Tunis, Tunisia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/03/15

Personal Experiences from Tunis, Tunisia

Tunis, Tunisia 11/03/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, dozens in Latin America, East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

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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?

The Caribbean, 20 hours via NY and Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

TDY for two months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

I wasn't impressed with the housing -- mostly single-family homes with little green space. Most are old and in neighborhoods with walls facing directly onto the street. Commute times vary from 10 to 40 minutes. Traffic is heavy at times, with few "rules-of-the road" followed by drivers.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Carrefour is the place to shop. Most items that are available in the US can be found in Tunis. And there is always Net Grocer.

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3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is very little US fast food -- just Fat Burger. But there are dozens of decent, mostly French-themed restaurants. They can be quite expensive in the hotels, but downtown places are reasonable.

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4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Some flying insects, ants, and small bugs.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Via embassy DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Reasonable and available. Many people share a housekeeper, e.g., 2-3 days a week.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

If you work in the US Embassy, they have the best pool I have ever seen in any embassy! There is also a nice gym on the grounds. Hotels have small gym facilities and also nice big pools. And, of course, there is the Med, with its calm waters and shallow beach areas.

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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?

No problems. Just check the exchange fees with your bank.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French, French, French! And Arabic helps, too. Everyone speaks French. Very few people speak English.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, acceptable accomodations for those with disabilities are not found in many places.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Most taxis are safe and very affordable. Trains and buses are not recommended.

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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?

You might want to bring a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, not too expensive, but also not too reliable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Get a local phone -- low cost.

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Pets:

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?

No on quarantines, yes on pet care.

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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?

Yes, for spouses at the US Embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are some with schools and animal rescue groups.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Smart casual, except for meetings with foreigners.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes, two recent terrorist attacks on European tourists have changed the security environment. Hotels have armed guards, and roundabouts have police with weapons stopping vehicles. Tunisians took a big hit to their tourism industry in 2015, probably losing 1 million tourists when compared with the previous year.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There is a good Medical Unit in the embassy. Some hospitals have high Western standards, others do not.

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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?

Good air quality.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot from June - August (100s), cools quickly in September, and then even cooler October - March.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Good American School next to the U.S. Embassy.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

The American School has an active swim program.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

A few thousand expats (mostly French) with multinationals and embassies.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Home parties, Marine House events, and trips to beach resorts and historical sites.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Currently, the State Department allows only non-school-age children at post. It seems like a good city for singles and couples. There are a lot of small restaurants, sites to see, and beautiful beaches.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

This is a "Muslim-lite" country with strong French influences, so I suspect that gay and lesbian expats would have fewer challenges here than in other North African and Middle Eastern nations.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Oddly, I saw very few dark-skinned Africans in Tunis and almost no East Asians. It reminds me of pre-war times in Iraq, which was once called "the Germany of the Middle East". In other words, many of the low-paying jobs in Tunis are held by Tunisians, and that is not the case in other Middle Eastern nations. Although official statistics claim that Tunisia is 98 percent Muslim, other religions appear to be acceptable. I doubt that 98 percent figure, too, especially with the ever-present French influence.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Nice beaches, hotels, and restaurants. The medina (souk) is the place to shop.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Pottery, scarfs, and antiques.

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Fantastic history dating back thousands of years, French-Arabic mixed culture, nice weather for most of the year.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes. There is currently a 25-percent danger pay bonus and a 15-percent hardship differential.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How French it is!

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. It is a surprisingly wonderful country and capital -- much nicer than expected!

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Snow shovel.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and French language training.

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