littlies) and chips are cheap and easy. In the resorts you’ll have tons of child-friendly choices: roast chicken, crêpes, pasta, pizza and so on. Baby food and formula milk are available from pharmacies and supermarkets.
Most of the resort hotels do have some form of dedicated playgroup or playground and children's pool (and many have full child-care services).
Safety seats in hire cars are more likely to be available from international companies, though it’s always worth asking anywhere, while high-chairs in restaurants are only occasionally available. Resort hotels may often charge a daily rate for cot rental, up to about 30DT per night. Pavements in Tunisia are often a challenge, even for those not navigating with baby strollers.
Baby products are widely available, including major international brands. Sun lotion for babies and children is widely available but can be expensive, so bring a good supply from home.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Camel rides, Douz It's most exciting to ride these ships of the desert in the Sahara; also available at beach resorts.
- Ribat, Monastir Explore the passageways and hidden corners of Tunisia's greatest fortress.
- Star Wars film sets, Ong Jemal Visit a galaxy far, far away at these locations.
- Water sports, Port El KantaouiFrom bouncy banana-boating to parasailing at the resorts.
- Amphitheatre, El JemTunisia's most intact Roman colosseum allows children to get in touch with their inner gladiator.
Tunisia has few facilities for people with disabilities, but the country is not necessarily out of bounds for travellers with a physical disability and a sense of adventure. Some factors to be aware of:
- Tunis’ TGM Marine train stations have ramps, as do some museums and sites.
- The awkward nature of narrow medina streets and rutted pavements can make mobility challenging at times, even for the able-bodied.
- Not all hotels (including almost none of the cheaper ones) have lifts, so booking ground-floor hotel rooms ahead of time is essential.
- Only a handful of the very top-end hotels have rooms designed for people with disabilities.
- Travelling by car is probably the best transport, though you’ll be able to get assistance at bus and train stations (a tip will be required).
- Vision- or hearing-impaired travellers are poorly catered for. Hearing loops, Braille signs and talking pedestrian crossings are non-existent.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Organisations that disseminate information, advice and assistance on world travel for the mobility-impaired include the following:
Access-able Travel Source (www.access-abletravel.com.au) An information provider for travellers with mobility problems.
Disabled Travelers Guide (www.disabledtravelersguide.com) A general guide for travellers with disabilities.
Mobility International USA (MIUSA; www.miusa.org) Promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in international programs, with a page of air-travel tips.
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH; www.sath.org) Has news, tips and members’ articles and blogs.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Although Tunisian women enjoy freedoms that their counterparts in other regional societies don’t, both gender roles and sexual mores are still conservative. Foreign women, especially those travelling alone or without male companions, are seen as existing outside the protective family structure. This freedom is sometimes equated with promiscuity.
Unwanted attention, from constant stares to actual sexual harassment, is not uncommon for women travelling without male companions, and especially for those travelling solo.
- Physical assault is rare, but does happen. If you are assaulted, try to contact your embassy or consulate first before going to the police: although they will probably be courteous and helpful, the experience could be intimidating.
- Wearing dark glasses is good for avoiding eye contact, but don’t spend your entire Tunisian journey hiding behind them.
- A simple non merci or la shukran (‘no thank you’) is much more effective than reacting with aggression (which could be returned in kind).
- The key concept is ‘respect’, something that most Tunisians hold dear. Hashouma! (‘shame!’) can also be used to embarass would-be harassers.
- A wedding ring may help you avoid unwanted attention. The fact that you’re travelling without a partner will arouse suspicion, but you could counter this by saying you’ll be meeting them at your next destination.
- Ignore cat-calls, sexist remarks and insults. Dressing modestly – covering at least your shoulders, upper arms and legs – makes a difference, especially in rural areas. What local women are wearing is a reasonable guide to prevailing attitudes.
- The beach gigolo scene (known as bezness) exists in coastal resorts. Although plenty of foreign women do have genuine relationships with Tunisian men, the goals of many of the men attempting to charm their way into resort bedrooms may be cash or a visa as well as sex.
- It can be advisable to sit next to other women on buses and louages (though this is not always possible), or in the back seat of taxis, and to avoid staying in cheap hotels, especially those in medinas. Bars and nightclubs are best avoided by solo women. You’ll soon be able to spot which cafes and restaurants are female-friendly.
- Tampons are usually found in supermarkets and pharmacies.
With high unemployment rates and a largely out-of-work youthful population, Tunisia isn’t fertile ground for job opportunities. Much of the humanitarian sector working in Libya is based in Tunis, for security reasons.
A good command of French is a prerequisite and some Arabic would help.
If you secure a position, your employer will have to help you get a work permit and arrange residency, which can be a long process.