Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/03/12
Personal Experiences from Tunis, Tunisia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Second expat experience.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC. About 12 hours with a layover in Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
2009 - June 2011.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses range from villas to apartments. The construction isn't first world and has some electrical and plumbing issues. Commute time ranges from 15-30 minutes. Vehicles rarely move at high speeds because of the number of pedestrians crossing the streets. You rarely go over 35 miles an hour in the city areas.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is a giant Walmart style chain store called Carrefour. It has everything like Walmart and carries both US and European (mostly French) brands. The US brands are not as common, but there are US brands of beauty products, candy, soda, rice, Asian foods, chips and cereal. US brands are expensive. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat cost less than the US. Fresh bread is most less expensive than the US (baguette costs 30 cents). You should bring your own cleaning supplies from the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cleaning supplies, kitchen supplies you would use with fresh-picked produce such as salad spinner and herb keeper, dual voltage electronics (they are much more expensive in Tunisia), spices, pet food, contact solution, canned soups, boxed baking mixes, gift wrap, shipping supplies, US stamps.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many good restaurants that aren't necessarily known among the ex-pats. It's best to get recommendations from upper class Tunisians. Good restaurants serve filet mignon, fish, pasta, and chicken dishes and range from US$15 to 30 a plate. Moderate range restaurants range from US$8 - 15 a plate. There are also pizza joints, shwarma stands, and sandwich fast food places. There were no US fast food chains. There are a couple new Chinese wok take-out places and two Japanese restaurants.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There is specifically designated organic fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, but generally, the fruits and veggies are locally grown and natural. Tofu is available.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some ants and mosquitos but nothing serious.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I used the Embassy DPO or the Diplomatic pouch. If your mail arrives through international mail, you'll have to pay a customs fee.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Inexpensive and plentiful.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, many hotels have sport clubs and spas and there are also gyms. The US Embassy has a lap pool and gym.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
ATMs are safe to use. Credit cards should only be used in hotels and major restaurants.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. There are Catholic and Anglican services.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, there is an English newspaper and English language websites. I don't know about the TV, though most Tunisians get satellite channels so movies and some shows would be in English with Arabic subtitles.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some basic French is best for the taxis, restaurants, and cashiers. In the tourist areas, the staff will speak English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Houses are often split-level or have stairs. Apartment buildings, especially the new ones, have elevators. There is no handicapped parking. Sidewalks are not designed for wheel chairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap. Make sure the driver uses the meter. I wouldn't recommend using the buses or trains.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A French model car is best. (Peugoet, Citroen, etc). Volvo, Jeep, Mercedes have dealerships. Bring oil filters.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, there is a start up fee then monthly service fees. I paid about US$200 for two years plus US$25 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Tunisians all use cell phones. You can also get a 3-G network over your phone.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are good vets. You cannot find pet shipping crates there. Bring your own. Bring pet food too. There is cat litter at the Carrefour.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not in the capital or tourist areas. Be careful in the desert and Algerian border areas for transient terrorism.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There are medical and dental facilities. Some women had babies in country. I had dental and medical work done there. It is only slightly less expensive than the US.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Very good along the coast and some dust on windy days in the city.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is great year round. Warm and dry in the summer and cool and a little more humid in the winter. It rains late September to May. The temperatures range from 40 - 100 degrees F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Everyone with children had hired help at low cost.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The French community is very large, in the tens of thousands. There is also a regular stream of tourists. There are foreign businesspersons and diplomats.
2. Morale among expats:
Good. Some Europeans retire here and lots vacation here. It's a good place to be in the Middle East, even with the revolution.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are expat clubs, Hash House Harriers, country clubs, and embassy community clubs. The Embassy itself does wine and cheese parties, bunco, triva nights, bbqs, Marine house parties, holiday parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This city (especially the beach suburbs) is great for everyone. Foreigners are welcome. There are clubs and recreational activities for singles. Families can enjoy sport clubs, beaches, travel.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I am not aware of any problems with gay or lesbian foreigners. Homosexuality is not accepted for Tunisians.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Tunisians are racist against Africans, so black foreigners from any country may face prejudices. Women are protected and generally treated well. The only attention they get is young men hitting on them.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Fresh local fruits and vegetables (strawberry season is amazing), beautiful mosaics in Dougga, Oudna, and Bulla Regia, delicious donuts in Sidi Bou Said, beautiful views of the Med from Gammarth and Sidi Bou Said hills.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many historical sites to visit in Dougga, El Jem, Oudna, Bulla Regia, Carthage and Tunis. Beaches all along the coast. Hunting in the mountainous areas and desert. Desert activities in the South. Biking, running, horseback riding, tennis, golf, sailing, jet skiing, and beach going.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Handmade baskets for the market, ceramic dishes, woven cotton blankets, some rugs.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Southern California weather, friendly and helpful locals, cheap groceries and taxis, safe.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely and I was there for the revolution. It's a great country and the Tunisians are good people. They're going to pull through this tough post-revolution time just fine.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
US voltage appliances, heavy winter clothes.
3. But don't forget your:
Lawn furniture, sunglasses, tennis racket, swimsuit, french phrase book, reusable shopping bags.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
I'm told part of the The English Patient was filmed in Tunis. Star Wars was filmed there of course.
6. Do you have any other comments?
If you have patience while driving (lots of people walk in front of your car), don't get yourself upset over fresh, not-going-to-last-long produce, and get out and try the really good restaurants, you'll have a great tour. (Those things I just mentioned were what people complain about most.) Good restaurants are La Closerie, Le Golfe, El Firma, Villa Didon, El Babbousha, and Les Falaises. Be sure to visit the Ennasr I and II neighborhoods in northern Tunis for shopping and restaurants, the downtown Tunis medina, the restaurants in the Gammarth hills, the Berges du Lac shopping area, Sidi Bou Said hill shops, and the La Marsa plage beachfront. (Lots of Americans never get outside of the Embassy area to see these other great areas.)